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Pol Pot and Me: My year of living dangerously

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I lead a fairly large and innovative ministry. It didn’t start in 1989 when we got our incorporation papers. If you look back in time, maybe it started ten years earlier, when I decided to start living dangerously. In 1979, as a senior in college I knew there had to be a great cause somewhe…
By Seth Barnes

I lead a fairly large and
innovative ministry. It didn’t start in
1989 when we got our incorporation papers.
If you look back in time, maybe it started ten years earlier, when I
decided to start living dangerously.

In 1979, as a senior in college I
knew there had to be a great cause somewhere and in the dying nation of Cambodia
I found it. Pol Pot was killing off his
country. Two million of them before it
was over. Cambodia was being put to the
knife. The genocide was spilling onto
the national press. I knew that was it.

pigAt 21 years of age I learned that
greatness depended on serving a great cause.
I knew that whatever greatness was in me wasn’t about me. I didn’t know anything about the Great
Commission, but I heard the screams of a dying nation and so I signed up with a
relief agency called Food for the Hungry to go help.

The problem was my reputation as
a rabble rouser in college preceded me. Food for the Hungry must have gotten wind of that – after considering my application, they turned
me down and said, “Maybe next time.”
Have you ever had your dream squashed like that? I couldn’t believe it.

I pleaded with God to let me go. “It doesn’t matter about my girlfriend or my
buddies that I’ll be leaving. It doesn’t
matter about what people said I couldn’t do.
Just get me on that plane.” I
had a conviction, a knowing, deep inside that said, “You were made for this
great cause; there’s an ember down inside of you that will be fanned into flame
there.”

And at the last second, the Food for the Hungry people called me up and said, “OK, we’ve got a ticket for you, you can
go.” More obstacles arose, reasons why
this dream of mine was crazy. But I tenaciously hung on and God kept opening
the doors.

Soon, I was on a 747 for
Thailand and shipped off to a refugee camp where I was in charge of a pig- and
chicken-raising project. Of course I
knew nothing about how to help refugees and knew nothing about pigs and
chickens except how to cook and eat them.

Here is what I learned: I was not
a mistake or a cosmic blip. And I was
not born for comfort and a cubicle. I
was made to hitch my life to a great cause.
God made us, his children, to be great.
I’m not talking about the self-exalting greatness that we see in the
media. I’m talking about the greatness
of God matching up your unique passions and talents with his kingdom-building
project.

I had been told what I couldn’t do all my life. That’s why I rebelled. I was going to thumb my nose at an
establishment that wanted to keep me, in the immortal words of Pink Floyd,
“comfortably numb.”

And as messy a start as it was,
as immature and rebellious as I may have been, I learned this lesson: Don’t despise small beginnings. Whatever your dream, wherever you are today,
begin there.
 
See the second part of this story in tomorrow’s blog.

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