I don’t miss the beaches, the ukuleles, or the coconuts. But I do miss the people I left behind in Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, when I returned from mission service. I especially miss Jonah, one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had.
Jonah was a giant of a man. His hands were huge and rough from a lifetime of physical labor. He was a seaman, then a power plant worker. In retirement, he repaired small engines. If you had a broken chainsaw or a bush cutter, Jonah could take it into his backyard workshop, tinker with it for a few days, and bring it out running like new.
Jonah was also the humblest and kindest man I’ve ever met. At our church plant, he loved shaking everyone’s hand and giving them hugs. He cut the grass and cleaned the chairs — anything to be helpful. He wanted to be part of God’s church, whether that part was big or small.
I met Jonah when I came to Saipan to be a Bible worker. One of the local Adventist churches had just purchased some property to build a church home for new believers we had helped lead to Jesus. The land was in Jonah’s village, and he was so excited, he could barely hold himself together. With a big smile, he told me, “I’m going to help build God’s church!”
I wasn’t sure what Jonah had in mind, because by this time he had become severely crippled. He had to use two canes to get around, and every step he took caused him great pain. I pictured him sitting in the shade, playing his ukulele, providing moral support for the rest of us.
But when we started the project, Jonah showed up to work. With a cane in one hand and a machete in the other, the old man gave it all he had. Swinging his machete with all his might, then limping with his cane to carry the brush to the burn pile, he helped us make short work of clearing the jungle that covered the land.
But the hardest part was yet to come. Some of the workers pleaded with Jonah to sit out the building phase. “No,” he replied firmly, “I will help build God's church.”
Jonah crawled over the rocky ground on his hands and knees, dragging cinder blocks and buckets of concrete to a ladder, where he lifted them to the men building the walls. It was a painful process to watch, but day after day, a miracle began to take place.
Jonah moved from crawling to limping, and eventually, to walking. As he labored, God renewed his strength. All the workers bore witness to the power of God as they watched Jonah set aside his canes and walk like a young man again!
And Jonah kept walking. With his newfound strength, he walked from door to door to the homes of many of his friends. When they asked where his canes were, he told them, “God has healed me so I could help build His church.” He shared his humble testimony of how he had come to know Jesus and how God had answered his prayer for the village to have a church of its own. “Please, friends, come worship with us now!”
Because of Jonah’s invitations and witness, many people attended public evangelistic meetings at the church and gave their hearts to Jesus. Soon they were baptized, and the little church plant grew and grew.
Watching how, I believe, God healed Jonah and turned him into an evangelist was like seeing another chapter being written into the Bible. I’ll never forget the lesson he taught me about hard work and trusting God.