Who Did God Save Me To Be?
by OPC Missionary to Uruguay, Mark Richline
Mark Richline (back, far right) as a missionary associate in Japan in 1991 along with missionaries, Woody and Laurie Lauer & family; Cal and Edie Cummings & family; Murray and Tsuruko Uomoto; and fellow MA's Craig and Helen Tuttle.
As a college student in the late 1980s I often found myself wondering what God’s will was for my life. Eventually I discovered I was asking the wrong question. Who did God save me to be? That was the question I needed to answer. But in the years to come God patiently showed me how He had made me His son and as His son He calls me to serve Him. In whatever calling He gave me, His will for me was to serve Him and others with all my heart. He guided me into various short-term ministries which confirmed to me these truths, shaped me more into Christ’s character, trained me to serve others, and directed me into full-time pastoral ministry.
During those college years, the Boardwalk Chapel in Wildwood, NJ changed my life. I spent two summers on staff and one in leadership as a Summer Assistant. This was the true EE: Exhausting Evangelism! We worked during the day and proclaimed the gospel all night long through songs, skits and personal testimonies. Many vacationers resting on boardwalk benches listened patiently as my evangelism partner and I shared Jesus with them. One summer my partner was Jeni Stevenson who has become my life-long partner for 27 years, with whom I continue to serve the Lord.
As I was finishing college, OPC missionary to Japan, Cal Cummings, visited our church and invited people to serve with them as Missionary Associates. I signed on for two years. This was yet another life-changing experience. Together with other MAs, I organized and directed conversational English programs for all ages for two of our church plants. While we taught English, the missionaries gave gospel messages in Japanese. During these years the Lord impressed on me our missionaries’ sacrificial love, and He turned my heart toward the full-time ministry of God’s Word.
While in Japan, our missionaries encouraged me to spend a month at the Missionary Training Institute in Seoul, Korea. I was there to help these future missionaries polish their English. They were there to make their final preparations before beginning their lives of gospel service in foreign fields. I remember their prayer meetings outside in the mountains at 4:00am, as well as the sanctified sound of all their voices in worship praying aloud at the same time.
Four years later I found myself going from door to door with a godly woman in her eighties whose urgent mission was to share Christ with total strangers. In my final summer of seminary, the Presbytery of New Jersey had invited me to pastor a group of mostly elderly believers in Toms River, seeking to start a reformed church. I preached every Sunday, lead them in weekly Bible studies, and organized gospel outreaches in the community. This was the short-term mission God used to confirm me in my calling.
Looking back now at more than twenty years of ministry I see clearly how these short term opportunities trained me for my calling as a missionary pastor. I learned that just as we depend on God for every breath, we completely depend on Him for all we need to serve others. The reality that “apart from Christ, I can do nothing” has become precious to me (John 15:5). The praying that I did for Christ's wisdom and strength during those short-term ministries has become more like normal, every moment breathing for me now.
I also learned that our Lord uses our current service to prepare us for future ministry. Before we were born He had planned our next steps (Eph 2:10). My chapel summers worked in me both the humility and boldness I needed in Japan. Working alongside our Japan missionaries trained me to work together with future session members and presbytery committees. As we faithfully serve Him now, He prepares us for our next steps and then guides us into them when we are ready.
God also taught me perseverance. This is huge. Handing out tracts in front of the Chapel only to be constantly rejected was the hardest job on staff. Preparing and promoting an English Bible study for my Japanese students only to have no one show up was disheartening. I planned gospel outreaches like concerts and puppet shows in Toms River which very few attended. All those times prepared me to trust God and persevere with the gospel. As Paul encourages us, “we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” So I applied that truth last year when Covid-19 turned our church upside down. Trusting the Lord’s promise to build His church, I persevere.
And then there’s teamwork. Anything I do for Christ is done as part of a team. I was just one of many Chapel staff members sharing the same Dunn house. I served as part of the Japan mission and as part of a team of English teachers in Korea. Even now I am a member of the Uruguay mission responsible to and supported by the Committee on Foreign Missions. As we serve the Lord we are never completely on our own. We are always accountable to others, working as one toward the same goals, submitting to one another in love, forgiving and being forgiven in Christ.
I am thankful to belong to a denomination that provides so many opportunities to serve our Lord Jesus. And I am amazed at how He works through them to guide and train us who serve, while at the same time growing and edifying His church.