There are some great “surely” passages in the Bible. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6). “Surely I am with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
For years I stood before the church during baptisms and requested, “Would someone please have a daughter and name her Shirley?” Why? Because I wanted to say at the end of the baptism – “Shirley, I am with you always to the end of the age!” Yea, I know, its cheesy, but my church loved it!
During the years that we served at Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Milpitas – in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley – there was a significant influx of Chinese immigrants into the community – over 50% of the population. Most had come for the second California Gold Rush – to work in the high tech computer and internet industry. As our church reached out to this immigrant population, we were blessed to have two Chinese vicars (pastoral interns) on our team who gave me the gift of insight into their culture, leading me to fall in love with the Chinese people. This led to regular trips into Southwest China and, within a few years, we were regularly sending short-term mission groups to Kunming, Yunnan Province, where I still go today. We served in tiny impoverished villages in the mountains around Kunming, partnering with local churches, to provide clean water for subsistence farmers of the Miao minority group. We discovered that many Miao were followers of Jesus – valley-walkers themselves.
One Sunday, in the fall of 2005, our congregation formally adopted Kunming as a location for ongoing mission work and hung the China flag alongside the flags of other nations where we served. God surprised us that Sunday when a young Chinese woman walked into worship for the very first time and watched us adopt Kunming, China as a mission location – her home town. Her name was Shirley and she was new to the Christian faith.
Once we got to know one another, Shirley tried to teach me Mandarin in hope that I could speak to the Chinese people in our community and in Yunnan. I’m a lousy language student but, fortunately, she was a great Bible student. Our class times gave us ample opportunity to talk about Jesus. Eventually she asked if I would baptize her and if Kathy and I would be her baptismal sponsors. And so, on a July morning in 2006, on the very last Sunday of a twenty-year ministry in Milpitas, I baptized a Shirley – my god-daughter. Oh, how the church laughed as we declared the words in unison, “And Shirley, I am with you always to the end of the age!”
I think God laughed too, after all, it was His idea. May He speak His “Shirley” over you.