This past Sunday, as I examined Jesus’ two appearances to the disciples as recorded in John 20:19-31, I noted that Jesus told the disciples, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then He breathed new life into the disciples, telling them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It was a powerful moment of commissioning, a commissioning I believe we all receive as followers of Jesus.
As a Christian and a pastor, I am inspired by those who follow God’s call in their lives. I read about such a man several years ago in the Atlanta paper. The article focused on Wheeler Conkling, who was 85 years old at the time. A World War II veteran and a retired chemist and CEO of a small company, Conkling was preparing to move to Honduras to live and work as an unpaid volunteer with an interdenominational ministry in one of the poorest regions in the world. Conkling and his wife raised 5 children and after retirement, he was involved in working with several churches to set up a homeless shelter for itinerant hotel workers. His wife died in 2003 after 62 years of marriage, and in the midst of his grieving, he also began to ponder what to do with the rest of his life. He had always been a runner or walker so he was in good shape and didn’t want to become sedentary. So, he signed up for a mission trip with his Episcopal Church. While some in the group weren’t sure what to think about an 84 year old man joining them for the trip, they soon found that he worked incredibly hard climbing scaffolding and helping in various projects. Soon after, he made a second trip to Honduras and spent two weeks there, learning about the ministry and bonding with the children there. He says, “I fell in love with the need – and the children.”
When he returned from that second trip, his children encouraged him to return to a more “normallike” life, but he investigated joining the Peace Corps and other groups before praying and wondering if there could be a permanent place for him in Honduras. He contacted the director there and was assured that there were plenty of opportunities for him, even though he couldn’t speak Spanish. Conkling decided to go. When his family heard about his decision, they called a family meeting, gathering from around the country to interrogate him. At the end, after hearing him share his heart, there was a consensus, “Go for it, Pop.” One daughter said, “All five of us are a little sad now knowing we’re losing the proximity of him, but for his soul, this is really what he needs to fill it up.” The children even began planning their own trip to join him in the work in Honduras. One volunteer who worked with Conkling said it this way, “He has been an incredible inspiration to all of us. The children there love him like a grandfather. He has a heart to do this work, and his faith is so strong – he has a lot of compassion for these people who have absolutely nothing.”
This sounds to me like a man who recognized the call of God and discovered the peace of God and the presence of God’s Spirit in being sent to continue the work of Jesus. While others might have discouraged him, he felt God’s call and responded. Perhaps his example can inspire us as well. For we must not forget the message of Jesus, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”