This past Saturday night, a NE Ohio missions ministry, International Friends, held their annual banquet. It was a wonderful evening.
I had the privilege of giving a tribute to Tom and Joan Wright. They founded International Friends, a mission that is reaching many international students at Case Western, CSU, and Lorain Community College. Tom has passed the baton of Executive Director to Art Wells, effective last Saturday night. So, it was my real honor to pay tribute to Tom and Joan.
Below are my words. As you read them, maybe you could be asking the Lord, “Am I living my life in such a way that someone could one day say something like this about me?”
We taught our oldest son, Alan, that he didn’t have to like everybody, but he needed to love everybody. He took that seriously. And when he was a little boy, he used to end his prayer like this: I love You, Lord, and I like you, too! In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Tom and Joan, we know that you love us and like us, too. And you have helped us know that Jesus loves us and likes us, too. So, thank you!
I know we all agree with Pastor Jonathan and Mary, “What a gift you have been to Cleveland! You have mobilized Jesus–followers to reach out… and you have touched countless internationals along the way.”
As I thought about you, your ministry, and what to share tonight, I was drawn to I Thessalonians 2. I think this really describes your ministry to internationals and to the larger body of Christ in NE Ohio.
I won’t read it all. But let me paraphrase and apply just a few verses.
Tom and Joan, your coming to us was not in vain. You had boldness in our God to declare to us the gospel of God… Your appeal did not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive. You have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. So you speak, not to please man, but to please God. You never came with words of flattery, nor with a pretext for greed. Nor did you seek glory from people. You were gentle among us, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. You have been affectionately desirous of us and ready to share with us not only the gospel of God but also your own selves… (I Thessalonians 2:1b, 2b, 3-6a, 7-8).
Tom and Joan, thank you! Thanks so very much for following Jesus so faithfully. You both can truly say to the Church in NE Ohio, “Follow us as we follow Christ.” So many words come to mind when we think of you. Let me share just 8 tonight.
Courageous. You left a lucrative career to start a ministry – something we too rarely see these days. Megan wrote, “I truly learned so much from you about commitment and dedication to serving God and other people, even when times are tough.
Loving. We have seen you care passionately and sacrificially for aging parents as well as lonely students. Dave and Cindy said, “It is truly a ministry that comes from your hearts!” Tony and Eve wrote, “Your leadership is touching and inspiring. Through all the lives, souls, and spirits you touched, we see God’s love.”
Persevering. You have gone on faithfully in fruitful service after releasing your precious daughter into the arms of Jesus. Pastor Joe said, “You served through heartache and crisis.” “You both have faced personal valleys, but your faith and trust in the Lord, your Sustainer, remained steadfast.”
Generous. You have sacrificed time, talent, and personal treasure – including retirement income – to launch International Friends and Mosaic. Sue and Paul wrote, “We know you have given your heart and soul to this ministry.”
Evangelistic. You have led many, many students to Christ. You have discipled and baptized them. Pastor Steve and Nancy wrote, “Your love, hospitality and sacrifice is a model to all of us and has changed the composition of Heaven!” Chuck and Val wrote, “Your picture should be next to Matthew 28:19-20 in the Word.”
Entrepreneurial. You did what no one else in NE Ohio had done – launched a dynamic, fruit-bearing ministry to internationals. Kelsey wrote, “I am blessed by your willingness and pioneer hearts to create the ministry of International Friends.”
Missional. You have inspired individuals and entire churches to leverage resources to reach people most of us would have overlooked. Mark said, “You have made me a foreign missionary in my own home.” Another friend wrote, “Our lives have also been touched and enriched, as we have become more global in our perspective and caught a vision of the ‘big picture,’ Christ’s body, the church, throughout the earth.” Pastor Juri said, “You have a rich legacy with eternal dividends!”
Challenging. You have an ability to lovingly move people out of their comfort zones in the zone of obedience to Christ. Ann wrote, “You have challenged and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, and now finding a parking place downtown isn’t such a big deal anymore!”
For you guys, it’s not been about the programs, but the people. For you, it’s been about the individual. You are good at the one-on-one, step-by-step ministry. You have been changing the world one life at a time. I think Ann emphasizes this well. “Without International Friends, I never would have met Anja or been able to watch her change from a self-centered student to a committed follower of Christ!”
Mark and Kate wrote, “There have been many Heavenly celebrations because of your ministry.” People from many nations will be standing around the throne in heaven someday singing praise to Jesus because of You. John and Linda wrote, “Only eternity will reveal the true value of all the time and energy you have invested. How many will be around the throne forming the worshippers from every language and nation?”
What better example to give all of us in NE Ohio?
Tom and Joan, we love you and we like you, too! But most importantly, Jesus loves you and likes you, too.
Thanks, Tom and Joan, for being people who left the world behind to embrace the call to follow Jesus on His mission to reach the nations. As Jim and Lee have said, “We know you will not stop ministering. It is just the end of one era and the start of another.” We look forward to serving Jesus with you in the future.
Question: What changes need to be made in your life so you could be living your life in such a way that someone could one day say something like this about you?