This being a Christian thing is dangerous…devotion to Christ can take us to all kinds of places all over the globe, or it can keep us right here in America to live a stealthy, radically different kind of life. If you ever get a chance to sit down with Rick Carter, Ken DeWitt, or John Stark, you are in for a wild ride. They are the visionaries and leaders of a mission agency called Hands of Mercy (HOM).
These men started HOM because of the rather remarkable loft house ministry to Mexico that started at Trinity and grew wonderfully out of hand. Many other churches wanted to get involved, there were opportunities to buy land, there were folks who felt called to leave everything and move down there as missionaries, and there were growing relationships with the nationals. God did a bright and beautiful thing right in our midst. These guys saw the Lord’s hand at work and with gusto, took on the challenges that lay ahead. If you ever go down and stay at Rancho Casitas for a weekend, you are being blessed by Hands of Mercy.
Something else interesting about these men is that they didn’t start out as missionaries. In fact, they each spent a good part of their lives working as faithful, godly men in the professional world. Ken is a businessman. John continues to work in investments. Rick was a teacher and a coach. But they have each captured a vision for the proclamation of the gospel, and their passion for it is like a hunger. Whatever the word “retire” means to the rest of the world, it will never apply to them!
Currently, they see God leading them towards Africa. John has gone to Ethiopia a number of times in the last few years and has caught the fever for sharing the gospel with the people of that nation. Many of us at Trinity have had the joy of experiencing John’s rascally motivation skills for the gospel. There is a remarkable number of us whose mission testimony starts with something like this: “I was going about my normal daily routine, minding my own business, when I met this guy named John Stark…” Usually, that sentence is followed by some crazy story about going to Mexico or flying off to a remote corner of the globe. “Dangerous man, that John”. You never know what is going to happen after you’ve talked to him.
One can only imagine how that remarkable gift works as he joins the work of nationals in Ethiopia. He brings eyeglasses and doctors over from the States so they can provide clinics for the local people. Ethiopians will walk for days to get this medical help, and lives have been saved. Their service opens the door to the proclamation of the gospel, which brings a healing power of its own.
Meanwhile, the Lord has opened the door for Ken to see His hand at work in Liberia. Ken seems to have a real gift for networking. For example, God puts him in a position to meet one guy (say, the head of an EV Free Church mission to Africa) who Ken happens to talk to about his visits to Liberia, and now there are three churches in Africa working in partnership with EV Free to plant new churches.
Listening to Ken’s thought process is a lesson in wisdom. He knows he is called to Liberia, and he has discerned that there are about six people there whom he genuinely trusts. Now he is moving forward and watching to see where the Lord guides him. What will his role in Liberia be? Watch and pray. Ken, John, and Rick will be heading out to Liberia in February, and it will be a great time to hear what God does on that trip.
When I asked Ken what he would want most to share with his church family, he said, “Read the Word”. Then he went off on a diatribe of pure conviction. I am pretty sure he didn’t think I was going to put this in print, but too bad, this is good stuff. This is what he said, “I made a commitment about 25 years ago to read the Bible through every year. When I decided to do that, things started to change in my life. My life was filled with the Word. Don’t just talk about reading the Word. Even if it doesn’t mean anything the first year, keep reading. By the sixth year, it will. The Word of God is the power of His teaching in our lives. It deepens your life. You will never achieve what God wants you to by just thinking about it. As you read, He brings people and events into your life, and you realize it is not you at all, it is Him, and it is always Him. If there is anything I can encourage others about, it is get in the Word, get in the Word, get in the Word.’”
Rick is the heart behind Hands of Mercy. Talk about a teddy bear. The HOM can’t get through a prayer session without him tearing up. When Rick first started getting involved with HOM, he was in the deepest valley of his life. He was looking for something meaningful to do and he heard that Trinity was doing a pre-build for a loft house and decided to lend a hand. It was fate. He met Ken DeWitt, John Stark, Brad Richter, Jim Powell, and Danny Van Ness that day, and his life has never been the same. He started going to their Tuesday morning meeting, where he found the friends he needed to walk him through the valley. Now they are the deepest relationships he has ever had in his life. They held each other accountable and offered each other grace. Six years later, they still do.
Since then, Rick quit his job with Redlands Unified School District to work full-time for Hands of Mercy. He is now president, which includes everything from doing the invoicing and coordinating trips to being the janitor (ah – the missional life!). Rick’s heart is determined to build-up HOM in the direction God leads. A central part of that is to watch over each member of their team with the kind of accountability and love that has marked the relationships of Hands of Mercy from the beginning. Rick says that in many ways, he is just giving back for the powerful impact his HOM friends had on him. He has tremendous energy to seek out others and pursue the life of faith with them. He says the hardest part of seeking that kind of raw, honest fellowship is that he doesn’t always get to be the soft, gentle shepherd. Sometimes sin has to be confronted. Imagine being enfolded into such love and grace. It is a taste of Heaven.
These are the kind of men who would take a bullet for you. They are the kind you would want to take a bullet for also. But all three of them would tell you that they are just totally broken men who really need their Savior. What amazes me the most about these three is not just the individual strength the Lord has worked in them. It is the power of the dynamic friendships they have with each other and the sheer fun and laugh out loud enjoyment it brings to this ministry. There is something the Spirit is able to do with their unity and commitment and, well, their love for each other. If your heart pulls when you hear about Mexico or Africa, maybe you ought to look up one of these Three Amigos. But only if you are ready for a true adventure!
~ Jennifer Jagerson