When I was sophomore religion major, Dr. Cubie my advisor gave me a book for my birthday. It was not written by a significant theologian or a leather bound tome with gilded pages. Rather, it was an unassuming little paperback, first published in 1968 by J. Sidlow Baxter and reprinted in 1991, entitled Does God Still Guide? It looked like a book that would have been on the discount shelf in a used bookstore. And, now it is. You can find it on Amazon for one penny. I found out much later that it was a collection of sermons and talks given by Baxter, at one time a well-known speaker and lecturer from Australia. I still do not know that much about him.
As a senior graduating from four years of university study, I was tired of reading so I put the book on the shelf. It stayed there for nine years. I had carried it with me from Ohio to five different homes in Kansas City to the Ivory Coast to Ghana to South Africa to France. In early 2003, we were asked by our mission agency after an experience of being evacuated due to political strife in the Ivory Coast to consider going to Benin, another francophone country in West Africa. I was still struggling with this request, in the midst of intensive French language study, even though Sonya and I agreed to go forward with the move to Benin.
I sat in our salon-office-family room in the basement apartment situated within an alpine valley of Albertville, France, one of the most beautiful places on earth. But, even as I gazed at the surrounding natural beauty, I was inwardly worried, uncertain, très fatigué. I looked over at the hand-me-down shelf holding a few of my books that I had lugged between three continents during the previous 18 months. There, in the middle of several other well-used volumes, were the red letters asking "Does God Still Guide?" along the spine of Baxter's book that I'd received as a gift in December 1991.
I'm not a mystical person but neither am I an overly rationalistic one. I do not see God's visage in a toasted slice of breakfast bread, but I also do not seek a systematic logical argument for every decision I make. I'm also not stupid. I took the hint as I pulled the book off the shelf. I began reading it with a week to go before our move to Benin.
I didn't think Benin was the best place for us to be. I had heard some horror stories. I shared the possibility of the move with my two accountability partners, Assemblies of God missionaries also headed to Africa. I had just asked for them to pray about a potential change in our location. Before I could say where, Aaron said, "If they want you to go to Benin or Togo, don't do it! It's a nightmare, according to some friends living there." I just smiled letting them know we had already said, "Yes." Now, I just needed prayer to assure myself that it was the right answer. Especially now.
And, so our family moved to Benin, and I finished reading Baxter's book during our first week. As I still resisted making this move, I found myself reassured by the timely and necessary encouragement in Baxter's writings. Here is a portion that has lodged in my mind, and that I now share with my own students at MVNU in Foundations of Mission class:
"Remember that the divine plan reaches into an eternal future, and God is the Master Adapter who can overrule, improvise, re-fashion, and eventually bring about the pre-intended ultimate by an alternative route. Give yourself you Him with utter unreserve. By so doing, you will get back into His over-all purpose, and He will begin at once to shape your remaining years on earth in accord with His larger intentions for you in that endless destiny beyond . . . There is a compassionate adaptability about God's will for us . . .” (Baxter, 24-25)
And, Benin changed my life all for the better. Oh, we had our moments. It was not the most beautiful place I'd ever seen, known more for malarial dreams than dramatic vistas. It was a place and people, however, that I grew to love. It became home once I sought the wisdom of the Master Adapter.