The classroom was empty, but I was sure it would soon be full. A junior at Biola University, I was excited about my developing relationship with God and expecting the gospel of Jesus Christ to reach the world in my lifetime. A leader in the Student Missionary Union (SMU), I had arranged a prayer meeting to petition the Lord on some pressing missions concerns. I had invited a dear friend, Reverend A. Reid Jepson, a long time pastor and missionary with the Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) and the Slavic Gospel Association (SGA), to address the group. Reid had traveled many times behind the Iron Curtain and had dozens of examples of the powerful work of God in his life to share.
I had invited all of the active members of the SMU and many personal friends, selected the time and place to coordinate with their schedules, and even used my meager college income to buy a few refreshments. Reid had known my mother for years, had taught me many things about the Lord, and he was the most faithful Christian man I knew. Always punctual, he arrived about 20 minutes before the prayer meeting was to begin. I arranged and rearranged the chairs, the missions materials and the snacks, and we chatted as we waited.
The minutes ticked by and no one came. The time to begin grew closer and still no one came. The start time passed and still the room, except for us, was empty. At 15 minutes past the start, I began to grow angry with every passing moment. No one was coming. What was wrong with these people? Don’t they know that Reid Jepson is an amazing Christian leader? Didn’t they remember how many times I had invited them? Didn’t they care about spreading the gospel to non-Christians? Didn’t they know or care how humiliating this was to me?
Reverend Jepson saw the consternation in my eyes and heard it in my voice. “Mark”, he said, “Don’t be hard on your friends and don’t be hard on yourself. I have sponsored plenty of church meetings to which no one else came. This doesn’t mean that they are rejecting you and certainly doesn’t mean that they have given up on Christ, or even their dedication to missions. Keep steady in your faith. Let’s you and I just pray for missions together.” And so we did.
In 1988, Reid Jepson sponsored me to go to Hong Kong and take Bibles into China. He always followed my life and my career, even when I was grown and married and we were separated by thousands of miles. He always prayed for me and my family, and sent me a book he had published including vignettes about his service to the Lord. I last visited his wife in the late 1990s. She said that he, though wracked by pain from metastatic cancer and struggling even to walk, had just left on a trip to preach the gospel at churches in Cuba. A. Reid Jepson went home to be with the Lord in 2002.
Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is being spiritually transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. It is a lifelong process that begins at salvation, progresses daily and will only be completed in glory (Philippians 1:6, 2:12-13, 1 John 3:2). The cost of discipleship is high, for we must truly die to ourselves (Galatians 2:20). Disciples are sacrificial, relational and transformational. We must put service to the Lord before everything else. However, the rewards are far greater, for he will abide in us (John 15:7). Jesus spoke often about discipleship. He commanded us to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) and spoke at length about what that meant. He was honest about the blessings of discipleship (John 10:10) and about the cost (Luke 14:26-33, John 15:18).
The book Growing True Disciples by George Barna lists several aspects of the nature of discipleship.
- 1. Disciples must be assured of their salvation by grace alone.
- 2. Disciples must learn and understand the principles of the Christian life.
- 3. Disciples must learn to obey God’s laws and commands.
- 4. Disciples must represent God in the world.
- 5. Disciples must serve other people.
- 6. Disciples must reproduce themselves in Christ.
A. Reid Jepson was a true disciple of Jesus Christ. By devoting his time and talents sacrificially to the Lord, by caring enough for me to invest in my life, and by letting me see the Spirit of God in him, he has helped me to be transformed even as he was. If anyone is interested in the life of a simple pastor, missionary and mentor, he is on the internet.