Pastor Lawrence Francis shares his compelling testimony

All believers have a unique testimony of God’s leading in their lives. This is my story of how God took me from the busy streets of Malaysia to my present rural pastorate in Nebraska.

As a child I learned to know God. I thank Him for godly parents, who in their limited knowledge introduced His Word into my life. I don’t claim to have memorized great portions of Scripture, but by God’s grace I have learned to dwell upon His Word and internalize its rich meaning.

I owe my experience in the Bible to morning and evening devotionals by my mother, which combined plain reading of Scripture with practical application. How astounded I was in seminary to discover that my mother’s explanation of Bible verses was in essence the same principles taught by professors with PhDs. And to think that my mother only completed sixth grade! Whatever one’s educational background and social standing, if one approaches the Scripture in humility and with a deep quest to learn, the Holy Spirit grants an understanding and internalization.

My father’s impact in my life was no less astounding than my mother’s. He excelled in giving Bible studies as a layperson—one year to more than 40 people, resulting in 30 baptisms. As a teenager, I accompanied him to many studies, some of which lasted past midnight. People were glued to their chairs learning from the Scriptures. My father, a middle school graduate, is an ardent student of the Bible and its prophecies. It was during late-night studies that I learned about the beasts of Daniel and Revelation. The Holy Spirit worked in mysterious ways in guiding a lowly layman into sharing the glorious hope of eternal life.

At age 15, the desire to love people and share Christ became my passion. I found myself dreaming about being like my ministry-oriented parents. I also admired Jesus’ healing ministry, which helped shape my journey of faith.

Both my parents were born and raised Hindu, with nine other siblings each. But they were non-committal in that religion. In a strange twist of providence that I will never fully understand till Jesus comes, my parents met, married and became Seventh-day Adventist Christians. They went on to raise a family of five children (my older brother Charles having passed away when seven days old); two of us received seminary training as Seventh-day Adventist pastors.

My father always wanted us to own for ourselves a belief system and not simply be Adventists because we were born into such a family. Islam and Hinduism, among other religions, held prominence in my country and culture. Christians are in the minority, particularly Seventh-day Adventists. What made faith possible and worthwhile for me was Jesus Christ and His love for humanity. The amazing truths of creation, redemption and re-creation at His soon return not only logically make sense; these fundamentals of faith can compel a different life. So, for me it was not difficult to decide to walk God’s way.

But choosing to love Jesus was not a bed of roses. Throughout my school years I had to decide between Christ and society’s norms. Repeatedly I faced examinations on Sabbaths. Sports, games, expeditions, camping and other events also happened on Sabbaths. Yet God was more important than anything else, so I skipped every one of them—not from dry legal motives but rather in response to God’s immeasurable kindness. Although my understanding of His love may still be imperfect, it is nevertheless based upon His perfect love. This makes Jesus and His way extremely attractive.

Coming from a struggling middle class background, our family barely managed to have basic necessities—just enough food, clothing and shelter. In many years of wonderful intervention, God sustained us. One thing that kept our family going—and still does—is church attendance. I don’t think there is anything inherently magical about church. Yet worship and fellowship with brothers and sisters sustained us through life’s ups and downs.

I still remember one Sabbath, when I was about five, I took ill and was very weak. Seeing my whole family getting ready to go to church without me, and the idea of not being able to see my friends in Sabbath school, bothered me so much that I insisted on being carried to church. As a child I believed that church is the place to be, even when sick. It may not be for everyone, but for me, that was hugely important.

By the way, I don’t remember anybody carrying me back home after church that day. God still heals based on simple childlike faith!

A miraculous college education

Being able to attend college to get basic theological training was in itself a great miracle. It was both my parents’ aspiration for me and my own passionate desire. I would have dreams of being in a college classroom. Despite severe financial constraints, through my parents’ tremendous sacrifice and my mother’s amazing prayer life, I flew off in a plane to be trained as a pastor. I cannot say enough of the selfless effort and help extended to me by my new pastor and his family, who became like grandparents to me.

A few years later my brother and I were the first two graduates in our entire family clan. We experienced firsthand the promise of God in Deuteronomy 28:13, “The Lord will make you the head, not the tail…” I found this promise true even in the details of my academics. It was almost unthinkable in Malaysia to be skipping exams (because of Sabbath) and go on to receive graduate degrees. God showed Himself still faithful to promises made thousands of years ago.

I still consider the six years I spent in India as the best years of my life, because I grew to trust God and His leadership like nowhere else. I had no family or friends in that new country, and all I had was my invisible faith in a God who cares for me deeply. My love affair with God grew in leaps and bounds in India, and it humbled me to discover His wisdom in all His dealings with me.

And yet it was with more questions than answers in my mind about life that I left the safe portals of an educational institution to venture into a dangerous world. (Nearly a decade later I would have almost an identical experience in the United States of America.)

My first appointment fresh from theological training was in Penang, Malaysia, where the church also operates a hospital. I entered unilaterally into an agreement with God that I would leave for Andrews University to work on my doctoral program. I have all along cherished the “weirdest” of dreams to accomplish much for the cause of God, which made me want to be a preacher and a medical doctor at the same time. I gained this vision for ministry from the Master Preacher Himself, who was also healer along with so much more. My side of the commitment was to serve as a pastor three years before God would open the way and provide means for me to continue my studies. Respecting God’s sovereignty and wisdom, I prayed for God not to open the way for me to leave if it is not His will. At the end of my third year in ministry, I ventured forth on my planned educational pursuit, all the time praying that God’s will be done.

Most of my church members in Penang were connected to the Adventist hospital. The longer I was there, the stronger my desire became to pursue doctoral studies in both theology and medicine. Being a dreamer who strongly believed in my dreams, I yet hoped to balance that out with God’s plan for my life.

It was five years after my three-year agreement with God that my first real opening appeared—out of the blue in the most simple of circumstances. Suddenly I found myself walking the corridors of the Seventh-day Adventists Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Indeed, “our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing” (Ellen White, Ministry of Healing, 480-82, emphasis supplied). Faith to believe this is not a leap in the dark. It is a beautiful walk with all eyes opened in to the unknown, with a known Person holding your hand.

In the United States my faith was tested at a new level. I had no family in America to support me financially or otherwise, nor were my parents back home in a capacity to help me anymore. Soon I found myself in financial perplexity. The only constant factor in the complex formula of decision-making was Christ and His love for me—it was easy to trust the One who has never failed me. When financial obligations and the aspiration to start some coursework in medical studies temporarily halted my doctoral aspirations, God led me to Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Life at Union College

Confident that God would one day guide me back to work on my doctoral program in theology, I trustingly but nervously took what was my first pure science course in my life. What I learned astounded me, and I grew to appreciate even more of God’s extravagant creative acumen in the seen and unseen world around me. He carried me through the “big four” pre-med classes, along with the other courses needed to earn a diploma.

It wasn’t an easy time financially at Union. Many semesters I was one of the last to register for classes, due to insufficient funds. Unable to buy textbooks, I borrowed from friends in the department. Many days I survived on one meal, drinking plenty of water to keep my stomach full. If I had not been in total dependence on God thus far, there was no question in my mind that I was now!

Amazingly, I was never sick during all four years in Lincoln. My clothes and shoes seemed to last forever—I still wear some of the same clothing I had back in Malaysia. I experienced the ancient blessing God gave the Israelites during their desert journey to the Promised Land: “For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell” (Deuteronomy 8:4).

In multiple ways, God through His human agents saw me through my years at Union College. I formed some of my closest friendships on and around campus—friendships that I believe will last a lifetime and into eternity. In every act of friendship and loving gesture they extended, I saw and heard God announcing to me how much He loves and cares for me. I even had the privilege of teaching the Christian Beliefs class at Union for one semester and helping with another class in the Physician Assistant program.

It was at this juncture, while I was volunteering at a local Adventist church in Lincoln, that the call came to take up a short-term ministry opportunity. It was surely an answer to prayer—but I never asked for four churches!

A Malaysian Nebraskan

Cattle, corn and combines have become part of my vocabulary. I am now a Malaysian-born cowboy pastor with East Indian heritage in the heartland of America. I love every single day of my life here in Nebraska. My four churches in Beaver City, Broken Bow, Holdrege and Kearney are special to me, because the people are special. Our churches in some of the towns are small in numbers, but what we lack in numbers is compensated for in the largeness of our members’ hearts and minds for one another and for Christ. The desire to see our churches grow is shared by all my churches in the district I refer to as Heartland.

It is not always easy work in these small and ever-shrinking populations, but I strongly believe in friendship evangelism. I encourage my members to maintain a friendly attitude with work colleagues and neighbors. My members are in the thick of local happenings, constantly mingling with the community.

I believe that in these last days God will use such relationships to impress the truth of His soon return in our communities. We recently bought a thousand copies of The Great Hope book and are implementing ways to distribute it in our areas.

One ministry I would love to see happening in our district is home-based small groups. I would consider my ministry here (partially) successful if I could help the churches form at least three home-based small groups each, which could meet at least twice a month. These groups can then function as a support group, study and prayer group, and fellowship group—all at the same time—depending on the needs of the attendees.

In some of our churches, we are slowly moving in the desired direction. I pray that God will continue to use my pastoral leadership as He finds fit. If I can—and dare—to dream, I know through experience that God in His own time fulfills the desires of our hearts when our will is merged with His. Although my personal vision for doctoral programs in theology and medicine seem to be on the back burner, I have placed that in God’s hands without a shadow of regret. The Lord makes all things beautiful, in His time. He has always proved Himself trustworthy and faithful. To go about His will has been my ardent desire, and to share the good news of the soon coming Christ to a dying world will always be my number one priority and burden.

Looking back at my life so far, I am infinitely grateful to God for the set of parents He gave me—simple human beings with extraordinary love for Christ. I laid my mother to her rest just a few months ago. Even this temporary separation hurts me tremendously! She and my father were the mentors of my faith, helping me love to do the work of Christ. I know from the Scriptures that Jesus will soon come and gather His faithful. Then I will see my brother, mother and others who will be resurrected to eternal life.

Among my mother’s last words to me were, “Always pray, and never forget to read the Bible!”—her same continual counsel to me when I was a child. Come soon, Lord Jesus!

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8, NIV).

– Lawrence Francis pastors the Beaver City, Broken Bow, Holdrege and Kearney (NE) churches.