In 1999, my wife and I graduated from college and began working to pay off our student debts, which were substantial. We didn’t have a “missionary call,” but we believed it was important to be rooted and active in our local church, and faithful in reading our Bibles and prayer. I quickly began rising in the accounting world: the company I worked for was eager to promote young talent and my work in San Diego had gotten some notice. In a short amount of time I was promoted to accounting manager and, within a year, CFO of North American operations.
Within nine months my wife and I had paid off our student loans, were beginning to experience the world of Mercedes Benz, private school hunting for our soon-to-be-born son, a blossoming 401k and house hunting in the nicer areas of San Diego. During this time we were still faithful church members, active in the youth department, supporting four overseas missionaries, and allowing our Bibles to shape our thinking.
God, in his great grace, continued to bring people and passages of Scripture into our life that kept our minds restless and searching for true value. At that time in our life Romans 10:13-15 was particularly bracing to read and digest: For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
We began thinking and talking more and more about what it would be like to walk away from the “American Dream.” I was traveling back and forth to the Netherlands, observing the life and outcome of those who “had it all,” and it was not as great as I once thought. A house in La Jolla with a garage full of surfboards, jet skis, and cars started to lose a bit of its luster. Nina and I started talking about what it would be like to stand in front of our Savior someday and give an account of our lives. 401Ks and Roth IRAs didn’t hold up too well in those conversations.
Finally, we reached the point where we knew that if we didn’t pull the trigger we never would. I remember taking my boss for a walk, hands shaking, and explaining to him that I would be moving on. His immediate reply was “to what company?” With voice cracking I responded, “We are actually thinking of going overseas to be missionaries…” I endured a few choice words and warnings from him, but we had crossed the Rubicon. There was no turning back now.
Over the next nine months we sold or gave away most of our belongings, bought a used minivan, and headed off to missionary training. There we learned how to live in areas where there was no power or internet, how to learn a language that had never been written down, how to translate the Bible, how to administer antibiotics and sew sutures, and a myriad of other skills accountants typically lack.
A year later we would make it to the field of Papua New Guinea, and a year after that we would move in among an isolated people group located in the swamplands—the Yembiyembi people. Over the next 13 years we would learn their language, develop an alphabet (it had never been written), teach them how to read and write in their own language, translate the New Testament and large portions of the Old Testament into their language, and by God’s great grace see a church established that is still going strong today.
In 2016, the Yembiyembi church had its own elders and deacons, and as the Yembiyembis say, “was standing strong in the talk [Bible].” We returned to San Diego and I took on the role of President of Radius International, training potential missionaries in the lessons we had learned while overseas, but still returning to Yembiyembi each year to check on the church.
When I speak at churches or conferences, I often get asked why we did what we did. Even when we were getting ready to leave, there were many dear saints that hinted at or outright said some version of “We have unreached people here; you can do so much good here—why go?” Thinking back on that time I would say there are four reasons we ended up going.
1. The doors kept opening and we kept walking.
I’ve heard John Piper say that if you believe your Bible, there are three responses to missions: going, sending, or disobeying. I think he’s right. Nina and I had seen couples from our church attempt to get into missions and the Lord had closed the door through health issues, family issues, and other roadblocks. That didn’t happen to Nina and me. To be honest, there were seasons I hoped that I would contract some kind of condition that could only be cured if I remained in the U.S., but the doors kept opening—and so, with knees knocking, God gave us enough courage to keep walking through those doors.
There were dear saints in our church that stood with us and “held the rope” as we went down that deep well. Oh, what glory awaits those saints who stood with us through some very dark seasons and sacrificed personally so that the task WE ALL were given was seen to completion. Jack and Mary-Alice, Dave, Marv and Shirley, Karen, Jim and Sharon epitomized 3 John 8 as fellow workers in the truth. They were the “senders” whose shoulders we stood on. But for us, God had the path of the “goer,” and He kept making that clear to us and to our church leadership.
2. The lost, without any chance to hear, were heavy on our hearts.
In Acts 16:9 we see Paul’s reaction to a vision of a man in Macedonia begging him to come help him. He didn’t hesitate; the next day he was on his way to Macedonia. And in Romans 15:20 we see Paul’s primary mission “to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named.” Yes, there were needs in the churches already planted, and the surrounding areas, but for Paul, the pioneer missionary, he continued on to other areas so that “those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”
It is no small thing to sit and meditate on the idea of 3,100 distinct people groups around the world who have no gospel witness—and no foreseeable way of getting access to the gospel. Nina and I would hear stories from visiting missionaries, pastors, and friends of unreached people groups who had no access to the gospel, who would die in their sins, separated from God, and it stirred our hearts to go.
3. We were blessed to read good books.
There is something in missionary biographies that imparts courage to Christians across the ages. Books on Adoniram Judson, Elisabeth Elliot, David Brainard, Amy Carmichael, and John Paton were so very helpful. At Radius we have students regularly give book reports on those heroes who have gone before us. The stories of William Burns, Betty Greene, Henry Martyn, John and Betty Stam, and Sarah Boardman are more powerful than people recognize. The grace of God in the stories of those who ran the race to the finish, and the glory that awaited them, were used mightily in our lives.
4. Heaven was made real.
I get to speak to a lot of college-age students these days and I’m convinced that the people who are able to break free of the “American Dream” are convinced of two truths: life is short, and heaven is real. And they are in good company. Paul seemed to be motivated by an experience he had, a glimpse of heaven (2 Corinthians 12), that stuck with him for the rest of his life. In 1 Corinthians 2:9 he said, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Heaven was real to Paul; it was the backdrop against which he viewed all of life.
Nina and I would think often of that great day when we will meet the King, and what explanation we would give for how we lived our lives. God used that vision of heaven to pry our fingers off of this world.
Looking back on the last 21 years, I am so very thankful that God mercifully allowed Nina and I to die to our small dreams and ambitions. By his great grace we were used by him to see something greater, something lasting, that no one can take away. And on that great day to see again Maros, Lawolatol, Bandi and other Christians who were the first Yembiyembis to cross that great river to the celestial city. That beats anything this world has to offer.
***To listen to the Buser family’s story on the For the Gospel podcast, click here. You can also find this episode on any of your preferred podcast platforms.
Brooks Buser is the President of Radius International. Brooks and his wife served among the Yembiyembi people of Papua New Guinea for 13 years, culminating in the translation of the New Testament, and the establishment of a strong N.T. church. Brooks teaches and writes on God’s heart for every tribe, language, people and nation while leading Radius International’s three campuses around the world.