The meaning of “disciple” is not just “follower” or “learner”; it also means someone who wants to be like the teacher.
Where would you go to call disciples? Would you go to the centers of learning and culture? Would you go to places with the largest population?
Five of the twelve Jesus chose were from Bethsaida, which means “fishing village.” It was not a city of arenas, theaters, and gymnasia, but Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Phillip grew up there and that is where they were when Jesus called them to “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
This called to mind another small, out-of-the-way place — Middle Valley, Idaho. In August, 1881, after three months on the Oregon Trail, the wagon train carrying, among others, Alexander Towell and his family, stopped there to make their home instead of continuing on into Oregon.
There were already a few Christian families farming in the valley, so this was an added incentive. The church in Midvale is the second oldest congregation west of the Rocky Mountains, and Dick Ady has told us that, at one time, it was the largest in the state. Today, the church numbers only about 25 and the population of the town has dwindled also.
However, from that still remote rural area came several generations of preachers, elders, and missionaries. We wonder how Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Phillip felt, being called from the lives they had known and told to “go” to cities that sounded so “foreign.” We wonder if they would have identified with how Henry Towell (Bob’s father) felt when called to leave home and “go.”
Henry had grown to adulthood in Middle Valley and, although he had preached there and attended a six-month “Bible reading” (what was basically a preacher school of the time), he felt inadequate to go to the largest congregation in Washington at the time, Wenatchee, in spite of being urged to come.
After 50-plus years of regular pulpit preaching, mostly in the Pacific Northwest, he had retired, but was still active as minister to the seniors in Ventura, Calif., with weekly Bible classes, monthly luncheons, and visiting shut-ins and members in nursing homes who were 15 and more years younger than he.
On Feb. 22, 1991, the day before his 90th birthday, he had been invited to preach, and we were there. He still spoke with a strong, unwavering voice.
After this last sermon, he read this poem that recalled how he had felt those many years ago. Many requested a copy, so it was in the next week’s bulletin:
WHEN JESUS SAYS, “GO”
I said, “Let me walk in the fields.”
He said, “No, walk in the town.”
I said, “There are no flowers there.”
He said, “No flowers, but a crown.”
I said, “But the air is thick,
And clouds are veiling the sun.”
He answers, “Yet souls are sick,
And souls in the dark, undone.”
I said, “But the skies are black;
There is nothing but noise and din.”
And He wept as He sent me back,
“There is more,” He said, “There is sin.”
I said, “I shall miss the light,
And friends will miss me, they say.”
He answered, “Choose tonight
Whether I’m to miss you, or they.”
I pleaded for time to be given.
He said, “Is it hard to decide?
It will not seem so in heaven
To have followed the steps of your guide.”
I cast one look at the fields,
Then set my face to the town.
He said, “My child, do you yield?
Will you leave the flowers for the crown?”
Then into His hand went mine,
And into my heart came He;
And I walk in a light divine
The path I had feared to see.”
—George Macdonald (1824-1905)
Where and whom God chooses is often very different from what we expect. “Man judges by the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).