comments by Lee Cantelon

Hearing my father preach missions sermons on hundreds of occasions, I came to know the story of his encounter with the sincere holy man, the sadhu, by heart. If anything, this encounter grew in proportion during my father's experience as a missionary and evangelist, certainly the most profound memory that he carried with him upon his return from India. The encounter was a crossroads, a reference point that he would look back to during his half-century of ministry. A catalyst too, one that drove him ever further on an intense, life-long pursuit of the importance of missions, the meaning of the Great Commission (...go into all the world and preach the good news of salvation), and the concept of final judgment, heaven, and hell.

There is some indication in my father's recollections, that prior to this encounter, which took place following a large outdoor meeting in Calcutta, he might have taken the stakes of missions too lightly. In his attempt to answer the sadhu's questions, he was pushed face-to-face with the idea that those not found written in the Book of Life were to be condemned to eternal darkness. No doubt, the months spent emerged in the poverty and humanity of India had already begun this inner dialogue, and suddenly the idea of hell and eternal separation made much less sense than it had within the confines of the congregations he had preached to in North America. Only a small percentage of the world's population had ever heard, or would ever hear the (Christian) message of salvation through Christ (see John's Message of Salvation). How many hadn't? The number was staggering, and it staggered my father's equilibrium for a great while.

During the years leading up to his going to India, my father had traveled the busy evangelistic circuit in the United States, first with Loren Fox, and later as an independent speaker with close connections to the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the Assemblies of God church fellowship, and the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in Canada. Quite often he was asked to speak special missionary-emphasis services. One thing is certain: following his "recovery" from the spiritual crisis that was the result of his sojourn in India, my father's approach to missions preaching and thinking (his own personal missiology) was profoundly altered and deepened.

His revelation of the spiritual responsibility of Christians (and the church at large) to "go into all the world and teach all nations," was branded into his very being, just as the coals of fire from the altar sealed the wakening call to repentance on the lips of the reluctant prophet Isaiah. Like Isaiah, my father would pray with renewed understanding and humility, "Hear am I. Send me."

He emerged from the shadows of his inner struggle, unable to understand completely the vast challenge of missions (how can anyone comprehend the sea of humanity that have not heard the message or name of Christ?), but did not retreat into some type of hyper-Calvinism. Instead he sought tirelessly to communicate the urgency of the task that belongs to the active Christian, and as a result, witnessed thousands of young men and women dedicate their lives as an answer to The Call.

In one memorable reaction, Evangel College came nearly to a stand-still as the student body wept and prayed, their hearts opened to the appeal of the Great Commission. During that unforgettable weekend, campus activities were canceled as news spread of the move of the Holy Spirit that was taking place.

This response at Evangel College was of particular relevance to my father's post-India ministry. The day before the Spiritual Emphasis weekend, several professors had approached him, suggesting that the students "of today" were more skeptical in their approach to spirituality, and that a more modern, sophisticated approach was probably needed. "Would my father be able to soften his message?"

Sometimes I wonder if the reaction of the students, and the move of the Holy Spirit that took place among them, would have been as powerful if my father had not already passed through his own intense fires of doubt, depths of questioning, and intense seeking, approaching skepticism? From this crucible he stepped before the students, not with a sound homiletic outline, or with an attempt to please them with oratory and beautiful, convincing words, but with a broken heart and the realization that void of the spirit, the letter kills.

The Great Commission had become, in my father's world-view, our responsibility. He knew this with a fire of conviction. It was a shared calling, not something that we had to carry alone. The coals of fire were waiting to touch even the most hesitant, and to transform our collective doubt into a single response, the body of Christ responding as one: "Send me!"

- LEE CANTELON, Vancouver Island, July 2002

about the photo: I took this picture of Dad on a Saturday in Victoria in the early spring. He's sitting in a lawn chair in front of his home in on Vancouver Island (where my mother still lives). Typically, I found him using every minute of the day, even on a weekend, to study the scriptures. His pursuit of "doing what was meaningful" kept him young, I believe, and vigorously active until the final weeks of his life.

back to Pastor Cover's missions sermon