I’ll never forget hearing John Piper talk about growing old to the glory of God, in several sermons years ago. Maybe you’ve heard them too. In the middle of one particular sermon about missions, Piper goes off in his characteristic bluntness on how “old people” should do missions instead of settling down. “You get discounts on airfare,” Piper said. “Why not buy a one way ticket to the hardest to reach country instead of retiring. You’ve got nothing to loose!” Piper was about 55 when he said this, and I have no doubt he believed what he said. But for me, I was only 20 years old. And even though I cheered and “amened” with excessive zeal, deep down I wondered if I would be willing to do this: to live radically for Christ when I get old.
This is why I so appreciate my father in law, Howard Foreman. His story is an all too rare example of someone who has unshackled his soul from the American dream by doing missions instead of building white-picket fences.
Saved through a radical conversion at 19, Howard hit the ground running with his faith. A few years later, he and his wife took off to France where they would minister for the next 12 years, planting churches in one of the toughest countries. After returning home, Howard would plant or pastor churches in Idaho, Michigan, and then in Fresno (CA). While pastoring in Fresno, the American dream lurched around the corner ready to snuff out Howard’s passion. He was settled. He owned a house. He had a steady income. Things were going well at the church and life was getting quite comfortable. I think I even spotted him pricing some white picket fences at Home Depot!
But then it happened. Howard got hit by a car. No, I mean he literally got hit by a moving vehicle going 35 mph, as he was stepping out of his truck. Howard was hurled to the unforgiving ground, which chewed up his body from head to toe. Miraculously, he survived but with some serious damage. He was laid up in bed for the next 6 months, contemplating how he would spend the rest of his divinely spared life. So at the age of 52, Howard decided that life is too short—too precious—to sit around planning his retirement. In many ways, life begun for Howard in 2003.
A year later, Howard and his wife sold their house and moved to Scotland to do a Ph.D. in order to open up more doors for future ministry. Howard spent his mid-fifties learning Latin and writing a 250 page dissertation, which he successfully completed 3 years later. After returning home to California, Howard tried to find ministry work, but found that there were a glut of pastors and teachers without jobs. Schools looking for teachers would sift through 150 applicants. Churches looking for pastors would sift through 300. We live in a country with apparently no need for seasoned pastors/missionaries with Ph.D’s. So Howard decided to do what he knew best. Howard decided to go back into missions.
Ironically—and quite sadly—there is one formally trained pastor for every 450,000 people outside of America. So Howard decided to spend the rest of his life training pastors over seas. He currently serves as a VP at Training Leaders International, where he oversees various training centers in Africa. But like most missions’ “positions,” you have to raise support. Howard has not been able to raise full support, and yet his passion for missions still burns unquenchably in his bones. Lack of support isn’t going to stop him. So for the past few years, he’s been teaching online classes and trimming trees at a water park to help fund his ministry. I don’t know if you’ve ever done extensive grounds work, but trimming trees all day takes quite a toll on your body—especially when you’ve been mangled by a moving car. In any case, despite the pain, despite some sleepless nights, Howard grabs his sheers and heads off to the water park in order to trim trees, in order to make some money, in order to
buy that picket fence train impoverished pastors in Africa, who would give anything to make 15 bucks an hour trimming trees.
Howard Foreman provides us all with a model of how to grow old to the glory of God. It’s one thing to read books like Crazy Love, Radical, or Don’t Waste Your Life and cheer from the sidelines. It’s quite another to suit up and get into the game—even if it means trimming trees.
I invite you to watch the short video about Howard’s ministry below. I also invite you to help fund Howard’s ministry through the link below. We don’t usually do this sort of thing on this blog, but I want to make an exception for this one. We’re not all called to “go,” but we are all called to “send” if we’re not called to “go.” Because an under-funded, 62 year-old man wanting to train pastors in Africa shouldn’t be trimming trees to do so. Please consider giving to this valuable ministry.
If you want to help support Howard’s ministry, follow this link, then click on “Staff,” then on “Dr. Howard Foreman” in the dropdown menus.