A fifth characteristic of radical disciples, I suggest, is simplicity, especially in relation to the whole question of money and possessions. We postponed from Chapter 1 the challenge of materialism.
In March 1980 an International Consultation on Simple Lifestyle took place in England. It made a little impact at the time but in my view has received insufficient attention either then or since. So, let me introduce you to someone who attended the Consultation and whose life was influenced by it.
A SIMPLE LIFE
Dan Lam was born and brought up in a Christian home in Hong Kong. His father died when he was a young boy. So his mother brought up the family alone. She was a good and godly woman. On Sundays she would give each of her children some money to put in the offering plate, although they were quite poor. But Dan would take his share, sneak out of church, rent a bicycle and ride all over Hong Kong. When the service was over he would show up and return home with the family. According to one of his former classmates, he was ‘a very bad kid’.
When he was a teenager he fell ill and became so sick that he nearly died. It was then that he decided that God meant him ‘good, not harm’, and so he committed his life to the Lord Jesus Christ. He never looked back. It was a 180-degree change for him, to the amazement and relief of his family!
When the time came for him to earn his own living, he was employed by Bechtel Corporation, a multi-national engaged in heavy engineering work. At different times they have been involved in the construction of airports and seaports, in hurricane relief, in building the ‘Chunnel’ (the channel tunnel linking England and France) and in ‘BART’ the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Dan was not of course personally involved in all these projects, but he rose to be a manager responsible for several hundred employees.
In 1976 the company transferred him and his family to Saudi Arabia and in 1978 to London. It was then that I first met Dan and his wife Grace, for they joined All Souls Church, Langham Place, of which I was Rector, and were members of the same fellowship group.
Dan had a great concern for the poor and needy and he was generous to his family and his church, although his personal lifestyle was frugal. But he was also beginning to feel the pressures of business. Then came the Consultation on Simple Lifestyle and the challenge it brought. Dan had always tithed his income but now, he said, he must simplify his lifestyle even further. On a visit to India he saw real poverty, and also noticed that too high a percentage of mission funds went on overheads. He resolved not to accumulate wealth but to give it away.
In 1981 he resigned from Bechtel. It was not that he felt unable to serve God in a multi-national corporation, for Jesus Christ is Lord of all life. It was rather that he felt a particular calling to the countries of South East Asia to which he himself belonged: Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, together with Myanmar and Mongolia. He understood and applied indigenous principles in mission. He believed strongly in teaching and training Asians to win Asians and to equip Asians for mission. He was motivated by the knowledge that a majority of the world’s population lives in Asia. Further, it is far more economical and efficient for Asian nationals to win Asians since nationals have no problem with culture or language, food or travel restrictions.
Dan started the first Bible School in Mongolia, and the Bible School in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) was at first registered in his name, though it is now registered as Phnom Penh Bible School. One heard of this significant growth with expectation. But it was not to last.
Suddenly Dan’s leadership was taken away. For on 22nd March 1994 he was involved in a fatal air crash. He was flying in a Russian airbus (Aeroflot flight 593 from Moscow to Hong Kong) when it collided with a Russian hillside and all seventy-five passengers and crew perished. The cause was traced to the son of one of the pilots playing with the controls in the cockpit.
Grace, Dan’s widow, and their two young children (Wei Wei and Justin) were of course devastated. But the work of the Lord went on.
Providentially, Dan’s elder sister, Winnie, was in a position to take over with her husband, Joseph. They had travelled to the mission fields in which Dan had laboured and knew personally the Asian leaders with whom Dan had cooperated. And Dan had set up two foundations—one launched with his own funds and private, and the other a public charity named ‘Country Network’. Through these foundations the unique work he had pioneered could be carried on.
Dan’s legacy will last in the Asian believers he touched, and all because of the simple lifestyle he had embraced. ‘The Simple Lifestyle Seminar,’ Grace wrote in a letter to me, ‘changed all of us.’
John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Wholehearted Christian Living (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2010), 19–21.
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