The ‘Moon Missionary’
By DANNY MINTON
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.” (John F. Kennedy, before Congress, May 25, 1961)
“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” (John F. Kennedy, Rice University, September 12, 1962)
Less than four years since the first satellite circled the earth, the race ignited to reach the moon. The ambition would prove to be exciting and costly in both money and lives of the men in two countries. It brought on a new level of excitement for a teenager in the ’60s. Many desired to be an astronaut with dreams of one day walking on the bright ball 238,900 miles away. We watched as Mercury evolved into Gemini and eventually Apollo. Then as I stood in a friend’s house on January 27, 1967, the dream seemed to vanish. The first astronauts, killed in a fatal fire, placed the goal on hold.
Eventually, twelve men would become the elite few who stepped upon the face of the moon. Today, except for Neil Armstrong and possibly Buss Aldrin, Alan Shepherd, and Jim Lovell, their names find themselves only listed in history books. Few people could recite the names of those who risked their lives to explore a new world.
Each man who ventured to the unknown world would explain their experience differently. All twelve would share their sense of awe at the beauty of seeing the “blue marble” Earth at “Earthrise.” They shared their experiences of weightlessness and excitement of exploring the depths of the unknown. However, one of the men who walked the face of the moon felt something completely different than most of the others. His name was James B. Irwin, one of the Apollo 15 astronauts who explored the Hadley-Apennine mountains and rille.
Unlike most men who experienced the moon, Jim spent the rest of his life not in the halls of the space program but in sharing his faith with people of all ages. For two decades, he spent time sharing his faith and the love of God that he said he discovered on the moon. “He talked of the real impact of his trip to the moon, his realization that God is alive and available everywhere in the universe.” (“A Man on the Moon” by Andrew Chaikin, Pg. 558) Those around him didn’t understand, but Jim expected that response and added, “God had a plan for me, to leave the earth and to share the adventure with others, so that they can be lifted up.” (ibid. Pg. 558) Some would call him “the moon missionary.”
Most of the former astronauts would mention God somewhere in their conversations, but none to the extent that Jim Irwin felt his presence. He carried his faith with him as he stepped on the loose soil of a foreign land. From the beginning, Jim felt God in every step of his experience. When he stepped from the moon into the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), he carried a desire to share the God he felt with the rest of the world. What made Jim’s experience different from the others? To him, the trip involved more than just scientific reasons. He could feel a closeness to the creator, one who dwelled in his heart even as he lifted on beginning his journey.
I will never experience the thrill of stepping on the face of the moon or any other foreign planet’s soil, and I will never have the privilege of feeling the touch of God from space. However, if our hearts are open, each of us can feel the same experience with God that James B. Irwin felt.
Each Sunday morning, we step through the doors to worship our Lord. We will sing songs of praise and honor. Many will take communion, remembering God’s son and his sacrifice for each of us. We will find inspiration in sermons and consolation in prayer. Our lives will enjoy enrichment with the fellowship of others. All of these will occur, but what impact will they have on our lives? When we exit the buildings of worship, what will we carry with us into our everyday worlds?
Some will exit refreshed with the desired renewal to serve God more excellently. However, there will be those who leave with attitudes that fail to grasp the air of the worship time. Lessons will be scrutinized and sometimes labeled as dull or uninspiring. Some will question why all the songs favor one generation over another. Brother so and so’s prayer drug on too long. People sang too loud or sang off-key. They don’t like clapping or loud amens in the middle of the lesson.
Jim Irwin brought God back from the moon because he took Him there with him. When it comes to worship, we bring out what we take into the time with us. Jim looked for God and found Him. When we worship on Sunday morning, are we truly seeking God to be in our hearts and lives? To find ourselves close to God, we must make an effort to block out the negative and allow our hearts to be open to areas where God can find a place to dwell.
I once heard the story of a minister who preached every Sunday in a small country congregation. As members would enter the foyer, there sat a basket for contributions. The minister’s love offering for his service to the church existed in what people left in the basket. As he entered with this daughter, the minister reached in his pocket and placed a dollar in the basket. That morning he preached his lesson, then, on his way out with his daughter, they stopped to pick up the collection. There in the basket lay the dollar. His daughter, looking at the lack of funds, said, “Daddy, if you’d put more in, you’d have gotten more out.”
We get out of worship what we put into making it essential for our daily living. Our spiritual lives grow with the same intensity as the effort we put into serving God. It doesn’t depend on where we worship. Our strength doesn’t rely on who we are with or what others think about us. These things help, but true strength and closeness to God begin in our own hearts. When we open our lives and hearts and make room for Him, it is then that we move closer to Him.
In his statement at Rice University, President Kennedy stated that the reasoning behind going to the moon was “because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept.” James B. Irwin accepted that challenge and added the challenge to share his experiences and God with the world around him. The question each of us should ask ourselves boils down to, “Are we willing to accept the challenge to let Jesus into our hearts and lives?”
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” Galatians 2:20-21 (NIV2011)
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ