Dear young woman or man: One morning you will awaken, slide out of bed, shuffle into your bathroom, look in the mirror, and it will shout: “You are getting old!”
But there’s a way to stay young: continue to be a student, a learner. “The world is a university,” said Pastor T.D. Jakes, “and everyone in it is a teacher” … and I would add that it is important to recognize yourself as a continual student as well.
Peter Drucker, the management guru, wrote: “knowledge has to be improved, challenged and increased constantly, or it vanishes!”
In previous installments (see here, and here) I have focused on special people who taught me vital principles in my youth, but here I will introduce you to some who have enriched me as a learner in adulthood.
Two very disparate men taught me this principle: Plant wherever you are, no matter how you got there, and whether you like it or not.
Ambassador Jonas Kouassi modeled this concept in his work as a diplomat representing his homeland, The Ivory Coast (Cote Ivoire), a nation in West Africa. I got to know Jonas and his family in the 1990s. For several years in that decade, I traveled to Ivory Coast to speak in leadership conferences conducted by his church of more than 300,000 members. Either Jonas or his daughter would be my interpreter.
There is a special union of mind between a lecturer and interpreter, and Jonas and I, also from the same generation, became close brothers in Christ. Then Jonas was dispatched to his country’s embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark. We remained in touch.
At one point, Jonas asked me to come to Copenhagen and speak at a conference he was planning there. My wife and I traveled twice to Denmark for Jonas’s conferences.
Jonas’ home church in Ivory Coast stressed the importance of planting churches. So, when Jonas took up residence in Copenhagen, he did exactly that. He rented an old brick church facility in the heart of Copenhagen. It thrilled my wife and me to go into the aged fellowship hall where the crowd included Africans, Gypsies, and an assortment of Europeans, including a few Danes. The African-style praise and worship invigorated the old buildings.
Jonas saw himself as an ambassador from the land of his birth, and also from the land of his new birth.
Charles Colson also taught me the principle of plant where you are. I had known Chuck from a distance when we were both in the Nixon White House. He was ultimately jailed on Watergate-related charges at a federal prison in Alabama. By that time, I was a pastor that was a three-hour drive away. A mutual friend asked me to visit Chuck. Rather than a man who smirked at religion, I discovered the man whose biography would be titled, Born Again.
Chuck told me how other inmates were coming to him for guidance, and how his heart was stirring to help the incarcerated and their families. I did not realize that I was observing the seed of vision that would ultimately become Prison Fellowship. The man who planted where he was, continued to sow the seed for Gospel ministry. He is gone from us but his work for Christ flourishes.
Harry Dent, another Nixon aide, taught me a surprising principle: Dare to be a “Boy Scout.” Harry was my boss in the Nixon White House. Like Colson, Harry was initially considered a member of the president’s inner circle. But gradually Harry was edged out. Because of that, Harry was not included in the confidential discussions that led to the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation.
A few years later, Bob Haldeman, Nixon’s White House chief of staff, said that the reason Harry was excluded from the inner circle confabs was that Harry was “too much a ‘boy scout.’" He might not be tough enough for feisty political battles. During the latter days of the Nixon presidency, Harry was being impacted by a prayer group among the staff, and his ethical concerns were growing.
After the White House, Harry would go to a Bible college, and then do work for Billy Graham as well as extensive missions in Romania.
The late John Edmund Haggai, one of the greatest evangelists of modern times, also taught me the importance of building a legacy in my younger years. I had the privilege of writing for John’s ministry organization, Haggai Institute, and served as a lecturer for his training program in Singapore.
As he grew older John’s vision for global evangelization grew stronger. His aim was to train indigenous people to reach their own nations, and then to train the people they reached to do the same. It remains a powerful ministry and is probably a factor in the shift of the global center of world Christianity to the Global South and developing nations.
John’s principle and motto was: “Attempt something so impossible that it is doomed to failure unless God is in it.”
At age 80 that challenge still lights my fire. I pray, young men and women in ministry, that it will you as well.
Wallace Henley was born two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 5, 1941. After serving as a White House aide during the Nixon administration, Henley went on to become an award-winning journalist for the Birmingham News in Alabama. He is the author of more than 20 books, including God and Churchill with Jonathan Sandys, Winston Churchill’s great-grandson. Henley has led leadership conferences around the globe. He has been married to his wife, Irene, for more than 50 years. They have two children, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. His latest book, Who Will Rule the Coming 'gods': The Looming Spiritual Crisis of Artificial Intelligence, is available wherever books are sold.