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  • Elder Aaron Tan (PSPC)

The Scratch

The sudden death of a friend due to an accident, the demise of 50 people, and more than 200 injured in Taiwan’s worst train crash in decades, a ferry accident in Narayanganj in Bangladesh takes the lives of 27 including 5 children. What do these events have in common?

All the people who died were ordinary people doing ordinary things on an ordinary day when the unexpected happened. It is events like these that happen every other day that bring to us a very strong reminder of how little control we have over our own lives.

I was reminded again of an interesting analogy shared by Dr Wayne Cordeiro, Senior Pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship O'ahu in Hawaii, in one of his conference videos that I enjoyed some time ago. He asked the audience to “picture that there is a line running through this stage and going out the walls on both sides and into infinity. If I take out my little Swiss army knife and make just a little mark representing our lifetimes, that mark is just a microscopic scratch on the continuum of eternity. Just a scratch! When we focus on this scratch rather than on the continuum of eternity, we live little scratch lives, with little scratch dreams. And we have little scratch hopes, and drive little scratch cars, and live in little scratch homes, and raise little scratch children….”

Many of us put a disproportionate amount of focus on this little scratch we call our lives. We work day and night to make money, and we plan and scheme to accumulate wealth to make our little scratch look more luxurious. We fuss and claw to get our little scratch just that bit better than someone else’s scratch. But you know what? It is still just a scratch in the continuum of eternity!

My Brothers, we do not live any longer in our physical bodies than any other person on earth. This is the limited time that God has given to us to fulfil His purpose. This is the time that God has graciously opened for us to participate in His work.

In God’s perfect timing, as I was pondering on this topic, I recalled a talk by Rev. Patrick Fung (General Director, OMF International) some years ago at one of our EP Missions Conferences where he shared a moving story about a medical doctor named Dr Harold Schofield.

The year was 1880 when Dr Schofield first arrived in China under the China Inland Mission (CIM). He had felt God’s calling to China as a missionary but his first application to join CIM was turned down because he was still single – it was felt that being a single, young professional in China was not a good thing. He was advised to go home and seek the Lord, and pray for a wife, and then come back when the Lord had answered his prayers. In humility and obedience he did just that. In six months the Lord blessed him with a wife – one who was willing to go with him to China – and CIM accepted him with joy.

Dr Schofield was deployed in the northern province of Shansi and was the first Protestant missionary allowed into the heart of China. There he used his medical skills to serve the people and preached the Gospel. The work was endless. There were literally millions of people to reach and indeed the harvest was plentiful but the labourers were few. Dr Schofield began praying fervently for God to send more workers – specifically well educated university graduates, men equipped in England's top colleges with the finest mental and physical training.

Dr Schofield did not live to see how God would answer those prayers. In 1883, after merely three years of ministry, he contracted the typhus fever. That ended his work and life abruptly. To many, it seemed such a waste that a man of such passion and talents would die so suddenly. That was the end of his scratch as far as his physical life was concerned. Surely God could have used him for many more years to impact the people of Shansi.

But in the eyes of God, Dr Schofield’s work was done. For even as he was praying, God was already moving and stirring the hearts of a number of men – 2 young military officers and 5 fresh graduates from Cambridge University surrendered their lives to Christ and felt the passion for China. Just 18 months after Dr Schofield’s death, these 7 men came together and formed one of the most prominent missionary bands into China and they came to be known as the famous “Cambridge Seven” who lived and worked on the very ground that was prepared by Dr Schofield in Shansi.

The single-minded commitment of these 7 men, and their willingness to leave behind possibly illustrious careers, quickly aroused the curiosity of English believers and sparked a period of revival in several parts of the country especially amongst the university students. This soon inspired the birth of the Student Volunteer Movement and Inter-Varsity Fellowship, and they attracted many recruits to the CIM.

There are not many records to fall back on to describe all that God was doing, but suffice to say that at the time of Dr Schofield's death in 1883 there were 2 two little bands of workers, with 50 or 60 converts, in 2 widely separated preaching stations. These were the only Christians among 9 million heathen. By 1890, there were more than 40 missionaries of the CIM working in the same sphere, at 10 stations, with 30 native helpers, and between 700 and 800 hundred native Christians. By 1893 there were more than 70 missionaries labouring in 17 stations in Shansi. Such was the impact of the short life and even shorter ministry of one man who gave himself for God’s work.

My Brothers, we need to check ourselves from time to time. What have we been doing with our lives – the little scratch God has given to us in the continuum of eternity?

In Ecclesiastes 3:11 it says, “He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” With our limited minds we cannot understand eternity, but in our hearts we know it is true because God has set eternity in our hearts. Many try to pursue “eternity” through material gains, higher positions, and so on, but eventually these will leave a sense of emptiness and they do not last.

As fathers, leaders in ministry or the secular world, or wherever God has placed us, how has our scratch influenced the other scratches around us? Have we surrendered our lives so that God can turn that insignificant scratch into a shining permanent mark in His eternal plan, a mark that would count for Him?

For further reading:

Report of the Cambridge Seven -

Pollock, J. C. The Cambridge Seven. London: InterVarsity Fellowship, 1956.

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