The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
- Isa. 61:1, 3b
A boy named John Wilson was born to missionary parents in North Korea in 1915. He lived there through his teens, then came to America for a medical degree. He then spent 25 years as a medical missionary at a leprosy hospital in Korea, with occasional trips to Cambodia and Somalia. He retired to North Carolina in his 60s but continued practicing medicine as a pediatrician.
He moved into a slum and played a major part in transforming it into a beautiful lakeside recreation area. He worked his vegetable garden diligently to feed the hungry in his town. He works it still at the age of 97.
A week ago Grant and I crossed paths with Dr. Wilson on the shore of the lake he rehabilitated. Walking with a cane, he came down the hill from his house to where we sat in a flower garden. We listened to his fascinating stories as afternoon turned to evening. Then, as the sun fell behind the mountains, something astonishing happened. The flower garden around us began to awaken. The petals of bright yellow flowers unfolded themselves before our eyes. In a matter of seconds, each one was transformed from bud to beautiful blossom. They were evening primroses, made to open at the first hint of darkness – to be a bright beacon in the night.
Grant and I could not believe our eyes, and we exclaimed excitedly over each quaking blossom. Then Dr. Wilson told us one more story.
It was he who planted the evening primrose garden. He donated it for public use, but still he visits it nearly every evening at 8:30 to watch the miracle. He tells his story to the strangers he meets there. He gives them a shovel and urges them to take as many of the flowers as they want – to carry the beautiful thing he started from seed into the dark corners of the world.
Dr. Wilson has spent his life in pursuit of healing and restoration. Every season of his nearly century-long sojourn has found him working to bring life and hope from darkness and despair. But this in particular struck me: though he once traveled the world saving lives and sharing Christ, he seems to find no less joy in the ministry of his fading years — tending and sharing his evening primroses. I imagine flower gardening could feel like a small, insignificant thing after such a full life. But you’d never know it talking to him. He was positively giddy over them.
He is living proof that anyone at any age can preach a beautiful Gospel. No one is too young, or too old, or too hyper, or too shy, or too busy, or too weak, or too flawed to create a thing of beauty in the name of Christ. Our children are no less able than we are. We can guide them into a lifestyle of beauty-making in a million different ways: growing a flower, making a meal, writing a letter, taking a photograph, throwing a party, offering a hug, singing a lullaby. We can teach them that our acts of making, when infused with Christ’s love, reflect the goodness of our Savior — the One who makes beauty from ashes.
If we invest in our children this way, the beauty of the Gospel will not fade with us. Instead, as nighttime falls on our own lives, somewhere in the dark world something beautiful will be beginning to bloom.