Incomplete Perspective

When I was a young pastor, a wise man cautioned me about not doing any marriage counseling with just one person.  He told me, “Marriage issues are like the Pentagon.  Every story has five sides.”

True enough.

Stepping out of the convolutions of a distressed marriage, I think about the difference in perspective between heaven and earth.  This is nicely captured by contrasting the books of Samuel and Kings with the two Chronicles.

The first four books are man’s report of all the accomplishments that matter from man’s point of view.  Then in Chronicles, God shares what He thinks is important about each administration from heaven’s point of view.

Jehoshaphat scored a meager nine verses in II Kings 22.  This Mercy king did not get a whole lot of press in the natural.  By contrast, heaven found much more of significance to relate about his life in II Chronicles chapters 17-21.

Today I find myself pondering the difference in values between heaven and earth because my father went home today.  I try to envision the King introducing him to the angels, celebrating the value of his life in terms of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Of the myriad stories, which ones would God use to illustrate the essence of the man?

I can only wonder.

However, the perspective man brings to the table has some value also.  God did, after all, enscripturate the books of Samuel and Kings for us to ponder, even though He claimed the last word.

Hence here are a few thoughts about Dad and how he lived the 85 years Father allotted him on this earth.  While few of you ever met him, it behooves me as the eldest son to celebrate his life from my limited perspective, to enrich yours.

1)     Dad was linear

He encapsulates for me Eugene Peterson’s elegant phrase, “A long obedience in the same direction.”

Dad was a pioneer church planter in the Amazon jungles of Brazil.  He began work there in 1954, learned Portuguese, built an outboard motor boat and began to explore the island communities from his base in Icoaraci.

After the first furlough, he established his method.  Visit any home where there was a man present.  Offer to read the gospel of Mark to him.  Return as often as there was interest.  Walk away from the disinterested.  Pour the most time and effort into the most interested men in order to leave a leader in charge of the congregation when he left for the next furlough.

He was really big on the other guy having some skin in the game.

It was simple.  Labor intensive.  Slow.  Effective.

For 59 years he worked his strategy, leading people to the Lord, maturing the disciples, training leaders and then moving on to a new location to do it all over again.

For all that, he knew when his time was up.  Although he had frequently talked of dying with his boots on in Brazil, he knew it was time to end that chapter.  On May 31st he returned to his daughter’s in Washington.  Yesterday he sent some final instructions to his kids.  Last night he died in his sleep after a short illness.

2)     Dad could change

Ironically, God selected a somewhat rigid man to become part of the cutting edge of a vast change God wanted to execute in the Body of Christ.

After his second furlough, he came back and found that the three churches he had planted were not in good shape.  That sent him searching for a better way and he found it in the writings of Roland Allen.  In this Anglican missionary to China from a generation before, Dad found a kindred spirit.

His books, “The Spontaneous Expansion of the Indigenous Church” and “Missionary Methods:  St. Paul’s or Ours?” became Dad’s textbooks as he reinvented missionary methods in the ’60s and ’70s.

When Dad went to the field, he first used what we now call “colonial missions”  strategy.  It was not a conscious choice.  It was simply what everyone was using for the last 300 years.

When it failed, he discovered the concept of indigenous church and embraced it.

As it turns out, missions agencies of all stripes were wrestling with the collapse of their tried and trusted paradigm in the 1960s.  The world over, there were slow grinding changes accompanied by vehement polemic as Western Christianity came to grips with the new reality on the mission field.

Dad found himself unexpectedly on the cutting edge of missiological change, the champion of a new theology.  It was a position he neither sought nor appreciated.  Predictably, he dodged the spot light, put his head down and went back to work, proving the validity of his ideas through church planting, not rhetoric.

In retrospect, Dad was on the cusp of a monumental historic change of season.  He dealt with his failed church plants with consummate wisdom by failing forward and was far ahead of the pack at the time.

Today, colonial missions strategies are largely a thing of scorn.  Students in seminary are presented the indigenous model as the only one.  Most of you reading this will not have a clue what the brouhaha was about in the 1960s.

But Dad was there.  He lived it.  He chose rightly and today is lionized by his mission for having planted more churches in that part of Brazil than all the rest of the missionaries put together.

The highly linear man flexed once, when it really mattered.

And oh!  What a difference it made.

3)     Dad was a builder

Lest you envision a monkish theologian, let me hasten to assure you that Dad’s array of tools was vast, and he was replete with Yankee ingenuity.  Dad knew how to build or repair almost anything, and if he did not know how, he could learn.  Problem solving was as natural as breathing.

He designed and built each of his houses and no two were alike.  He ordered plans for his boats and built finely crafted plywood beauties in the jungle.  He built piers, dug wells and designed his own lightening rod system.  He repaired his own Evenrudes and Jeeps, treated snake bites and malaria, while teaching me algebra and the art of life.

When the resin for the fiberglass covering for his boats went off too fast, he figured out that it was the heat and humidity, so he did the fiberglass work between 12:00 and 4:00 a.m. to beat the problem.

Dad was a radio operator during WW II.  When I decided I wanted to use one of the Arc 5 receivers he had in the barrel, he said I would need a power supply.  Despite being out of the field for 12 years, he sat down and designed a power supply from memory (for me to build) stipulating the specs for each component as though he had a book open before him.

Merck’s Manual was a household staple.  I remember him reading up on how to do a tracheotomy with a kitchen knife, without anesthesia when I had an allergic reaction to aspirin and my eyes and throat were swelling shut.

In the end, he didn’t have to, but that was Dad.  Something needed to be done, he grabbed the best available resource and just did it.


There was nothing of the entitlement spirit or poverty spirit in my father.

4)     Dad was uncompromising

Most people have a set of values by which they intend to live their lives.  Most people, however, don’t actually live up to their own values.  Whether the gap is large or small, it tends to be there, and over time, becomes visible.

Some bend just a tad under the pressure of “reality.”  Others are lured away from their beliefs by the sweetness of some legitimacy crutch.

I saw neither in Dad.  Whether you liked his theology, social perspective and personal culture or you didn’t, there was a staggering consistency in his life.

Understand me well.  Dad hated conflict and avoided it as much as possible.  Church politics — whether on the level of the denomination, the mission or a local church — caused him significant angst and he would opt out of any meeting possible that even hinted of politics, entitlement or personality clashes.

But if conflict came to him, he would not budge.

He was not for sale.  The bribes of money, power, prestige or even friendship were wasted on him.  It is not that he could resist the temptation.  There was no temptation.  Those things mattered not a whit to him when put up against his convictions.

And he could not be intimidated.  No cultural threat or theological club put a scratch on his beliefs or his plans to walk out those beliefs.

He believed what he believed and the world would just have to work around it.


5)     Dad was a spiritual father

Some things are better caught than taught.  Dad never developed a Bible Institute or any other formalized program for his men.  They came and sat with him for hours, listening to his mind and his heart and they left.

The leaving was often abrupt.  Huge layoffs and hirings were the norm in the complex, uneven economics of the Amazon basin.  It was common for a headhunter to show up in town, saturate the community with news of a hiring spurt in another city.  At 3:00 in the afternoon, all the unemployed men who were willing would jump in the back of an open bed truck and leave for another city 200 miles away with hope and a knapsack.

If they got a job there, they would find a place to live and eventually bring their wife and kids.  Then, in a new community, with no church, no support, no supervision, they would have family devotions, living their life, until someone asked what made them different.

The questioner would be invited to family devotions.  In time, the family devotions turned into a Bible study that eventually became another church.

You see, fathers produce sons.  There is no sausage factory that can take people and build into them the spirit of sonship.  But if you have a father’s heart, and you father the men while you are teaching them, sonship happens.

And when you are a son, in a new area, with no game plan, no resources and no support, the most natural thing in the world to do is simply to do what your spiritual father did.

So they did.

And it grew churches that produced laymen with a spirit of sonship, who went off and established more churches.  Accidentally.  Without commissioning or fanfare.

It happened repeatedly because Dad had a father’s heart and father produces sons who reproduce after their own kind.

6)     Dad was loved

He announced to his church last November that I would be coming to help them move back to the States in May.  Word spread like wildfire throughout the cities, towns and to the jungle shacks.  A few wrote.  Multitudes called.  Shocking numbers came to personally thank Dad and Mom for their ministries.

They came in ones and twos and by chartered bus.  They came announced and just dropping in.  People traveled by foot, car, boat and plane to express what my parents had meant to them.

The local churches put on entire events to honor their lives.  Tee shirts were printed and sold with one of Dad’s favorite slogans.  Poems and speeches were written and delivered one on one or in group settings.

Eighty year olds who met them in the 1950s and who had walked with them for more than half a century came.  Couples whom Dad had married decades ago came, as did their children and grandchildren.

People brought their baptism certificates from years ago to celebrate their deep intimate moments.

Meals were cooked, songs sung, prayers prayed and a bazillion pictures taken.

Dad and Mom established firm ending dates for the endless good-byes so they could lean into their final punch lists of things to do as they wound down six decades of ministry, and still the people came — some sheepishly knowing they were out of order, others boldly because boundaries mean nothing when love runs deep and good-byes are to be said.

In the end, they left.

And Dad was right.


That season was over.

So that is my view of Dad.  One of many.  Should you hear a dozen perspectives about Dad, you would find great diversity in how he was seen, as well as some common threads observed by all.

But at the end of the day, I still wonder what the King said when He was bragging on Dad to the angels.

Copyright June 2013 by Arthur Burk

From the Hub

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60 Responses to Incomplete Perspective

  1. Beth Ahlers says:

    Its so beautiful, Arthur. Thank you for sharing. Tears now. I must share this lovely tribute with my parents who have closely followed missions since their conversion in the 1950s.

  2. Elisabeth Le Lion says:

    Hi Arthur,

    I lost my 89 year old father at the end of January of this year. I live in France and I learned on a Sat. he had between a few days to a month to live. Two days later I was on a plane to go “home” to Seattle to be with him before he died. We had about six days together before he stopped breathing the following Sunday around noon. Two or three days after I got there he was having difficulty getting his words out- not enough oxygen going where needed. He said to me with a slight slur as I was leaving his room, “you’re a beautiful girl”. The Mercy that I am who loves words of affirmation and who wanted to hear that again just to be sure and remember those words said to him, “what Dad?” And his response was, “You’re a beautiful girl.” Ok, that time I got it for sure and will remember those words. I also have one more thing to share with you Arthur sometime about saying goodbye to him.
    Thanks for sharing your story, too, and encouraging us to share ours.

  3. Deborah says:

    Arthur, Thank you so very much for sharing your father with us. This is a rich tribute to a mighty man of God. A rich legacy. May you be comforted and strengthened as you remember your father and the rich heritage that he has left to you and so very many others. The Lord has blessed you. Deborah

  4. Jeanie Rose says:

    Arthur, I read and wept. Then with tears still moist, I had to chuckle…hearing your Dad brag to the angels about YOU.

  5. Rowyda Carroll says:

    Thank you for sharing glimpses from your Dad’s story with us. One can’t help but rejoice at hearing of a Christ’s follower who finished well, but I’m sure that grieving his loss is of utmost necessity. So I bless you and your family with intimate moments in the arms of the Comforter Himself as He alone knows how to help you in this process.
    Rowyda Carroll

  6. Brenda LuMaye says:

    Thank you for sharing this and being transparent.
    I have enjoyed reading this and have been truely touched by this story. I did not have a father that had the love of God in his heart. Nor did he share any love at all.
    This has brought tears to my eyes and to my heart. How loving of a person your father was. How special this is to you and your family.
    I have also listened to your dad’s sermon. I have to tell you that I truely enjoyed this as well.It touched my heart greatly. His simple message in guiding people to the Lord and with such love in his heart. Amazing!!
    Thank you for sharing your true heart.
    Blessings to you all.
    Brenda LuMaye

  7. Barry Leisegang says:

    sorry about some of the wording sometimes when I am writing on my tablet the computer will direct a word or chose a totally new word for me which I hate because if I don’t notice it it will just send. I listened to the sermon and pulled up the church in Everett both were great. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Barry Leisegang says:

    I live a while north of where you are right up on the Canadian border just above Bellingham .Yes it’s just a few hours drive from Seattle. I have visited Everett my wife and I usually stop there to eat when we go to Seattle.
    Thank you for the way you have blessed my life through your words and your counsel, Father has answered many prayers through you even tho you may be totaly un aware. It would be great if we were close I often think .You must be a great neighbor or a good fishing buddy a man of many talents. All I really know is that when I was searching and praying for an answer to a certain problem God set one of our teaching desires in front of me an I knew that it was jurisdictional authority which is just what I was searching for. I thank you for being a blessing in my life. I am a pastor who also works full time. God called me and my neighbor seven years ago to plant a church. It has been a lot of fun because He is the builder and we have to give all the troubles to him first. 🙂 We have done everything unconventional wrong and have still made it. Because it is not about success but about the gospel of Jesus which sometimes offends .
    Blessings where you are in your journey.

  9. 1haadon says:

    Dear Arthur,
    Very sweet! Know that prayers of joy and comfort to flood the souls of you and your family as our savior walks you through this season, are being spoken over you.

  10. clancy says:

    proving once again that the fruit does not fall far from the tree. beautiful testimony,

  11. Esther McMichael says:

    Arthur, I thank God for you and for your father and your perseverance. May what you have both done bring God glory until Jesus comes. May the Lord bless you and your family and bring you comfort and all that you need.

  12. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Please know that I am so thankful for all that you dad did to make the way before me. Even though I never knew him on this Earth, he was a forefather to me because he brought you into this world and I look to you as a Spiritual Father. You have impacted my life so very much and I appreciate that so much. Please know that I am lifting you and your family in prayer asking that the Lord would remind you of the little things that bring back the good memories will rise up for all of you and be remembered.
    Blessings to you
    Debbie Howard

  13. dorisann says:

    What a great model of what honor looks like! Thank you and I bless you with God’s precious peace and love at this time.

  14. What an incredible testimony and tribute to your father’s time here! Those are the stories of spiritual legacy that push us first generation-ers forward to build for our families. Thank you-your bloodline clearly exhibits that of the King’s nobility and treasure!!


  15. Wayne Brown says:

    Dear Arthur,
    We rejoice with you and your family. Thanks for your willingness to share such a moving testimony. I am thankful to know that one day God’s perspective will be even clearer. His timing is truly remarkable.

  16. Caroline says:

    Dear Arthur
    I am sad to hear of your loss – indeed, our loss of your dad. What an example of a life well lived. Thank you for sharing his legacy. I am enriched learning about him and am challenged/exhorted/encouraged by his life’s pace as I finish my course.
    Above all the tinsel and noise and ash, his life – solid and faithful – stands.
    Peace –

  17. Bernadette Tatge says:

    Dear Arthur, what an amazing tribute to your father and a wonderful keepsake for the future generations. Thanks for sharing. You and your family will be held in prayer as you go through these days of planning and funeral. May you be comforted in your grief. May all that is passed from your father to you deepen your love for God and others. Shalom, Bernadette

  18. Linda Dale says:

    Thank you, Arthur, for so eloquently sharing the essence of your earthly Father. May the Lord richly bless you with His peace for this season. Linda

  19. carol says:

    Dear Arthur,

    Thank you for sharing. Your Dad was an honorable man with an immense spirit.

    Two thoughts stand out to me:

    1) What a beautiful closure you and your family had with your Dad as he transitioned back to the States with that purpose in mind … to speak one final blessing over everyone, and
    2) I am anticipating a spirual thrust forward in your ministry as you stand in the position of Eldest Son and thereby inherit the Double Portion.

    May the God of all comfort meet you in the privacy of your own spirit and minister Peace and comfort and joy.

  20. kcf44 says:

    Arthur, what a lovely tribute to your Dad. The apple does not fall far from the tree. May you and your family be encouraged and comforted in knowing and living life with such a fine ,capable man of God. May your grief bring forth new life in ways that surprise you, as only our Comforter can. Sincerely, karen ford

  21. Brent Davis says:

    I am so sorry, Arthur. Like everyone else, I loved your celebration of your father’s life. It was beautiful, heart-felt, inspiring, and rich. I’m sure that your father and our Father both felt the same way, only more so. Thank you for enriching my perspective and feel free to share more at any time. I love hearing the stories about his life and yours on the mission field in the jungles of Brazil. I will be praying for comfort and healing during this time of pain and loss.

  22. Claudette says:

    Dear Arthur, Its Easy To See How You Became Who You Are ByTheTwo Fathers You Have.Bless You And Your Family And Thank You So Much For Sharing This.

  23. don hank says:

    As someone who has a heart for South American missionary work, I have always been inspired hearing a little about your dad in cd’s, blogs etc Arthur. Thank you for sharing even more. I though not nearly as much as you, am saddened by the loss. Definitely praying for great grace to your whole family during this time.

  24. Soo Fee says:

    Dear Arthur
    I’m sorry to hear that you Dad has gone to be with the Lord. But at the same time I’m happy you have a good father. I felt like crying after reading what you have wrote about him. Here’s a man who gave his life selflessly to God, loving God with all his heart, mind and strength. I’m sure God, the Father is well-pleased with him.
    May God’s comfort be with you, especially your mother and family.
    Soo Fee

  25. Catherine says:

    Thank you, Arthur, for sharing with us the opportunity to honor your Dad, and for sharing his legacy as a Noble Subject. Prayers for you and all of your family as you grieve and celebrate, and for space and grace to feel the full range of what words do not adequately cover.

    • eva says:

      This was awesome, thank you for sharing your father with us, I would have loved your father, I feel a certain sense of kindred spirit with who he was. I will keep you and your family in my prayers, I can only hope and pray that one or both of my sons will write such an awesome tribute to me when my time comes to go home. Thank you

  26. Christine says:

    Dear Arthur,

    It is amazing how far the ripples spread when one stone is thrown into the pond. Over the years our lives have been enriched as you have shared stories about your Dad. And so your Dad lives on in your life and in the lives of many others. Thank you for sharing his life with us and allowing us to be moved along by the far reaching ripples.

    I sense that this is a kairos moment when many things are shifting in your life. May the Lord give you great peace and great perspective during this time.


  27. Susan says:

    Arthur, thank you for sharing and honouring your Dad. I enjoyed reading about your view of his life and his impact for the Kingdom. We pray for comfort for your mother, you and all your family.

  28. El-lizette says:

    Dear Arthur, Thank you for touching ours and sharing your heart with us. I have found in my own life how we truly get to know the Holy Spirit as our personal Comforter in times like these as I am sure you will also. Sincerely, El-lizette

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