One of the joys of being a university chaplain is watching students grow in their faith during their years on campus. They begin to separate the essentials from the non-essentials and make important decisions about the direction their lives will take.
Kentucky novelist Wendell Berry once wrote, 'A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing which things are more important than other things; it means putting first things first' (In the Presence of Fear). I often remind them of a lesson I learned from my father-in-law.
I had just returned from an early morning walk along a stretch of Haitian beach with two of my children. We were examining the pile of shells we had just collected. Some were worn smooth, some were fragments, some were faded. Others were beautiful.
My father-in-law and pioneer missionary to Haiti in 1950, Paul Orjala, walked out to join us in the morning sun. He then proceeded to take my kids for a hike up the very same stretch of beach we had just explored. They returned loaded down with the most amazing assortment of exotic shells that I have ever seen. Beautiful shells, perfect specimens - none were cracked, faded, or broken. He then began to tell us where these shells could be found, what type of creature lived in each of them, and the scientific name for each one.
Paul had grown up in San Diego and discovered a new species of shell when he was just 12 years old. My pile of shells looked silly next to his. I asked him where he had found all those shells. I told him we had just walked that same stretch of beach and I hadn't found anything spectacular. He simply said to me, 'Well, you have to know what you're looking for.'
Paul and Mary Orjala left Haiti in 1964 to establish the School of World Mission at Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS). After 22 years at NTS, they returned to a missionary assignment in France and then retired after Paul taught seven years at their alma mater, Point Loma Nazarene University. He suffered a stroke in 1998, and has since needed constant care. He and Mary now live with our family.
We were walking together one day recently and as he took careful, yet unsure steps we talked about the joy of serving God. He stopped and said, 'You know, I have loved my life, every part of it.'
I thought back to that day on the beach in Haiti. It was clear to me why he had loved his life. It was because he knew what he was looking for. Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you.
Randy Beckum serves as chaplain and associate professor of missions at MidAmerica Nazarene University. Holiness Today, May/June 2005
Editor's Note: Paul Orjala passed away in 2005.