Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tom Wright: Prayer Warrior

Tom Wright of Clinton, SC
Our friend Tom Wright of Clinton, SC, passed away unexpectedly on September 12, 2013. He was a servant-minded man with a passionate call to prayer in the last half of his life. 

In 2005, Tom and his sweet wife Judy helped our family move to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, to begin our North Carolina adventure. I will never forget us arriving there in a over-burdened moving truck. We were dog tired, and there was no energy to unload that truck. 

Tom looked at me and said, "Gene, we need to pray for help. We can't do this by ourselves. I agreed, and Tom gathered us in a circle to pray, thanking the Lord for a safe trip, but telling Him matter-of-factly that were were worn out from days of packing and loading and a five-hour trip. He prayed, "Lord, we need help. Please send us help to unload this truck. Amen." 

When we opened our eyes, there stood a dozen seminary students smiling at us. One of them said, "Need some help?" They had that truck unloaded and the furniture in place within an hour. 

That was Tom Wright and his faith at work. 

In 2002, I wrote a sidebar article about Tom Wright for Pray! Magazine about his call and ministry of intercession on behalf of a forgotten unreached people group in southwest China. Following is that article and the story of the man whose faith was simple but monumental.

"God was at work.  Three years ago our pastor asked us to begin to pray for an unreached people group called the Sh'ui people in southwest China.  He began to give out fact sheets on the Sh'ui people during our prayer meetings. We could not pronounce any of the words. We had no idea how our denomination's mission board connected us with this hidden people whom nobody, especially we had ever heard of.  But we were willing to pray for them, and we prayed our feeble prayers over the next several months.  Some people in the church did not have much of a vision for praying for the Sh'ui people.  A few people did. 

One of those was Tom.  He had made a commitment to Christ at a young age, but family, a career in the National Guard, and the cares of the world stifled out that fire that burned for Christ within him.
Many years later after raising a family and being successful in the Guard, health problems involving Tom's leg and back forced him into early retirement and disability.  During that time of forced stillness, God began to speak to Tom again. He began to wrestle with God as Jacob had wrestled with God at Peniel that dark night.  Just as Jacob had to be injured in his hip before he let God go, Tom was injured in his hip so that God could get a hold of him. The next Sunday Tom came to our church.  Right in the middle of communion, just as the bread was being passed, Tom started limping down the aisle.

"I can't wait," he said aloud, "I have to repent now."  And down the aisle he hobbled, a man come back to God.  Pastor Rhett ministered to Tom between communion duties, and the flame of Christ came back into Tom's life as a blaze.  A blaze of prayer.  God called Tom to the indispensable duty of intercession in the life of our church. 

For Tom, the unreached Sh'ui people became his prayer priority. He promoted prayer for them, continually asked for prayer for them during Wednesday night prayer meeting, prayed long hours himself, and made them his project.  I was leading the new prayer team at our church at the time, and we put Tom on the team.  He was a bulwark, and he made sure we never forgot to pray for the Sh'ui.

About two years ago, Tom told me that he was led to pray that the JESUS Film would be translated into the Sh'ui language.  I told him, "Tom, you can pray for that, but I have seen the websites on this people group. Only the old people and the priests among them speak their language now.  No one else really does.  I think it would be a waste of your prayer time."  But Tom was adamant.  He knew God had called him to pray for the JESUS Film to be recorded in their language, and he prayed for it.

At the beginning of 2002, three years after we began praying for the Sh'ui people, Pastor Rhett was called to another church. We started a neighborhood Lighthouse Bible study which Tom joined, and we committed ourselves to continue to pray for the Sh'ui people of southwest China. By email I surprisingly connected with some believers who are working among this people who happened to be visiting our state this summer.  They came to our Bible Study one night to present what was happening among our adopted people group.

They told us that three and a half to four years ago there were very few Sh'ui believers.  There was no Scripture translated into their language. While historically there had been some Catholic ministry in their area, no known fruit remained. Though some agencies had targeted them in the past, not a lot of activity was going on among them. 

But three years ago, something changed.  The Lord sent missionaries from our church's denomination for the first time to work among the Sh'ui! Other agencies increased activity the same year. Though no one can know any hard numbers among them because of the government situation, they guesstimated that 500 Sh'ui believers exist today. 

We realized this was the same time Pastor Rhett led us to begin praying for the Sh'ui.  Tom was sitting there in the Bible Study with his bad leg propped up on an ottoman.  If you knew him, you could see he was beginning to get choked up.

They added that one of the big problems is that no Scripture is translated into the heart language of the Sh'ui.  While most of the Sh'ui can speak Mandarin, they said, the language they speak at home and from their heart is the Sh'ui language. Two years ago, God called a man to translate the JESUS Film into the Sh'ui mother tongue.  They reported that as of that night's Bible Study, they were completing the translation with native Sh'ui speakers.  Four years ago this translation would have been impossible because there were no known Sh'ui believers.  Now there were enough to do all the male and female parts of the Gospel of Luke on the JESUS Film!

Tom’s eyes swelled.  Tears came down his face. He began to shake, then he could hold it in no longer.  He shouted, "Hallelujah!  Thank you Lord!  Never did I ever expect to hear what You were doing among the Sh'ui in answer to our prayers.  Tonight You brought to our little Bible Study these people who live with them and love them and know them.  You brought them all the way around the world to show us Your work, to show us how You are answering our prayers.  O God! Thank You!"

The Scripture says that Jacob walked with a limp the rest of his life.  Whenever I see Tom walking with his limp, I think of how he wrestled with God, how God touched his life and made him an intercessor for a forgotten people far away.  Just this past week Tom and I were talking about how his tears begin to flow whenever he thinks of the Sh'ui.  He said how much he longs to go to China and see the Sh'ui whom he has grown to love so much through prayer, but he feared his old bum leg would probably prevent his ever actually traveling there. 

Oh, but Tom has been before the Throne on behalf of the Sh'ui people of southwest China.  One Great Day Tom will stand before that same Throne and be showered with honor by the Lord Jesus because of the prayer he faithfully lifted up on behalf of the Sh'ui people. On that Great Day, Tom, without a limp, will meet and be thanked by those Sh'ui believers who came into the Kingdom during his prayer watch.