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My Little Shark Hunter

Always brave, my son tackles a new dangerous mission. At times, I wish I felt better about it.

Ever since he was knee high to a Doberman, the boy was fearless. Take him to the ocean and he'd jump in looking for sharks. Take him to the mountains and he'd see how high he could climb. One day when he was five, I watched in horror as he jumped off a roof—a garbage bag duct-taped to his back. We couldn't be more opposite, my son and I. The higher he climbs, the more he believes God is with him. Not me. I believe God put us on dry land and says, "Lo, I am with you always."

In his first year of college, he called one night to ask me for money. "I'm sorry," I said. "You have reached this number in error. Please hang up and call your Uncle Dan."

"I scaled a 300-foot cliff today," he said, undaunted. "You'd have loved it."

Right. His father who contracts vertigo standing on a skateboard.

For years I've wondered what God would make of our son. Would he call him to be a crash-test dummy? A professional bungee jumper? Or would he fulfill every North American parent's dream by settling down in a huge house with a nice wife and provide us some grandchildren to spoil?

The unexpected answer arrived by e-mail one day:

Dear Dad and Mom,

I just want you to know that I met a couple nice girls and we're planning on being married. In Utah. Not really. But I did meet Lucy. You'll like her a lot. It's surprising how quickly you can find a Justice of the Peace down here. Lucy owns a tattoo parlor, but seldom works. Her father won some money in a lottery, so she's set for life. I won't need to work anymore either. I've bought a Mercedes convertible and you'll be happy to know I put a chrome fish on the bumper.

If you haven't fainted yet, here's the truth. It may be more shocking. In the country of Uganda, the Lord's Resistance Army is committing atrocities against children that are too awful for me to put in this letter. Over the years they've abducted 50,000 kids and turned the ones they haven't murdered into soldiers. I'd like to work with street children in Kampala. I'll be living with local missionaries. It will mean lots of needles and I'll need to raise a little money too.

Dad, you told me once that Jesus came to comfort us, not to make us comfortable. I guess I've been comforted enough; it's time to offer some to others.

Your son, Steve

"Where do you think we went wrong?" I asked his mother. "Couldn't he just have a beach ministry in Hawaii? Maybe we blew it taking him to other countries and showing him what the real world looks like. Don't you just hate it when your son practices what you've been preaching?"

"It's what we've prayed for all these years," she said with a grin, "that he would live life on purpose."

And so one month ago, we hugged our firstborn son goodbye as he embarked on a grand adventure half a world away. It's funny the questions people ask when they hear he's in Uganda. "Aren't you worried about his safety?" I have my moments. Check a list of the most dangerous spots on earth and Uganda nears the top. But is safety what we're here for? Isn't Complacency the most dangerous place on earth? Isn't Suburbia sucking the life out of our teenagers more than any foreign country ever could?

I sat with a missionary the other day who is pouring her life out in Pakistan, patching bodies and souls for Jesus. She's the only missionary in her area whose parents support her being there. I must be honest: I understand. There are times I'd rather Steve was home making good money—putting it away for my nursing home bills. Yet I cannot hope for more than this: that my children will hear God's voice despite a noisy culture, and that they will obey.

A few nights before he left I asked Steve what he'd miss most about home. "The dog," he said, smiling. Then why is it that I found him studying family photos and lounging on the sofa watching an old Disney movie with his brother and sister? Was he killing time? Or saying goodbye to the remnants of childhood?

I've shed a few tears, for sure. But mostly I've been giving thanks. For a son who's a much improved version of his father. For e-mail and cheap overseas phone rates. And I'm thankful there are no sharks in Uganda.

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