An inheritance is what we will leave to our children and family, but a legacy is what we will leave in them. It is our imprint upon their souls.
My parents’ imprint on my soul runs deep. Lamar and Mary Alice Pate served together as IPHC missionaries in Zambia and Zimbabwe for 17 years. They pioneered the work in Zimbabwe, physically building and planting seven churches, a Bible School, and three pastor’s houses. My dad, at only 44 years of age, died unexpectedly in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) on September 1, 1972. Mom continued the work in Zimbabwe as a widowed, single missionary for another seven years, serving over 24 years as a missionary in Africa. The call of God to Zimbabwe burned as passionately and fervently in her heart as it had in Dad’s. She never remarried because she said: “I don’t think I could ever find anyone as good as your dad.” A spinal cord injury in 1991 in Zimbabwe, required a medical airlift back to the United States, and resulted in her retirement as a missionary. On August 21, 2017, Mom went home to join Dad in heaven. She had been a minister in the Alpha Conference of the IPHC for 65 years!
Reflecting on the imprint my parents left on my soul, here are four essentials to leaving a lasting legacy, or imprint, on the next generation:
Firstly, there’s a thirst for God. David said (Psalm 63:1 NASB): “O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” David didn’t hide his thirst for God from others. Neither did my parents; they lived open, authentic lives that were continually seeking and thirsting for more of God. Their thirst for God made me thirsty for God. I wanted to know God like they knew him. They regularly shared the things God had spoken to them, and the miracles they had received in answer to their prayers. God was so real in their daily lives. I’m forever grateful that they included us in their walk with God, and they encouraged us to seek after God in our own lives. Likewise, I’ve endeavored to live this way with my children.
Secondly, there is God’s loving-kindness. David said (Psalm 63:3-4 NASB): “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live…” David is writing this psalm from the desert of Judah, a tough-to-survive, inhospitable place. He has discovered that even though life has brought him a dreadful desert, God’s lovingkindness is better than life, bringing him better things to sustain his life! “Lovingkindness” translates the Hebrew word, chesed, or hesed. It means the covenant-keeping love of God that is holy, steadfast, and loyal. It is a major theme of the Old Testament and is translated by numerous English words such as: kindness, loving-kindness, mercy, love, unfailing love, favor, goodness. Similarly, my parents also faced tough-to-survive places! Only eight months into their first missionary term in Zambia in 1957, Dad was bedridden for a week with such a severe case of malaria that he couldn’t even be moved to the hospital!
At the same time, my mom was confined to the hospital for a miscarriage and hemorrhaging that required surgery. The veteran missionaries, the Guthries, had returned to the United States for furlough, and so my parents were all alone in Africa. Thank God for his loving kindness that led a Spirit-filled lady, living nearby, to take care of my two sisters (I had not yet been born) and my dad, cooking three meals a day, while my mom recovered from her weeklong hospital stay. How did they make it? They knew that no matter how bad things were, God would keep His covenant of love with them and would bring them better-than-life things! I cannot thank God enough for parents who imprinted my soul with a God of loving-kindness, and this is the God I’ve tried to show to my children.
Thirdly, there’s clinging to God. David said (Psalm 63:8 NASB): “My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” My parents would resist being put on a pedestal, as if by their own strength, they overcame the challenges of the mission field. Like David, they learned to cling to God, and it was God’s right hand – the hand of favor and blessing, power and authority – that upheld them. In one of the greatest trials of Mom’s life, clinging to God was all she could do! She had a fall in 1991 in Harare, Zimbabwe, and was paralyzed for two weeks, having mobility only in her neck and head. She couldn’t feed herself, brush her teeth, or roll over in bed; internal bodily functions, like her bladder and bowel, were impaired. Two weeks turned into 11 weeks of grueling, debilitating misery, as she was moved to a rehab center.
Confined to a wheelchair and without much improvement, Mom was finally airlifted to the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota. They performed surgery to relieve a spinal cord injury, and then, Mom went through months of painful rehab. On the morning before she fell, these words jumped off the page as she read her Bible (Jeremiah 30:17 NASB): “For I will restore you to health and I will heal you of your wounds…” Mom thought to herself: “That’s strange! I’m not even sick.” She clung to the Lord and these words of restoration and healing during this grievous trial. She was able to recover all bodily functions and walk again, because the Lord upheld her! Lord, help me show my children that clinging to You brings greater power, than fighting in one’s own strength!
Lastly, there’s recognizing and encouraging God’s call and giftings in the next generation. David recognized God’s call on Solomon’s life to be king, and he collected the plans, resources, and leaders to help ensure Solomon’s success in building God’s Temple. Likewise, Mom discerned and encouraged the call of God in my life at age 11, by giving me the opportunity to preach my first sermon to a small group of Africans under a shady tree (with the pulpit nailed into it!). The Africans told my mother, “The spirit of Mufundisi (Shona language: Pastor) is resting on the son.” The Zimbabweans called her, “Amai (Shona language: Mother) Pate,” because she encouraged them in their gifts and callings as her spiritual children. Bishop Jonathan Chatendeuka, the IPHC Superintendent of Zimbabwe, mentioned Mom’s imprint upon his life in sending me his condolences: “Bishop Pate, it was with shock to hear the passing away of mum… Your mum did much in my life through teachings and encouragements. Truly may her soul rest in peace…” May we so encourage the generations behind us, in their gifts and callings, that we set them up to advance God’s kingdom far beyond us! That’s a lasting legacy!