I cannot read a book like Footprints of God without a degree of sadness and existential longing. ‘Life happens,’ my generation says, and I suppose if you are not careful, it does. Not that I haven’t tried to live intentionally; I was as focused as in my limited perspective and vision as I could be. But when I look into the lives here recorded, I cannot help but think that I have been largely wasting my time!

Here is Toyohiko Kagawa, walking away from Kobe Theological Seminary on Christmas Day in 1919, and beginning a life of incarnational ministry in the slums of Shinkawa that led to the establishment of Sunday schools, cooperatives, worship services and social work that included the legalization of labour unions, leaving Japan with over 150 written works that explain the mission of Christ in a Japanese context. Here is Korean Bokyoung Park, refusing to be cowed by her culture into submission because of her gender, seeking to find a missiological feminism that “does not abandon the significance of the Bible as the Word of God or the lordship of Jesus Christ.”

Here is Ernesto Cardenal, the son of privilege, whose education at universities in Mexico City and Columbia University in New York led to him becoming a writer and poet. Returning to his native Nicaragua he became embroiled in the resistance to the dictatorial Somoza regime until at the age of 31 he encountered God and entered a Trappist monastery where Thomas Merton became his mentor. However, Merton would not let him ‘retire’ in solitude, telling him, “We have no right to escape into happiness that most of the world cannot share. This is a very grim and terrible century, and in it we must suffer sorrow with the rest of the world.” Cardenal would return to Nicaragua, becoming a cabinet minister and a spokesman for the Sandinista government that endured persecution from both Somozan and Reagan regimes, eventually returning to writing and with his powerful poetic voice proclaiming Christ’s power to minister to the neglected and despised.

Here is Mother Teresa, whose work in the slums of Calcutta is perhaps the world’s best known example of incarnational ministry; and Karl Barth, driven out of Germany by his opposition to Adolph Hitler who became perhaps the twentieth century’s most important theologian. Here is E. Stanley Jones who went to India as a missionary at the age of 23 and died there when he was 89. A good friend of Mahatma Gandhi, it was Jones’ biography of the Indian leader that inspired Martin Luther King’s non-violence movement. Jones worked tirelessly for sixty-six years in serving his Lord in India, becoming that nation’s foremost evangelist. After a stroke left him partially paralyzed, he still preached from his wheelchair at 88 at the world conference of the Christian Ashram Congress in Jerusalem, a movement which he founded, and which still flourishes in India.

These lives lead me to a state of shocked recognition of my own inadequacies. What heroic persistence in the face of obstacles! What stunning, shining lives these are in the darkness of the world’s selfish, carnal excess. Are you looking for miracles? Are you looking for ‘signs and wonders’ of the Lord’s power to change lives and make them eternally significant? This book would be a good place to start. This book rebukes my pride and gives me a glimpse into the true nature of servanthood for Christ, leading me to ask, ‘What am I doing for God?’