How Much is Too Much?

Written 2001 in view of upcoming retirement
(Click here to download as a Word document)

Only one life; ‘twill soon be past;
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

I often said that I wished I had a dozen lives to live, so I could do all the things I wanted to do in life. Architect, builder, inventor, mechanic, welder, farmer, boat builder, journalist, musician and artist – these were only a few of my interests. Following my conversion, I took the above mentioned ditty to heart and wasted no time enrolling in a Bible college to prepare for whatever the Lord wanted to do with my life. I wanted to learn!

"YOU LEARN TOO MUCH!"

“Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad." Acts 26:24

I was anything but a good student in High School, but God changed my attitude towards learning after my conversion. Although I had to work 20 to 40 hours a week next to my college courses, I tried to learn as much as possible. I even spent time in the library reading study material that was not required. I got disgusted with fellow students who signed up only for those classes which were easy or required. Once, I asked a roommate if he was seeking the least education for his money. His reply left me speechless; “Sure, I want to get paid for working, not pay for it!” The price for that piece of paper called a diploma was around $15,000 in 1962!

Upon our arrival in Austria, we promptly enrolled in two language schools simultaneously. In order to expedite the learning process, we also hired a University German major to give private tutoring.

After eight years of grammar school, four years of High School, four years of college, two years of language study and four more decades of learning, I am still not educated. My office walls are full of Bibles and books. I am presently devouring books on church history and there is much more that I would like to learn.

People who criticize me are not enemies. Critics have been some of my best teachers, for they tell me what I do wrong when friends don’t. Critics taught me good German and I can only blame myself for the bad. But sometimes, my critics say that I talk too much.

"YOU TALK TOO MUCH!"

Europeans have an expression which says, “Speech is silver; silence is gold.” I guess I am a silver person who has little time for gold!

When the Apostle James wrote about all the terrible things our tongue is capable of, he was certainly not saying that we should disobey Christ. We are commanded to preach the gospel and be His witnesses. When it comes to witnessing, many Christians seem to be infatuated with gold. Unless the Word is shared with others, it produces little if any fruit. My filing cabinet is filled with sermons I have preached and even more are stored digitally.

A German invented the printing press and another German translated the Bible into German. Printing multiplies the potential of the tongue – both positively and negatively speaking. You don’t make a single mistake in the printing business; you make thousands or even millions of them! But there is no denying the fact that Christian literature has had a powerful impact on this world.

I began mimeographing a youth paper in 1972 and when demand for the periodical increased, I bought an offset press and began to print the magazine. Word spread that I was printing, and soon I was swamped with requests to print tracts, invitations, posters, leaflets and books for churches and mission organizations. Tons of literature were produced and smuggled into Eastern Europe.

No Christian rejects printed literature because of all the pornography, yet there are some who argue against the use of Internet for that reason. Three years ago, in 1998, I was among 2 % of those over sixty, who had Internet access. Today, senior citizens are the fastest growing group getting on line. Most of them are just consumers, but I am a producer, helping churches create websites and serving as webmaster for six of them.

In spite of all this, I fully realize that the great commission was given to people and not things. Tools don’t build a house but builders use tools to expedite the process.

“YOU DO TOO MUCH!”

Friends tell me I am trying to do too much but sitting still was always difficult for me. My First Grade teacher wrote in my report card, “Ralph would rather stand on his head than his feet.”

There is only one sure way of avoiding mistakes and that is to make the biggest mistake of all: do nothing! The farmer who has no cows has the cleanest and sweetest smelling barn. But is he really a farmer?

From the moment we arrived in Austria, I was looking for things to do. Even during language study, I helped remodel a house that was to be used for a Bible School, drew “Chalk Talks” in the “Church on Wheels” and handed out flyers for a Telephone counseling service. Within a year, I was teaching Sunday School, conducting children’s classes among Gypsies, helping with camps and doing literature distribution.

We started our first church planting project in 1966 with a schedule that would have exhausted most senior pastors. In addition to preaching sermons and conducting weekly Bible studies in three towns, there were children and youth meetings, visitation and evangelistic outreach. Shoveling tons of snow and coal in winter and cutting hay for our rabbits in summer were welcome diversions!

In 1969 we began a youth ministry in the industrial city of Linz. The Catacomb Youth Center was dedicated in 1971. Located in the heart of the city, it wasn’t long before we were working with drug addicts. We rented several rooms in the Salvation Army, where “clean” youth lived with addicts who wanted rehabilitation. We called it the “Extra Mile Domicile”. During the summer of 1972, the youth center was open every night from 7:00 PM until after midnight. We obviously did too much, but 40 young people found Christ. After that, the center was open only three nights a week.

As if I didn’t have enough to do working with youth, editing a magazine and operating a print shop, I also accepted pastoral charge of the Linz Baptist Church during the seven-month illness and rehabilitation of the Pastor. Because the church had three out-stations in other cities, these too became my responsibility. The work load was exhausting and people kept telling me, “Don’t do so much!” On the other hand, the same people kept finding more for me to do.

I often feel frustrated that I don’t get half as much done as I intend to do. This is perhaps one reason why I crashed in the fall of 1995. They call it a mid-life crises, but I was 58 then and I doubt if I’ll live to be 116! “Why do I do so much?” I guess it’s because I want too much - and spoiled brats usually get what they want.

The most hated person in the workplace is the one who does too much. He or she is a threat to less motivated workers and sometimes even makes the boss nervous.

“YOU WANT TOO MUCH!”

Before I was married, I owned 38 cars. I was never satisfied with them and sought ways to improve them and make them go faster. This same characteristic drove my missions career. There was hardly a thing I wouldn’t try to reach Austrians for Christ and I was always on the lookout for new ideas and methods to accomplish that goal.

During the eighties, I became convinced that Austria needed to train Christian leaders. Friends told me I was wasting my time trying to generate interest in establishing a Bible School. Four such attempts had already failed but I kept planning, praying, working and wanting until the Austrian Bible Institute became reality in 1984. I was Business Manager, which meant raising money to pay bills.

This was of course in addition to leading a church, operating a print shop, and serving as Mission Field Director.

I enjoyed working with kids, so when one of the Bible Institute students said that he wanted to start a youth organization, we joined forces to establish “ABÖJ” in 1987. Soon there were sixty local clubs in Austria, and beginning in 2001, the work expanded into a dozen European nations under the name "JUROPA".

“YOU ASK TOO MUCH!”

We seldom mention personal needs, but I have raised more than half a Million Dollars for various mission projects. I did fundraising for a print shop, the Bible Institute, for refugee aid, and to build churches in Romania and Albania. I collected many truckloads of food supplies, clothing and other materials in Austria that were shipped into Eastern Europe.

We are blessed and have no debts, but others keep asking if they can help. That question usually puts me on a guilt trip and I feel I must start another project.

I have probably turned down more money than I ever asked for. Back in 1965, Wham-O (later purchased by Mattel Corp.) wanted me to set up franchises throughout Europe for distribution of their Frisbees and Hula Hoops. In 1982, I was asked to take on a monstrous $10-Million printing project, but I turned down both offers because I believed the Lord wanted us to be missionaries in Austria.

“TOO MUCH INFORMATION"

In Austria, the first question that is asked after being introduced is, “What is your occupation?” Newspaper reports on accidents and criminal offences always mention the occupation of those involved even if they never worked a day of their lives. For migrant laborers, it is sufficient to state this as an occupation, but when I tried it on a form required for registering a vehicle, the official was quite indignant. He said, “An American is NOT a migrant laborer!”

If I tell them I am a missionary, the follow-up question is, “In what country?” So I list all the things I do and get a blank stare. There is nothing quite so frustrating to an Austrian official as when you give them too much information.

What should I answer?
• I have served several churches and preached hundreds if not a thousand sermons, but was never ordained.
• I mastered most handwork occupations related to construction and automobiles. Dare I claim to be a builder or mechanic?
• I am familiar with graphics and printing and operate a fully equipped print shop, but never learned the trade.
• I have edited and published two periodicals, written numerous magazine articles and brochures. I am working on a couple of books, but I don't consider myself to be an author, writer or journalist.
• I worked in an art gallery and learned to restore old masterpieces. I carved elaborate picture frames and applied gold-leaf. One of my ministries is doing “chalk talks.” But I never took an art course, so I don’t qualify as an artist.
• I learned to play steel guitar and banjo. I have sung in choirs and ensembles, a 500-voice chorale and had minor parts in three operas; does that make me a musician?
• I take pictures with every kind of camera. I create videos and state-of-the-art multimedia presentations, using four computer-driven projectors and a video projector complete with sound effects and stereo sound. I was one of the first in Austria to get a digital camera, a gift from my son-in-law. But I am not a photographer.
• I enjoy sailing but am not a sailor. My hobbies help pass the time but they are not pastimes.

I am envious of the Apostle Paul, who could say, “This one thing I do…” but for me, it’s all the things I dabble in. It is frustrating, not knowing what to tell people.

“DON’T CRY TOO MUCH!”

Why do I learn, say, do, tell and want so much? I really don’t know, but it probably has something to do with gratitude to God for the time, health and gifts he has given me. Life is too precious to spend on the beach or in front of a television set. We owned a 12" black and white portable for three of our 38 years in Austria, but I refuse to become a couch potato. Retirement will be fun working for my Heavenly Father with Uncle Sam paying my salary.

So, don’t cry too much at my funeral. Cry for all those people who never heard the gospel because nobody got around to sharing Christ with them. They were too busy learning, saying, doing, telling, wanting and asking too much! And they will leave all their accomplishments and accumulations behind, while I enjoy mine in eternity!

Ralph Harvey, 2001