At a church event held in the Adelaide Hills in 1999, an old Wycliffe Australia missionary stood up the front of the room and said, ‘It does not matter what you do, we can use you in the work of Bible Translation’.
We had spent the day at a missionary simulation event, learning what the path is like for missionaries. I honestly don’t know why I went—maybe as part of my youth leader role--but I certainly didn’t expect to look back years later and remember those words he spoke and how ironic his answer was.
I was a dog trainer. The Head Trainer for Lions Hearing Dogs Incorporated, training alert dogs for the deaf and hearing impaired. I liked my job. I was good at my job…so when he said, ‘it does not matter what you do, we can use you in Bible Translation’, a wry smile crossed my face, and my hand rose with a question. ‘I’m a dog trainer… can you use me?’
I never wanted to be a missionary you know. Had God showed me what was ahead, I would have run a mile… but 21 years since the call, I can look back on a completely amazing journey… and it’s only just begun! The best decision we ever made was to leave everything and follow Him.
The old missionary stopped and thought. Then he answered, clearly picking his words carefully. ‘We cannot use you as a dog trainer, but we could use you somewhere else.’ I had it… direct from the missionary’s mouth… God does not need dog trainers! I had my out clause, my ‘Get out of Missions Free’ card! I thought no more about it, but the seed was sown deep.
I wanted to preach
‘I want you to preach’, the youth pastor said some time later. Another wry smile. ‘You know I’m a dog trainer, right?’ I replied. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but I believe God has a word for us in you, and we want to hear it.’ So, I prayed, and sure enough, there was a message deep down inside. A message from God’s heart about the poor; a message of how God requires us to be His hands and feet; a message of choice.
It started with the Bible story of the Rich Young Ruler who asked Jesus how he could be saved. Jesus said, follow the 10 commandments and you are in. The young man (I imagine him also with a wry smile!) says, ‘this I have done all my life… what else must I do?’ Jesus looked at him and loved him (I love that bit!) and said, ‘Go, sell everything you have, give it to the poor, then come and follow me.’
‘Go, sell everything you have, then come and follow me.’ I don’t remember if I heard that voice in an audible way, or just in my head, but it was like Jesus was standing beside me right then, asking me the exact same question! Obviously, I said ‘no’ … and then proceeded to come up with every excuse under the sun to justify that ‘no’ … and each argument I raised was settled with Scripture.
I felt a bit like Jacob wrestling with the angel. In my memory, it truly was an epic battle—one that I was slowly losing. Finally, I had no excuses left, and surrendered to the voice. And that is a whole other story.
Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia
Ironically, we joined Wycliffe Bible Translators Australia several years later, after completing Bible College, and were asked to fill an administration role in Papua New Guinea. We sold all we had, used it to buy our tickets, and, in 2004, flew to PNG to begin our roles.
Based in Lae, we were assigned to run a missionary guesthouse, to oversee the maintenance and administration, providing a safe and clean base for the missionaries to come to and work from. Every job I had ever done before was used in this place.
One day, while driving through town, I spotted a brand-new police car. It was not the newness that got my attention though, it was the cage on the back. The cage had two dogs in it. Always wanting to develop new relationships and practice my new language skills, I stopped and started a conversation with the three policemen in the car.
They were the new Lae Police Dog Squad, fresh from basic training with their dogs. They lamented that their training was not enough. ‘How do we know if the dog is sick, and how do we continue to train it?’ None of these men had ever owned or cared for a dog like this. Another wry smile crossed my face and the words of the old missionary from years before came back to me, ‘we cannot use you as a dog trainer’.
I then explained to these men that as well as being the head trainer for Lions Hearing Dogs, I had also trained in the USA as a Master Trainer for Police and Narcotics Detection Dogs. With the permission of the Provincial Police Commander, these three men ended up in our lounge room talking about dog training and sharing ideas and contacts.
We prayed together, developed good relationships and ended as friends. God can use a dog trainer… and He can use anyone of us!
Growing up in Adelaide provided a wonderful foundation in a lovely Australian city. After leaving school, Mark had a whole raft of jobs, all of which would serve him well on the mission field. Gas Station attendant, Bricklayer, Stone Mason, Computer Sign Engraver and a whole lot more. Lorene and Mark met in Highschool and were married in 1987. They have two grown children and one amazing grandchild.
Mark and Lorene van Rossen have served with Wycliffe Australia and SIL Pacific Area for 21 years and are now in the process of setting up a counselling centre in Cairns Qld for missionaries living and serving in the Pacific region. Their web site is https://wycliffe.org.au/member/mark-lorene/