Look up “on call” in the dictionary and you will find phrases such as, “ready to serve when called,” and “readily available for summoning upon short notice.” You might also find a photograph of Mike Lawrence there, for Mike has made himself available to God since he was a child.
Mike’s father was a pastor, so it is no surprise that Mike accepted Christ at an early age (six), during an invitation at his dad’s church. Two years later, at a mission conference, he decided to become a missionary doctor. At age 12, young Lawrence made a momentous decision. During a church faith promise campaign, Mike exercised his faith and anonymously promised to give a dollar per week to the church, even though his weekly allowance was fifty cents. Since no one knew what he had pledged, when God provided the money for Mike by mowing the church lawn to fulfill the pledge, faith held new meaning. Mike now saw his relationship with God as personal, not dependent on or related to the involvement of his father or anyone else.
Mike continued the pursuit to become a medical missionary, and majored in pre-med in college and participated in various summer mission trips, first to Zambia and later, Trinidad. Those trips confirmed the desire that God gave him when he was eight years old. After four years of medical school, newlyweds Mike and Paula, moved to the Inland Empire for his residency at Loma Linda University Medical Center. During this time, the Lawrences began attending Trinity Church.
It wasn’t long before Trinity recognized Mike’s administrative gifts and voted on him to be an elder. With encouragement and prodding from then-Associate Pastor Rick Langer, Mike helped develop a mission program. His heart still yearned to serve on the mission field, so Mike along with the whole Lawrence clan (now numbering six), moved to Trinidad, where they ministered for ten years. In his medical role, Mike’s official title was “Lecturer in Surgery” at the University of the West Indies. He taught medical students and supervised residents in surgery. In addition, he instructed the island surgeons how to operate laparoscopically.
Mike also made a spiritual impact in Trinidad. He initiated Bible studies with medical students, and at the end of every rotation he invited the students to his home for an informal evening. After a spaghetti dinner and games, Mike would share his testimony. He also hosted various outreach events fashioned to appeal to his colleagues. He had ministry connections outside the medical realm as well. Mike served in a church plant pastored by a long-time friend. He partnered with his pastor-friend in decision-making, preached occasionally, and participated in ministry outreaches.
The first several years were very difficult and discouraging. His pastor friend moved back to the States, leaving a fledgling small group behind. Seeing so little fruit from his efforts, Mike found it hard to justify all the money spent on them. He would cry out, “Lord, why are we here?”
However, as the new de facto church planter, Mike refocused his efforts and recruited a new leadership team. The team included two other missionaries and two Trinidadians. The Holy Spirit rewarded the perseverance of Mike and the team, and the ministry blossomed and remains strong to this day. The following years were filled with blessings and made it worth the previous struggles.
The Lawrences returned to their home here, and to Trinity Church in 2003. Mike and family had barely settled back in town when another ministry opportunity beckoned. Mike served on the leadership team that helped establish a local church plant, Trinity-in-the-Pass, in Beaumont. Mike and Paula eagerly volunteered to join the new congregation.
After several years helping in Beaumont, they returned to Trinity church, Redlands campus, and Mike was once again called on to be an elder and soon became the chairman. As chairman, Mike encourages fellow elders to identify their spiritual gifts and seeks to empower each one to do their best as they operate within their gifts and strengths. Mike encourages this for the general congregation as well.
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Mike likes clarity in his life, and a recent challenge brought stark clarity. In September, 2013, tests proclaimed, “You have cancer.” Specifically, he was diagnosed with ocular melanoma. Treatment soon eradicated the cancer in Mike’s right eye, but also left him blind in that eye. However, two years later, a PET scan revealed the presence of a metastasis in his left leg. He is at the top of our prayer list, and we are asking the Great Physician to intervene and heal Mike.
Whether it was being willing, at age eight, to be a medical missionary, going on short-term mission trips, serving on elder boards, ministering in a foreign country, or attending Trinity’s church plant, a pattern in Mike’s life is apparent. He has personified the definition of being on call for God. He has been ready to serve when called. Mike’s desire is for fellow believers to likewise be available to obey the Lord whenever and wherever He may call them to serve.
Mike uses his situation in I Samuel 7 as a model and a mantra for this challenging time in their lives. To memorialize God’s faithfulness in routing Israel’s enemy, the Philistines, Samuel set a stone at the site of the victory and named the stone Ebenezer. Similarly, even though Mike does not know what his future may hold, he can agree with Samuel in affirming, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” Since He has helped him in the past, He will help him in the future. Mike trusts a trustworthy God and walks forward, knowing He will create new commemorative stones, new Ebenezers in his life.
By Donna Walker