It is the latter I will share now.
On November 4, 1984, I left Houston, Texas and plunked myself down in the plane for the last leg of my intercontinental journey. It was my first time to attend the Pan American Lectureship, a missionary conference hosted by the Church of Christ. This year it was held in San Jose, Costa Rica. The world of missions fascinated me. I’d spent one month in Brazil during the summer of my junior year of college. Now, three years later, I tentatively took another step not knowing where it would lead me but wanting to go anyway.
Little did I know that God was about to seat me next to a very experienced missionary before I even arrived. I looked up from my passport to see a long-limbed man somewhere in his fifties frowning at the window seat. I realized it would be a tight squeeze and I offered to switch seats for the flight.
“That’s mighty nice of you,” he said after I made the move. He settled down in the aisle seat and stretched. Dressed in white from the cap on his head to the shoes on his feet, he looked nautical. “Name’s Tom Tune, skipper of the Dorcas Sue, missionary of the seven seas.” He held out his hand and I shook it.
It amazed me that we were both headed to the same missionary conference, but not Tom. “Seems about right.” He smiled. When he spoke, I noticed a slight accent. I learned he’d grown up in Tennessee but lived at the moment in Little Rock, AR. He’d served on the mission field in Hong Kong in the 60s. I confided how I longed to live overseas but wanted to teach English and support myself. “I could never ask for funds. Teaching solves that problem right off. But I see myself working in missions once I’m there.” I assured him.
He nodded. “Great plan of action.” He squinted at me through the sun coming through the window blind. “You got a heart for adventure to go along with that plan? Ya gotta have that, you know or nothin’ else is gonna keep you there.”
As he launched into a long, involved tale about a sea voyage he took a year earlier delivering precious and impossible-to-get, lifesaving medicines to the people of Guyana, South America, I asked myself that very question.
The tale unfolded over bites of eggs and sausages I barely tasted, through gulps of orange juice and sips of small but strong café, tico-style. “…So none of the original crew ended up going. It was a young woman I worked with on the Christian Chronicle and her husband, an out-of-work friend of mine and me as we took the sailed the Dorcas Sue . Though I’d been around water all my life, I’d never skippered a 45-foot ketch over the open seas before. That we came back at all was a monument solely to the providential care and power of God.”
“I guess so. What happened next?”
He told me about hunkering down through terrible storms, where it was so windy, the crew didn’t walk, they climbed. “Everyone was too sick to even care.” He didn’t even seem fazed when he talked about an attempted hijacking.
“Did you just take it in stride?”
“Well, we’d been warned off the coast of Venezuela how pirates might try it, and in the exact way they said it would happen, it did. We called the Coast Guard, who came back but we never could get our coordinates straight to get help. It was evening….when it happened again, we were well out-of-range from the Coast Guard. I brought some of our guns on deck—a 410 pistol, a mini 14 and two others. The hijackers must have seen the precautions we took and fled.”
I tried to imagine myself in these situations. I didn’t know anything about sailing. But I believed that I had a strong enough sense of adventure that if I were with Tom Tune, I’d survive. I knew I liked different foods, and meeting new people and learning languages. Would that be enough?
As we landed, Tom reached into his briefcase and pulled out a book called The Dorcas Sue, which chronicled the same yacht adventures he’d shared with me on the flight.
I looked at the back of the book and saw that Tom had been involved in mission work for more than twenty years. He was a writer, speaker, author, yachtsman, and businessman. I wanted to be a writer and a teacher overseas. Tom Tune was in the center of God’s will and living the life he dreamed of. I could do the same, couldn’t I?
During that conference, Tom took me under his wing and explained a lot about missionary work, focusing on the joy of it and how “God worked out all the details.” I have a memory of going to the ocean with Tom, and some AIM (Adventures in Missions) students living in Costa Rica. Tom ran into the waves with a passion. I imagined that’s how he approached missions work, too. “Come on, Amy, let’s make a run for it!” he said, grabbing my hand. Together we ran to the ocean. I remember the sting of salt on a cut of mine as we hit the first wave. I tried not to flinch. The wave carried me back but he called out for me to move forward again.
Another evening, he and I and a few others went out to eat at a local restaurant. I will never forget my shock when the fish I ordered came with the head attached. Tom whispered a few words to the waiter, who retrieved the dish, removed the head and brought it back to the table. I smiled and sampled the soft, flaky light meat doused in lemon.
A missionary and a gentleman.
I recalled the fish-head incident nearly twenty-five years later to Tom over the telephone after living overseas myself most of that time. Tom knew exactly who he was talking to and where we’d met even though we hadn’t seen each other since that time.
I told Tom I’d kept his book on my shelf all that time, taking it out to re-read his autographed message to me over the years. In my mind, I always saw that impressionable twenty-four year old girl running towards the wave of a vast ocean–because a few months after that conference, I started teaching English in Colombia. That was just the start of my exciting life teaching overseas. “Tom, I regrouped many times, and I believe it was always God’s hand and your spirit of adventure that pushed me forward.”
He now lived in Vietnam, another missionary tale that simply “happened.” He invited me to work with him there. “Come on over, teach English, even for a couple of weeks.”
“I’ll do that!” I could hardly wait for that day to come. I needed to hear more of his stories, and return the favor by sharing some of my own.
I was planning to join him as soon as I could get the money together, tentatively planned for this summer. We kept in touch through emails and Tom’s online newsletter. While I saved money for the flight, I witnessed the growth of two churches he planted in two different Vietnamese cities. Though I wondered how I would now teach as a legally blind woman, I didn’t fear going. I would be with a missionary and a gentleman. He didn’t seem to be slowing down any even though now he was in his eighties.
I recently opened an email from Tom Tune’s son addressed to all his father’s supporters. He explained that Tom had come home on furlough, seen the doctor and suffered several uncharacteristic health setbacks. Everyone thought he’d rally back from the last one, but he surprised them all by going on his last adventure– to see His Heavenly Father. The email closed with specifics of a funeral to be held the following Saturday. Shocked, I got up from my computer and took the worn book Tom had given me from its place on the shelf and opened to the inside cover page he autographed. I let the grateful tears come as I read the motivating words he wrote to me so long ago:
“Lovely Amy, May your journey through life be as exciting as my first journey through the ocean but not as stormy. Tom Tune / November 10, 1984.”