Growing up in the piney woods and ranch-covered hills of East Texas, I deliberated between two potential careers: world domination, that is to say, being a politicking lawyer, and global espionage, perhaps serving as a CIA officer who worked covertly in some ivy-covered medieval castle in Ghent or Prague.
Now snugly in my thirties, it turns out that I have yet to find a way to control the world. Nor have I yet traveled to Ghent or Prague. Instead, my days are comprised of changing dirty diapers on the youngest of my three children, who laughs mockingly every time I mention that toilets are all the rage; leading and participating in a continual cycle of meetings; having lunch at very German-sounding restaurants with local pastors; teaching and counseling seminary students; and writing Christian books whenever I can snatch the time. When I get home after a busy day of work, my wife and I talk about our day and then I play dolls with my two girls. Almost every night, instead of chasing down international gun-smugglers in a black-and-white tuxedo, I run after my son until I fall down from premature middle-age or until I trip over a Barbie Doll who is taking a joyride on a miniature camouflaged jeep.
My life – and the silly daydreams I had as a child – changed for the better when I was a young college student. Armed with the dual majors of Political Science and Spanish, I stood barrel-chested before the world, ready to take over the reins of political control and international malevolence once I graduated.
In the meantime, I met the love of my life during my second year of college. At the exact moment I saw her, something inside of me came alive and the first moment I got, I boldly declared to this Bucks County native: “I’m going to marry you.”
Repulsed at my forwardness, I spent the next three years convincing this beautiful young lady, named Barb, that God sent her down to Texas so that she could marry me. Little did I know that God had, indeed, led her to Texas – to serve as a missionary with Youth with a Mission (YWAM). But about this more important matter of fetching a husband, she was not amused. Although I still stand by my statement – who knew that Texans were bold and swaggering? – God was pleased to use this young woman to remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Within a matter of months, I dropped that world domination and global espionage business, and began to think like a Christian, that is, outwardly and in a Jesus-centered way. I gave my life to Christ, and it has never been the same.
Before I knew it, I was a college graduate and a full-time seminary student. I was now conjugating Greek verbs, preaching at something called a church, reading the Bible (and learning this was far more interesting than political theory), praying, and thinking of a career in missions.
Eventually I learned that God was preparing me for a career in theological education. In the meantime, not only did I convince Barb to marry me, but I even convinced her that God was calling me to get a PhD – which can be translated in the marriage-ese language as: “I will study for the next several years and make no money. Will you support us as I do so?”
While I was earning the last of my three graduate degrees and generating a very meager income-earning power, Barb gave birth to our three wonderful children – currently aged three, four, and five – and also managed to work full-time as an educator.
Did I mention how great my wife is?
Over the years, God has been extraordinarily kind to us. After years of prayer, Barb is now able to stay at home full-time with our kids, just as she has always wanted. And God has provided many wonderful ministry opportunities for me. Most recently, I served on the pastoral teams of two different churches, and I am now a very busy seminary professor and administrator – filling my professional free time with speaking at different churches and writing books.
But the most recent change Barb and I have experienced is joining the Mennonite community. Through the course of key relationships with Mennonite leaders, pastors, and churches, Barb and I have sensed God’s clear leading for us to become Maronites, I mean, Mennonites (I’m still trying to get that down). What can a Southern transplant from gun-slinging and flag-saluting Texas say about being part of the oldest Mennonite community in North America?
In all honesty, I can say that Barb and I clearly sense that God is active in the Mennonite community. God’s Spirit is really alive and poised to do something amazing. We are excited to be a part of this and can’t wait to see how God will bring everything together.
As I think back upon my former dreams, do I have any regrets? Not a one: Christ fashioned my life into something much more than a career in world domination or espionage ever could have given me. Following Jesus has been the most rewarding journey of my life. Of course, if Jesus happened to take a trip and set up shop in Prague or Ghent, I would not complain.
Dr. Derek Cooper is assistant professor of biblical studies and historical theology at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA, where he also serves as associate director of the Doctor of Ministry program. He and his wife Barb are members at Deep Run East Mennonite Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.