Missionary Thomas Irvin: My Personal Testimony
BIMI Missionary to the country of Uganda, Africa.
This testimony was given at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Carthage, Tennessee.
For when we were yet without strength…
My testimony stands out due to its abnormality. I grew up in and around Memphis, TN. I was consistently inconsistent concerning church attendance and spiritual matters. Fortunately, when we did attend church we visited gospel preaching Baptist Churches. Therefore, I grew up knowing the gospel, though I did not trust Christ until I was twenty-nine. With this brief introduction allow me to take you through thirty-seven years of personal history.
Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.
I was born on September 24th, 1981 in Memphis, TN. I was stillborn to a sixteen-year-old homeless mother. My birthplace was the Med, which is kin to the city zoo. After resuscitation, the Lord saw fit to restore my life. Our lives together proved God’s word is true; starting a family in an unbiblical fashion produces a troublesome life. The Lord blessed me with a wonderful mother who was not slack concerning her responsibilities.
In January 2000 I joined the U.S. Air Force, escaping the rebellious and the bad city. By 2005 I was a civilian again. In 2006 I became a defense contractor in Saudi Arabia. While there I met an American Muslim family who gave up U.S. citizenship to live in an Islamic country. Fifteen hundred years of the fruits of Islam proved that to be a bad decision. A member of the family asked me a question I could not shake; “How does a person become a Christian?”
Until then, I assumed I was a Christian. I’m from the south, it never occurred to me that we must “become” Christians. This burst of light shone on my empty existence. I knew the answer to their question, I explained that all are required to trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The trouble is, I had never called upon the Lord.
Nevertheless, my curiosity was peaked, my heart was convicted, and I needed answers; yet I was still in Saudi Arabia. There was no pastor available, there was no church available, so I did what any sensible American would do in 2010; I turned to YouTube. Coming from Memphis the only Pastor I knew of was Adrian Rogers. He had a sermon online called “The Simplicity Of Salvation.” He made salvation so clear to me.
I struggled with the decision to call upon the Lord for nearly two weeks. I understood my twenty-nine years of baggage could not come with me into the Christian life. Considering what Christ suffered for me brought me to a final conclusion. I happily bowed my head and came to be identified with the “whosoevers” that have called upon the name of the Lord. Our Saviour is so wonderful; he reached down into Islamic darkness and saved a wretch like me.
And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God;
I left Saudi Arabia a saved man. From there the Lord led in such a way that Kristin and I are now BIMI missionaries en route to Africa. During my time in Saudi, I came to be involved in Mixed Martial Arts. From Saudi Arabia, I moved to Long Island, New York for my next training camp. While there, I found myself attending a Bible Believing Church. The Lord made clear to me Mixed Martial Arts fighting was not for Christians.
My MMA training sessions subjected me to certain lewd fellows of the baser sort as well as colorful music and language. My next fight was in America’s version of Rome’s arenas, sponsored by unsavory products. It became clear as a follower of Christ, I would have to put childish and spiritually unprofitable activities away. My replacement for Martial Arts training was standing on busy shopping corners to pass out gospel tracts. The weapons of my new warfare were not carnal. I
became engaged in the good fight.
Living in Long Island, NY my savings dissipated. I began looking for work, but a background in aircraft armament systems was not exactly marketable. After diligent search, reality set in that living in New York was not sustainable. The company I worked for in Saudi Arabia called about a position in Egypt, I explained I would have to work out certain issues before considering the position. Primarily, I had only been saved one year and refused to isolate myself from the fellowship of the saints.
The Lord helped me find a faithful Bible Believing Missionary in Cairo, named David Gates. Excited about spending time with a missionary in Egypt, I accepted the job. On my way to Egypt, I was sent to the Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach for training. While there, I searched for a church to attend and found Bible Believers Baptist Church outside the Navy Base. In service, the pastor did something I found to be incredible, he preached line-by-line and verse-by-verse through the book of Acts.
It was refreshing, I stayed after church Sunday talking with Pastor Tim MacDonald for nearly three hours. He gave me a book and CD produced by James W Knox. The disc had brother James’ Bible School course “How to study and teach the Bible.” My life was greatly enriched! He taught me to unequivocally trust God’s word! His Bible-teaching gave me great confidence in God’s word.
Living in Egypt, encouraged to study, provoked to trust God, and serving the Lord with a missionary; the Lord gave me a taste of my future. Brother David and I spent hours nightly on the streets of Cairo witnessing. This was an exciting time, the Lord set my heart ablaze for missions. After one year in Egypt, my contract ended. I moved to Deland, Florida and started attending classes at the Deland School of The Bible.
I had been in Deland for one year when offered my last contract in Afghanistan. I spent the next seven months at Camp Leatherneck working with the U.S. Military. While there, the Chaplin allowed me to teach the Bible in the chapel each Saturday. This Bible study was open to anyone interested in coming. The same men came consistently, each of them was from Uganda. These men were wonderfully receptive to God’s word and captivated my heart, sparking the desire to learn about the need there.
I planned a trip to Uganda, my friends in Afghanistan made arrangements for me to preach daily while in Africa. The excitement was mounting then we received the news. President Obama was drawing down the war in Afghanistan. Instructions were given to prepare for an immediate return to the U.S.; this included canceling upcoming trips. I was devastated; it seemed to me the door was closed. As instructed I helped prepare for the return to the United States.
Returning to Deland, I eased back into Bible School and various church ministries. I also married the most wonderful woman God could give an undeserving man. We spent our evening dinners searching Google Maps for various countries to see who God had laboring there, all the while praying the Lord would show us where we could be used. One evening I received a message from a Ugandan man that I met in Afghanistan. The message detailed a series of Islands situated in Southern Uganda.
I searched the matter and found the islands situated on the Northern shores of Lake Victoria. This vast body of water demands reverence for its Creator. Northern Lake Victoria has eighty-four Islands known as the Ssese Islands. Kristin and I were unable to identify any missionaries laboring amongst those people. This was an answer to our prayer, the Lord gave us the desire of our hearts!
I contacted missionary Keith Stensaas in Masaka, Uganda. He is a second-generation missionary in Uganda, now more than twenty years. With zeal, I explained the desire of our hearts regarding Ssese. With reciprocated excitement, he offered to assist us along the way. He has done exactly that and more. We hold Brother Keith and Mrs. Sally in high regard and look forward to laboring with them. Starting under the guidance of an experienced missionary is foundational for us.
With his own hand, he leadeth me.
I enjoy surveying my life, a man amongst the chiefest of sinners, and identifying the wonderful ways the Lord has led. Few men could be more undeserving, yet the Lord would use such an one as I to labor in his fields. My hope is the Lord’s people read this brief sketch of his workings in my life and will be encouraged to trust him more along the way. It is good for us to note these points in our lives, bringing them to remembrance, a memorial unto the Lord. May he receive the honor and glory due him in each of our lives.
Psalm 52:9 KJV “I will praise thee for ever because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.”