Doctor’s dream of space travel replaced by call to minister in Africa

Doctor’s dream of space travel replaced by call to minister in Africa

Larry Pepper thought he had been open handed. He had been praying through the missions book “Operation World,” and he had been thinking more and more about his impact on eternity as he sat in church every Sunday.

But one day the words came clear as a bell right where he sat in Houston, Texas — “You’ve committed everything to me except your job.”

Pepper knew the thought had come from God. He took a deep breath, and he told God to put him and his family wherever He wanted them to be.

“I was beginning to see the world through God’s eyes in terms of lostness,” he relayed. “For me that meant seeing if I could use my medical skills in a way that had more Kingdom impact.”

Dream job

Pepper’s work was his dream job. He was a flight surgeon for NASA, providing medical care for pilots and crewmembers. But it soon became evident that God was drawing him to walk away and move his family to serve with the International Mission Board (IMB) in Africa.

To step out in obedience he had to stomach some major sacrifices — for one he was selected as a finalist for astronaut duty in space. That opportunity was hard to give up. His wife, Sally, had some reservations too.

“For me the hardest part was just wrestling with the fears that kept creeping back in — mostly the fear of homeschooling my kids in Africa,” she said. “But in a moment God changed those fears, and I had a complete peace that Africa was where we were supposed to be.”

That peace followed her as she, Pepper and their three children moved to Uganda for 12 years, then Lesotho for two and then Tanzania for eight more.

Over the years they have spent countless hours at the bedsides of the hurting, leading them to the pages of the Bible and bringing them to lasting hope in Christ.

They have discipled university students. They have helped brand new mothers get on their feet and find faith. They have started AIDS clinics and planted churches. They have seen people find life, and they have buried the ones whom death has overcome.

‘Kingdom work’

And through it all they have seen God move in amazing ways, Pepper said. The sense of the Father’s loving sovereignty has never left them, from the early 1990s in Texas all the way to today.

“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to use weak, sinful human beings in Kingdom work, but that’s what God does in our lives,” Pepper explained. “We have seen His faithfulness throughout all of these years as we’ve worked here. It has been humbling and incredible to watch.” (Missions Mosaic, IMB)