by Jon Detweiler
A long a hot stretch of road in southern Iraq, two hitchhikers gradually emerge through the boiling heat. The tall American and his Arab companion have been travelling south for three weeks, sweating through bug-infested nights, bouncing across sunburned horizons full of sand and misery. They’ll arrive in Kuwait shortly, flat broke and starving to death.
The two men, Doug Nichols and a Jordanian named Isa, had been traveling to India with a team of OM missionaries, until border officials refused Isa entry into Iran. The solution? Go around Iran, via Kuwait. The $10 they had for traveling lasted about one hour.
“I was sick as a dog when we got to Kuwait,” said Doug, recalling how they’d gone for days without eating.
Once in Kuwait, Isa left to find friends, but Nichols took shelter in a church. Minutes later while using the washroom, he fainted dead away. Twenty-four hours later, a doctor and part-time janitor found Nichols on the floor, still unconscious. After three days of nothing but orange juice, he was back on his feet. But he’d pay later.
With money from OM, Nichols caught a ship sailing to Bombay, India, where he would join a team of open-air preachers headed into southern India.
“That’s what I wanted to do,” said Nichols. “I wanted to learn how to preach.”
And learn he did. His 28 years of missionary service now echo with countless sermons, but the path to the pulpit led through more testing.
The street preacher started coughing. While his translator spoke, Nichols coughed. After finally going to a doctor, he was diagnosed with acute tuberculosis and sent to a sanatorium. So much for open-air preaching, but the sanatorium held a captive audience-five wards full.
Nichols offered everyone tracts, but all refused. Rejected, the sick preacher began to despair. Even darkness failed to comfort, as coughing spells often woke him during the night.
One night while coughing, he noticed an elderly man trying to leave his bed, only to fall back, exhausted. The stench from the old man’s bed the next morning brought loud insults from fellow patients, and sharp complaints from nurses who roughly changed his bedding. One nurse slapped the old man, leaving him curled in a ball, thoroughly embarrassed and weeping.
The next night, Nichols saw the elderly man struggling to leave his bed, only to collapse again, crying. His wrinkled eyes glistened with fear moments later when the tall missionary loomed over his bed, but Nichols just smiled, lifted the frail patient and carried him to the bathroom. Holding him by the armpits over a smelly hole in the floor, Nichols let the man relieve himself, then carried him back to bed, where the grateful elder kissed him on the cheek as he stooped over the cot, their faces close together.
Nichols woke the next morning to find a stranger holding a cup of hot tea, and gesturing toward the tracts. Thus went the day. Doctors, nurses and patients visited Nichols until everyone had a tract or gospel booklet. Months later, he would learn that several had trusted Christ as their Saviour. Nichols was learning how to preach.
What sort of a person does God choose when He wants to forge a missions director? Born in 1942-the same year his father left home for another woman – Nichols was raised by his mother and grandfather. Though he recalls a happy childhood, he struggled as a teenager. His peers knew him as a troublemaker―a reputation that earned Nichols a high school diploma six months early.
“Hey Doug,” said the principal one day, “I’ve got a deal for you. You promise not to come back after Christmas, and I’ll give you your diploma now.”
“So I graduated early,” joked Nichols. His mother had moved to California by the time Doug started college, but higher education became more of a step down―alcohol and women being the two main courses of study.
Then one night during finals week, Nichols returned to the dorm from a night on the town, and with the help of both walls, shuffled down a long and shifting hallway that suddenly intersected with the road to Damascus. There at the crossroads stood a fellow student. “Hey Doug,” said Hank Jaegers, “how about a cup of coffee?”
Inside Jaegers’ room, Nichols received a chair, a cup of coffee, and the Gospel. Hours later, he was on his knees.
“About 4:30 in the morning I was full of coffee,” said Nichols, “but I understood the Gospel, and I trusted Christ.”
The next morning, the new convert armed himself with a huge Thompson Chain Reference Bible, but he soon discovered a problem.
“I could barely read,” he said. “I couldn’t read a paragraph and comprehend it.”
Nichols’ poor education was just one of many barriers on the road to ministry. When Jaegers wrote from Three Hills, Alberta, a year later, and encouraged Nichols to join him at Prairie, the young disciple took a lesson on counting the cost. The price? A brand-new Cadillac, a fancy house, and a prosperous business promised wedding presents from the father of Nichols’ fiancée, a gal who promised to dump him if he went to Bible school. Nichols went to Bible School.
“That Cadillac is in the junk yard,” he says now, “and I’ve lived in houses all over the world. Besides, who wants to run a business when you can be in missions?”
A second roadblock appeared in the fall of 1963. Nichols’ poor reading and writing skills nearly broke him at PBl, where within two weeks of study he was flunking all his courses. So he quit.
But Professor Norman Charter had noticed the poor grades of a new student, and had decided to make a room call. That very hour, Nichols was packing his gear, crying tears of defeat. Charter persuaded him to stay ― a decision with long-reaching implications. While training at Prairie, Nichols found life-long friends and coworkers, eventually meeting his “best friend,” the angelic Margaret Jespersen.
“In those days, you didn’t really meet,” said Nichols, “you just kind of saw each other.”
He graduated in 1966, turned toward the mission field, and ran into another barrier. Mission agencies were not impressed with Nichols’ soiled past and poor scholastic achievement.
“I applied to 30 missions, and nobody would accept me but OM,” said Nichols laughing. “They accept anyone.”
After two years with OM in India, Nichols returned to marry his patient fiancée, Margaret, before applying with OMF. Accepted, they left for the Philippines in 1970, where yet another wall loomed. Doug and foreign languages didn’t mix very well-about like oil and water. The lady teaching Tagalog confronted him one day through tears of frustration: “Doug, do you know what ‘Walang utak’ means?” she asked.
“No. What does it mean?
“No brains!” she cried.
But the language barrier came down as the Nichols spent several years planting churches, eventually moving to Manila in 1972 to assist Christ for Greater Manila.
That filthy city would become home to the Nichols for more than 20 years. Out of those years of painful sacrifice and spiritual warfare, would emerge a new mission called Action International Ministries, with Doug Nichols as one of its founders and directors.
Today, Nichols can be hard to find. If he’s not praying over “squatters” on a garbage dump, he might be hugging a dying child in a refugee camp.
If he’s not preaching at a missions conference, he might be witnessing to a lady across a donut counter. If he’s not visiting one of his two adopted Filipino children, he might be at the hospital getting more x-rays-x-rays to see if the cancer is back.
Surgery for colon cancer in April, 1993, left Nichols with a colostomy. At that time, doctors promised only a 30 percent chance of recovery after radiation and chemotherapy.
“You mean I have a 70 percent chance of dying?” corrected Nichols.
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” said the doctor.
“Well, let me tell you something Doc,” said Nichols, “Whatever happens, I have a 100 percent chance of going to Heaven.”
Of course, the deck has been stacked for 33 years, ever since a predawn rendezvous with the Lord of eternity, ever since an out-of-control college kid set aside his coffee, knelt by a chair, and sold out to Jesus ―100 percent.
This is an article printed in the November ’94 edition of the Servant Magazine of Prairie Bible Institute. Prairie Alumni in ACTION ● by Jon Detweiler