RICHMOND, Va. – They had been back in the United States for two years. They were comfortably settled in South Carolina, running a tourism company, working in their church and caring for their grandchildren.
Then an urgent email arrived. A Southern Baptist teacher who directed an English-language center in North Africa and the Middle East had died unexpectedly. Three months had passed and no one was there to keep the center running.
Charles and Laura Kingman*, former International Mission Board (IMB) workers, had interacted with many people during their six years as regional volunteer strategists for North Africa and the Middle East. The email asked if they knew someone who could direct the center and teach English until new personnel could be appointed and trained.
It ended with the notation: “It would be really nice if it were you.”
“I could do this,” Laura thought. “I have the background. I’m a retired English teacher.”
But it was only a passing thought, and she began thinking through who else might fill the position.
Former IMB personnel who make up Ready Reserve are available to help with short-term needs overseas. They have the skills and experience that allow them to fill in quickly when critical needs arise.
Charles prayed about the opportunity but decided that uprooting their lives and moving didn’t fit God’s current plan. They already had a trip to the Middle East scheduled with one of their tour groups. Committing to work at the center would mean three extra months abroad.
But a few days later, he’d changed his mind, believing that God wanted them to go.
They called the team strategy leaders and said they would come.
In February, the Kingmans took their tour group overseas. By March they were at the center, teaching and directing the work.
The Kingmans are members of IMB’s Ready Reserve, a volunteer partnership between IMB and former field personnel.
The Ready Reserve includes a database of former personnel who can be called upon to fill immediate short-term needs on the field or to serve in the U.S. in advocacy and mobilization.
In this case, there was no time for new personnel to be trained to run the center and current workers had other responsibilities.
“[The teacher’s] absence left a huge void in the school where she taught,” said Doug Floyd, IMB director of personnel relations. “That particular ministry was in danger of closing because of the lack of personnel.”
But Ready Reserve held the answer.
The Kingmans already understood the culture and environment. They arrived on a Saturday and started work the following Monday.
“All the orientation we got was how to get from our apartment to the school, how to get to the grocery store and maybe a restaurant,” Laura said.
IMB President Tom Elliff announced the Ready Reserve at an emeritus missionary celebration in Ridgecrest, N.C., a year ago. The reserve is by invitation only, with all emeritus missionaries invited to participate. Other former personnel are invited on an individual basis.
Currently about 1,000 former personnel are in the Ready Reserve, with more personnel continually being added.
“These are people who are heavily invested in the IMB,” Floyd said. “Even though they’ve retired and gone back to their home churches and the U.S. … they still have that missionary call and want to stay close to what we are doing.”
When an urgent need arises, field leaders can look at the database and go directly to the Ready Reservist, asking him or her to fill that need until someone can take the position permanently.
The Kingmans kept the language school running through the semester, giving IMB time to train a new couple during the summer.
“Ready Reserve is exactly what it says,” Laura said. “We’re ready to go, shortly.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susan O’Hara is an IMB summer intern.)