Former International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries Sam and Rachel James were awarded the Southeastern Presidential Award in chapel on Nov. 6.
The Presidential Award is the highest honor given from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS).
Sam is a three-time graduate of Southeastern, and he and his wife served with the IMB for over 50 years prior to their retirement earlier this year.
Sam and Rachel are long-term missionary heroes because of their work in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He is the author of Servant on the Edge of History: Risking All for the Gospel in War-Ravaged Vietnam.
Southeastern President Daniel Akin said, “Sam James is a modern day missionary hero. I have the highest respect and regard for him. Sam has been a faithful, wonderful servant in some very hard places.”
Danny Akin, right, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, presents a plaque to Sam James with James’ wife, Rachel, by his side. James was awarded the Southeastern Presidential Award in chapel on Nov. 6.
Sam and Rachel’s daughter, Deborah, and granddaughter, Ana, were in attendance. They have three sons, one daughter and nine grandchildren.
Sam became a Christian while in the United States Navy in Japan. He studied Greek at Wake Forest College before being appointed as a missionary in 1962. He wanted to be able to translate the Bible from the original Greek to the native language without having to use English.
He met his wife, who was a student of nursing at Duke University in Durham, on a blind date and has been married for 57 years.
Sam has deep roots in North Carolina. In his hometown of Liberty, N.C., there were eight churches in the town of 1,400 people. After coming home from the war, he decided to go to a place where people did not have the opportunity to hear the gospel.
While a student at SEBTS, he pastored the church that would eventually become The Summit Church in Durham. Two of his children and his wife have also attended Southeastern.
Chuck Lawless, vice president for graduate studies and ministry centers, interviewed Sam during chapel, giving students the opportunity to hear the James’ story.
Sam and Rachel originally sailed with their three young children from San Francisco to Asia, eventually making their way to Vietnam.
During 14 years of war, the James family served the people of Vietnam.
Sam helped found a seminary in Saigon, Vietnam, where Southeastern professors have gone to teach.
Lawless highlighted Sam’s ability to become the people he was trying to reach by learning the language and immersing himself in the culture. “You are for me what we want our students to become,” Lawless said.
“When you learn their language and culture, you learn to love them,” Sam said.
When asked why he stayed through all of the trials, Sam responded, “The call of God.”
Sam noted the reality of being surrounded with God’s presence and the privilege it was to be in Vietnam.
“We’re glad we stayed,” he said. “It was the call of God. The call of God is always sufficient.”
Lawless asked Sam what it takes for a missionary to stay focused and faithful on the mission field. He responded by encouraging students to maintain their spiritual maturity, learn the local language well and keep a sense of humor.
A luncheon following chapel featured the dedication of the “Sam and Rachel James Seminar Room” in the Center for Great Commission Studies. The room displays photos of the James Family and pieces from Vietnam.