BELLA VISTA, Ark. —
Avery Willis, a former Southern Baptist missionary and administrator best known
as developer of the MasterLife discipleship materials used around the world,
has been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.
Willis, who retired in
2004 as senior vice president of the International Mission Board of the
Southern Baptist Convention, said in a Jan. 6 prayer newsletter that a doctor
told him he likely has one of two types of the disease. Depending on which
type, he said, the average life expectancy after diagnosis ranges from six
months to four years.
Willis said doctors
planned additional DNA testing on a bone-marrow biopsy taken the week before to
determine whether to proceed with treatment for chronic monocytic leukemia
or the more problematic chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.
Willis, who lives with
his wife, Shirley, in Bella Vista, Ark., now works as executive director of the International
Orality Network, a partnership of mission organizations using oral methods to
evangelize and disciple the roughly 70 percent of the world’s population that
is functionally illiterate.
An Arkansas native,
Willis served as a missionary in Indonesia for 14 years before returning to the
United States in 1978. While serving as president of the Indonesia Baptist
Seminary, he created an intensive small-group discipleship study process named
During 15 years he
worked as head of adult-discipleship programs for what is now known as LifeWay
Christian Resources of the SBC, MasterLife became a staple of Sunday-night and
midweek study groups in Southern Baptist churches.
It also was translated into
50 languages and used in 100 countries around the world.
In 2008 Willis was one
of six candidates nominated as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in
an election won on the first ballot by current SBC President Johnny Hunt. Hunt
himself is scheduled soon to undergo surgery for prostate cancer.
Willis recently was
invited to give input to a Great Commission Task Force appointed last June by
Hunt to study ways to make the SBC’s church-planting and missionary efforts
Willis said his doctors
have been trying for six months to discover what caused a low white-blood-cell
count that spiked to 10 times what it should be. In his regular January 2010
prayer letter, he reported excruciating pain
in the hips that had been going on for three weeks.
He is seeking
admission to M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
in Houston for treatment.
Willis asked supporters
to pray for his healing if that is God’s will, and for a successor at the
International Orality Network and other causes with which he is involved.
“In the midst of your
concern for me I want you to compare my situation with the 4 billion oral
learners who haven’t heard and don’t understood the Words of Life,” he
concluded. “At least 1.5 billion people have never heard of Jesus. They are the
ones who need our attention and prayers.”
— Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)