Avery Willis diagnosed with leukemia
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
January 07, 2010

Avery Willis diagnosed with leukemia

Avery Willis diagnosed with leukemia
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
January 07, 2010


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.

Avery and Shirley Willis reside in retirement in Bella Vista, Ark.

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

more effective.

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.)