RIDGECREST – In a tiny, West African community under a star-filled sky, missionary Marvin Thompson would read scripture to villagers by the faint light of a kerosene lamp.
Thompson spent many days and nights being Christ’s heart, hands and voice to his people group, sharing Bible stories and building relationships.
“I’ve got some good memories of those experiences,” he recalled. “As well as throwing up the next day or two from some bad food I got,” he added with a chuckle.
Thompson, 62, and his wife, LaNette, 58, served as Southern Baptist missionaries for 26 years in West Africa. They are two of 82 new emeritus missionaries being recognized at a special, weeklong emeriti event sponsored by the International Mission Board (IMB), Sept. 7-13, at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
Emeriti are retired missionaries with at least 15 years of service whom International Mission Board trustees vote to honor with the title.
The new emeriti joined more than 1,000 current emeriti who also attended the weeklong event, reuniting as part of the special “Year of Emeriti” observance celebrated every five years. The cumulative years of service of all emeriti missionaries ever honored is 28,929.
Pioneers in their field
The Thompsons, both Texas natives, were appointed missionaries in 1985 and served in Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali.
The couple became pioneers in chronological Bible storying, a method of teaching oral learners (those who cannot read) a series of Bible stories in a way that relates culturally to the learners. The Thompsons were the first IMB missionaries to use storying in West Africa. After seeing five churches established in their city, the Thompsons moved to a small Muslim village in Cote d’Ivoire where they continued to use the technique.
It was in Cote d’Ivoire that LaNette had the chance to share all 52 stories in the storying track with a recent widow who repented.
“When she accepted Christ, it was like that was the reason we were there; it was almost like that was the reason God called me when I was 12,” LaNette said. Someone had to come to reach this one woman in this remote village, “and it was just like that was my purpose.”
The Thompsons moved to Mali in 2002 and remained there until retirement in 2011. Their missions legacy lives on through the many nationals and missionaries they’ve trained, and through two of their three children who returned to West Africa as Southern Baptist missionaries.
Photo by Will Stuart
Emeritus missionary Ann Pearce, right, who served for 39 years in Paraguay, helps Jo Yates with her corsage prior to the 2012 Emeritus Recognition Service held Sept. 10 at Ridgecrest, N.C. Yates served for 42 years in Paraguay. The women were two of 82 new emeriti recognized at the service.
The Thompsons now reside in Waco, Texas, where Marvin pastors Emmanuel Baptist Church and LaNette is pursuing a doctorate in educational psychology at Baylor University.
“We’re retired from the IMB, but not retired – just shifting gears,” Marvin said.
Added LaNette, “When He calls you to full-time service, it doesn’t end.”
Not ready to retire
New emerita Annette Hall isn’t slowing down, either. The 68-year-old Virginian appointed in 1973 served for 38 years as an IMB representative to North African and Middle Eastern peoples.
Hall was a nurse educator in two Middle Eastern nations but later moved to France in 1990 to work with Muslim immigrants. She adopted the chronological Bible storying method, using Bible stories to teach literacy and French as a second language.
“We were meeting their need by giving them access to the French language … but then we were also giving them the gospel,” Hall said.
Living in Richmond, Va., since retirement, Hall has a passion to see Bible storying take root in the United States. She is connecting with Baptist leaders across state lines and hosting workshops to train others in the method.
“Retirement has come before I was ready for it,” she said. “I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. My goal is to keep training people and keep using stories as long as I’m able.”
New emeriti Joe and Yvonne Bruce owe their marriage to their mutual passion for missions.
Joe, a 67-year-old Missouri native, was part of IMB’s second group of journeymen (two-year missionaries); he went to Chile in 1966. At the end of his term, he returned to the U.S. to attend seminary and married a fellow journeyman, the former Shirley Plumlee. They were appointed in 1971 and served in Honduras and Guatemala. One of their three children now serves in Europe as a missionary.
The Bruces returned to the U.S. in 1997 to work with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Just one year after they arrived, Shirley died after a sudden heart attack.
In 2001, Joe married Yvonne Helton of California, also a journeyman, who was appointed in 1975 and served in Guatemala and later in East Asia.
The couple transitioned back to the States in 2004, when Joe became coordinator for IMB’s International Learning Center near Richmond, Va. But after four years, Joe and his new wife felt God calling them back overseas. They became part of the Caribbean Itinerate Team, traveling to the Caribbean to further Baptist work.
“I used to think the greatest thing in the world was to lead someone to the Lord, and then I found out the greatest thrill is to watch someone that you’ve led to the Lord lead someone to the Lord,” Yvonne said, her voice full of emotion. “Then I found out a better thrill than that is to watch them plant a church that continues to [plant more churches] … over and over again.”
Joe and Yvonne served for 38 and 37 years, respectively.
Remembering Cheryll Harvey
IMB president Tom Elliff honored the 82 new emeriti during a special recognition service Sept. 10. Emeriti, IMB staff, trustees and missionary appointment candidates filled Ridgecrest’s Spilman Auditorium and heard stories of missionaries’ calling, sacrifice and service.
Elliff also honored the late Cheryll Harvey, an IMB representative who served in Jordan for 24 years and was found Sept. 4 stabbed to death in her Jordan apartment.
“There is a new emeriti’s life and ministry that we especially need to celebrate this evening,” Elliff said. “We’re most assured that while we might wonder about the details [surrounding her death], Cheryll’s not worried about the details at all, and we would honor her most by honoring our Lord.”
Following a prayer for Harvey’s family, the suspect who was arrested and the lives of those Harvey touched, Elliff challenged new emeriti to continue their ministries after retirement.
Elliff entreated emeriti to consider the past, thank God for the privilege of providing energy to do His work, and to long for the future.
“For [the Apostle] Paul, I think that meant ‘I’m going to leave everything on the field. Between now and the day I die, I’m going to give everything I have to God,’” Elliff said. “Let’s make our latest years the greatest years.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Fielding is an International Mission Board writer.)