LAKE CHARLES, La. – He was a rebellious punk rock skateboarder who openly renounced his family’s faith, telling his parents that “God was a joke.”
But God had a plan for Charles Drake*. During college, he met a friend who also listened to punk rock but didn’t act like a punk rocker. He was loving, kind and compassionate – and he invited Drake to join a men’s Bible study group.
“[I] started reading the New Testament and was blown away by Jesus – His power to raise the dead, to calm storms … His compassion to forgive sins, to die on a cross for my sins,” Drake said. “He saved me.”
As a new believer, Drake’s natural reaction was to tell others about Christ. He started with his friends, but after a trip to Russia he knew God was calling him to something bigger.
After serving as a journeyman missionary for two years, Drake, his wife Renee* and their two children will now live among East Asian peoples.
Ryan and Kelley Day share their testimony during an IMB appointment service at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La. The couple were pursuing the American dream – jobs, house, cars, family – but God called them “to do something of eternal significance.”
The Drakes were among 61 newly appointed missionaries honored March 21 during a service at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., which followed a meeting of trustees of the International Mission Board (IMB).
Though many of the IMB missionaries were called to vocational ministry early in life, several candidates, like Drake, came from unusual backgrounds. Others made radical shifts from previous life plans as God called them to missions.
Heart for Arab Muslims
When Jermaine Willis* was serving in the Middle East with the U.S. Marine Corps, he didn’t just see a combat zone – he saw people who need the gospel.
“They just had absolutely no hope,” Jermaine said. “I could just see it on their faces, I could just hear it in their voices and [watch it] in their lifestyle…. [T]hey just were lost and had nothing.
“That’s always kind of burdened and impressed me that I wanted to go back, if not to the exact same people, to the same types of people [Arab Muslims] in the Middle East and be able to offer that hope … that can only come through the gospel.”
Though Willis felt called to missions before joining the military, seeing the reality and needs of Middle Eastern people confirmed that call.
Growing up, Suzanne Willis*, Jermaine’s wife, had one specific life ambition – to work in politics and constitutional law.
Though offered a full scholarship to a school near Washington, D.C., Suzanne felt the Lord leading her to a Bible college in Dallas. She told God she would not go into ministry, but while there, she said God slowly changed her heart.
“I just realized that it was more important to follow Christ than it was to do things for Christ,” Suzanne said. “So I just said, ‘OK, if You lead me to do anything – it doesn’t matter what it is, anything in the world – I will do it.’ … He [God] still didn’t tell me, at that point, what He wanted; He just wanted that complete surrender and submission to Him.”
Months later, God brought Jermaine into Suzanne’s life; he told her about his call to missions. As their relationship grew more serious, Suzanne began to discover her own missions calling. Now, the Willises and their three children will be serving among North African and Middle Eastern peoples.
Ryan and Kelley Day were living the “American Dream.” After college, they started their careers – he worked for an environmental engineering firm and she was an architect.
After short-term mission trips to Thailand and Taiwan, God began to reveal His plan for their lives.
“It really broke our heart to know that we were so focused on ourselves here in the U.S.,” Ryan said. “We had amazing redemption stories, both of us, and then we just fell right into the track of job, family, house, cars – the whole thing – and just forgetting that there’s millions of people out there who need that same redemption story.”
God burdened both of their hearts for “investing in eternity,” Ryan said. The Days left their jobs behind and are now preparing to serve as Southern Baptist missionaries in Japan.
IMB President Tom Elliff spoke to the new missionaries and their families about the importance of sharing the gospel and challenged the appointment service audience to “embrace” an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG).
“Of the 7 billion people on this globe, about half of those people have virtually no exposure to the gospel … 1.7 billion of those could actually die without ever hearing the name Jesus. [It’s] tragic,” Elliff said.
To embrace a UUPG, “it doesn’t take a big church, it takes a big-hearted church,” he continued. “So you’re that person – you’re to be His heart, His hands and His voice in that church.”
Referencing the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26, Elliff also spoke about the necessity of Jesus’ death on the cross and the responsibility of all believers to share the news of that sacrifice.
“Will you preach the blood?” Elliff asked. “You say, ‘Well, I’m not a preacher.’ No, it’s all about proclamation. Whatever all these people are, they’re preachers. I don’t mean preachers behind the pulpit, necessarily, but they are proclaimers of the gospel.
“That’s what the gospel is – it is Good News. News has to be told.”
The IMB’s next missionary appointment service will be May 23 at Brentwood (Tenn.) Baptist Church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Laura Fielding is a writer for the International Mission Board.)