Most of the 56 missionaries the International Mission Board (IMB) honored May 2 upon their retirement from full-time overseas service to emeritus status in the U.S. didn’t start out as pastors or ministers on church staffs.
Most were church members from diverse career fields who felt called to spread the gospel around the world: an accounting clerk, advertising manager, attorney, beef producer, carpenters, critical care nurse, environmental control chemist, funeral home chaplain, house parents in a children’s home, insurance agents, librarian, maintenance workers, physician, psychologist, radio announcer, rehabilitation counselor, teachers, truck driver and social workers.
IMB President David Platt told the new emeriti that retirement isn’t meant to mark the end of missions service but rather the beginning of a new phase of it in their home churches.
“God, in His grace, has used the witness and testimony of these choice servants in a powerful way across the globe,” Platt said of the emeriti.
IMB photo by Will Stuart
“Now, we eagerly anticipate how God is going to continue to use them for His purposes as they transition back to life in the United States. We know that our mission does not cease because of a change in position or location.”
Previously with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jack Hamptin* from Tennessee became an agriculture evangelist in West Africa.
“We found our rural background allowed us to relate well to subsistence farmers and Muslim herdsmen in ways that opened their ears to hear the Good News of Jesus,” said Jack of his and his wife Lynn’s* 25 years of missionary service.
“Guiding volunteers from various occupations to use their gifts and knowledge for God’s glory among unreached peoples … led to some of our most rewarding experiences.”
Preparing the way
After 20 years of teaching music and theology in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Jerry and Carol Robertson, from Kentucky and Louisiana, embarked on a new mission to reach a people with a different language than what they had learned.
“Our greatest struggle became our greatest joy as we were able to translate and tell Bible stories to people who had never heard about Jesus in their own language,” including an elderly village chief, Jerry recalled at the recognition service.
Jerry said he felt led by God that he and Carol should walk, instead of drive, the five miles to the chief’s village. The chief later told them he had a dream that one day two people would come walking into his village with a message from God for him.
The chief accepted Christ. He helped open the way for the Robertsons to share 130 Bible stories in three villages. The Robertsons served in Ivory Coast a total of 37 years.
Walking in their shoes
After being placed in Arkansas Baptist Children’s Home at age 12 to escape an alcoholic, abusive home environment, Ron Greenwich became a caseworker and then spent 32 years in south Brazil with his wife, Alana, mentoring young people to become Christian leaders.
“I never dreamed God would use those painful childhood experiences to lead me to help churches in Brazil open two orphanages, two community centers in poor neighborhoods and two drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers,” Ron said.
Counseling alcoholic parents took on a deeper meaning for Ron, who knew what they were putting their families through, but he also knew by personal experience that Jesus’ restorative power knows no bounds.
Serving 46 years
Lana Oue was an expectant mother in her mid-20s when she and her husband Tak, who had been a pastor in Kentucky, sailed for two weeks to reach Japan in 1970. They served there for 46 years, the longest tenure of the group being recognized for having at least 15 years of service to qualify as emeriti.
Lana repeatedly quoted Isaiah 26:3 during their sea journey to help calm her nerves and her stomach. The verse describes the peace of mind that Christ gives to those who trust in Him.
“In the ensuing years, when facing death, challenges, fears or disappointments, this verse brought me back to focus on Christ, which led to peace, joy and victory,” Lana said.
The child she was carrying on their voyage to Japan now is a missionary there as well.
Trusting in God’s plan
Holden and Leanne Ohler* were empty nesters approaching theirs 50s when they decided to relocate from Georgia to South Asia in 1999.
“We are so glad that God called us to international missions,” the Ohlers wrote of their 16 years of service, “and we thank Southern Baptists for their prayers and gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Please consider that you can also go and serve! If it’s God’s plan, it’s a good plan. Trust Him to work out the details. He did it for us!”
Platt also encouraged the service attendees to consider stepping into the shoes of the emeriti by sharing the gospel with unreached people around the world.
Basing his message on Hebrews 11:29-12:3, Platt said heroes of faith revere God and point people to Him (Hebrews 12:2), continue to run the race of sharing the gospel with those who haven’t heard it (Acts 20:24) and rejoice in looking forward to spending eternity worshipping God with people from every nation, tribe and language (Revelation 7:9).
The missionaries honored at the recognition service held in conjunction with IMB’s Emeritus Recognition Conference, April 29-May 3, served a cumulative total of 1,550 years on the international mission field.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kate Gregory writes for IMB.)