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6/4/97 Retiring missionaries testify: Joy, peace overcome hardships

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–It resembled an adventure with Robinson Crusoe. Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board missionary Clarence Griffin, living in Indonesia, traveled by plane, then ship, then boat to “the ends of the world” — the Sangihe Islands — to deliver Bibles, song books and other materials to Indonesians.
“We got into a bad storm at sea,” Griffin testified. “Paul, on his journey, had God’s assurance nothing would happen to him. The Lord did not give me that word of comfort!”
Griffin and his wife, Ruth, are two of 65 Foreign Mission Board missionaries retiring this year who experienced such adventures during 1,897 combined years of ministry in 41 nations. They were honored June 1 during a service at Bethany Place Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.
Once Griffin arrived on the Indonesian island, no boat could transport him home for awhile. “We arrived safely, and God blessed us for seven — instead of the planned two — weeks,” Griffin said. “No ships going west.”
At home with four small children, Ruth heard nothing from her husband. Perhaps he was lost at sea, she feared. Or, as children of other missionaries teased his kids, maybe he was eaten by cannibals.
After weeks of praying for her husband’s return, Ruth completely gave the matter to God. Two days later, Clarence arrived home on a midnight train.
The group of 65 emeritus missionaries could testify about many other major life challenges they encountered on the field. Overseas, five of them grieved through the death of a spouse; three couples suffered the loss of a child. They experienced natural disaster, accidents, cultural adjustments, feelings of inadequacy and separation of family.
But tribulations don’t consume their testimonies. They speak, instead, of overwhelming joy. They tell about the power of prayer. They magnify the work of the Lord through Southern Baptists’ global efforts.
Jim and Mary Lou Wootton went to South Korea to reach a part of the Orient with the gospel through Taejon Christian International School (TCIS).
“The Last Frontier has come to us as 27 nations have students in TCIS, and it has a worldwide ministry of witnessing and discipling,” the Woottons wrote for the evening’s program. The Last Frontier is a world region with little or no access to the gospel because of political or cultural resistance.
Overcoming language barriers, John and Florence Griggs saw God work mightily among the people of Zimbabwe. Built on a strong foundation of discipleship, their work began with four churches and expanded to 365 churches through 33 years of service. More than 20,000 people were baptized into those churches.
God called Robert and Margie Hampton to Brazil many years ago when there were few paved roads, few medical facilities and even fewer grocery stores and conveniences.
“However, the people were so warm and open to the gospel of Christ and we were having such a good time that we didn’t notice the time passing,” the Hamptons wrote. “Before we knew what was happening, it was time to say goodbye to a lifetime of friends and churches.”
What bolstered these missionaries to serve in a strange culture, surrounded by strange languages and religions, for 10, 25 or 40 years?
The call of God, loyalty, a sense of humor, flexibility, perseverance, patience, friendships, a good marriage, contentment in singleness, commitment, faith and the prayers of Southern Baptists. And the strength of these missionaries was contagious: at least 12 of their children have served in missions overseas.
“As these missionaries pass their batons to others who follow,” said board President Jerry Rankin, “they do so with joy, knowing that a spiritual foundation has been laid that will enable others to continue building.”
Rankin noted, “They are not seeking glory for themselves, but pray that God will receive the glory that Christ will be honored.”

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  • Julie McGowan