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Agriculture missionary dies of leukemia

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (BP)–Chris Alan Ingram, an International Mission Board missionary in Uruguay for 24 years, died March 25 at UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, N.C., after a nearly year-long battle with a rare form of leukemia. He was 53.

“Honestly, I can close my eyes and see his smile,” said Jackie Miller, a family friend and IMB missionary to Chile who earlier served with Ingram in Uruguay. “I know the missionary kids just all loved him. He’s going to be very, very missed.”

Those who knew Ingram describe him as a hard worker, an effective storyteller and an encouraging friend. And he was someone willing to try anything to share the Gospel with the people of Uruguay.

“Chris is the kind of guy, if you gave him an idea and said, ‘Hey, here’s an idea. What do you think?’ He’d say, ‘Well, let’s try it,'” said IMB missionary Cliff Case, a friend who also had worked with Ingram in Uruguay. “He was willing to use different methods to open up doors to share the Gospel. He was that kind of guy. Anytime he [could], he’d share the Gospel.”

Ingram was born into a farming family on Sept. 20, 1957, in High Point, N.C. Growing up, he attended Reavis Memorial Baptist Church in High Point with his family. He was 8 years old when he became a Christian.

Involved in agriculture throughout his life, Ingram earned both a bachelor of science degree in agronomy and a master of arts in agriculture degree at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. He later attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Ingram’s vision was to integrate his knowledge of agriculture with his passion for missions.

“Since I was a young boy in my teens, I have always sensed that God had a special plan for my life,” Ingram once wrote in a missions testimony. “Christ can use agriculture to meet the needs of individuals physically and open the doors to meet their spiritual needs.”

Ingram married the former Claudia Lamb in 1980 and they had three daughters. In 1987 he and Claudia were appointed as missionaries to Uruguay for service in agricultural evangelism. Their ministry in Uruguay revolved around a farm called “El Sembrador” (Spanish for “The Sower”).

“Chris had multiple ministries going at different times,” said Ron Roy, an IMB missionary to Uruguay who once served as Ingram’s supervisor. “Orchard, dairy cattle, garden plots. At one point they raised chickens, hundreds at a time. Another time the land was used to grow strawberries for a cooperative.”

The farm was an effective tool for ministry, and Ingram, a gifted storyteller, often wove illustrations from farming and outdoor life into his teaching and preaching.

“The Ingrams opened doors with their farming stuff, and they were planting churches in that area and doing a lot of things to help the churches grow,” Case said. “They would share with the community and go out and talk to schools and open doors. And they even planted the Sembrador [Baptist] Church” on the farm.

Sembrador was one of 11 mission congregations Ingram started during his missionary career, IMB missionaries in Uruguay said.

Later Ingram’s job description changed from agricultural outreach to training and encouraging Uruguayan believers to serve as missionaries. But El Sembrador farm remained central to his ministry as the unofficial base for training these new missionaries.

“One of the things he enjoyed doing was called the ‘survivor training,'” Roy said. “It was a few days out in the country where you had to hunt, fish, etc., to get your own food. It was like a super-rustic campout to help [future missionaries] see what it was like to go into the more radical approaches of working with indigenous people.”

Ingram’s current supervisor, Phil Kesler, said that according to records Ingram most recently was mentoring 11 Uruguayan missionaries — some in training and some already on the field. But Kesler suspects that Ingram was investing in more lives than he officially listed.

Early in 2010, the Ingrams returned to North Carolina because of some problems with Claudia’s health. It wasn’t until they were back in the U.S. that Ingram’s own health became a concern.

“Chris, from the moment he took his wife back to the States for treatment, to when he first got treatments himself, continued to make calls, write emails and coordinate events back in Uruguay,” Kesler said. “Even as late as two or three weeks ago, we were talking about what needed to be done and how I could help him get the training he needed down there.”

“When he felt called to something, he had a commitment that wouldn’t allow any obstacle to stand in the way…. He didn’t give up or give in,” said IMB missionary Jim Sexton, a friend of Ingram’s who worked with him in Uruguay.

“He fully was planning to come back and did not let anything stop him — not even a dangerous case of cancer,” Kesler added. “That was the way he was.”

In addition to his wife, survivors include daughters Emily Christine Ingram Peduzzi of Uruguay, Megan Elizabeth Ingram of Greensboro, N.C., and Maryann Kathryn Ingram of Uruguay and his parents, Richard and Kathryn Ingram of High Point, N.C. The Ingrams’ daughter, Emily, is expecting the couple’s first grandchild soon.

A memorial service for Ingram will be held at 4 p.m. March 31 at Friendly Avenue Baptist Church, 4800 W. Friendly Ave., Greensboro, with visitation afterward.

The family suggests memorial contributions for the completion of Ingram’s dream of establishing a Uruguayan missions training center. Gifts may be sent c/o Jessie Crooks Evangelistic Association, P.O. Box 2445, Thomasville, NC 27361.
Tristan Taylor is an International Mission Board writer living in the Americas. Maria Elena Baseler, also an IMB writer in the Americas, contributed to this story.

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