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At 69, she said God ‘knew I was ready’ for missions

BURKINA FASO, West Africa (BP)–Southern Baptist missionary Elsie McCall, 69, admits she gets a little “restless” from time to time.

While some of her friends enjoy retirement and more time with their families, McCall –- a single woman who jokingly calls herself an “unclaimed jewel” -– was ready for something more several years ago. That desire to still be useful led her to overseas missions work in Burkina Faso, West Africa -— a move she calls “coming home.”

“When I go to America, after about three weeks, I’m ready to come back to Burkina Faso,” said McCall, who is in her second term on the field. “As long as I stay healthy, I’m going to stay here.”

McCall was one of the first people to serve with the International Mission Board’s Masters Program that began in 1999. The program gives people age 50 and up opportunities to work alongside career missionaries for at least a two- to three-year term.

When McCall discovered the program, she was the church and communities ministries director for the South Florida Baptist Association in Lakeland, Fla. At the time, she felt God might be leading her somewhere else.

“I loved my work, my boss was excellent and the two women I worked with were excellent,” McCall said. “But after four or five years, at times, I reached a point where I’d say, ‘OK, I’ve reached a plateau. Now something’s got to change.’

“I think God brought [the Masters opportunity] into my life because He knew I was ready.”

McCall hopes her love for missions inspires friends in the United States to find their role in overseas missions as well.

“I try to challenge them that if I can do it, they can, too,” she said. “God has called some of them to stay where they live and be missionaries there, but He has called some of them to go around the world and be missionaries.”

During her time on the field, McCall has homeschooled the three children of missionaries Jay and Kathy Shafto, who work among the Bissa people group.

On any given weekday morning, bicycles of the children -– Madelyn, 9, Robby, 11, and James, 13 -– can be found parked outside McCall’s modest house in Burkina Faso’s capital city, Ouagadougou. Through her teaching, she frees up their mother to minister through women’s and literacy ministries among the Bissa.

The Shaftos refer to McCall as an answer to prayer.

“The neat thing is that it was a whole God thing,” Kathy Shafto said. “I felt God was calling me to be involved in fulltime ministry. So, the only way I was going to do that was if I had a teacher. Without Elsie, I would not be able to do that.”

Though McCall contends missions is for all people of all stages of life, she said being single has given her opportunities to move more freely to where God calls her to go.

“I know some people my age won’t [participate in overseas missions] because they have grandchildren and children they don’t want to be away from,” she said. “And being single, I don’t have that.”

McCall admits that being a missionary in West Africa was not what she had envisioned for her life years ago. But she is content with where she is today.

“Up until I was in my early 20s, I thought I would get married and have five or six children,” McCall said. “My life has been very, very different than I first thought it would be. It’s good. I’m not complaining.”

And being the oldest missionary on the team, McCall said she has stepped into a mentoring role for younger missionaries that she enjoys.

Many of the locals refer to her as “Ma Ma.” Because of her age, they usually sit her in the “place of honor” when she visits their village and serve her first during meals.

“I have a friend who is younger than me, and she hates being called Ma Ma,” McCall said. “But I like it very much.”

There are challenges that come with the job, McCall admits. Learning the local language has been more difficult than expected. Smiles and gestures just aren’t enough to establish solid relationships, she said.

“You can’t ask them about their family,” she said. “You can’t really witness very well. It’s the first time in my life I’ve felt totally incompetent. I’ve cried about it; still do.”

Though McCall said she would like to have more opportunities to share her faith, she feels comfortable in her teaching role.

“I am part of evangelism,” she said. “I’m just indirectly involved in it.”

One of McCall’s friends back in Florida called her a hero for going into overseas missions. It’s a label McCall finds comical.

“I have to stop and tell them, ‘I have a lot of food to eat. I have electricity. I have a lot of friends. I have new experiences almost every day,’” she said.

“You know, if anything, I have a better world than they do in some ways.”
For more information on the Masters Program or other volunteer mission opportunities in West Africa, contact the International Mission Board at 1-800-999-3113.

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  • Shawn Hendricks