MCKINNEY, Texas (BP) — Retired Southern Baptist missionary Boyd A. O’Neal, who served nearly 50 years in global missions, has died in McKinney, Texas, after suffering a series of strokes. He was 86.
O’Neal’s friends and family described him as “passionate,” “a hero” and “a great servant of the Lord.” He was known for his dedication and perseverance throughout the nearly 40 years he and his wife, Irma, served as missionaries in north Brazil and the eight years he served on staff at the International Mission Board headquarters in Richmond, Va. He died Sept. 24.
“Boyd’s greatest desire and mission was to see people come to know the Lord and experience the peace that comes only from knowing and serving Him,” family members wrote in a tribute to O’Neal. “He took great pleasure in serving God. He was and remained faithful to his Lord.”
O’Neal was born in Novice, Texas, in 1925, the youngest of 13 children. He followed Christ at age 12, and as a young adult committed his life to full-time ministry. While a student at Howard Payne College (now University) in Brownwood, Texas, O’Neal worked two full-time jobs and hitchhiked every Sunday to Silver Valley, Texas, where he served as pastor of Silver Valley Baptist Church.
O’Neal married the former Irma Schneider, from Rosenberg, Texas, in 1945. Together the couple attended Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Soon after, they answered God’s call to global missions and were appointed in 1949 to serve in Brazil by the Foreign (now International) Mission Board.
While serving in the north Brazilian state of Alagoas, O’Neal poured his time and energy into evangelizing the area and planting churches. During his ministry, Baptists in that state went from having 12 struggling churches to 52 thriving ones. O’Neal helped in all of them.
“Boyd loved and was loved by the people of Alagoas,” recalled Clara Lynn Williams, retired IMB missionary to north Brazil. “He spent his life spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who would listen.”
O’Neal’s ministry was not limited to only church planting. From 1951 until 1988, he served as executive secretary of the state Baptist convention of Alagoas. In that position, he handled just about every facet of Baptist ministry in the area, from helping ordain pastors to fixing plumbing problems in buildings.
He also helped in many construction projects for Baptist ministries throughout the state, including supervising the construction of several buildings for a Baptist college and improving a local orphanage for girls. In 1963, O’Neal directed the construction of a Baptist camp for the state of Alagoas, then served as camp director for 32 years.
“Boyd was an ordinary man doing extraordinary work,” Williams said. “He had leadership and organizational skills which inspired those around him. When he spoke, he had something to say, and people listened.”
Williams also remembers O’Neal as “a Christian giant” who never sought praise.
“He was a humble man, never wanting to exalt himself even though he was able, with the Lord’s grace, to accomplish great things in the Kingdom,” Williams said. “He will be remembered for his honesty. He will be remembered for his generosity and for not counting the cost as he served.”
Through the love he showed the people of Alagoas state, O’Neal also earned the respect of many Brazilian government officials and political figures. Throughout his years of service, he was awarded an honorary citizenship and several other high commendations for his service to the community.
O’Neal also regularly helped volunteers and new missionaries when they arrived in Brazil. Barbara Martin, a retired IMB missionary, remembers her experience when she arrived at the Baptist camp in Alagoas for a women’s retreat.
“The first night, I was having a hard time sleeping, so I decided to go for a walk,” Martin recalled. “As I started to go out …, I almost ran into a hammock hanging just outside the door, with Boyd O’Neal sleeping in it. He woke up immediately and told me it was his custom to ‘stand guard’ at the door to protect all the women who were sleeping inside. Boyd did everything possible to help us have a great retreat, even including being our night guard.”
After retiring from overseas service in 1988, O’Neal served as a director of volunteers at International Mission Board headquarters in Richmond, where he coordinated Southern Baptist volunteer teams throughout Brazil and the Caribbean. During this time, he aided in multiple disaster relief efforts and continued to take short-term mission trips.
David Campbell, who worked with O’Neal in Richmond before eventually succeeding O’Neal in the volunteers position, described him as “a man of action, doing whatever was necessary to accomplish the task.”
“He was known for his love of Brazil and the Brazilian people,” Campbell said. “That love motivated him to do whatever he could to make sure that as many Brazilians as possible would hear the Gospel, which included assisting many volunteer teams to take it to them.”
In 1996, after 47 years of service, O’Neal retired from the IMB. He and his wife moved to McKinney, where he served the Lord through First Baptist Church. During retirement, he continued to take short-term mission trips to Brazil.
O’Neal is survived by his wife, four children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service for O’Neal was held Oct. 1 at the Turrentine-Jackson-Morrow Funeral Home in McKinney. The family suggests memorial contributions to the International Mission Board or to First Baptist Church, 1615 W. Louisiana, McKinney, TX 75069.
Emily Pearson is an International Mission Board writer living in the Americas.