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Crisis propelled Wakefield into missions leadership

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Two years out as a foreign missionary in the Philippines, Bill Wakefield ran out of steam. But that deeply personal faith crisis flung him reeling headlong into leadership in the fast-changing world of international missions.
In 37 years of missions service — from their earliest ministry with students in the Philippines to his role as a visionary spearheading efforts to reach internationals in the United States — Wakefield and his wife, Delcie, watched God perform one miracle after another.
It began one day in 1962 when Wakefield came to the end of his own power.
“I remember I was standing on a street in Manila, and I said, ‘OK, God, I quit. I’ve tried to be good all my life, and I’m just going to quit.'”
At that moment, Wakefield quit working for God. He realized God wanted to work through him. “The sense of God’s presence was so rich that I could literally say with Paul, ‘It is better to die than to live,'” he said.
“I learned to trust that God was in me to be what he wanted me to be. We learned to say to ourselves failure is not a cause to try harder, but a reason to trust more fully.”
Amazing things started happening. “It’s as though we had this great wagon running full tilt, and we’re behind it and people think we’re pushing it, but really all we’re doing is holding on for dear life.
“And that has carried on. That has been my understanding of how to live and work in each of the roles I’ve filled since then.”
The couple’s student ministry in Manila exploded in growth. Before long, 2,000 people a year were accepting Jesus as Savior. Bible studies, and later a church, grew out of it.
Many of the young Christians the Wakefields trained later became leaders of the Luzon Baptist Convention, one of the Philippines’ key Baptist bodies.
In the early 1970s, former Foreign Mission Board President Keith Parks — then area director for Southeast Asia — approached Wakefield about leaving the Manila ministry and becoming his associate director. “It didn’t make sense to me,” Wakefield said. “I told Keith, ‘But we’ve adapted to the culture; we know the language.'” And they were getting results.
“He said to me, ‘Well, would you rather me find somebody for my associate who hasn’t adapted to the language, isn’t comfortable with the culture and isn’t getting good results?'”
Wakefield realized it was time to move on.
Four years later, in 1976, he left the field to join the board’s home office staff as area director. In 1987 he became a vice president and member of the newly formed Global Strategy Group, which sought to use Foreign Mission Board resources more effectively to reach the whole world with the gospel. He was chairman of the regional vice presidents group for two years, through 1993.
In 1994, newly elected board President Jerry Rankin tapped him as vice president for international outreach. In that role he has built networks of former overseas workers to help Southern Baptists share the gospel with internationals living on American soil.
Indeed, Wakefield noted, the United States has become a land of many nations — and thus many mission fields.
“There are 21 million people from other countries who come each year to the United States,” Wakefield said. “How many countries in the world even have 21 million people in their entire population?” Delcie has always been at his side — but in her own missionary role as an encourager and trainer of missionary women. Wakefield said he is “gratified” to have been a part — with Delcie — of lifting up the significant role of missionaries who are mothers or wives on the field.
He is also gratified to have brought in the board’s first woman area director during his stint as a regional vice president, he said. Failing to recognize the value of women as missionaries, not “helpers,” he said, is like “working with one hand tied behind your back.”
Through it all, from that day in Manila to his retirement in May, Wakefield has watched God amplify his gifts and put him to use — as he made himself available.
“God is the one who chose us, and we have recognized that,” Wakefield said.

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  • Marty Croll