News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: Missionary sacrifices

ST. LOUIS (BP)–Hearts broke across America as we learned the fate of New Tribes missionary Martin Burnham’s death June 7. Killed by Muslim terrorists who had held Martin and his wife, Gracia, for more than a year in the Philippines, the couple was abruptly snatched from a hotel resort while celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary.

Traveling to St. Louis to prepare for the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, I was shocked and saddened to hear the radio report, which again reminded of the sacrifices missionaries undertake to see lost souls come to know the Lord.

I have seen this dedication and sacrifice up-front. Just days ago, my brother-in-law and sister, Joseph and Ramona Steckmann, returned on an emergency medical trip from the Czech Republic to Portland, Ore. The Steckmanns, missionaries on the field with CBInternational, have been in Europe nearly 10 years training and equipping pastors to lead churches.

It was heart-wrenching to hear the strain and worry in my sister’s voice as she described a malignant tumor lodged in Joseph’s sinus cavity.

“Our doctor in Portland said to return to the States immediately,” she breathed. “We have to go back.”

Beyond the pain in her voice was the lingering uncertainty of not knowing how this unplanned event will affect their future. Only after surgery and still more testing will they be able to contemplate what God has in store.

The road has not been easy. Married with two children, they began preparing for missions service nearly 15 years before they were finally able to secure all the needed financial support and leave for Eastern Europe. Back when they first contemplated their call to missions, Eastern Europe was not open to direct missionary ministry. When the Iron Curtain came down in 1989, they knew the time had come to serve God overseas.

Since that time, my sister, ironically a health food enthusiast and in top physical shape, has battled breast cancer. She has learned a different language and adjusted to a different culture. She had begun approaching her empty nest years with only the long-distance support of family and friends with whom she communicates.

Ramona has gained a mature faith, a love for serving God and a strong conviction for teaching and outreach through compassion and hospitality.

Paradoxically, my sister had arranged for her children to serve in missions positions in the Czech Republic this summer — 21-year-old Katherine, a student at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and 18-year-old Joseph Jr., who will begin at Liberty in the fall.

As I contemplate my own sister’s family’s struggles and triumphs, I cannot help but to think on the sacrifices of our own Southern Baptist missionaries who have given their lives in service around the globe.

Commissioned and appointed by the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board, more than 10,000 missionaries serve because of the faithfulness of those who are committed to supporting missionaries through the SBC Cooperative Program.

While I cannot name very many of the thousands who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists, I am reminded of their tremendous sacrifice and their ultimate willingness to serve God.

Both as a Southern Baptist, then, and as a sister and believer, I am compelled to look upon the faces of those who sacrifice and offer a big “thank you” from the bottom of my heart to those who answer the calling to serve through missions.

To the Burnham children and Gracia, may I also say rest easy; your father and husband was found faithful until the end. Never will we be able to fully appreciate the struggles of the past year and the horrible physical and mental duress you must have endured.

And rest easy, my dear sister Ramona and family; we don’t have all the answers, but we can know that God will never leave nor forsake you. For it is for him we were created and him we continue to serve.

When we are weary and the way seems long and unpredictable, and even when we are subject to mind-boggling and incomprehensible pain, we can cast our cares upon him and rest in the assurance that he alone will give us peace.

    About the Author

  • Joni B. Hannigan