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FIRST-PERSON: To a missionary hero & friend few will ever know by name

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–I was standing at an airport ticket counter when my cell phone rang and I got the news: My friend had died.

He had called his wife earlier to say he was fine and soon would be heading home from a journey abroad. Three hours later he was dead from a heart attack.

Not him! So few have dedicated themselves to reaching the lost people group he loved so much. I heard myself crying, “Lord, please raise him from the dead!” I was in shock. I can’t remember anything about the trip that day. My thoughts raced. One minute I wondered if he was really gone. The next, I began reflecting on the way he worked.

My friend was a Southern Baptist missionary. He served among one of the world’s toughest-to-reach people groups. With his wife, he recruited a team of 19 mission workers and four Great Commission Christian organizations. We formed a true “people team”: mission advocates in the United States, field workers, local brothers and sisters in Christ — all sharing a vision to spread the gospel among this large and needy group.

My friend had experienced the best and the worst on the mission field for almost 25 years. His family had moved more than a dozen times and lived in five countries — learning new languages each time. He once surprised me by shedding a tear when I thanked him for having served in the Vietnam War.

In the 1990s, his primary people group contact — a pastor — was martyred for his faith in Christ. It was as if my friend had died with him; his depression lasted for months. Colleagues overseas and in the United States prayed for and ministered to my friend. His eventual recovery was driven by a godly passion for those who destroyed the life of his friend — and nearly stole his own.

My friend lived with a prayer on his lips. He traveled to minister among his people group as often as possible. He recruited dozens to go on prayerwalks and spend hours on their knees pleading for the salvation of the lost. Souls saved and new churches growing out of spiritual darkness were the regular subjects of his excited phone calls and urgent e-mails.

My friend believed in acronyms. Once he gave me a bright yellow cap with the letters “WIT” embroidered on the front: “Whatever It Takes.” That was his way of life.

My friend’s funeral was a celebration. The tributes lasted nearly three hours. His wife and children were amazed at the love that poured forth. Eulogies were given by Christian workers from four nationalities, all without exposing their identities — a must in today’s environment of missions in hostile places.

Lives had been changed, previously unreached people had received God’s Word in record numbers, diverse personalities had been united by the leadership of our friend. He had constantly expanded his circle of friends and co-workers. He not only wanted you to know of a need; he wanted you to become emotionally and spiritually involved. His address book was more important than his busy calendar.

Southern Baptists must understand that for mission work among unreached peoples to continue, a missionary’s personal identity cannot always be revealed — in life or in death. For me, though, this death was very personal. Because of my friend, the unreached people group he loved so deeply has become my own deep commitment and priority.

My friend finished well. If the Lord doesn’t return before your time comes, you too will die doing something. Are your current priorities worth your life?
*”Digory Kirk” is used here as a pen name of an International Mission Board colleague who worked closely with the late missionary, neither of whom can be identified without causing jeopardy for their work.

    About the Author

  • Digory Kirk*