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For Pickles, being obedient didn’t lead them overseas

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (BP)–Because of their “Experiencing God” studies, Stewart and C.L. Pickle wanted so much to be obedient to God’s call on their lives, even if that meant — as they thought — going back overseas as international missionaries.
Instead, these Floridians and former missionaries to Ecuador found themselves sitting a few rows behind Southern Baptists’ 90 newest missionaries and wondering what lies ahead in God’s plan for their lives in the United States.
Their friends had been told the Pickles were going to be reappointed Nov. 17 during a service held in conjunction with the Florida Baptist Convention. The International Mission Board’s official program for the evening even listed them as candidates and included their pictures. They would have pushed the total number of new missionaries to 92.
The Pickles resigned from the IMB six years ago after 18 years as missionaries in Ecuador. At that time they felt God was calling them back to a ministry in the United States.
Yet in a bewildering turn of events in the days leading up to the appointment service, Stewart and C.L. found themselves wishing Godspeed to those they had expected would be their colleagues.
“We rejoice with those who are going,” C.L. says.
The first sign of a change occurred when Stewart’s medical report from the IMB’s physician showed blood in his urine. Then came a battery of tests, discovery of multiple malignant tumors on his bladder and their eventual surgical removal Nov. 3.
Even then Stewart and C.L. believed God was leading them to Peru as church planters.
Then came the agonizing consultation between IMB physician Van Williams and Pickle’s doctors. “What was the prognosis?” the physicians asked each other. “Would the tumors reoccur? If they did reoccur, where could Stewart receive the best medical treatment?”
The physicians’ phone consultations, including Internet searches for similar case histories and results, eventually led to the 11th-hour conclusion: Stewart, 57, needed to stay in the United States, where medical treatment for his particular form of cancer is much easier to obtain.
Stewart’s surgeon believes he got to the cancer just in time, that his chances of recovery are good but that a reoccurrence is possible. The doctors say regular three-month monitoring is Stewart’s best hope for long-term survival.
So, as 90 new missionaries shared their testimonies with the crowd of more than 2,000 Nov. 17, the Pickles applauded, cried and prayed with them — but sat several rows behind them.
Board officials say, as sad as the Pickles’ situation is, it would have been far worse had Stewart gone to Peru and the cancer erupted there in later stages. That’s why, board officials say, they insist on all sorts of physical, psychological and personal screening, including extensive medical testing.
So what’s the next step for Stewart and C.L. in being obedient to God’s will?
Being obedient didn’t mean going to Peru, only being willing to go, they say.
The Pickles plan to stay in south Florida and serve God the way they have been serving him. They feel it was providential Stewart had not officially resigned from his position as director of church extension (church planting) for the Gulf Stream Baptist Association.
They also are active members of Sheridan Hills Baptist Church in Hollywood, Fla. Their friends and fellow church members, IMB trustee Tim Locher, and his wife, Karen, have been especially supportive and helpful, the Pickles say.
After an extensive stint in “Experiencing God” materials in recent years, which originally led to the sense of calling overseas, Stewart and C.L. say they are eager to see how God continues to work in their lives.
“I wish we could see clearer,” says C.L., “but we have to depend upon him.”
Stewart says: “We don’t consider ourselves irreplaceable [on the mission field]. We just consider ourselves available to God.”

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  • Louis Moore