News Articles

Gospel marches on as newest IMB emeriti celebrated

IMB President Paul Chitwood welcomes new IMB missionary emeritus Mark Hatfield to the IMB staff chapel, on May 8. Mark and Susan Hatfield served in Sub-Saharan Africa and with Send Relief for 36 years. IMB Photo

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) – “Behold our God, seated on his throne
Come, let us adore him
Behold our king, nothing can compare
Come, let us adore him.”

Forty International Mission Board missionaries gathered for IMB’s annual Celebration of Emeriti and lifted their voices in praise to the God they have spent a lifetime faithfully proclaiming. They sang a song their lives have embodied as they served around the world entreating the nations, all tribes and peoples and languages, to come and behold our God – the only One worthy of adoration.

Bill and Kathy Cox, IMB missionaries to Asia and the Pacific Rim for 18 years, expressed their deep gratitude for being able to spend as long as they did on the field. IMB Photo

This year’s emeriti gathered near Richmond May 5-9. They reflected on their years spent on the mission field, considered the logistics of entering retirement and made plans for their next field of assignment – the U.S.

“We came back to the States and realized this is the mission field,” said Heo Botong*, one of the newest emeritus missionaries. During their last decade overseas Heo and his wife, Sori Ha*, served among refugees from Central Asia. In retirement, they are already working among the refugees of North America.

As the missionaries spent time debriefing with IMB leadership this week, one thing was clear. Their lifelong commitment to making the Gospel known hasn’t changed.

“How will you continue to engage in the greatest calling, the Great Commission?” asked IMB Executive Vice President Todd Lafferty during a luncheon where the missionaries were recognized for a combined 1,108 years of faithful service.

Among the participants were David and Laura Spiegel, second- and third-generation IMB missionaries to Brazil. Laura’s grandparents, William and Olga Berry, arrived by ship to Brazil in 1923 when Olga was 8 months pregnant. They served 42 years with the IMB. Laura’s parents, Ed and Lois Berry, served 37 years. David’s parents, Don and Betty Spiegel, served as IMB missionaries for 32 years. Now, David and Laura are retiring after 45 years of service as missionaries to Brazil.

David and Laura Spiegel were recognized for 45 years of service in Brazil. Of the participants at this year’s emeriti celebration, they had the longest career service. “We cannot imagine a better and more blessed life than we have had serving the Lord,” Laura said. IMB Photo

Though both felt the call to missions from an early age, and both grew up in Brazil, their first application to the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) was denied due to the lack of pastoral experience required at that time for service as missionaries. David recalled one late night after reapplying when he cried out to God in discouragement as they waited to be accepted for service. They went on to spend their next four and a half decades in Brazil as IMB missionaries where they used their administrative skills to serve other missionaries and planted and pastored a church.

“We went considering it a lifetime commitment,” said David.

Laura agreed. “We raised our kids and the church at the same time,” she said.

Sean and Shelley Blacksten moved to Germany in 1999 to serve a two-year term with the IMB. They had no plans to stay longer than two years, but now 26 years later they are retiring after serving 18 years in Europe and seven years in Panama.

Sean and Shelly Blacksten already have plans to return for an extended time to Panama and Colombia. “In our retirement, we sense God saying it’s time to trade security for flexibility,” Sean said. IMB Photo

The Blackstens recalled their first church plant in former communist East Germany, 10 years after the wall came down. “It was a time of openness,” Sean said. “People were prepared to hear the Gospel.”

During that first term, they baptized 60 university students who became their first church. But their last term was the sweetest and most unexpected season of all, they said. When colleagues invited them to join a trip to the jungle, little did they know it would kick off a joyous, fruitful three years of encouraging, equipping and resourcing Indigenous people to take the Gospel to hard-to-reach peoples.

“Our life with IMB has been a holy adventure,” he said. “Our encouragement to others is allow God to hold the pen, and your story will be perfectly written.” 

Another retiring couple, Brennan and Veronica Masterson*, arrived in South Asia expecting the first of five children who were born to them on the field. From the beginning they were committed to doing ministry together as a family. Though they lived in a spiritual desert, they saw fruit bloom during their 21 years of service. In 2023, they could trace 24,921 new house churches to the 36th generation.

Kids in Field Personnel Orientation, preparing to go to the mission field with their parents, delivered handcrafted ornaments to the group of new IMB missionaries emeriti. IMB Photo

“It started growing, and it moved beyond us,” Veronica said. Nearing retirement, the Mastersons knew it was time to step back and let locals lead.

As they return to the U.S., they aren’t ruling out a future term of service as international missionaries. But they see new opportunities to serve God in their retirement. Veronica expressed her burden for the local church and their desire to work alongside Southern Baptists to get the Gospel to the nations. “For the season we are here, we want to make an impact,” she said.

The event concluded with a service of celebration that was livestreamed. IMB staff, local churches and friends and family of the emeriti attended. Missionaries shared briefly from the stage, thanking Southern Baptists for their support and exhorting them to answer God’s call to take the Gospel to the nations.

IMB President Paul Chitwood addressed the group of new retirees several times during the week. At the ending celebration in their honor, Chitwood said, “As our newest emeriti, you are among 25,000 Southern Baptist missionaries who answered God’s call, left kin and country behind, and went out to share the Good News. On behalf of all Southern Baptists, I say thank you!” 

Bringing a message from John 12, Chitwood noted Mary’s extravagant gift of perfume she poured lovingly on Jesus’ feet.

“Mary would not give to the Lord that which cost her nothing,” he said. “What she gave Him was likely among her most valuable possessions. I have the privilege right now of standing before a room full of people who have given Jesus more. You gave Him your most valuable possession – your life.”

During her time of testimony to those gathered in the auditorium, Grace Rivers* rejoiced.

“Glory to God in the highest, great things He has done,” Rivers said. She served 30 years among peoples of Asia and the Pacific Rim. “It has been my honor and privilege to serve Southern Baptists and Jesus, our Savior, to bring the Good News to those who have never heard.” Rivers’ colleagues attested to her lasting legacy on the field. During her years of service, one unreached people group grew from zero known believers to more than 1,500 Christians and many churches.

*Some names have been changed for security.

    About the Author

  • Kristen Sosebee