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LifeWay missionaries find challenges, opportunities, rewards in service

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–After 11 months on the mission field, the four church development missionaries sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention are in agreement on a key issue.

If they had to make the decision again about whether to leave their homes and positions in the U.S. to live and work in other countries, the answer would be an enthusiastic yes.

The four LifeWay employees left in January 1999 to pilot a new partnership with the International Mission Board where they work alongside IMB missionaries to provide help in witness training, discipleship and other areas. Steve Cretin lives in Singapore and serves the Southeast Asia and Oceania region; Neal Cordle lives in Wiesbaden, Germany, and serves Central and Eastern Europe; Michael Woolridge lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and serves Eastern Africa; and Ernie McAninch lives in Quito, Ecuador, and serves Western South America.

They returned to LifeWay in December for a time of evaluation of the project.

Cretin, who had made one trip to Singapore prior to his move, said he and his wife, Ann, “hit the ground running.”

During the year, he has led 20 conferences, preached in about 15 churches, met with numerous book distributors and spoken at three national conventions. He has visited seven of the 11 countries in the region.

Cretin, former director of LifeWay’s FAITH Sunday school ministry department, has introduced the FAITH Sunday school evangelism strategy and “Share Jesus Without Fear,” along with other concepts and resources. A FAITH clinic will be held in February in Singapore. In January 2000, Cretin, with the help of First Baptist Church, Franklin, Tenn., will hold Vacation Bible School clinics in Singapore and Malaysia.

In terms of lifestyle adjustment, Cretin said Singapore “is more western than eastern.” While English is the official language, the Cretins took a three-month course in Mandarin Chinese. “The best thing we learned was how to pronounce names.”

“We had a phenomenal year, personally and spiritually,” Cretin said.

Woolridge, his wife, Evelyn, their five daughters and mother-in-law have found an enthusiastic reception in Kenya. They have had to adjust to periods without electricity and phones. In addition to a warm welcome, they have been greeted with some curiosity.

“They had never seen a black missionary,” he laughed. Woolridge is a native of Bermuda; Evelyn is from England. He said Kenyans regularly approach them speaking Swahili, assuming they are Africans. “I’m brown rather than black so they know I’m a little bit foreign.”

He took a two-month crash course in Swahili, “for survival. It helped me to be able to communicate in everyday life. I’m able to understand more than I speak.” His goal by the end of 2000 is to be able to lead conferences without an interpreter.

Describing himself as a “discipleship resource person,” Woolridge has focused his efforts in Kenya for the first year but has also visited Uganda and Tanzania.

A major event for the year was witness training in three cities in eastern Kenya. Five LifeWay employees joined Woolridge for the event. He also assisted when 86 LifeWay employees traveled in October to the Lake Victoria region of Kenya for four weeks of witnessing.

Thousands of Kenyans have been led to Christ in recent years, so follow-up in starting churches and discipling new Christians is a critical issue. Woolridge also is working with churches on stewardship education.

In addition, he has focused efforts on getting resources into the country, working with the Kenya Baptist Media Center.

He said the most rewarding part of his work has been to “see the light come on when you’re training somebody. I know I’m in the right place. God is good.”

For Cordle, living in Germany and ministering in eastern Europe is “like living in Tennessee and working west of the Mississippi.”

He described 1999 as “exhausting, overwhelming and very rewarding. Building relationships to establish the basis of our ministry has been the focus of this year’s work.”

With a region that includes 28 countries, 20 of which have missionaries, Cordle has visited 10 countries to talk with mission strategists and national leaders to learn about needs and how he can be of help.

After identifying needs, he has begun to launch training. For example, in October, he conducted a one-day MasterLife discipleship conference in Bulgaria. Experiencing God discipleship training will be launched in January in Latvia where he will be training five nationals to become consultants.

Rewards come in the form of “stories of ministry impact from people I’ve met during the first year. We’ve laid a foundation.”

Also, he noted excitement in “coming back here to LifeWay and seeing our prayer cards in offices and on computers. It’s great to know we’ve enjoyed prayer support and that we’ve not been forgotten.”

Cordle, his wife Joan, and their two children have settled into Wiesbaden where, to their surprise, there is a large American community.

“We sort of feel like we live in America east. We work to try to get out into German culture.”

He studied the German language for three months and “measure my success by not being lost for an extended period, not having to sleep in my car and being able to order food in restaurants.”

Cordle said he and his family “believe God has called us to that part of the world. It’s a culmination of all God had done in our lives up to that time.”

While Ernie and Lee Ann McAninch had learned Spanish while serving as missionaries to El Salvador before joining LifeWay, that didn’t mean language was not a challenge when they returned to Latin America.

“It took prayer and practice for the language to come back to us,” he said, adding that different nuances of Spanish in each country add to the learning curve.

The McAninches conducted 22 conferences in five countries during the year, partnering with distributors in providing LifeWay resources in Spanish, but the focus has been on meeting people and identifying needs.

“We knew we had to build relationships to build credibility for leading conferences and conducting training,” he said. They have worked with IMB strategy coordinators-listening, asking questions and sharing the LifeWay vision for their work. They are working behind and beside IMB missionaries on church growth principles and transformational discipleship.

“The Lord has opened doors at each of the steps,” McAninch said. “We made a commitment that whatever doors God opened we would walk through.”

From their previous experience in Latin America, the McAninches were prepared for more walking, inconveniences such as the phone being out when it rains and frequent strikes. The number of American businesses in Ecuador surprised them.

“Wal-Mart and McDonalds are everywhere,” he laughed.

Would they make the decision again to serve in South America?

“Without a doubt,” he said.

    About the Author

  • Linda Lawson