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Missionary family mourns death of 12-year-old daughter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–Even in death, as she had in life, Aimee Elizabeth Milstead, the 12-year-old daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries Grady and Claire Milstead, continued to make a difference in the lives of hundreds as they gathered May 22 in Pensacola, Fla., for a memorial service.

Nearly 300 attended the service at Olive Baptist Church to memorialize Aimee and to pay their respects to the family gathered from as far away as Argentina, South Korea and Alaska. Aimee died suddenly May 15 in Trelew, Argentina, where she lived with her parents who have served as career missionaries with the International Mission Board since 1985. She was at school when she suffered a seizure.

Aimee’s paternal grandparents, W.G. and June Milstead, are members of Dogwood Park Baptist Church in Molino, Fla. Her maternal grandparents, Allen and Rebecca Biggs, are members of Southside Baptist Church in Monroeville, Ala.

Jerry Rankin, president of the IMB, offered words of appreciation for Aimee and for the witness her family has perpetuated through their sacrificial ministry.

“Aimee was so fortunate to be born into a family that knew and loved the Lord,” Rankin told listeners. “Multitudes of children around the world never have this opportunity.”

Calling Grady and Claire Milstead “faithful, dedicated missionaries,” Rankin said they have “a heart” for reaching the people of Argentina for Christ.

“[Aimee’s] death is a reminder that life is brief and none of us know how long we have,” Rankin said. “Our lives should be used to share the Gospel every chance we get.”

David Corson, church administrator at Olive Baptist, told the Florida Baptist Witness there were memorial flowers arrangements and a picture of Aimee on a “little easel” at the front of the church. He said U.S. Customs had not released Aimee’s body from the airport in New Orleans in time for the funeral, so it became necessary to hold a memorial service instead. A graveside service was held May 23 at Pensacola Gardens.

“I really sensed a feeling of hope, and the family was encouraged by all the people who attended,” Corson said. Especially moving was an unusual rendition of the popular hymn, “Great is thy faithfulness,” sung in both English and in Spanish, he added.

W. G. Robertson, pastor of Bellview Baptist Church in Bellview, Ala., and long-time friend and mentor of the Milstead family, brought a message from 1 Peter, Corson said.

Describing what Robertson called “two sides of the same event,” Corson said there are two groups for Aimee — those who stand on earth’s shore saying “goodbye,” and those who are standing in heaven saying “welcome home.”

The three other Milstead children joining their family at the memorial service were Melissa McCue, 26, Zach, 23, and Jacob 18.

In a Witness interview, Zach described his little sister Aimee, a seventh-grade student at La Escuela Nueva (The New School) in Trelew, as a “very sweet” girl with a penchant for playing the piano and acting. She spoke fluent Spanish.

Aimee previously suffered a seizure in December 2001, Zach said, after performing in a musical put on by MKs (missionary kids) during a missions meeting for Argentine Baptists. At that time the family went to the Pensacola area, where they were previously members of First Baptist Church, Pensacola, for Aimee to receive medical attention.

The Milstead family returned to Argentina this past December, according to Zach, who recently graduated from the University of West Florida. He said Aimee’s condition, called dysautonomia, was thought to be under control at that time.

He said the family is appreciative of what he described as “a tremendous outpouring of love and prayer from the missionary families in Argentina and in the states, and from the churches and the Florida Baptist Convention.”

An example of how “God’s in control” is how things have worked out for Melissa McCue and her family to be in town in time for the service, Zach reported. In Alaska at Elmendorf Air Force Base with her three small boys when hearing the news of her sister’s death, Melissa prayed her husband Ryan would be able to join her from where he was deployed in South Korea. Not only did the Air Force immediately send Ryan home to Alaska, but they also packed up the family and made sure they all arrived in time to join the rest of the Milstead family in Pensacola, according to Zach.

“God has been working things out and providing ways for all of us to get together,” Zach said. “I know that God was using the Air Force and I am extremely grateful for them.”

Eighteen-year-old Jacob, according to Zach, is scheduled to begin school at William Carey College in Hattiesburg, Miss., in the fall.

Zach’s wife, Becky Milstead, is the daughter of James W. Robinett, pastor of First Baptist Church in Live Oak, Fla., who told the Witness Aimee was “the little sister that my daughter had never had, but wanted.”

Aimee had been a junior bridesmaid two years ago at his daughter’s wedding, Robinett said, and he has drawn close to the family since then.

“She was a fine Christian young lady and we thought the world of her,” Robinett said. “We grieve for the family. We really thought they had things under control health-wise and that’s why [her death] was such a shock to us.”

Commenting on the number of people who were present at the service, Rankin said “IMB missionaries are a close-knit family that minister to one another in times of grief.”

A fellow missionary in Argentina, Bruce Muskrat, said in an e-mail statement released by the IMB that he believes the extent of the Milstead family’s witness was obvious through this trying time — even to the physician who had tried to resuscitate Aimee at the Trelew hospital where she was taken after suffering a seizure at school. According to Muskrat, the doctor stopped by the house late the night Aimee died.

“In spite of the exhaustion of Grady, Claire and Jacob, having had over 100 visitors throughout the day, they were able to share their testimony with [the doctor],” Muskrat wrote. “Another doctor … who had been by during the day with his entire family, commented that he had seen characteristics of Christianity in the Milstead family that he had never experienced before.”

Family friend Beverly Hornsby, a member of Olive Baptist, told the Witness in an interview the Milstead family has held a special place in the hearts of members of Olive since Claire Milstead spent many months as a member of their church while awaiting Aimee’s birth in 1990. At that time Claire Milstead was diagnosed with a thyroid disorder discovered while she was receiving prenatal care.

“Aimee was the baby that saved Claire’s life,” Hornsby said.

Grady Milstead is a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and East Texas Baptist University. He and Claire (formerly Biggs), who is from Monroeville, Ala., completed language study in San Jose, Costa Rica, in 1987 and have been on assignment in Argentina since that time. The Milsteads reside in Trelew, which is in the southernmost part of Argentina in Patagonia.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of Florida Baptist Witness, go to: www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: AIMEE ELIZABETH MILSTEAD.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan