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Missionary’s calling to Africa requires faith amid hardships

ARUSHA, Tanzania (BP)–Barbara Brown, a high school librarian in Tennessee for 30 years, looks like the stereotypic quiet, mild-mannered librarian. But looks can be deceiving.

Brown, who has served as a missionary to Africa for the past 18 years, has survived a car wreck and a political riot in Zimbabwe as well as an armed robbery and an attempted purse snatching in Tanzania. And she’s still going strong.

“The Lord enables you to do what He calls you to do,” she declared. He has called her to serve as a librarian and treasurer at two Baptist seminaries in Africa since the death of husband in 1979.

“I had always been active in missions” through church involvement and home mission projects, she reflected. But after her husband’s death, she said she sensed God saying, “Barbara, I’ve got a different road for you to travel and I want you to follow me step by step.”

“It was a gradual process the Lord began to reveal to me about missions,” she said. After serving for two months as a volunteer at a seminary library in Colombia, Brown began the process of applying for missionary appointment through the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

Noting that she met all the requirements for career missions service “except I was too old,” Brown was appointed at age 52 as a missionary associate. The IMB later changed the age requirements, which permitted her to become a career missionary.

Brown served 11 years as a librarian and treasurer at Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe. The nation’s government began denying work permits to missionaries who had served there more than 10 years, forcing her to look elsewhere.

“I could have retired but I sensed it wasn’t time for me to go home,” she explained. “It was clear that I needed to stay on the field.”

Even after joining the staff of International Baptist Theological Seminary of Eastern Africa in Arusha, Tanzania, Brown had several other opportunities to retire but she was convinced God still wanted her to serve Him in Africa.

“I’ve lost count of how many times I started to retire,” she added. The nearest she came to actually retiring was more than a year ago when she went back to the States for her final 14-month furlough. Eight months into her furlough, however, the seminary still needed a treasurer and she agreed to head back to Africa.

“I failed retirement,” she admitted with a laugh. “I’ve definitely committed to work until August next year–but we’ll see.”

Since returning to Arusha in March, one of her most harrowing experiences in life unfolded a month later when a gang of machete-wielding robbers broke into her house.

“There were 10 of them altogether; four in my house,” she recounted. “I was scared at the time. They slapped me around. I didn’t know what they were going to do next. I was able to get away and get to the bathroom and lock myself in” where she stayed until the intruders left.

Brown said the greatest material loss she suffered during the robbery was her engagement ring and wedding ring.

Since the attack, however, her children have sent her a new ring with the birthstones of her children and grandchildren surrounding her birthstone. “It’s not a replacement of the wedding ring,” she noted, but the new ring’s symbolism of her family’s legacy “represents the fulfillment of the promise my husband and I made to each other when we were married.”

Although she still has occasional flashbacks about the break-in, she remains committed to serving God right where she is. “The Lord saw that I wasn’t killed so I figured He still has work for me to do,” she said.

Brown even has discovered a spiritual benefit of sorts from the attack. “For the first time in my life, I have been slapped,” she reflected. “In a very, very small degree, I understand better what happened to Jesus.”

Amid the challenges of being away from family and coping with the daily trials of life, Brown is confident that the work of the seminary remains worthy of her personal commitment.

“The seminary is a key to the effectiveness of Baptist work in Eastern Africa,” she explained. “We draw students from several African countries and they form the Baptist leadership of those countries.”

And that is reason enough for Brown to postpone retirement just a little longer. After all, she knows from personal experience that “the Lord enables you to do what He calls you to do.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: BARBARA BROWN.

    About the Author

  • Trennis Henderson

    Trennis Henderson is the national correspondent for WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union). A Baptist journalist for more than 35 years, Henderson is a former editor of the Western Recorder of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Arkansas Baptist News state convention newsjournal.

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