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Retired Air Force investigator enjoys second career in ministry

COLUMBUS, Ind. (BP)–It’s a second career for retired Air Force special agent Stu Cundiff. And unlike his first, it’s one he can share completely with his wife, Jan.

The Air Force equivalent of an FBI agent for 22 years, Cundiff often was away from his wife and family, and even more often was unable to discuss his work with her. But for the last dozen years they’ve served together in South Central Baptist Association of Indiana.

He’s director of missions for the association; she is the state literacy consultant and associational language missions director. Together the couple — married 45 years and post-retirement graduates of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — are featured missionaries for the North American Mission Board’s 2002 Week of Prayer and Offering for North American Missions, scheduled for March 3-10.

Cundiff said his ministry has four main aspects: He is a pastor to the pastor, supporter of existing churches, starter of new churches, and builder of the association.

There were nine churches and one mission congregation when he was named director of missions in 1989. Today, there are 21 churches and five missions located in 10 counties in south-central Indiana. The Cundiffs drive about 2,000 miles each month as they minister.

“I try to visit a different church every Sunday morning,” Cundiff said. “I call the pastor in advance and ask him if he’s going to be in the pulpit, and then I also say, ‘If possible, and it’s convenient to you, I’d like to take you to lunch after the morning worship service.’

“My wife, Jan, and I take the pastor and his wife and family to lunch,” Cundiff continued. “We fellowship with them. We talk to them about their family, about their concerns, about their church. We get to laugh with them; we get to cry with them; we get to pray with them. That’s what I call pastoring the pastors.

“Usually not a day goes by that one of the pastors doesn’t call me and ask me for advice and counsel,” Cundiff said. “Sometimes I just listen. Sometimes I’ll pray with them even over the phone.”

Jan Cundiff’s work often is just as one-on-one. She teaches English as a Second Language to Chinese students on Mondays, a Japanese woman on Tuesdays, and the wife of a Hispanic pastor on Wednesdays. Weekends are often filled with English as a Second Language (ESL) training workshops around the state.

Charles Sullivan, executive director of the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana, voices strong words of praise for the Cundiffs’ passion for ministry.

“It ought to be a great encouragement to our senior adult population in the Southern Baptist Convention to realize that there really is no time when we can say, ‘I’m through’ or, ‘I need to quit,'” Sullivan said. “Jan and Stu are the kind of people who give to us an example of what it really means when the Lord said, ‘Be thou faithful unto death.'”

In their early 60s and in relative good health, the Cundiffs carve hours from their schedule each month to spend with their three grandchildren who live in Columbus, Ind. Two other grandchildren live in Texas. But in a sense, they are grandparents to every congregation in the small cities, towns and rural areas of South Central Association.

“We’ve been here 12 years,” Stu Cundiff said. “There is not one pastor in this association who was here when I got here. There has been a complete turnover. We need to pray to the Lord of the harvest to raise up native-born Indiana Hoosier men to plant their lives here in Indiana as pastors and lay leaders, to sow Indiana with Christ-centered churches. That’s my main prayer.”

Jan Cundiff’s main prayer is one of praise that God has gifted her with an ability and interest in teaching ESL, and that she is able also to work with new and existing language churches in the association. The language congregations include one Chinese, one Korean and two Hispanic. A Japanese congregation still is in the visionary stage.

“When I was 18 years old I knew that God called me to be a foreign missionary,” she said. “I just didn’t know he was going to bring the mission field here to me. It’s been a wonderful experience to learn that God is not limited to the way I think. He has ways way past my ideas.

“Because of the Annie Armstrong Easter offering for North American missions, we are able to do for others without having to raise funds for ourselves,” Jan added. “It’s just amazing to think about how many people make it possible for us to not just do what we are called to do but what we love to do.

“I would like to ask people to pray for my personal part of our ministry here,” she added. “Not just that I’ll be able to help our students learn English, and not just to be able to help teachers learn to teach students English, but that I will be able to communicate the importance of intentional evangelism. Because if we just teach them English and help provide their personal needs like getting their license tags renewed on time, we’re not doing very much. They can get help like that from anyone.

“But not just everyone tells them about the love of Jesus,” she said. “That’s the most important prayer need that I have, that I won’t be just an English teacher, but that I’ll be able to communicate the love of Jesus to them, and change their lives because of him.”

Service in the Air Force filled a 20-year gap between his call to the ministry and his acceptance of that call, Stu Cundiff said.

“The hymn says, ‘Give of your best to the master, give of the strength of your youth,’ and I didn’t,” Cundiff said. “I lost 20 years. I’m now playing catch up. I’m just doing what the Lord wants me to do. And trying to do it to the best of my ability.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BLESSED IN SECOND CAREER, PLANNING OUTREACH and A SPECIAL NICHE.