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Retired IMB couple uses decades of experience to mentor

Russell and Melinda Kyzar fellowship in a believer’s home during an evangelistic expedition in 2004. IMB Photo

Imagine arriving on the mission field knowing no one, speaking none of the language and wondering where your house is, with no one to guide you. Then imagine immediately being thrown into cross-cultural ministry, also with minimum guidance.

Sounds overwhelming, right?

At the International Mission Board, making sure apprentice missionaries don’t experience this situation is a priority. And that’s achieved by the landing city program, where dedicated mentors are waiting to walk with missionaries in their first year of long-term service every step of the way. This program brought Russell and Melinda Kyzar out of retirement and back to the field. They have taken a short-term assignment with the IMB to usher new missionaries into their new culture, life and service.

Russell and Melinda Kyzar on the famous, medieval Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic in 2012. In Prague they assisted in church planting among Russian-speaking immigrants and Czech women’s ministry. IMB Photo

When a new missionary arrives overseas, their assignment is to a specific IMB affinity. IMB’s eight affinities are collections of related people groups that share similar origins, languages and cultures. In the Americas affinity, each missionary goes first to a landing city, where they immerse themselves in learning the language and culture and doing the missionary task in that context. Each new missionary stays in this program for approximately a year.

Missionaries who will be serving in Spanish-speaking contexts in the Americas land in Puebla, Mexico. “It’s an ideal landing city,” Russell said. He and Melinda are currently serving as interim lead mentors.

All around Puebla are Mexican Baptist churches committed to building relationships with new missionaries and partnering with them. The city, the fourth largest in Mexico, is a hub for eastern Central Mexico. Multiple universities, factories, restaurants and other bustling attractions can be found in the city, making it an ideal place to start ministry.

As the missionaries land, they’re greeted by the Kyzars.

The seasoned missionary couple is there for more than just language coaching or to be a welcoming committee. They guide the missionaries through culture shock. They provide support as they experience inevitable homesickness. They listen and offer solutions as the new missionaries share the struggles their children are going through. And they help them plug into the local churches, who are always more than ready to welcome them into partnership.

The newcomers attend language class every morning. In the afternoons, they head out into the community to practice what they’re learning. This might mean using the language to buy groceries, travel on public transportation or greet people at a coffee shop. At the end of every week, missionaries send a report to their mentors detailing where they’re thriving and where they’re struggling. Part of the Kyzars’ job is to respond to these reports and walk them through their daily challenges.

The Kyzars lived in a cross-cultural context for decades. In fact, Melinda is a missionary kid herself and has lived more of her life overseas than she has in the United States. Having served in Costa Rica, Russia, Czechia and Cuba, the couple finds it rewarding to be back in a Latin American context.

They retired from the IMB in 2015 and began ministry in the United States. They’ve enjoyed their time in the U.S., and though they now call Tennessee home, they’re thankful God opened the doors for them to continue ministry with the IMB.

Russell and Melinda Kyzar attend a Cuban outdoor church. The Kyzars were IMB liaisons with the Eastern Baptist Convention on the island from 2005-2007. IMB Photo

Later in July, the Kyzars are headed back to the U.S. The permanent lead mentors are poised to start their new role, filling this important position. As the Kyzars reflect on their past couple months serving, they’re grateful.

“Interacting interculturally is really rewarding,” Melinda said.

Russell agreed that he loves “feeling useful.” He enjoys “just being a part of sharing the Gospel story and the Gospel witness around the world and talking to folks in Spanish about the Lord.”

Russell encourages any IMB retirees who are considering serving again to go for it. Reach out and ask if there’s a place you can be plugged in for short-term service, he said.

Are you interested in seeing how you could be used to reach the nations? Visit IMB.org/go to find out more.