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Retiring missionaries honored for 1,994 years of service

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Members of the Southern Baptist missionary family gathered May 20 to honor career missionaries retiring from service with the International Mission Board.

The 72 emeritus missionaries received an invitation from Wanda Lee, national president of Woman’s Missionary Union, during a service at Derbyshire Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.

“We’re glad that you have served so faithfully,” she said, thanking the missionaries for their examples as servants fulfilling the call God had placed on their lives. “But there is an invitation: Come along and help us now. Your work here at home is just beginning. We want you to work alongside us and help us continue to prepare the next generation” for missions.

Several of the missionaries testified to wonders they had seen on the mission field — and of the need for more laborers. But they also stressed that their work will continue even though they themselves are no longer overseas.

“Since I cannot return, I pray and say with Samuel, ‘As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you,'” said Elizabeth Gwynn, former missionary to the Caribbean Basin.

Another missionary, Norman Wood, offered his perspective on retirement. “I’m at that point now that I can say I’ve really arrived,” he said. “A little boy said that when he grew up he wanted to be a missionary on furlough. I guess that’s what I am — permanently. A missionary on furlough.”

The joyous celebration was marred by a report that an emeritus couple had been involved in a car crash on their way to Richmond for the service.

Don and Shirley Kirkland, former missionaries to Zimbabwe, hit a deer two miles from their home in Pine Mountain, Ga. The couple was unharmed but went to a doctor for medical exams. During her exam, doctors discovered a brain tumor.

“It may not have been discovered at this early stage had it not been for the accident,” IMB President Jerry Rankin told the group.

Kirkland underwent surgery to remove the large tumor, which doctors said was an aggressive type that is likely to return.

“The doctor estimates she has six months to a year to live and stated that only the grace of God could keep her here longer,” said D. Ray Davis, who helps direct IMB work in southern Africa. “Please continue to pray for Don and Shirley.”

Even in the most difficult circumstances, missionaries find God is more than adequate for their needs, Rankin said.

“We truly give glory to God for his faithfulness and his grace that has sustained you,” Rankin told the retiring missionaries. “All of you have experienced God’s faithfulness and seen the power of the gospel as you have proclaimed it in word and deed.

“God has not let your words of witness fail,” Rankin added. “Many of you have seen the harvest of souls in Brazil and in Latin America, where almost half of you have served.”

The 72 emeritus missionaries represented 1,994 years of cumulative service. The May 20 service culminated a week of activities honoring their service and giving them opportunities to reminisce and rejoice about what God had done through the years.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: RETIRING WITH HONOR, MEMORIES OF TAIWAN, PRAISE GOD, TELLING THE STORY and FOND MEMORIES.

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  • Brittany Jarvis