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Seminary outreach in West Africa gave her a chance to return ‘home’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Lizette Beard stepped off the Ghana Airways DC-10 and into familiar territory.

The other members of the 13-member mission team from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary experienced Ghana and Africa as a completely new adventure. But for Beard, a former International Mission Board journeyman, the Jan. 3-14 trip to West Africa seemed like a trip home.

“When you spend two years somewhere that you love, there’s a part of your heart that will always call that home,” said Beard, a master of divinity who worked with under the IMB’s International Service Corps program in the Ivory Coast from 1994-96.

“Each time I’ve been able to go back … there’s a familiarity that triggers something. … When I’m in Africa, there’s an excitement and a joy that is very specific and special.”

And as Southern Seminary’s missions coordinator, Beard has the opportunity to help other students experience that same joy in missions. Working with Randy Smith, director of Southern’s new Center for Missions Mobilization, Beard facilitates mission trips for the seminary.

“Southern is making a bold commitment to missions,” said Beard, a Mountain Home, Ark., native. “The missions center will be the clearinghouse for SBTS on missions, helping to facilitate professors, student groups and everyone.”

She will not always have the opportunity to go on the trips herself, but the January journey to Ghana was an exciting opportunity to return to a familiar continent.

“I was excited because Africa was a very positive experience ministry-wise and personally for me,” Beard said. “It was exciting to have some leadership and some organizational responsibilities and to use those to make the most of that experience for those who were going on the trip.”

The privilege, Beard said, is helping others experience the continent and the people she loved and lived with for two years.

“Africa is the place that God led me to be in my early 20s,” Beard said. “I met some of the most phenomenal Christians in my life there.”

The two years taught her many lessons and nurtured her enthusiasm for evangelism and discipleship. Upon returning from the Ivory Coast the first time, she arrived in the United States with a clear passion for missions, but she lacked a clear vision.

“I assumed that I would just go right back,” Beard said.

Instead, she sensed a call to go back to school, yet spent several years of testing the waters in various locations and vocations. She was designing Internet sites as a “tent maker” when God called her to Southern Seminary at the encouragement of Ed Stetzer, director of Southern’s Church Planting Center.

“I have loved it,” she said of her experience at Southern. “I have had phenomenal professors. I am very encouraged and affirmed that Louisville is the right place at the right time with the right training. As hard as it is and as challenging as some of my classes have been, I feel like I’m being prepared for the gospel ministry.”

In the fall, Beard began work as missions coordinator. And she hopes to see others transformed while on mission just as she grew during her two years in Africa.

“When I hear the students say the impact it’s had on them, I really feel like it’s an honor to have helped them get to that place,” Beard said. “I would like to see hundreds of students make missions commitments.”

This commitment to the Great Commission task was one she made long ago and confirmed in Africa. And though she does not know whether God will lead her back to Africa permanently, the continent remains a possible destination.

“I would suspect that God will lead me to North American church planting, but then [allow me to] lead people in those church plants to be on mission all over the world,” Beard said.

“Yet, I want to always be open to God’s call. … I guess I don’t want to be 80 years old one day and realize that I had put limits on how God could use my life.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: A TASTE OF HOME.

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  • Bryan Cribb