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Senior duo adds to 70-plus mission trips

GULU, Uganda (BP)–Ann Davis lifted her aching body from a straw mat and reached with her right hand to touch the shoulder of a new sister in Christ. The woman turned and their meeting eyes initiated laughter, tears of joy and an embrace of gratitude.

Then Davis repeated the process three more times as each of the aging Acholi (uh-CHO-lee) women came to faith in Jesus.

“It thrilled my heart to see them pray to receive Christ,” Davis said. “We’d been sitting there visiting all morning going through the tract and for the first time they saw the Scripture in their own language. We established a bond and now we are sisters in Christ.”

Davis, 73, and husband Don, 75, were part of a LifeWay Christian Resources evangelism missions team that spent two weeks in northern Uganda sharing the Gospel among some of the 1.5 million-plus Acholi. The trip wasn’t always physically easy for either of them, but it’s not in Ann’s nature to let a little thing like osteoporosis get in the way of fulfilling God’s calling.

“We planned everything so that we could retire at 55 to do volunteer missions,” said Don, a LifeWay retiree. “We actually thought at first God wanted us to go as full-time missionaries through the Foreign Mission Board [now International Mission Board] but He showed us quickly that was not to be the case. Instead He was calling us to serve through short-term missions.”

Serve they have. The Davises have been on more than 70 mission trips encompassing dozens of countries. The motivation behind every trip is the same.

“I am fully convinced that every person created by God should have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and respond yes or no,” Don said. “In order to do that, someone has to go and tell. We are simply trying to be obedient to what the Lord has called us to do.”

Even the simple act of opening the mouth and speaking the Gospel is evidence of God’s grace at work in Don’s life. At age 33 he suffered a stroke and lost his voice for three years, not knowing if he’d ever be able to speak again. He was serving as minister of education at First Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, Fla., at the time but was hired — unable to speak — by the Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) in 1967. After surgery at Vanderbilt University and years of speech therapy he learned to speak again even though the left side of his speech mechanism is still paralyzed.

At first one might think the Davises’ physical challenges would make them a burden to a short-term mission team, and that was the initial thought of one Ugandan national working with the team during their June 28-July 12 outreach in the African country. Using the terms “Mussa” (moo-zay) for Don and “Mama” for Ann — both cultural expressions of honor and respect — he recanted his first impressions.

“I confess that when I first saw Mussa and the Mama I did not think they were going to make it well,” said Chris Bwami of Nsogu Ministries. “But they did and they were a testimony to the people. One older man said he could not come to the gathering to hear the Gospel preached and then he saw the Mama walking from hut to hut sharing the Gospel and he got up and went. One day we all stopped for lunch but the Mussa never came back [to eat]. He kept sharing the Gospel. This is a great example to us.”

Legacy is something the Davises consciously think about, and people they’ve led to saving faith in Christ around the world are part of that legacy. But legacy begins at home as far as they are concerned. Katelin Fields, the Davises’ 19-year-old granddaughter, traveled with them as part of the team. It was her first mission trip with her grandparents.

“They are such a great example to our family,” Katelin said. “It has been awesome to be on this trip and to share this experience with them. They have such a love for the Lord and I’ve learned a lot just being with them. Papaw always has some word of wisdom he’s sharing with me.”

Another part of the legacy they are creating comes from intentional planning. More than 30 years ago they purchased a farm east of Nashville at what they felt was God’s leading. Recently, they donated 20 acres of that land to the Tennessee Baptist Convention for a missions training center, part of which will house Tennessee disaster relief equipment with facilities to teach volunteers how to respond and minister during crises.

The Davises plan to continue their involvement in volunteer missions and encourage others — not just retirees — to invest in missions.

“I would say to retired people, ‘Don’t retire, just move on to what God has called you to do next,'” Don said. “If you are still living and breathing, you are a missionary. You don’t have to go overseas to be a missionary, but if you do, God will provide the resources. And if He calls, go. Don’t hesitate, go do it.”
Chris Turner is media relations manager for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.