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Smart, joyous: ‘She could have been almost anything’

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–It sounds like a terrible job offer.

Hot, sweaty weather. A cramped apartment without running water. Disease, including malaria, typhoid, dengue fever and, finally, terminal cancer.

Given a choice, Jan Moses would have chosen it all again.

As a Southern Baptist missionary, Jan served with her husband Mark for 19 years in the Philippines, raising a family of five along the way: David, 21; Sarah, 19; Hannah, 17; Martha, 13; and Jonathan, 10.

Between both hardships and blessings, Jan always found joy following God’s call on her life. And it’s that joy that impacted thousands of lives for Jesus Christ.

“Jan and I didn’t answer God’s call to missions reluctantly,” Mark said. “We didn’t feel forced into it. We never felt it a sacrifice. We became missionaries with the ‘joy set before us.’ The joy of being on the front lines and partnering with God Himself in redeeming a lost world. The joy of seeing lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.”


She had curly hair, a big smile and a bounce like Tigger.

That’s how Mark Moses remembers his future wife when he first met her at Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Fun-loving and full of life, Jan wasn’t just another pretty face. With a degree in biology from the University of Virginia, she was intelligent, not to mention “dead serious” about her relationship with the Lord.

“It didn’t take me long to realize she could have been almost anything,” Mark said. “But with all of her talents and skills and gifts, she chose to be a missionary.”

In fact, it was the couple’s shared passion for missions that brought them to the altar in 1983 while attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Two years later, Jan and Mark were appointed by the International Mission Board. The Moseses soon settled on the Philippine island of Panay, which served as home base for their ministry to the Illongo people.

One of the few missionaries to learn the Illongo language, Jan quickly developed a deep love for the people, seeking ways to engage and interact with them. She envisioned a day when Filipino churches would send missionaries of their own.

Though Jan may not have admitted it, Mark said she was instrumental in the salvation of hundreds and encouraged the spiritual growth of thousands more through her prayers and witness.

“Our house was a constant place of people coming in and out,” Mark said. “Ladies would come to Jan for counseling. Church[goers] would come because they found in Jan a person who cared, who made them feel special. Neighbors would come because Jan would listen to their struggles and pray for them.

“But I suspect most came over because Jan could make them laugh,” he added.

Known for her sense of humor and upbeat spirit, friends say Jan could make a party out of any situation.

“Never has a family spread so much joy and laughter to me,” said Deb Winans, an IMB missionary serving in Japan. “Even in describing her journey with cancer, there [was] much laughter.”


When she wasn’t evangelizing an Illongo neighbor or helping plant a church, Jan was working on the mission field inside her own home. Consistently modeling Christ for her children, Jan’s love for the Lord was most evident in her role as a mother.

“She wanted her kids to know the Lord and love Him with all of their hearts, and nothing else was nearly as important as that,” said Barbara Stevens, a friend and colleague in the Philippines.

“Every situation became an opportunity to learn about God. She always found ‘life lessons’ in the circumstances of the day, and she used these opportunities to disciple her children.”

Devoted to studying and memorizing God’s Word, Jan taught her children to do the same. For one of Mark’s birthdays, Jan helped her then-5-year-old David recite all 24 verses of Psalm 139 from memory.

Beyond Bible lessons, Jan also homeschooled her five children, often going beyond the norm to bring a subject to life.

“She was the most amazing homeschooling mom I ever knew,” said Kathy Lemmon, a friend who served with Jan in the Philippines. “Creative doesn’t even begin to describe [her].

“You couldn’t help but want to learn when you were around Jan.”

While some mothers would wince at the idea of rearing a family so far from home, Jan considered it a privilege.

“Living here has not been a trial but a blessing,” she said. “Raising our kids here has taught all of us the value of simplicity, how privileged and wealthy Americans are and the practice of hospitality.

“Our lives have been so enriched by living in another culture…. My kids have grown up to have a bigger picture and have become aware of how the rest of the world lives.”


After 19 years of ministry in the Philippines, the Moseses were forced to leave the mission field in 2004 when Jan was diagnosed with melanoma. The blow was compounded nearly a month later when doctors discovered Mark was suffering from renal cancer.

The news never caused Jan to question God’s plan for her life.

“He allows things to happen in our lives, He doesn’t cause them,” she said. “He didn’t cause this cancer.

“Scripture says He will not tempt us beyond what we are able to handle. We can handle anything through Him. So, He must really trust us. It was almost like an honor. He trusted us enough to allow this.”

With treatment, Jan’s cancer soon went into remission. Both she and Mark were deemed healthy, and they returned to the Philippines. But in 2005, her cancer recurred. The family moved to Texas where doctors worked to slow the disease’s spread.

Throughout her illness, Jan’s hope was that God would be glorified.

“It’s not healing that we desire but holiness,” she said. “We want what God wants.

“I know where I’m going; I don’t mind dying…. But it’s those people [who] don’t know Him; I don’t see how anyone gets through something like this without knowing the Lord.

“If He can use any of this to bring one person into His Kingdom, it’s worth it.”

From the onset of her cancer, Jan prayed that the Lord would allow her to see her 50th birthday, a request He granted. She celebrated five decades of life Dec. 31, 2006, at a family dinner in Virginia.

Later that evening, Jan suffered a brain hemorrhage. She died Feb. 8, 2007.

“Maybe in the world’s eyes I haven’t been successful,” Jan said. “But I thank God for the life we’ve had, because it’s been a good one.

“If we’re doing what God wants us to do, we don’t have to worry about being successful. We’re just being faithful. That’s what I want to hear when I go to heaven, is God saying, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’”

Mark Moses, meanwhile, has remained cancer-free for nearly three years. He plans to return to the Philippines to resume ministry to the Illongo people. Ten-year-old Jonathan and 13-year-old Martha will return with their father.

    About the Author

  • Don Graham