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Son of slain missionaries finds healing, commitment

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (BP)–Not a July 7 since 1971 has passed without the memory. The memory of finding his parents slain in their beds.
In the past 26 years, God has eased that 10-year-old boy’s pain. David Potter now is a deacon in First Baptist Church, Springfield, Mo., and an insurance agent.
“Until you forgive, you can’t truly live,” Potter said. “My heart does not burn to go down there and cause someone else grief. Do I want to shake hands with the killer? No. But Jesus Christ forgives them just as much as he forgives me.”
His parents, Paul and Nancy Potter of Marshfield, were Southern Baptist missionaries in Santiago, Dominican Republic, from 1966 until their deaths in 1971. They had been back on the field only a few days after a furlough when they were killed. No one ever was charged with their murders; no motive ever was established.
“Their deaths were not a tragedy because they knew they had committed their lives to the Lord,” Potter said. “The real tragedy would have been if the work of God had stopped in Santiago.”
The work did not stop. In fact, fruits of the Potters’ early labors still can be seen today. The first church they began now runs about 50 in attendance on Sundays, and it has three missions.
“Their name is very well remembered here,” said Sonia Burnett, a missionary in Santiago. She and her husband, Barry, were appointed by the International Mission Board in 1992.
“God has blessed the ministry they began,” she said. “Their death made an impact on the whole country. It gave evangelicals a name in the community because it created sympathy for evangelicals in the country. The people saw that evangelicals were normal human beings, too.”
Santiago Christians paid tribute to the Potters in 1996, marking 25 years since their deaths, Sonia said. A Christian music group from Miami held a concert to raise funds for construction of a church in Santiago.
Potter met the Burnetts a few years ago when they visited First Baptist, Springfield, while on furlough.
“The neatest thing they told me was that when they tell people they’re Baptist missionaries, people say, Paul (or Nancy) Potter led me to the Lord.’ That’s a blessing to me.”
Potter also maintains contact with Tom and Josie Ratcliff, who were Southern Baptist missionaries in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, at the same time the Potter family was in Santiago, assisting in establishing a mission in Santiago.
“Both were very effective missionaries,” Ratcliff recalled. “Paul had the language of love. He could motivate the people. Nancy was such a gentle Christian person. Their deaths were hard for me to comprehend.”
Ratcliff now lives in Jefferson City, Mo., and serves as director of the Missouri Baptist Convention missions department. Potter has not returned to the Dominican Republic since a 1973 visit, but he would like to take his family there someday.
“I love that country. It means an awful lot to me.”
Time has healed a lot of pain, Potter said. “What really helps get you through a traumatic event is to find people to truly love,” he said. “I met my wife, then had kids. I created my own life.” He and his wife, Misty, have been married 17 years. They have three children: Adam, 16; Tyler, 13; and Kyndal, 10.
Helping Potter through his teen years was Luther Rodgers, pastor of First Baptist Church, Marshfield, Mo., his home church. “He had an uncanny ability to know when I was really hurting,” Potter said. “God has been good to me to put certain people in my life that I could rely on and help get me through tough times.”
Christians rallied behind the Potter children by establishing a trust fund for their education. Potter said that fund was instrumental in his and his sister’s education. Susan graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, with a bilingual education degree, and David graduated from Drury College in Springfield with a business administration degree.
David and Susan were raised by their mother’s parents, Dave and Helen Roper of Marshfield. Their father’s parents, Roy and Lila Potter, also lived in Marshfield. Only Helen Roper still is living. She lives in a retirement home, and she and David visit regularly.
Susan now lives in Maryland with her husband, Ed Richardson, and their three children. They are active in a Presbyterian church. In the early 1980s, Susan and Ed served three years with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Papua New Guinea.
Seven years ago, Potter’s friend and fellow member of First Baptist in Springfield, Jack Thurman, invited him along on a mission trip to Brazil.
“I got a passion again for missions,” Potter said. “I had been verbal in my support of missions, but I enjoyed the trip so much that I made missions a part of my life again.”
His family now shares that passion. “I always thought I’d take my kids back to the Dominican Republic to see the work their grandparents did,” he said. “But that would feel more like a vacation than missions, and I wanted them to feel missions.”
Since 1990, Potter has participated in six mission trips to Brazil through Christian Missions Unlimited. CMI builds Southern Baptist churches in the Amazon region of Brazil. He is planning to go again in November. His older son, Adam, has accompanied him on one of those trips. He plans to take his younger son, Tyler, this year and his daughter, Kyndal, when she gets older.
“My family’s lives have been radically changed by the trips to Brazil,” Potter said. “We all have a heart for missions.”
His parents would be proud.

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  • Stacey Hamby