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Winston Crawley, missions pioneer, dies at 90

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–J. Winston Crawley, one of the primary architects of modern Southern Baptist missions, died June 14, 2010, in Richmond, Va. He was 90.

Crawley, who devoted more than 60 years to international mission service, leadership and scholarship, helped lead the historic expansion of evangelical mission work in Asia after World War II. As secretary of the Orient for the International (then Foreign) Mission Board from 1954-68, he teamed with the board’s longtime executive secretary, Baker James Cauthen, to more than double the number of Southern Baptist missionaries in the region — to nearly 750.

Later, he engineered mission advance on a global scale as the board’s first director of overseas operations, a role he filled for 12 years. In 1980 he became the board’s first vice president of planning. In that assignment he pioneered research and strategic functions that radically changed the way Southern Baptists do missions around the world.

After retiring in 1987, the Tennessee native taught several generations of new missionaries as a guest professor at Baptist seminaries in the United States and Asia (most recently in Taiwan in 2008).

“I flunked retirement,” Crawley wryly confessed at a gathering of retired missionaries in 2007. “I became a wandering seminary teacher.”

But Crawley was a mission teacher, thinker and writer throughout his six decades of service, producing eight books that extended his influence far beyond Southern Baptists. At least one admirer compared him to another Winston — Winston Churchill, a leader who participated in great events and then wrote eloquently about them.

Crawley was a “visionary missiologist and mission strategist” who helped set the International Mission Board “on a course of phenomenal growth and global impact,” said IMB President Jerry Rankin. “Following retirement, he continued to teach in seminaries in the U.S. and around the world in an influence that continues in missionaries and national Baptist leaders today. He has been a mentor and inspiration to me personally, as he never retired from his calling to touch a lost world and extend the kingdom of God to the nations.”

The son and grandson of Baptist ministers, Crawley was born in Newport, Tenn., in 1920. His mother, Southern Baptist author and educator Sadie Crawley, once wrote that she dedicated her son to God before he was born and prayed that he would, God willing, “bear the glad tidings of the love of Jesus to China.”

Crawley eventually fulfilled his mother’s hopes, but not before extensive studies. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas; a master of arts degree from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.; and master and doctor of theology degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

He also married the former Margaret Lawrence of Lufkin, Texas, who would be his mission partner for 57 years.

The Crawleys were appointed missionaries to China in 1947 and began studying language in Beijing. In late 1948, however, advancing communist forces in China led to the transfer of many missionaries to other countries. The Crawleys moved to the Philippines, where they helped begin Baguio Chinese Baptist Church, and he served as pastor. He also became one of the initial faculty members of the new Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary and served as interim president of the seminary for a year.

Crawley’s intention to change traditional approaches to missions emerged as early as 1957, when he delivered a provocative address titled, “New Ways for New Days” to a group of Asia-based missionaries gathered in Hong Kong.

“[W]e have to get outside these [church] buildings if we are to evangelize Asia,” he declared. “If we let ourselves be limited by the buildings and by their capacity, we cannot hope to have enough church buildings to hold one-tenth of the people we ought to reach with the Gospel. It’s utterly impossible…. How subtle it is — this idea that everything centers in a building, and a seminary-trained leader, and unless you have these two, evangelism can’t go forward. I doubt you will find that subtle idea in the New Testament. Some way, we must break loose from this pattern.”

It was a revolutionary concept at the time — and still stirs controversy in some mission circles. But it now empowers the lay-led, house-based church-planting movements that are extending the Gospel to unreached people groups around the world.

“It changed our thinking,” recalled Helen Jean Parks, wife of retired IMB President Keith Parks. The Parkses attended the 1957 meeting as young missionaries to Indonesia. “[Crawley] challenged us to put our emphasis on the things that matter, like teaching the Bible and discipling the people. We were using ‘Saul’s armor.’ We needed to use ‘David’s slingshot’ and maybe have a Bible study once a month in a mountain village to get the Gospel out and not try to build a four-star church everywhere we went.”

More than 20 years later, Crawley was still challenging Keith Parks, who was initiating major strategic changes as IMB president. Parks called on his older colleague to lead strategic planning.

“I felt that he probably had the clearest understanding of mission principles and the ability to express them of anybody that I’ve ever worked with,” Parks reflected. “He was able, through the years, to adapt and rethink and move right on.”

Don Kammerdiener, who directed IMB mission work in Latin America for many years and served as interim board president when Parks retired, agreed.

“I always referred to Dr. Crawley as the ‘egghead’ of Southern Baptist missiology,” Kammerdiener said. “That doesn’t sound very respectful, but I had the highest admiration for his intellectual abilities and his passion for the cause of world missions. He was very keenly aware of the good things in our Southern Baptist missions heritage, yet he was probably ahead of most everybody in being aware of what was going on in the missions world at large and being able to interact with folks from a broader perspective.

“He was never out of touch,” Kammerdiener added, “but he was able to embrace the future without repudiating the past.”

Crawley became known as the “human encyclopedia” of Southern Baptist missions. His longtime secretary, Eris Anderson, told a reporter in 1985 that people “are always calling the office about anything in connection with the board. They think if Dr. Crawley doesn’t know, nobody knows.”

David Garrison, IMB global strategist, recalled his first encounter with Crawley:

“The first week I came on staff in March 1987, I was privileged to interview Dr. Crawley. I was conducting my own dissertation research, and he was the authority on IMB mission history,” Garrison said. “I learned from one of Dr. Crawley’s associates that he dictated much of the IMB’s mission history from memory, without notes.

“I discovered letters he wrote to the field from the 1950s and 1960s that anticipated many of the ‘cutting edge’ mission strategies we later implemented in the 1980s and 1990s,” Garrison added. “He was ahead of his time. Brilliant, yet always gracious, humble and encouraging.”

Some colleagues were intimidated by Crawley’s scholarly persona, his precision and exactitude. IMB communication staffers feared his approach when he entered editorial offices carrying copies of their articles marked red with corrections. Crawley had taught English at Baylor before becoming a missionary, and he insisted on grammatical correctness as well as factual accuracy. When he wasn’t writing, he was reading.

But Crawley wasn’t all business. He loved sports, particularly golf and tennis, and wielded a sharp wit. He also had a spontaneous side. Once, he was awakened by thieves who broke into a guesthouse in Hong Kong where he was staying. Crawley reportedly sprang out of bed, chased the thieves from the guesthouse and pursued them down the street — in his underwear.

“He was always a little silly and funny, not just the missionary, the preacher, the administrator,” said his pastor, Keith Smith of Derbyshire Baptist Church in Richmond. “His kids told me that he loved chocolate chip cookies, golf and Margaret — but not necessarily in that order.

“Most people at Derbyshire didn’t really know how accomplished this man was. That’s how unassuming he was,” Smith added. “He never boasted of his accomplishments. In fact, he never really told me about them; I found out from others.”

Crawley is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Margaret Crawley died in 2001.
Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board (imb.org).

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