RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Let us now praise faithful men — and women.
Southern Baptists’ season of prayer and giving for international missions is in full swing. This year’s International Missions Emphasis theme: “That all people’s may know Him: Seek God’s passion.” Why? A passion for God begets a passion for the world when — through his eyes — we see people in all their beauty, pain and need.
“Passion” is a word you often hear when you ask boomer, Gen X and Gen Y missionaries to explain their motivation for going into the world. Earlier generations used words like “love,” “obedience,” “call” and “commitment.” But they spring from the same source.
By early December, 29 retired International Mission Board missionaries had died in 2002. To look back on their lives and their deeds is to see holy passion in action. A few glimpses:
— Sydney Goldfinch of South Carolina, who died July 28 at age 90, served for 42 years in Uruguay, Costa Rica — and Paraguay, where he and his wife went in 1945 as the first resident Southern Baptist missionaries during a tumultuous time of revolution. “There wasn’t anybody else who could go but us,” he recalled. So they went, and helped start a Baptist hospital that opened many doors for ministry. Pastor, evangelist, professor, chaplain, counselor, Goldfinch did it all. But he always insisted: “There’s no substitute for personally sharing the gospel.”
— Mabel Summers of Kentucky died Feb. 26 at age 87. She served the people of Lebanon, primarily through the Beirut Baptist School, for nearly four decades — including the worst of its civil war years. She never once evacuated the suffering land to escape violence. “I’ve gotten scared a few times from rockets,” she admitted, but she didn’t leave, even after a stray rocket slammed into her bedroom. She kept working there even after formally retiring as a missionary in 1985. When a U.S. State Department order forced all Americans out of Lebanon in 1987, she continued serving as volunteer in Nazareth and Gaza for five years. “As long as you have good health, you can’t just sit, right?” she asked, and answered the question with her life.
— Otis Brady of South Carolina, who died Jan. 15 at 74, served in the Bahamas, Guyana, Mexico and Belize for nearly 40 years. He planted churches, trained pastors, taught theology and promoted Christian education throughout the Caribbean. He once acknowledged that the “sense of accomplishment in teaching is often difficult to discover” — until a student begins to fulfill his or her potential. Many of Brady’s students blossomed under his loving guidance. Brady also became a mentor and peacemaker among regional ministry leaders. “His goal was for these leaders to be able to work together so that God’s work wouldn’t be hindered,” said a colleague. “Otis was always the bridge who brought them together. Even after his retirement, folks asked him for counsel and help.”
— Irma Frank of Illinois, who died Oct. 14 at age 85, went to China as a missionary with her husband, Victor, in 1947, and moved to Hong Kong after the communists took over. There she wrote, edited and translated books and materials for Chinese women, teens and children for nearly 30 years. Her writings sent the gospel into Chinese-speaking homes throughout East Asia and other parts of the world. “I try to gather materials that can be translated,” she once said. “But if I can’t find what we need, I write it.” Several generations of Chinese Christians are thankful she did.
— Lonnie Doyle of Mississippi, who died Jan. 2 at 78, cruised by boat up and down the vast Amazon River as he preached the gospel in equatorial Brazil. His territory was bigger than Alaska, and he helped start more than 40 churches there during nearly as many years. His daughter Margaret once composed a poem in tribute to Doyle and other pioneer missionaries. “Sometimes the going gets rough, and you feel like saying, ‘Lord, I’ve had enough,'” she wrote. “But He takes your hand and leads the way; He takes you from night to everlasting day.”
The greatness of a man, said Salvation Army founder William Booth, is the measure of his surrender. These missionaries surrendered their lives to serve a great God, and did so with distinction — and passion.
Bridges, whose column appears twice-monthly in Baptist Press, is a senior writer with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.