MARIANNA (FBW)–Moving her hands, head, shoulders and face in a rhythm her mother well understood, Dee Douglas remembers the moment 10 years ago when she told her mother she would be leaving Texas to become a missionary to the Deaf peoples in Eastern Europe.
Speaking in her “heart language,” sign language, Douglas' mother began to cry as they both realized there would be no communication once Douglas left. No e-mail could convey the way they communicate, no phone lines could repeat the silence so full of movements, gestures and expressions they use to share each other’s lives.
“‘I can’t do this. I can’t let you go. I cannot let you go overseas,’” Douglas recalls her mother telling her. Speaking to the third gathering of the National Missionary Parent Retreat at Blue Springs Baptist Conference Center in Marianna March 31, Douglas sobered at the recollection of the conversation, remembering what she told her mother after the woman’s initial outburst.
“So, does this mean you want to take me back out of the Lord’s hands?” Douglas asked her mother, telling parents at the conference that as a 10-year-old she remembered her mother placing her and her brother in the Lord’s care for whatever plans He would have for their future.
Recalling a period of time when neither woman spoke, Douglas said her mother finally shook her head and told the younger woman: “‘No. I spent a whole lifetime preparing you for this and you will go.’”
Douglas and her husband, Doc, who most recently served in Eastern Europe with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, along with other missionaries, shared stories March 31-April 1 of how they came to grips with leaving their parents behind in order to fulfill God’s calling for them to serve in places overseas.
The two-day conference, “Missionary Parent: An Honorable Calling,” was jointly hosted by the Florida Missionary Parents’ Fellowship and the Women’s Missions and Ministry Department of the Florida Baptist Convention.
Nearly 150 parents from 12 states who collectively have children in all 11 regions of the world attended the conference, where IMB president Jerry Rankin and his wife, Bobbye, also participated in the conference both as speakers and as parents of IMB missionaries.
Citing a rich heritage of being born to Deaf parents and growing up in a Deaf home where she was told Bible stories and learned of missions in her first language, sign language, Dee Douglas said she learned about missions first-hand through the openness of her family to sharing the Gospel.
“We were passionate about reaching the Deaf people in our home and in the community,” Douglas said. “Now we have the opportunity to witness in the dark world of the Deaf around the world.”
It’s not been easy to be away while her mother lives in a nursing home, but Douglas told parents it is because of the love and support of her mother that she is able to share her gift of bringing light to the Deaf world through sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Regardless of how difficult it is, to live in that righteousness brings peace and joy,” Douglas said.
Doc Douglas said his 83-year old father recently encouraged him to continue to pursue his calling to missions, even though it sometimes means being a world apart. Telling his son to not give up the call, Douglas remembered his aging father’s words: “‘Whatever He wants you to do, I want you to do.”
Douglas said both men admitted they don’t know what the future holds, but his father went on to assure him: “‘I don’t want you to give up your call for me because I will have an eternity with you and the years here may be important, but an eternity and the impact that comes as a result of the Gospel being spread and the light in the darkness is far beyond to what can be compared to the few years I might have here.’
“I will do my best to honor his request,” Douglas vowed.
Committed to being a part of The Great Commission, Douglas reminded parents they have a part and are also called to the task of parenting those who go forth and “blow the trumpet.”
“My father and mother said to their son, ‘go,’ and her father and mother signed to their daughter, ‘go,’” Douglas said. “We work among a people group that, in my opinion, is in spiritual darkness. The Deaf have no concept of what is means to know Christ personally.
“Each of you here have made sacrifices. You have given up sons, daughters and grandchildren – is that important?” he quipped to the laughing crowd. “He has given us the trumpet, He has put us on the wall and He has said to blow the trumpet, give the warning.”
Bobbye Rankin expands on theme interpretation
Bobbye Rankin, the wife of IMB president, Jerry Rankin, and a former missionary to Indonesia, said she has experienced first-hand both the calling and now the acceptance of the call of her children to missions. She thanked the other parents there for their role in shaping their childrens’ callings, and said many of them speak about how their parents have modeled the life of Jesus Christ to them.
“I want to thank you for that honorable role of being a parent and now having that honor of being a parent of missionaries,” Rankin said, in one of three theme interpretations she presented during the conference. “Thank you for taking the admonition of the Scripture [as told in] Psalm 78, one generation should tell those stories to the next generation….”
Reading from various verses in the Bible and quoting Scripture from memory, Rankin told of being able to visit her children on the mission field to herald the addition of each of her four grandchildren and how fulfilling it is “in the midst of visiting with my children [to experience] that wonderful great joy to be able to meet people in that country who have just come to know that sacred secret kept silent.”
Telling conferees that many of their children are in places where people have never held a Bible or heard Scripture in their own language, she reminded missionary parents that because of their children, new believers would be able to tell the story of Jesus “to their children and their children and their children and a new generation will arise who will know Jesus Christ.
“As you have told your children that story, they are now in places telling that story for the very first time to so many children as well as to adults,” Rankin said. “It is an honorable calling.”
Missionary family thanks parents for ‘letting your children go’
A missionary currently on furlough in Florida who was born and raised in Central Florida said serving with her husband and four children as missionaries overseas ministering to an unnamed people group has been “an awesome experience.” Jodi, whose name, along with those of her family members has been changed for security purposes, serves in a country where there is tension between Christians and people of other religions.
Jodi said she and her parents started going to church and made professions of faith after she accepted an offer of free gum to ride a church bus to worship services on Sunday.
Describing how her church promoted missions through Girls in Action and Acteens, Jodi said she felt a call to missions at 16 years of age, but wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.
“To me, the whole world existed around Disney and Orlando,” Jodi said, until she was dropped off at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. for two years while her parents left for an overseas mission field of their own. While on a visit with them, she met her husband, Bob, who also felt a call to missions.
This year, waving goodbye to her own daughter, a freshman at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., Jodi said the experience has come full circle.
Jodi’s husband, Bob, said initially after finishing seminary the timing was not right and he and Jodi were not approved to go overseas. After several years had passed, however, and she finished her nursing degree and he begin pastoring an ethnic church in Florida, the IMB asked them to accept their current assignment.
After months of challenging situations in a new country, Bob said he and Jodi packed up and nearly left before realizing their behavior had been “childish.”
“When we come to that point of helplessness, that’s when God sustains us,” Bob said, acknowledging his and Jodi’s parents were prayer warriors for their children. To the parents gathered, Bob thanked them for their prayer support as well.
“God is doing something and I just want to say thank you. Thank you because of your obedience. You were obedient in letting your children go,” Bob said. “You were obedient in giving your blessing to your kids… . That part of the world will never be the same … because of the lives of your kids that you have willingly given to God.”
Bob and Jodi’s son, Bill, an eighth grader, said he is “homesick” for the country where his entire family consider themselves to be missionaries.
“This is really amazing for all of us,” Bill told the parents. “All of us just love [the unnamed country] so much and just can’t wait to go back.”
IMB president speaks of missionaries’ call
In delivering the missionary message, IMB president Jerry Rankin said he was moved by the passion of the missionaries who spoke during the conference and by their families.
“Aren’t you fortunate that God called you to be the parent of a missionary,” Rankin said. “The world doesn’t understand that kind of dedication, that kind of commitment, that kind of call.
“When God touched your sons and daughters and planted in their heart a passion, a burden, a brokenness for a world that does not know Jesus Christ” sometimes the world looks at them and says, “’how tragic, what a waste, that they would be walking away from a successful career, a promising ministry in a stateside church, how tragic to go and live in a place like Yemen, or Central Asia or West Africa,’” continued Rankin.
And while the world may look suspiciously at their calling, Rankin said, even some missionary parents call to ask him why their children have been sent to a particular place.
“It’s like these missionaries are conscripted into service against their will, heels dug and an assignment imposed on them,” Rankin said of the sometimes irate calls. “We would not let them go without their deep conviction of God’s call of their life. It’s a distinct contrast to the values of this world.
“I am saying to you that you are fortunate, because through your sons and daughters, suddenly your life is contributing something of eternal significance,” Rankin said. “When they stand before the throne of God… and they see the [people groups throughout the world] gathered around the throne of God, it’s worth it all because they were willing to go.
“They are those who put their lives into perspective of eternal values,” Rankin continued. “God is not ashamed to be their God. … They put things into eternal perspective.”
Even through the death of missionary David McDonnall, whose wife, Carrie, spoke to the missionary parents [see related story on page 4] at the fellowship, Rankin said a new perspective was gained.
Rankin said Carrie may not have been aware of all of the things happening that day she regained consciousness in a hospital in Dallas eight days after her husband was gunned down along with her and three others in Musil, Iraq.
According to Rankin, he and the pastor of Karen Watson, one of those killed who was from Bakersfield, Calif., were at Watson’s memorial service as Carrie was being told by her father that her husband, David, had not made it and had died of his injuries. Rankin said the pastor told Karen’s family and friends that just as Carrie must have been asking about her friend, Karen, and was being told that Karen didn’t make it, Karen was possibly having a similar discussion with David and the others at the “throne of God” when they were told, “no Carrie didn’t make it. God had other work for her.”
Recalling the testimony of one missionary parent who traveled to the very restrictive country where her son was serving, Rankin said he was reminded of how missionary parents made real contributions of eternal significance.
“‘I’m so glad that God chose my son to be the one to tell those people about Jesus, because hell is so real, eternity is so long, and life is so short,’” Rankin recalled the woman’s words.
Other conference events included:
• A panel discussion led by Terri Willis, IMB director of national relations, asked leaders of various state missionary parent organizations to share ideas about how each organization operates.
• Cindy Goodwin, director of the Women’s Missions and Ministries Department of the Florida Baptist Convention, welcomed parents and drew names for various prizes donated by LifeWay Christian Bookstores and the Florida Missionary Parents’ Fellowship.
• Recognition of Florida Missionary Parents’ Fellowship outgoing coordinator Dorothy Prevatt, and incoming coordinator-elect, laymen John Sullivan of Inverness—both of whom are parents of missionaries. The presentation was made by Russ Hughes, the retreat coordinator,
• Worship by Eddie and Fay Lockamy of Southside Baptist Church in Jacksonville and parents of a missionary.
• The Missionary Prayer Calendar was presented during each session by Lisa Sproull, formerly of Jacksonville, who is an IMB missionary to West Africa currently on educational leave to study at William Carey College in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Missionary parents’ fellowships are currently organized in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas. For more information related to starting a fellowship or to become involved in an organization’s activities, please call or e-mail Terri Willis at the IMB. The phone number is 800-999-3113, ext. 1551. E-mail inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org.*Dee and Doc Douglas are used instead of actual names for security reasons.
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