Over the past few weeks, I have spoken personally to more international missionaries than at any other time in my life. The International Mission Board has offered hundreds of personnel over age 50 a “voluntary retirement incentive,” and I have been working through IMB’s transition team to try and match at least two or three of those missionaries with IBSA’s current vacancies. The process has left me with three lasting impressions.
First, I’ve been reminded that international missionaries are regular people, just like you and me. In my various interviews and reference checks, I have met people from places like Kentucky, Indiana, and yes, Illinois. We’ve talked about the churches that sent them overseas, and the families they hope to see more frequently once they’re back in the states. We’ve talked about the schools, the jobs, and the Sunday school classes that prepared them for their service. Though some have been missionaries for decades and in one or more foreign lands, I could easily see them feeling at home in our IBSA churches.
Second, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn how many of these missionaries are doing jobs that prepare them well for service at IBSA. They are able to see their possible move from the international field to the state mission field as a change in venue and not a change in calling.
Three of our current openings at IBSA are in areas such as business, accounting, and communication technology. I often picture international missionaries as field evangelists or church planters, and, of course, many of them are. But supporting their work are also missionaries in roles such as “finance team leader” and “logistics coordinator.” Without those roles, evangelism and church planting would be difficult, if not impossible.
I’m very pleased that one of those logistics coordinators, Jeff Deasy, will join the IBSA staff in January as our newest Associate Executive Director, succeeding Melissa Phillips in leadership of IBSA’s Church Cooperation Team. Jeff and his wife, Kathy, have served for the past 20 years in Brazil, Tanzania, and, most recently, Kenya. Though he has taught music, learned Portuguese and Swahili, and done church planting fieldwork, it is Jeff’s years of administrative experience that have prepared him most specifically for his new role.
Jeff and his office staff in Nairobi have helped make it possible for up to 30 missionary families to serve the people and churches of Kenya. Now he will lead our office staff in serving the people and churches of Illinois.
The third lasting impression that I have from talking with multiple international missionaries actually came most poignantly from the Deasys themselves. As we got to know each other, we talked about what it would be like to leave their friends and home in Kenya after so many years, and make a new home in Illinois.
“We’re missionaries,” they both said. “We will be missionaries wherever we are. Here in Kenya, we talk openly about our faith. And in Tanzania, every Friday is designated by the government as a ‘religion day,’ where we can talk openly in schools and other public places about our faith. Even predominantly Muslim communities recognize this right, and many hear the gospel as a result.”
I was encouraged to see their eyes sparkle with optimism and newfound purpose as they continued. “We haven’t been in America often the past 20 years. But from what we understand, there seems to be more religious freedom in Kenya and Tanzania than in much of America today. We will be just as happy to be missionaries in Illinois.”
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.