The closer we get to our training and deployment (training in Richmond, VA July 20-Sept 15, deployment early October), the more God seems to be delighted to gather the “small world” of the IMB missionary community around us for encouragement. During this time, I have been particularly struck in recent weeks by the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us as missionaries in Zimbabwe. Through a long series of “coincidences,” many of these folks have been placed in our path as reminders of God’s faithfulness as well as examples and mentors to help prepare us for the work. For this we are extremely grateful.
First, at our appointment week in Louisville, then again at the SBC in Columbus, we had the opportunity to spend some time with D.Ray and Kim Davis. D.Ray now serves on staff with IMB in Richmond, but prior to that spent 13 years on the field in a variety of locales throughout Southern Africa including…you guessed it…Zimbabwe! Even this small amount of time with D.Ray and Kim has been immensely helpful to us in answering many questions about about life and raising a family in Zimbabwe. The world gets even smaller when I realize that D.Ray is the brother of Daren who will be our CSL (Cluster Strategy Leader…still learning our many company acronyms 🙂 once we arrive on the field.
One of the great things about getting to spend time with D.Ray and Kim is not only their own invaluable experience, but also the number of people and stories they know! Kim is a journalist by training and for the past several years has developed a ministry helping veteran missionaries put their stories into writing.
One of those stories is that of Wana Ann Fort. Wana Ann, together with her husband Giles (medical doctors both), were the first medical missionaries to Zimbabwe in 1953 and through nearly 36 years of service helped to launch a spiritual awakening through the Sanyati Baptist Hospital mission. The number of connections we have found with the Forts and the Sanyati mission is utterly astounding. Gregg (the fourth of five boys Wana Ann and Giles raised in Africa) and his wife Donna (pictured below middle with his parents and younger brother, ca. 1980) will be our supervisors once we arrive on the field. His older brother Gordon (pictured below left with Wana Ann) was one of our leaders at appointment week in Louisville and will be a big part of our training with the company in Richmond. The Sanyati Baptist Mission has recently undergone a tremendous makeover project with no small amount of help from our own Kentucky Baptist Convention. In fact, some friends of mine from KBC will be traveling in a month or so to formally dedicate these newly renovated facilities. This community of missionaries feels more tight knit to us every day.
To learn more about the story of the Forts and the Sanyati Baptist Hospital mission in Zimbabwe, check out this memoir by Wana Ann Fort (with Kim Davis) entitled A Thousand Times Yes.
Another set of introductions D.Ray and Kim were able to facilitate happened at the Southern Baptist Convention last week in Columbus, OH. A few days before my most recent trip to Zim (March 2015) I learned about a newly released book that Kim helped put together called Both Feet In. This book is the memoir of another veteran missionary named Marion G. “Bud” Fray. Bud and his wife Jane (pictured with me below left). Bud and Jane served with the IMB for 28 years in both Zimbabwe and South Africa and left an indelible mark on the work that is still going on there to this day. As a matter of fact, Bud even served for a time as a professor at the same seminary at which I will be serving in Gweru. Prior to the SBC, I found out that Bud would be speaking at a WMU event that was in conjunction with the SBC and just had to meet him! D.Ray and Kim were happy to make this possible. Another couple I had the opportunity to meet during that week was James and Nema Westmoreland (below right). James and Nema were appointed with the board to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in the 1960’s where they raised their children alongside the Forts and their 5 boys. Meeting these saints who had gone to do essentially the same work we are about to embark upon and hearing their testimonies of God’s faithfulness through it all gave great joy to my soul and encouragement about the treasure trove of blessings that lay in store for our family in the days ahead.
One final connection I’ll mention that the Lord has been pleased to make in recent days has been with Quinn and Martha Morgan. I first met Quinn and Martha while they were still on the field during my first short-term trip to Zim in August of 2009. We kept in touch sporadically as Kyndra and I were feeling our way down the path of God’s calling to the field. Then, this Summer (coincidentally) the connection was reestablished when Quinn learned that our church is sending a team of volunteers to do some renovation work to help prepare our house prior to our arrival on the field. Quinn heard about this trip and, even though he and Martha retired after nearly 35 years on the field, wanted desperately to come help. Quinn’s experience and “whatever it takes” attitude continues to be a huge blessing to this missionary family as well as the field we are about to engage. For a brief glimpse into Quinn and Martha’s ministry during their time in Zim, check this video
I could honestly keep going on about the number of people God has put in our path in recent months with whom we have been able to make connections and draw encouragement about mission work in Zimbabwe, but I’ll stop with these. Suffice it to say that one of the chief ways the Lord has been spurring us on as the day of our deployment approaches is by reminding us of the “great cloud of witnesses” that has gone into this land before us and laid for us some astounding foundations! What a great reminder that there is never just one missionary or family that God will use to reach a people. Rather, as Paul says to the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). We truly stand on the shoulders of giants as we walk into this new endeavor and by doing so are able to see clearly that this work is not new at all, we are simply reaping where many others have sown in decades past. Our prayer is to simply be faithful with this wondrous heritage and, by God’s grace, do our small part to extend this great Kingdom work in honor of the Great King who has called us into His fields!