You mean, all of you are missionaries?” I heard these words during a conversation with a local man who had stopped in for a visit to EBI. He was amazed that we were missionaries. We didn’t seem to fit the typical model of what he, and many others consider a “real missionary.” It wasn’t the first time we’ve been questioned about our title.
Back in 2001 my young family boarded a plane to move to Peru as missionaries. We were blessed with nearly 15 years of exciting and fruitful ministry in Peru. We did many of the things that traditional missionaries do: We shared the Gospel with people, we conducted Bible studies, we preached and taught in newly started churches. We worked hard to disciple new believers and guide them in their walk with the Lord. We saw souls saved, lives changed and churches started in a biblical model that could be considered very similar to what even the Apostle Paul promoted. Somewhere along the line however, in some people’s minds, we apparently stopped being “real missionaries.”
Things can change quickly. On Sunday, June 15, 2014, just two weeks after having been given a clean bill of health, my dear wife Debbie fell ill and in a matter of minutes nearly died. In the coming days she was diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disease and she was medically evacuated from Peru. We had plans to spend the rest of our lives in Peru. We were in the middle of forming a strategic plan to expand our ministry influence. We were searching for a location to begin our next church. We felt like we were just beginning to see real progress in our goal of reaching souls with the Gospel. For several months our lives were in chaos. Time flew by as we carried on in survival mode. Life was filled with hospital visits, doctor appointments, medical tests and new medications. When Debbie’s health was finally stable and the long-term prognosis was given we realized our lives had been changed forever. Returning to Peru was not a viable option. We began to ask, “What does God have planned for us?” Our hearts grieved over the loss of our future in Peru. Would God give us a new passion for ministry in a new area like we had in Peru? Were we still missionaries?
Our story has been repeated in similar ways in the lives of many of EBI’s staff members. Almost every EBI missionary has on-the-field experience in a foreign land. Several EBI missionaries were on the field when a health crisis brought them home. Others had their steps directed by the Lord in unique circumstances to bring them here. Only one couple began their journey in missions planning from the start to be EBI missionaries. As first glance, the ministries of EBI might not sound as exciting as some other mission fields. A pin on a mission’s map showing central Florida doesn’t look especially impressive. Yet, God is using EBI to impact lives in about three dozen Spanish speaking countries. EBI is special. Unlike any other training and publishing ministry, our entire staff is made up of missionaries sent out and supported by local churches. Yes! We really are missionaries.
What exactly is a missionary? Dictionary.com defines a missionary as, “a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism, a person strongly in favor of a program or set of principles, who attempts to persuade or convert others, a person who is sent on a mission.” After returning from Peru my family had to come to terms with our new position as stateside missionaries. Were we still missionaries? Was God done using us? We had to adapt from being considered missionary heroes to becoming missionary servants simply because our location changed. Over time, God gave us a real peace about EBI. We have seen the Lord working in incredible ways and opening doors of opportunity for this ministry like never before. Missions in Latin America is in a new, important phase. After decades of diligent missionary work, the foundation has been laid for great growth. Thousands of churches have been started and national pastors are now in place to help grow the work. EBI is strategically placed to come alongside these national workers and provide them with the tools they need to reach their land with the truth of God’s Word.
While we no longer spend our days in a foreign land we do have a clear belief that God wants us here. Each of us, before coming to EBI, gained valuable experience in a different culture, with a different language and with different circumstances. His plan is always perfect and He has brought together a team that is effectively serving together to expand the reach of the Gospel in the Latin world. Our ministries are training national workers and providing the materials that churches need to grow. While we may no longer fit the mold of what the world considers a “real missionary” I can confidently say I work with a great team of missionary servants that must certainly be pleasing the Lord with their lives. It’s a joy that God has shown each of us here that we can still be “real missionaries” right where He placed us. May we all be faithful in the opportunities God brings our way, no matter where we are!