I’m writing this note from guesthouse at the SIM village in Sebring Florida, in the southern part of the state about an hour and a half south of Orlando. This is my second visit, Marlene’s first. I spoke here in 2003 on the recommendation of Calvary missionaries John and Anne Ockers. So far the weather has been excellent–mostly clear skies, a light breeze, with temps in the 60s at night and the upper 70s during the day. After staying here a few days, you understand why Northerners become Snow Birds. Approximately 155 retired missionaries live on the 52-acre SIM property. Most of them served over 30 years as missionaries, which means that their total overseas service exceeds 3000 years. I’m preaching eleven times this week–once on Sunday afternoon, and then twice a day Monday-Friday.
It is an enormous honor to be around these faithful servants of the Lord. I suppose the average age must be near 80. Most of them went to the field in the 1940s and 50s, but I heard one man in a wheelchair talk about how things changed at his mission station when “the war” broke out. He was talking about World War II. It’s very humbling to be around such fine, cheerful, godly saints whose hearts still respond to the call of the Great Commission. They share stories of things that happened in Africa 50 years ago as if they had happened yesterday. They have all known the sorrows of life full well, but there is a joy among them and a peace and a sense of trust in God that outweighs any difficulties they have faced. And since they are elderly, they all face health problems and the knowledge that life is short. So their joy is all the more remarkable and uplifting.
Yesterday Rowena Marion came out to the services. She is well up in years, and her health is not good, but we have a special bond because she grew up in Tupelo. When Marlene told her that we actually live near Saltillo north of Tupelo, Rowena said, “I grew up in the town of Mooreville outside of Saltillo.” Marlene laughed and said that’s actually where our cabin in the woods is located. We talked about important things like the virtues of Southern cooking and the importance of drinking “sweet tea.” She attended Bob Jones College in the early 40s, then Providence College, and in 1949 went to Africa as a missionary. She speaks with joy about her years of missionary service—of the excitement of seeing God at work changing hearts, lives, families, villages and whole tribes by the power of the gospel.