“The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from within a bush. He looked, and the bush was ablaze with fire, but it was not being consumed! So Moses thought, “I will turn aside to see this amazing sight. Why does the bush not burn up?” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him from within the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” God said, “Do not approach any closer! Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:2-5 NET2.
There was no ‘burning bush’ for me, but this was a ‘holy ground’ kind of thing. Patti and I had said, “Here I am.” This holy ground was not really a place, but a moment in time when I realized that God was instructing me to do something I had not thought of nor dreamed about. For me personally, and for Patti, this was an unparalleled life experience from God.
Every missionary has at least many stories to tell concerning their personal experiences ‘out there.’ Some of these include jungles, disease, storms, family, friends, parties, custom differences, language difficulties and the list is quite long. Well, this is my story as I saw it and it may be different if told by another and I am certain this is true…
After being approved as a ‘Candidate for Appointment’ to become a real live missionary and with the document declaring that fact, Patti and I began the telling of the story beginning with family, friends and our church family. We were excited and we received many words of encouragement from most everyone, but a question which came later in the process came to Patti, “What are you going to do with your children?” Well…?
Our next step took us to the offices of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention located in Richmond, Virginia where we visited each day for one week. There was so much to be done and I honestly remember thinking when that week was over, “I know more about me now than I ever knew possible, and I think these people knew it before I did.” There were interviews of all sorts and with every kind of question I never knew could be asked. Doctors drew blood, poked me in places I had never been poked before and only God knew existed, LOL!! The questions were indefensible and there were no ‘right or wrong’ kinds of answers. The FMB simply wanted to know if this Candidate knew the answers. I think I did!!
At any rate, the end of the week finally came to an end with a meeting with the Board Members who were connected to our part of the world. They were representatives of the Southern Baptists who lived in the Southwest Region (I think). These dear Saints must have liked what all those questions revealed about us because Patti and I were approved to be appointed as Southern Baptist Missionaries which was to take place at the Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly in Ridgecrest, North Carolina and led by Dr. Keith Parks who was the President of the FMB. We were awed, to say the least.
I do not remember when Patti and I were given a stack of papers which included numerous requests for missionaries from countries I had never heard of. The Board wanted us to prayerfully select a place that we felt God was leading us to go.
As I recall there were at least 50 requests that we were given to select from and we did this separately. Patti went with her stack and came back with 3 choices and I did the same, but without knowing her choices. We came together with our 3 selections and compared. Two of our choices were identical so we repeated the process and we came back the second time with an identical choice which was a place called Chiclayo, Peru.
“Peru? Where was Peru? Chicalyo, Peru? Where in Peru is Chiclayo?” I knew Peru was in South America, but Chiclayo? We found a world map…a paper map, by the way, for we had no computers in 1984. We found Peru easily enough and we saw what looked to be the Capital City of Lima. And, yes, we saw Chiclayo which seemed to be a principal coastal city. THAT is where we felt that God was taking us…
Never in my life had I ever experienced such emotions. Patti and I were in the midst of people and missionaries (I do not mean to indicate that there is a difference, but, yes, there are) from all over the world. We were meeting several of those missionaries with whom we would serve in Peru. There was Don and Linda Johnson who were responsible for the request we responded to for they lived and worked in Chiclayo and from whom we received correspondence from before Appointment Day. There were Max and Joan Furr who lived in Trujillo just to the south of Chiclayo and there may have been others from Peru, but these are the 2 families I remember. They helped to begin to make our transition some easier. And, they were successful. We felt we had found a new home.
Appointment Day had finally arrived and before the service was to begin all of us who were to be appointed as FMB Missionaries met in a large room behind the Ridgecrest auditorium where we heard several introductory remarks and some statements from Dr. Parks. These, I think, were supposed to be not simply words of welcome and encouragement, but were also intended to calm some nervous people…lots of nervous people. I do not remember just how many of us there were, but there were maybe 40 of us.
One of the most incredible moments in my life was about to take place. Bob and Patti Williford were to be appointed as Southern Baptist Missionaries to Chiclayo, Peru. This does not sound like much, but when I stop to think about it; this was a BIG DEAL. The reality is that very few people EVER are APPOINTED to be missionaries…to serve God in another place where another language and customs must be learned and strange places to be visited and people to be loved. Most of all we were being given the task of taking the Gospel Message to another place.
Billy Peacock was on the program and was going to sing!! Billy Peacock was a missionary to South Korea and was the one missionary God used to begin this journey we were on. He spoke at a Missionary event in Sicily Island, Louisiana in 1978. Coincidence? I do not think so.
We were successfully appointed and our 3 boys were just as excited as we were. Greg, David and Clint were meeting adults who became their new ‘Aunts and Uncles,’ and they loved not just the experience, but the people who were to be their new family in another landscape. We were all excited!! “Peru, here WE come!!”
We returned to Lecompte where things began to happen very, very quickly. I resigned as Pastor of FBC and began to pack 3 large crates for our trip to Peru and plans were made to go to the Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Virginia. The Center name was later changed to the International Learning Center.
Our lives changed dramatically on Appointment Day and in ways that we never dreamed. As I mentioned, no longer was I a Pastor, we were now Missionaries and our children became Missionary Kids or ‘MKs.’ Our identity had changed…forever. Not only our identity of who and what we were, but our relationships with people we had always known also changed in unexpected ways that cannot be explained. These are all experiential at many levels. We were Missionaries in the real sense of the Word. We were different, not to ourselves, really, but to everyone else…
Becoming a Missionary is a process of change…and
Jesus is Lord.