Becoming a Missionary–MLC and Language Learning

All Scripture references are taken from the HCSB translation unless otherwise noted.

“In the church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.” Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.” Acts 13:1-3.

The Disciples of Jesus walked in the shadow of their Mentor for almost 3 years becoming full-fledged Apostles at Pentecost at which time they began serving without His physical presence. In like fashion, modern-day missionaries will spend many months and several years learning to become a missionary and ‘being a missionary’ is a life-time endeavor. During these years the missionary is always becoming and must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as He empowers and directs those He calls to faithfully serve Him in another place.

The first missionary, the Apostle Paul, wrote many interesting statements about his personal walk as a servant on foreign soils meeting with new churches and planting new ones. He spoke of being empowered by Jesus Christ in Philippians 4:12-13 , “I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” The Apostle reinforced his relationship with Jesus Christ in intimacy with the Resurrected One through His grace, “For through the law I have died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” Galatians 2:19-21. But Paul did not stop here for he understood that his role as an Apostle was not intended to depend upon self, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:15-18 NASB.

Appointment as a Foreign Missionary by the Southern Baptist Convention is no small thing. Even now after more than 20 years away from Peru, I must take pause to think about those 13 wonderful years of service among the best of God’s servants in another country outside my country of birth. Very few people among the Christian community are chosen and then sent to do what Patti and I did…a very small percentage, indeed. Medical professionals, agricultural specialists, musicians, educators, evangelists, pastors and people of other callings are among those who serve in SBC missions around the world. We are among those leaders, and the fascinating thing is that not one of them will ever count themselves as being ‘special,’ but they are among the favored of God. “And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful But all did not obey the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our message? So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.” Romans 10:15-17.

We who were appointed in July, 1984 were taking baby steps toward the people we were to live among and share the Gospel Message with. The Missionary Learning Center was ‘brand’ new and our group newly-appointed was only the second to see this incredible facility. Our time there was to be relatively brief of about 10 weeks beginning in October and ending in mid-December and we were to arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica for Language study on January 1, 1985.

Missionary Learning Center literally introduced us to what it meant to be a Missionary in another culture, not only for us adults, but for our children as well. These weeks were intense emotionally at many different levels and, in fact, one family was not allowed to continue because of their inability to process what was happening to them. They were sent home.  

Upon the completion of those 13 weeks we thought our preparation was complete to some degree, but the truth is we were still in the United States in a place with which we were very comfortable and safe. The newness of being celebrated missionaries was very, very real for we were being touted for what we were becoming, ‘Foreign Missionaries.’ The reality of what that journey would be was yet to be.

On January 1, 1985 all who were going to South America met in Miami International Airport for a 6 hour flight to San Jose, Costa Rica. Everyone there had packed large crates filled with things that would await to be shipped via ships to the countries we would be living in after completion of language studies in San Jose. The year at the Instituto de Lenguaje in San Jose would not be easy for anyone. Not only was this to be a language-learning journey, this would also be a truly ‘crash course’ in culture-learning, too. WOW!!

On the morning of January 2, 1985 Patti and I looked out the front door of the small rented house that would be our home for the next 11 months and viewed in the distance an enormous cross standing on a mountain top. But, what we had forgotten was our wedding anniversary is also January 2nd…this was our 14th and we had forgotten it because of all the ‘hoopla’ of the past 48 hours of intense preparation for the trip we had completed the night of January 1st. We had arrived at the ‘jumping off place’ to our new home in Chiclayo, Peru.

Our time in San Jose, Costa Rica ended on December 20th or so and we ended up in Chiclayo on December 23, 1985 after spending 2 days in the Peru Baptist Mission Apartments in Lima where the Peru Baptist Mission Office is located. This was a whirl-wind moment of securing all sorts of important paperwork completion before heading to Chiclayo following missionaries Don and Linda Johnson in our new Toyota hatch-back vehicle which was barely room enough for a family of five. We were now at home in Peru, but our journey was just beginning…

Jesus is Lord.

About Bob Williford

Conservative Southern Baptist pastor, missionary, and personal evangelist. An avid supporter of Texas Tech Athletics. Enjoy oil painting, writing and woodworking. My wife, children, and grandchildren are my joy. Reading and writing are great for relaxing......
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