RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Karl and Peggy Wallace were in the next-to-last group of missionaries appointed by then-Foreign Mission Board President Baker James Cauthen in 1978. The Wallaces served 40 years in Peru and Colombia with the FMB, now International Mission Board, under five different presidents through seven major reorganizations.
"I always tell new people not to worry about changes," Peggy Wallace said. "Just be faithful to where God has placed you."
The Wallaces were among 22 missionaries recognized by the IMB in a service near Richmond, Va., May 30. They represent a cumulative total of nearly 600 years of missionary service, IMB President Paul Chitwood said.
These men and women "have given to the cause of taking the Gospel to the nations generously and joyfully," Chitwood said. "We praise the Lord for them."
Work yet to do
As with most missionary gatherings, it had the feeling of a family reunion, filled with reconnections, stories and memories. The service capped a week of recognition and support for the retiring missionaries, who traveled from locations across the country to attend.
But for those retiring missionaries who might think their service is "over," the message was clear: There is still work to be done.
WMU Executive Director/Treasurer Sandy Wisdom-Martin, in her remarks to the group, quoted the U.S. Army's first general order: "I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved."
"We rejoice in all that God has done through you for the sake of the Gospel around the world," Wisdom-Martin said. "But I want to say to you -- and I hope it's not too bold of me -- tonight you are merely getting your transfer orders. You have not yet been discharged. There's work yet to do. Your post assignment has changed, but the work hasn't been completed."
Wisdom-Martin assured the missionaries that their continued service is essential to the work of the church in the world.
"We need you now more than ever," she said. "We need you to shine light in dark places here at home. We need you to show us how to be resilient in the face of difficulties. We need you to show us how to become faithful because our culture has experienced the death of loyalty. We need you. I hope you hear me say that. We need you."
Remember with joy
Chitwood thanked the retiring missionaries on behalf of Southern Baptists, preaching from Philippians 1:3-6, encouraging them to remember their service with joy, just as the apostle Paul encouraged the Philippians in the letter he wrote from a prison cell.
"I don't know what your time on the field was like," Chitwood said. "We heard some snippets tonight.... We heard about some real challenges, heartache and loss.... But I want to encourage you to be joyful in your memories.... Dwell on the victories. Call to mind those experiences that bring a smile to your face, a chuckle or even a good, long laugh."
"Why? Because as sovereign as God is over the victories, He is sovereign over the defeats," Chitwood said. "As sovereign as God is over the successes, He is sovereign over the failures. He is sovereign over the pleasant experiences and the painful ones."
Because God works all things together "for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purposes," the apostle Paul could focus on the good, Chitwood said. "And so can we."
"I'm not at all trying to dismiss or forget the challenges," Chitwood said. "We just love you and thank God for you. We think you ought to have joy from having given your life the way you've given it and lived your life the way you've lived it, even if there was much pain and hardship involved."
Still a place
Echoing Wisdom-Martin's appeal, Chitwood also told the retiring missionaries, "There's still a place for you."
He shared a conversation from earlier in the day he had with a missionary who retired from the IMB a number of years ago. Now in his 80s, the retired missionary continues to make regular trips to Southeast Asia and speak and write about his experiences.
"He is still carrying the Gospel to the nations," Chitwood said. "He told me to tell you, 'There is still a place for you.'"
Chitwood reminded the missionaries that the work of global evangelism is not yet done.
"Nobody's done," Chitwood said. "This isn't a funeral. There are no caskets here. Keep finding ways to serve and to be a part of this work. Your partnership in the Gospel doesn't end until the work is complete."
Ann Lovell is a freelance writer in Richmond, Va.