The Missionary House
Sometime in late 1979, Dr. Ray Lloyd, FBC’s pastor at the time, mentioned offhandedly that the church had a house that could serve as a missionary residence--it just needed fixing up. Sandra Nash heard that word, caught that vision, and volunteered to spearhead the effort. She enlisted her friends to take on individual rooms of the house, and spoke to every adult Sunday School class, encouraging them to provide funds and furniture. A minister’s wife coordinated the colors, a widow paid for the painting. It was truly a church-wide endeavor.
As a part of that effort, on an early Saturday morning in the spring of 1980, a group of FBC members gathered at the Katz House for one of several workdays. The goal was to prepare the house for its first missionary residents, the Larry and Cheryl Cox family, who were due to move in that fall. Some of those volunteers dragged their kids with them that morning; I was one of those kids. I suppose I was old enough by then to haul trash and hold a board straight enough for my dad to nail it. (I asked him if he had an assigned room. He said, “I’m not sure, but it must have been the bathroom, because I worked a lot in there.”) Whatever my exact role that day, it left an impression on me. Perhaps it was because I was an active Royal Ambassador, learning weekly about missionaries around the world, and now our church would be hosting a real live missionary family. Perhaps I just left that day sore and tired from working. Let's go with the former.
The church was taking on a new venture: hosting missionaries on furlough. It went beyond inviting them to speak (slide projector in tow) to providing them a place to stay for their entire time in the States. They would literally live amongst us--the Katz House was directly behind the church building. We would have a chance to get to know them as real people, not just names that got prayed for on their birthdays via Open Windows.
Cheryl Cox recalls those early days: “I remember church members working very hard to get the house ready for us to live in. Even though we were in the house for a very brief time, First Baptist met our family's urgent need for a home and prepared it for us with love.” What I could not have imagined on that memorable workday was how that first family--and the missionary house--would affect me personally.
Fast forward to 1997. I was on a mountain top in a lesser-known corner of the Middle East, halfway through a volunteer trip, playing outside with the son of my host family. I looked up and saw the Coxes coming up the hill, newly appointed leaders of that region for the IMB. In later years we, my wife, Melissa, and I, had opportunities to work alongside both their sons in various capacities during our term overseas.
Ten years later, we were the ones needing a place to stay for a couple of months of our second furlough (now called "stateside assignment”), and we were very thankful to be able to come home to Starkville, to the church I grew up in. Two other houses had been used in the interim years, one on Jackson Street and another in Green Oaks subdivision. But in 1995, a decision was made to build a new house in Greenbriar, the 4th missionary residence FBC had supplied, a place we would stay twice before relocating permanently to Starkville.
In 1996, construction was underway. Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, Barry and Marleen Robinson--along with their two boys, Charles and Phillip--were looking for a place to stay on their furlough. The Mississippi WMU gave them a list of potential homes available in the state, and Starkville was directly between both sets of grandparents. But it wasn’t just convenience. The Robinsons were struck by the fact that FBC was so committed to missions that a home was being built specifically for missionaries. They came and stayed in a rental home provided by the church until the house was ready. In fact, Barry remembers working with other church members pulling electric wires, laying insulation, and planting trees and flowers.
Not only were the Robinsons the first family to live in the current house, they may hold the record for return visits, having come back at least five or six times over their career with the IMB. They didn’t have family across town like we did, but kept coming back because of the friends they made and the roots they put down while they were here.
Suzy Houston has taken on the role of liaison between FBC and missionary families living in the residence. Earlier this year in a short gap between families, Suzy enlisted the WMU and a host of other church members to help give the house a little freshening up: a coat of paint here, an updated appliance there, a few new pictures on the walls, just to name a few of the jobs they tackled. On the outside, Allan Smith, Bob Griffin and a volunteer crew replaced worn sections of the fence and spruced up the landscaping.
FBC Starkville has a rich history of sending missionaries to the field, as well as taking care of them when it’s time to rest and regroup. We have a unique opportunity to meet and encourage the families that stay with us, perhaps even to play a role in reaching the unreached they are called to serve. Let’s make the most of it!
Eleven Ways You or Your Community Group Can Support the Missionary House and Missionary Families
- Provide a good old-fashioned pounding (i.e., stock the pantry with staples) before families arrive.
- Donate gift cards to stores like Wal-Mart, Kroger, or Lowes for the family or to refurbish the house.
- Give gift cards for dinner & a movie or MSU sports tickets, and if they have kids, provide a babysitter (hello, teenagers in Stark Youth!)
- Invite them over for a home-cooked meal.
- Show them around town. Take a tour on the SMART bus or make sure they can find all of the Dollar Generals.
- Pray for the missionaries, especially as they are coming and going from the field.
- Commit to praying for the people groups the missionaries serve.
- Use your skills to help with routine maintenance (plumbing, painting, mowing, etc).
- Clean the house between families.
- Give to the Mission House designated fund.
- Invite them to the new casual 4:00 worship service.