Above: IMB President Paul Chitwood spent time talking with missionaries and praying with them before they took the stage at the Sending Celebration on Feb. 14. IMB Photo

PHOENIX, Ariz.—On the evening of Valentine’s Day, many Southern Baptists gathered in Phoenix, Ariz., to celebrate the latest group of International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries heading to the nations with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In total, 62 missionaries were approved unanimously for appointment earlier that day by IMB’s board of trustees who were in Phoenix for meetings and to recognize new missionaries. Of the 62, 57 had previously served in some capacity with the IMB: two are missionary kids (also called TCKs or third culture kids) raised overseas; 43 have previous service with the IMB of at least three months; another 12 had been on at least one short-term mission trip connected with the work of IMB missionaries.

Priscila, in yellow, and Cheyenne Solis, center, greeted attenders in Spanish before sharing that they will be serving among Southeast Asians. They are being sent by Midland, Texas, Stonegate Fellowship. IMB Photo

“This is what we want to see,” said Paul Chitwood, IMB president. “They caught the vision of what God is doing among the lost and are obedient to His call to return. Along with the others who are also being celebrated tonight, they are people who believe in the vision of Rev. 7:9. As these former missionaries and TCKs return to service through the IMB, they will have thousands of churches supporting them with prayer and with faithful giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon offering. What an incredible legacy God has given Southern Baptists!”

The Sending Celebration was hosted by Phoenix, Ariz., North Phoenix, whose worship team led in music. Noe Garcia, the church’s senior pastor, welcomed attendants and opened the service with prayer.

After missionary testimonies, Chitwood challenged those in attendance. “As lostness grows, so must our response.

“Our mission force must grow. Our generosity must grow. Our prayers for the lost must grow. And our willingness to send our very best to the nations must grow,” he added.

Rezwana Derbyshire, a resident of Phoenix, is an example of the missions-sending legacy of Southern Baptists. She saw Jesus work in her life through interactions with missionaries. She’s now married to Gary Derbyshire, an IMB missionary kid (son of Doug and Cheryl Derbyshire).

Through a song she wrote, she reminded the newly appointed missionaries how rewarding this challenging adventure will be.

“I know what lies before me is worth all I leave behind // And I’ve just begun to taste You // And I’ve never in my life felt more alive, more satisfied.
“Here I am // Here I stand // Where You call, You have my ‘yes and amen’ // I will go where You send // Here I am // With suitcase in hand,” Rezwana sang.

Fisher attends Sending Celebration

Todd Fisher, executive director-treasurer of Oklahoma Baptists, participated in meetings with Southern Baptist Convention leaders in Phoenix and attended the Sending Celebration.

A missionary couple from Oklahoma participate in the Sending Celebration. Their names and identities are protected as they will be serving in a secure area in the world. Photo by Todd Fisher

Fisher shared on Facebook that eight of the 62 commissioned missionaries are from Oklahoma. He said all eight are going to secure areas in the world, so their names and identities were protected during the ceremony. Fisher spoke to each of these eight missionaries and assured them of the prayer and support they have of their home state.

“How humbling it was to watch these missionary families and individuals who are giving up the comfort and familiarity of home, family, friends and career who will go to live in and take the Gospel to some of the world’s hardest and spiritually dark places,” Fisher said.

Great Commission calls them to return

Chad and Miriam Pumpelly are both missionary kids. They took to the platform during this Sending Celebration to share how God called them back to the nations. This wasn’t the Pumpellys’ first time at an event like this. Chad’s family has a long history of missions with the IMB.

As a 5-year-old, he saw his IMB missionary parents, Larry and Sharon Pumpelly, serve and share the Gospel with the lost in Uganda, day-after-day.

He also had a front row seat to some radical life change—like the change he saw in Fred’s life.

Chad and Miriam Pumpelly are returning to Africa where they first met and became high school sweethearts. This is their second appointment as career IMB missionaries. IMB Photo

Fred was a Ugandan who had formerly lived a life of crime. He was part of a car theft ring as a teenager. But, after hearing the Gospel, he gave his life to Christ. He was radically changed—and he used his dubiously acquired mechanical skills for the Kingdom. He became a mechanic for the local Baptist mission.

Being an eyewitness to the difference in Fred’s life was a gamechanger for young Chad, who although only 5 years old was an ever-curious oldest sibling. After asking questions of his parents, he placed his faith in Christ. Little Chad was baptized the same day as Fred.

In high school in Kenya, he met his future wife, Miriam. Both Chad and Miriam recount some of their sweetest time of spiritual growth, studying Scripture together as a teenage couple. But it wasn’t until college that Chad remembers feeling convinced that he was called to missions.

As a missionary kid, he wanted to be sure that his call to missions wasn’t just his desire to “return to my parents’ trade,” he said. “I always questioned whether I was being called or if I was just going to what was comfortable.”

Larry and Sharon Pumpelly, who served for 26 years as missionaries, show photos of their children growing up in Africa. Their son, Chad, and his wife, Miriam, are returning to Africa to serve, for the second time, as career missionaries. IMB Photo

During a run in a thunderstorm, God got his attention. Chad spent the run praying through big life decisions, like what he should do with his career and if he should propose out of the blue to his on-again/off-again girlfriend. As he ran, he found himself caught in a “good ole midwestern thunderstorm.”

As it thundered and lightning struck around him, he recounted, “I was like, ‘OK, God, I surrender. Don’t strike me dead here.”

A year later, he married Miriam, who also sensed the call of God to missions. Three master’s degrees and two children later, the couple saw the perfect opening to go back to their beloved Africa – teaching at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Malawi.

Their ministry overseas flourished, as they spent a handful of years in Malawi. Then they moved to a place where Miriam used her nursing degree as the medical coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya, and Chad served students there.

The couples’ ministry was thriving, but it soon became apparent that not all four children were. While Anya, Isaac and Omara were well-adjusted, their son Ethan struggled. His behavior continued to spiral, and he showed troubling signs of anxiety and depression. After consulting with a pediatric psychiatrist in Kenya, it was recommended they take a year of extended leave and enroll him in a school in the States.

There, doctors discovered he had autism. The family was conflicted.

“I felt very well-suited for what we were doing. We were thriving on the field and loving the work,” Miriam said.

But they both knew God called them to nurture their children as first priority; the location where they served God could be subject to change. Ethan couldn’t handle life on the field at this point. Confused about God’s plan but trusting Him, the missionary family moved back to the U.S.

Chad pastored churches in Ohio, and the family saw God bless their ministry. Their kids grew. Ethan showed great improvement, graduated high school and got his welder’s certificate. As a young adult with the right treatment, his parents were hopeful that he’d be able to live independently with high-functioning autism.

While taking a group from their church, Hilliard, Ohio, Guide to Missions College in Richmond, Va., Chad became overwhelmed with the feeling that he was on the wrong side of the table. The passion for missions burned in him. A candidate consultant asked Chad if he’d consider going overseas again.

Though the family had their kids to consider, they knew God was calling them back to the nations. That became more apparent when they were approached by a friend on the field with the perfect job description for them – training Africans to reach Africans. The couple knew this was what God had in store.

The process hasn’t been easy, but the family has seen God open doors for Ethan to live in his own apartment, owned by a local church, next door to his older sister, Anya, and brother-in-law. And though Miriam’s momma’s heart covets prayers for the younger two, Isaac (15) and Omara (13) who join their parents in Nairobi, both Chad and Miriam know God can be trusted to take care of their family as they head back overseas to reach the nations.

The next Sending Celebration will be in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., in June.

Leslie Peacock Caldwell, managing editor at the IMB, contributed to this article.