Friday, July 30, 2010

Amplify in Frisco, Texas: A Great Reunion

Tonight I had the opportunity to pray with 2,000+ youth, leaders, and youth ministers in Frisco, Texas at Amplify, the SBTC Youth Evangelism Conference.  I was invited by Jared McIntire.  I've been anxious to see Jared and Michelle and have missed them since we served together at Silo Baptist Church outside of Durant, Oklahoma.  Silo is a wonderful church and when I was on the faculty at Southeastern, I also served as their bivocational pastor.  During my time there, we called a nineteen year-old college student as our youth pastor.  Jared was engaged to Michelle then and they both served faithfully growing a youth group of three to well over 100.  Our years at Silo were so blessed as we saw God bless time and time again.

One of the college students who came to Silo was Cara Puryear.  She knew Jared and Michelle back in Altus where Michelle had grown up and where Jared interned for Zane Newton at FBC Altus. Through them I came to know and appreciate Zane. 

Years later, we moved to  Bolivar, Missouri where I served on the administration at Southwest Baptist University, I also had the chance to serve as a bivocational pastor alongside the founding pastor at Wellspring Baptist Fellowship.  Among the great people I grew to love during my nine plus years preaching there Dana and I became close friends with several students including a young twin--Heidi's sister, Gretchen--and a young man named Josh Trimble.  They were faithful members of Wellspring and among those we knew we'd miss most when we moved back to Oklahoma to serve at Oklahoma Baptist University.

One of our four sons is a student at OBU and is a member of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City where Mike Keahbone serves on the ministry staff. Mike is an OBU graduate who I have gotten to know through his ministry and preaching to my son, and through his visits to the OBU campus.

And here is where all of these threads come together. Tonight, all of us (Jared, Michelle, Cara, Zane, Josh, Gretchen, Mike, Dana and me) found ourselves together in an unplanned, serendipitous way that reminded me of my great love for them and how interconnected our lives become.  The setting was unexpected: Amplify--the Youth Evangelism Conference in Frisco, Texas.  When I arrived, I was escorted to a waiting room and within minutes, all of us were standing together, not realizing that everyone else would also be there. A nice surprise to say the least.

Jared, who had invited me to pray and participate in the YEC, is the Associate for Student Evangelism for the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention and is coordinating the conference.

Michelle, his secret weapon in survival and success and a gifted educator and coach to boot, was assisting with the conference details tonight, herding, directing, and helping with the logistics.

Cara Puryear also works for SBTC as a Ministry Assistant.  She was here tonight also assisting with the logistics and details required for such a large event.

Among the OBU staff who worked this conference passing out t-shirts and meeting and recruiting potential students, was Josh Trimble who serves as an OBU Admissions Counselor.

Josh's wife, Gretchen was volunteering tonight too, pitching in to help distribute shirts to hundreds of young people at a time surrounding the OBU booth.

Mike Keahbone was scheduled to be the preacher for tonight's service and we visited about his influence on my second son.

Zane Newton walked up to say hello and we were both pleased to reconnect and catch up on the families.

What a nice and unexpected reunion and I enjoyed getting to introduce those whose paths have crossed mine to each other as their lives have now also crossed paths.  What a nice reminder that as brothers and sisters sharing a common faith, we have a deep love and affection for each other.  

And what a wonderful glimpse of the great reunion that awaits all those who are members of the family of God and how fun it will be to reconnect, visit, and enjoy the company and shared stories when we are all together one day in Glory. And that reunion will be neither unplanned nor unexpected. It will be providential.

I'm just saying, I'm looking forward to it!

Global Missions Leader Avery Willis Dies

From OBU website:  July 30, 2010

Dr. Avery T. Willis, a global missions leader and 1956 Oklahoma Baptist University graduate, died Friday, July 30, at his home in Bella Vista, Ark., after being diagnosed with leukemia in January. He was 76.

"Dr. Willis was a marvelous servant of God with an unmatched passion for global missions," said OBU President David W. Whitlock. "At his core he was simply a man who truly loved and served the Lord, and only heaven will reveal the true impact of his life."

Willis maintained close ties to his alma mater. The university's Global Outreach Center, which opened in 2005, is named in his honor. He served in an advisory capacity with the center and was a member of the center's advisory board.

"You could not be with Dr. Willis for even a few minutes without hearing his passion for reaching those in our world who have never heard the name and message of Jesus," Dr. Whitlock said.

"This is a loss for the Willis Center," said Dale Griffin, OBU's dean of spiritual life. "Dr. Willis is more than the namesake for our global outreach center. He is a dear friend who cared for and inspired those around him. He was a visionary leader in global missions and we are grateful to have his name attached to our center as we carry forward work toward fulfilling that vision."


In the midst of treatment for leukemia, Willis spoke at a banquet in his honor on the OBU campus March 4, 2010.

In early January 2010, Willis announced he had been diagnosed with leukemia. While undergoing treatments in Texas and Arkansas, he continued to be involved in launching new global missions endeavors, and participated in the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., in June. During the spring, doctors determined the cancer was in remission. However, according to his caringbridge.com website, on July 18 he was told the leukemia "was no longer in remission." His son, Randy Willis, posted a message on the www.caringbridge.com site early July 30:

"My dad graduated to Glory early this morning, July 30. He died peacefully, without pain or anxiety. My mom, sisters and brother were with him. I thank each of you that have visited, called, written and prayed over his past seven months. Your words of encouragement meant so much to him and to all of us. What a privilege to hear of the lives he impacted during his 76 years. May that influence extend through the generations.

"My dad's life verse was Psalm 71:17-18, ‘Since my youth, O God, you have taught me and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation and your might to all who are to come.' And so he did."

Willis is survived by his wife, Shirley (Morris) Willis, a 1956 OBU graduate; three sons, Randy, Wade and Brett; two daughters, Sherrie and Krista; 15 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Missions leaders from Southern Baptists and other global agencies gathered to honor Willis during a banquet titled "Tribute to a Vision" at OBU on March 4, 2010.

At that event, in the midst of medical treatment, Willis spoke for more than 40 minutes, challenging those present to carry on the task of global outreach.

Willis said that as a college student he made an agreement with God: "I am so ordinary. If you do anything with my life, you will have to get all the credit." Through a distinguished career, Willis worked around the world, envisioning plans that would eventually lead countless people to faith in God, followed by deeper discipleship opportunities.

"Avery is, without question, the greatest visionary I have ever met," said Dr. Tom Elliff, a fellow Southern Baptist leader. "He has an incredible sense of vision and can communicate that vision better than anyone else."

"I can think of no finer graduate to point to than Avery Willis," said Whitlock at the event. "There is no question that because of his leadership, OBU continues to lead in the number of graduates who serve as international missionaries. More OBU graduates serve than from any other university in the world."

A native of Lepanto, Ark., Willis earned master of divinity and doctor of theology degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He also received honorary doctorates from OBU and Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo.

He and his wife served as Southern Baptist missionaries to Indonesia for 14 years before returning stateside in 1978. He served as director of discipleship programs for the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay Christian Resources), developing the MasterLife discipleship materials which have been translated into 50 languages and used in 100 countries around the world.

In 1993, Willis became senior vice president for overseas operations at the International Mission Board, overseeing the work of the board's entire missionary force around the world until his retirement in 2004.

After retiring to Bella Vista, Ark., Willis continued active work in missions, traveling internationally approximately 25 weeks per year. He has served as a consultant to the Southern Baptist Convention's Great Commission Task Force. He also served as a consultant to missionaries, as well as chairman of Epic Partners, a coalition of global missionary organizations, including the IMB, Wycliffe Bible Translators, Campus Crusade for Christ and Youth With A Mission.

"As is always true in Avery's life, he had the world in his eyes and in his heart," said Dr. Jimmy Draper, retired president of LifeWay Christian Resources, in March.

Dr. Jerry Rankin, president of Southern Baptists' International Mission Board, attributed much of the planning and decisions still made at the IMB - as well as other accomplishments during his tenure as IMB president - to Willis' mission for global advance of the Gospel.

Rankin said Willis possessed a vision which was unsurpassed as he visualized an entire world worshipping Jesus Christ, a focus which kept the IMB from being diverted by trivial pursuits, and a passion that enabled Willis to motivate and inspire others. He said, like Abraham, Willis never lived for selfish gain but was willing to sacrifice so everyone may come to faith in Christ.

Noting 70 percent of the world's population is functionally illiterate, Willis served as executive director of the International Orality Network, a partnership of major missions organizations committed to using oral strategies such as "chronological Bible storying" as a means of evangelizing and discipling oral learners. Willis said his heart to reach the functionally illiterate focused also on North America and the 80 million people who don't speak English at home.

"For some reason, God began to turn my heart toward home," Willis said.

At the banquet in March, Willis challenged those in attendance to keep pressing on in global outreach.

"How are you going to stand before God and say, ‘We did everything we could to reach these people for Christ?'" he asked. "I am more excited about what God is about to do than I was about MasterLife. I have a deep conviction God is about to do a mighty work."

"What do we do with the days we have left - whether we are gray-haired or just beginning to shave?" he said. "What are you going to do to make disciples of all nations?"