IMB celebrates 50 years of journeymen
RICHMOND (BP) -- Fifty years ago, a group of 46 college graduates answered God's call to missions through a new effort called the "Missionary Journeyman Program."
Started by the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board), the program aimed to send a new generation of young Southern Baptists abroad for two years of mission service.
Linda Phillips was part of the first journeyman class in '65. She served in West Africa as a librarian.
"We were the pioneers that were going out, and we were going to show the world that the Journeyman Program was a worthwhile thing," Phillips said. She went on to serve as a career missionary in Taiwan for 33 years.
50 years of journeymen
Motivated by the popular Peace Corps and Baptist colleges' summer missions programs, Jesse Fletcher -- head of the then-called Foreign Mission Board's Department of Missionary Personnel -- envisioned a short-term program for young college graduates with limited language skills to be involved in missions. On July 16, 1964, the FMB authorized the Missionary Journeyman Program, and the first group of journeymen was sent out a year later.
"One of the things these last 50 years has really showed to me is the staying power of the people who put their hearts and their Christian commitment to this task," Fletcher said.
Journeymen have served in at least 165 different countries. Their roles include MK (missionary kid) teachers, writers, videographers, photographers, English language teachers, evangelists and church planters. They also serve in sports, youth and children's ministry.
Lloyd Mann, a retired missionary who served in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Costa Rica for nearly 39 years, started out in that first journeyman group.
"The concept of starting the Journeyman Program was a genius idea because there's just something about tapping into the young people, into their vitality, into their faith and into their willingness to serve," he said. "That was a game-changer."
Seize the opportunity to serve
As a college student, J.D. Greear applied for the Journeyman Program and worked with a Muslim unreached people group in Southeast Asia from '97-'99. Although God directed Greear, now lead pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., back to the U.S. to become a pastor, the experience was "radically life-changing.
"If somebody comes back from the Journeyman Program and they go into being an architect in downtown Detroit, that doesn't mean that the Journeyman Program didn't work, because now they are working with a vision of what God is doing in places around the planet," Greear said. "I can't think of a better training program that we would have for making global Great Commission Christians."
April Erwin served as a journeyman in South Asia from '98-'00. Today, she is a neurologist specializing in multiple sclerosis at The NeuroMedical Center in Baton Rouge, La.
As a journeyman, Erwin worked with short-term medical teams to help an unreached tribal group. She saw unimaginable physical ailments, and "to bring them God's love in a compassionate way was really the kernel of how my journey into the medical profession began."
For Erwin, the timing of the Journeyman Program -- before pursuing a medical profession -- is something she could never repeat.
"Seize that opportunity while you have it," Erwin said. "Give the Lord the opportunity to work in your life and to work through your life before you move on to whatever else may happen -- marriage and family and career and all of those things -- take that two years as a gift."
For the glory and mission of God
Fifty years ago, the Journeyman Program was groundbreaking for IMB. Today, IMB is exploring multiple pathways to "open wide the door" to see "limitless" missionaries working among the unreached, IMB President David Platt said.
Everyone has a part to play in the Great Commission, Greear said. Spreading the Gospel worldwide isn't just something for a handful of Christians.
"Whatever you're good at, do it well to the glory of God, and do it somewhere strategic for the mission of God," Greear noted. "We only get one shot to leverage our life for the mission of God. What greater privilege than to take whatever skill God has given me and to use it in a place where there literally is no other Christian witness?"
First journeymen mark 50th anniversary with reunion
By Kate Gregory
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- Berta Seitz, sent out from First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ark., was one of nine journeymen who went to Nigeria in 1965. She says that Christians overseas, particularly in West Africa, had asked for personnel to teach in schools.
Before the end of the journeymen's term, a series of military coups in Nigeria would lead to Civil War. In the spring of 1966, Nigeria journeyman Nancy Thomas wrote, "We were a bit apprehensive during the recent difficulties here; however, we found God's grace and sustaining power more than sufficient."
Thomas was sent out by First Baptist Church in Florence, S.C. Today, she says that serving overseas as a journeyman for the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) "affected my life experience from that time forward, the way I think about the world and about missions, my sense of how diverse the world is and my whole worldview."
Thomas and her husband served with the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) in New Mexico. Her sister currently serves overseas, as well as Thomas' niece who followed in her footsteps as a journeyman before embarking on long-term service.
After being the first journeyman to Costa Rica, Lloyd Mann, now from The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., served as a career missionary in Costa Rica, Mexico and the Dominican Republic for nearly 39 years with his wife Wilma. All four of their children have served in overseas missions in some capacity.
Linda Phillips from Willow Hills Baptist Church in Prescott, Ariz., served in West Africa and East Asia for more than 35 years. Paul and Faye Burkwall from First Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., who each served in Nigeria as journeymen starting in 1965, went on to career service together in both Nigeria and Ghana, for a total of 32 years.
Kentuckian Larry Keaton served as a journeyman in Israel amid the country's lingering tensions with neighboring Arab countries, leading up to the Six-Day War in 1967. Keaton dug a bomb shelter near a school where he taught both Jews and Arabs. From the shelter, he could see missiles shooting into the sky and jets chasing each other over his head. He was too young, he says, to think of it in any other terms than an adventure.
Five decades later, he still thinks being a journeyman was "one of the best adventures of my life."
He's participated in a pilgrimage march to Jerusalem twice, the first time while serving as a journeyman. Each time, he walked about 70 miles over the course of four days, playing his drum as he went.
After finishing seminary and marrying wife Kitty, the Keatons served together for more than three years as Southern Baptist representatives in Spain.
Keaton's roommate for both journeyman training and seminary was Fred Linkenhoker, a journeyman in Vietnam from 1965-67.
"People there were used to seeing guys my age in uniform, but I was in T-shirt and jeans," Linkenhoker recalled. The U.S. began sending regular combat troops to Vietnam in 1965 as part of the Vietnam War.
The university town where Linkenhoker taught English accepted him, he said. Residents invited him into their homes and to their gatherings of family and friends.
But that didn't mean he didn't have brushes with the war. Soldiers tended to shoot bullets across roads there after dark, so when he did venture out then, he would hear the bullets whizzing by him on his motorcycle. Years later, he found out that some of the students he had taught English to had fought and died as members of the Vietcong (Vietnamese Communists).
Seeing young people trying to find a release from the conflict around them, Linkenhoker wrote at the time, "These people are trying very hard to let life give them all that it has … but yet lack the reason and meaning of life as found in a relationship with his Creator."
Missions took hold amid Linkenhoker's career as an English professor -- living and going on missions trips in Asia, Europe and North and South America. A member of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., Linkenhoker uses his English-as-a-Second-Language teaching skills to reach out to Nashville's fast-growing immigrant population.
Many of the first journeymen like Linkenhoker continue to be involved in ministry efforts to make God's name known among the nations, including among people groups living in the U.S.
Longtime friends Linkenhoker and Keaton have kept in touch and reunited again in person in Richmond for the reunion festivities, which included a recognition service led by IMB President David Platt.
The start of the journeyman program is a "major, monumental event … the first sending out of men and women through a program that would multiply around the world," Platt said. Nearly 6,000 young men and women have served through the journeyman program. Currently, more than 200 Southern Baptists in their 20s serve as journeymen throughout the world.
Watch "50 Years of Journeymen" here: