It may have seemed a bit awkward – and certainly dangerous – as far as baptisms go. But looking back over 34 years of missionary service, it’s a moment Bill Fudge can describe only as holy.
ROCKVILLE, Va. (BP) – It may have seemed a bit awkward – and certainly dangerous – as far as baptisms go. But looking back over 34 years of missionary service, it’s a moment Bill Fudge can describe only as holy.
Fudge was among 55 newly retired Southern Baptist missionaries honored at an emeritus recognition service June 22 at the International Learning Center in Rockville, Va. Emeritus missionaries are those who have served for 15 years or more at retirement.
The unusual baptism happened more than a decade ago. It took place in a hotel bathroom within the borders of an oppressive communist government. The person waiting for Fudge to baptize him was Thomas*, a low-level official of that government. He was dressed only in underwear – an extra pair of Fudge’s underwear.
“Like most of the people there, he was starving and had nothing,” Fudge recounted. “I had given him all my clothes … everything except the shirt on my back.”
Shivering in the cold water –- the hotel had no hot water – Thomas quietly shared his testimony, acknowledging Jesus as his Lord and Savior. As two other believers watched, Fudge gently lowered him beneath the water’s surface, whispering the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
But as Thomas rose from the makeshift baptistery there was no music or applause, no chorus of “amens.” Save for the sound of his chattering teeth, the hotel room was utterly silent. It had to be. Thomas’ life depended on it.
Next door were two “handlers” – secret police – who had been following Fudge ever since he arrived in the communist country. They monitored his every move and conversation – except for this one.
Fudge had told the men they could have the two bottles of alcohol the government had presented to him as a gift upon his arrival. The handlers drank both bottles at dinner and were now in a deep sleep.
“Thomas would have been killed immediately were it known by the government that he believed in Jesus,” Fudge said. “This man was expressing his conviction by choosing to be baptized even though it literally endangered his life. It was a holy moment.”
Quoting 2 Corinthians 6:3-7, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin praised retirees like Fudge for walking the path of the Apostle Paul, “commended as servants of God.”
“We’re grateful to honor you because you have not been a discredit to the Gospel,” Rankin said. “You’ve been able to plant seeds and see the day of salvation among many peoples because of your obedience.”
Rankin credited the missionaries for being part of what he called the greatest advance in global evangelization in more than 200 years of modern missions. He also noted many have served at great personal sacrifice.
“It is obvious that you have not received the grace of God in vain,” Rankin said. “There’s not a single one of you who wouldn’t testify that you would not be here tonight except for the grace of God.
“Four of you have lost spouses while serving God on the mission field. Others have buried children. But it did not deter you from God’s calling. And God blessed you with endurance and His grace to suffer those hardships.”
Emeritus missionary Marty Koehn understands what it means to suffer and endure. On the morning of Dec. 30, 2002, Muslim militant Abed Kamel walked into the Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen and gunned down three Southern Baptist missionaries – Martha Myers, Kathy Gariety and Marty’s husband Bill.
God first spoke to Marty’s heart about missions as a girl at Vacation Bible School. Her mother’s reaction was less than enthusiastic.
“If you go as a foreign missionary, that’s proof you don’t really love me,” she told Marty.
From then on Marty kept her calling to herself. She began to learn everything she could about missions, even reading missionary biographies in secret.
“I didn’t have the support of the only other significant person in my life,” Marty said. “But I couldn’t give up because I knew my calling was real.”
By the time Marty entered her 20s, she found herself facing the same situation all over again. God was still calling her to the mission field, but this time, instead of her mother saying no, it was her husband.
“He said,’No way, I’m not going,’” Marty recalled. But the Lord soon changed Bill’s heart and the Koehns were appointed as IMB missionaries in 1974.
“We weren’t evangelists, we knew that really wasn’t our gift,” Marty said. “We were really more the discipler type – the behind-the-scenes workers.”
A year later God brought the Koehns to Yemen where Bill would spend the next 28 years serving as administrator for the Jibla Baptist Hospital. During that time the Koehns touched the lives of countless Yemenis.
Then came that December morning in 2002 when Marty heard fists pounding on the door of her home.
“There’s been a shooting at the hospital. Come quickly!”
Marty arrived to find Bill clinging to life in the hospital’s operating room.
“There were people standing around him, trying to help him, but there wasn’t anything they could do,” Marty said. “[Kamel] got Bill right between the eyes. He was a good shot.”
Within minutes Bill was dead. But Marty’s call endured. She never doubted God or asked why it had to happen.
“Within 30 minutes after the time Bill died, I remembered the story of Elisabeth Elliot. [Elliot’s husband Jim was killed in 1956 while serving as a missionary in Ecuador]. I knew I had to come back. That was where God called, and He hadn’t released me to go.
“What does it say to these people if I leave the first time it gets hard? What kind of God do I worship if I can’t stick it out just because it gets tough?”
Rankin said such instances often become a missionary’s most effective witness.
“Yes, God could have prevented a lot of those tragedies and circumstances that you endured,” he said. “But He chose not to because He knew your faith was strong. He knew you would be found faithful and that He would be glorified in the authentic witness that resulted out of those hardships.
“When the lost world around you saw you enduring and suffering with patience and perseverance and not losing your faith – that’s what bore testimony to the reality of the faith that you proclaimed. That’s what bore testimony to the reality of a living Savior that drew others to Jesus Christ.”
Marty Koehn returned to Yemen in 2003.
She took over management of the hospital’s warehouse – the role left empty by the death of Kathy Gariety.
Marty never met Bill’s killer, though she did write a letter on his behalf to Yemen’s president asking that Kamel be spared the death penalty.
“It was the right thing to do,” she said. “The man was lost – he didn’t know Jesus. If they killed him, he’d never be saved.”
Although their full-time service has ended, Rankin reminded the emeritus missionaries that retirement hasn’t changed their calling to a lifetime of ministry.
Today at age 63, Marty Koehn is making a new life for herself in Texas, working to share the Gospel with Muslims in her area and playing the cello at church.
Bill Fudge, now 63, continues to be actively involved in missions education. From his home in Oklahoma he’s traveled to training events in the Middle East, South Korea and Thailand this year alone.
“It’s been a fantastic ride,” Fudge said. “Thirty-four years and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.”