EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story offers a first-person perspective on the importance of the Tennessee Baptist Conference Centers as told by Delores Coffey. Her words were recorded and transcribed by Katy James, marketing assistant for the Tennessee Baptist Conference Centers.
My name is Delores Coffey. I grew up at Alpha Baptist Church in Morristown. I always say I’ve been involved in missions since before I was born since my parents were Mission Friends and Girls in Action leaders while she was pregnant with me. Mission Friends was called Sunbeams then, for those who remember.
I went to Girls in Action camp for the first time when I was nine years old, and I fell in love with it! Both campuses were brand new back then, they had just been built by the Woman’s Missionary Union. I remember the campfire and the songs; most of all, I remember meeting a missionary in person for the very first time.
The missionaries featured that week were serving in Africa at the time. God used this encounter to do something special in my life.
In the mornings, out at Carson Springs, we would bring our Bible and journal and go to a place alone to pray. It was in that solitary moment at summer camp that God impressed on me to be a missionary.
As my life went on, I went to school to become a teacher, took a position in Morristown as a home economics teacher, and began a family with my husband, Delmas, but I never forgot the call to missions God had given me as a GA.
I thought, somehow, I had missed what God wanted me to do until one day I shared my call with a leader at church.
I don’t remember who it was, but I’ll never forget what he said when I mentioned I’d never fulfilled my call. He told me, “But Mrs. Coffey, you are a missionary! Don’t you teach 100 children a day? That is your mission field!”
It was then I realized my life was my mission field. My students were my place to share Jesus with others. I saw my home economics class in a new way, the things I taught, the way I taught, and the relationships I built pointed them to the gospel.
Another way I was able to support missions and missionaries was when my Daddy and his wife, Pearl, became missionaries in Romania in their 70’s, after they were married. Daddy and Pearl ministered to many in Romania and even founded a church there.
My sisters and I took turns visiting them with mission teams for the three years they were stationed there. My church helped to buy the land and build the church there in Romania.
I visited four times and my husband went five! I joke that I was called to missions as a child, but it took me fifty years to get out on the field! But the truth is that all God had me do here was important kingdom work too, and it helped me to advocate for those serving overseas.
That is something I want our children to understand about missions. Most importantly, I want them to know they can be a missionary and a part of missions to the world wherever they are.
It’s sad that people do not understand missions anymore. I am afraid we are going to lose a generation that won’t know what missionaries are and won’t know how to be one. It is my heart for our children to learn about missionaries and the call to missions through their churches.
That is where Tennessee Baptist Conference Centers comes in to be a resource to our churches. I want children to have an experience like mine at Carson Springs and Linden Valley Conference Centers.
If we do not keep missions at the forefront of this younger generation, we will miss many missionaries. Almost every missionary you talk to says they learned about missions in RAs and GAs; when the church gives up on mission programs, they do not learn it anywhere.
We have mission opportunities right here with people from all over the world in our communities. I met a few such people when working through a local mission program at my church.
When I asked a little girl from South America who Jesus was, she said she did not know.
I was able to talk to two girls about Jesus. I gave each of them a New Testament and one ended up becoming a Christian and getting baptized at our church. The other little girl who didn’t know who Jesus was went back to her country and I lost touch with her. I wonder if anyone will ever tell her more about Him?
We have many people in our world today who do not know Jesus, and our Tennessee Baptist Conference Centers are places for them to come to know Him. They are places for future Baptist missionaries to be trained and hear a call to missions.
They are places for future teachers and business leaders and others to be equipped to share the gospel in their communities. It is my heart that our camps can be a place for students to meet missionaries and encounter missions just like I did.
Our churches need these places to bring their students and congregations to get away from the world and hear from God just like I did.
I look forward to seeing God work through the WMU at our conference centers and continuing the legacy so many people can have the same experience I did. B&R