By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Editor’s Note: Tennessee Baptist churches are collecting money this month for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Mike and Heather McAfee are missionaries with strong Tennessee ties. They were featured missionaries in the recent Week of Prayer for International Missions. They also participated in the Missions Extravaganza held at The Summit in Brentwood in November. They currently are residing in Cookeville but will be returning to the Ivory Coast in West Africa in January.
COOKEVILLE — It’s really not surprising that Heather and Mike McAfee became missionaries with the International Mission Board.
They pretty much grew up learning about Southern Baptist missions and how Southern Baptists work together through the Cooperative Program to support missions efforts locally, nationally, and around the world.
McAfee’s dad, Jim McAfee, is a longtime pastor, having served across Tennessee. Though retired, he currently is pastor at Cane Creek Baptist Church in Cookeville. McAfee’s mother, Ginger, has been involved with Tennessee Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union as long as his son can remember.
Heather McAfee’s dad, Roger Phillips, was the music director at Cedar Hill Baptist Church in Baxter while her husband’s father was the pastor. Phillips later became a pastor and is now serving in Florida. He has gone on missions trips since she can remember, she said.
Like her mother-in-law, Heather McAfee’s mother, Yvonne, also is heavily involved in WMU and she served as her daughter’s GA (Girls in Action) teacher.
Mike McAfee was an RA (Royal Ambassador) as a boy and grew up learning about the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Missions became more real to McAfee, however, while his father was serving a small mission church in Indiana. The church collected money for his dad to go on a missions trip to Brazil.
Later after the McAfees returned to Tennessee to Baxter, Mike went on his first missions trip (along with his dad) to Venezuela (through the partnership the Tennessee Baptist Convention had with Venezuelan Baptists in the 1980s). McAfee later went back to Venezuela on a construction project.
“I loved the short-term trips,” he said.
Though he enjoyed the missions trips, McAfee said he didn’t think then about becoming a missionary.
His call to the missions field came after he was an adult and was living in Gastonia, N.C., while managing a LifeWay Christian Store.
His wife, on the other hand, felt God leading her to be a missionary while she was an Acteen at Cedar Hill Baptist.
Yet both realized they were being called while attending a missions conference sponsored by their church in Gastonia.
At the end of the meeting they were checking off boxes on a commitment card. McAfee said he checked every box except the one that said he would consider going to the missions field.
He noted that while he was praying it was as if God said to him, “Are you going to give yourself completely to me or not?”
He and Heather talked about it and they both checked the box that they would be willing to go. “I realized that I had to give my life to God and if He wanted me to go to the missions field, I had to go,” McAfee said.
It was a matter then of deciding to go with the IMB (international) or the North American Mission Board (national), the couple agreed.
They chose the IMB and it turned out to be a smooth process, McAfee said. They selected a missions job description in the Ivory Coast in West Africa.
Though the job description changed when they actually got to Abidjan they have settled into the West African city which is now their home.
“We love the place and the people,” McAfee shared.
The couple officially are urban missionaries. Unlike many missionaries in West Africa who work primarily with one “people group,” the entire city of Abidjan form the McAfee’s people group.
“They are very relational and very loving,” Heather McAfee observed.
Her husband noted that the city is a business center and that it draws people from other countries.
McAfee added that more than 66 languages are spoken in Abidjan so they have the opportunity to reach multiple people groups in a city that is more than 50 percent Muslim and nearly 35 percent Catholic.
The city has 25 Baptist churches that average about 100 members each but the total membership is less than a half percent of the city’s nearly more than six million people.
Yet over the past few years they have seen a few new churches started.
“God is blessing and we are seeing Him work,” McAfee said.
Yet, more and more churches are needed. “Twenty-five churches are not sufficient to win this city for Christ,” he observed.
The missionary couple works with any church that requests help, but they have especially been involved with Pastor George Kassou and his wife, Viviane, of Belleville Baptist Church.
The African couple especially wanted to learn how to witness to Muslims, McAfee said, noting that it has proven very effective.
“Native people witness better than we do once we teach them because they know the language and culture better,” he observed.
“We are working to plant churches with Pastor Kassou. He has a large vision,” he said.
Another part of the McAfee’s plan to reach the city for Christ has been to partner a church from the United States with a church in Abidjan. “A church comes here and works with the local church. The local church then follows up when their partner church returns home,” he noted.
That has been a success, McAfee said. “We have a church plant underway.”
The McAfees are well aware that their ministry in Abidjan is dependent upon Southern Baptists and their gifts.
“The Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering mean everything to us,” McAfee affirmed.
“One blessing is that when we return to the States, we do not have to raise money in order to go back to our missions field,” he said.
Heather McAfee agreed. “We talk with missionaries from other sending organizations and they often comment about their admiration of how Southern Baptists do missions and other things by working together,” she said.
While they are happy that gifts through Lottie Moon have increased over the past few years, the couple is concerned that giving through the Cooperative Program has been on a decline.
“We are not making up (in the LMCO) for what we are losing in Cooperative Program giving,” McAfee said. “It’s a big concern.”
Heather McAfee observed it is “scarey” to consider the growing number of younger and middle age adults in Southern Baptist churches who do not have the background she and Mike had. “They don’t really understand or know what the Cooperative Program is,” she said.
“We stand to lose the ability to do things together as we have for so long because of this lack of knowledge or understanding,” she continued.
“We are going to have to figure out how to do things differently if we hope to continue to work together to accomplish more,” Heather McAfee said.