Editor’s Note: Many churches across Tennessee observed the Week of Prayer for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions last week and are in the process of collecting the 2021 Lottie Moon offering. IMB missionaries Andy and Michelle Milam are on stateside assignment at Blue Mountain (Miss.) College. They traveled to Jackson recently for an interview with the Baptist and Reflector.
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
JACKSON — A recent trip to the Union University campus in Jackson brought back a flood of memories for Andy and Michelle Milam, missionaries in Portugal for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
Milam, the son of former Tennessee Baptist pastor Jerry (now deceased) and Nancy Milam, met his future bride, Michelle Sarratt, of Tupelo, Miss., during their freshman year of college at Union University. The two had similar interests, especially in the area of missions. They dated and eventually were married and lived in Union’s married student housing before their graduation in 1992.
While there, they met Ramona Mercer, an IMB missionary who was in her first year as Union’s first missionary in residence during that time. Milam recalled asking her, “How do you know God is calling you to missions?”
He noted that Mercer replied, “In His time, He will show you, if that’s His will.”
“We are thankful that Union saw the value of missions in the lives of their students,” Milam said.
After graduating from Union, they went to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. During a missions chapel at NOBTS, the couple felt strongly that “God was placing a missions call upon our lives.”
During the 1990s, the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) had a requirement that missionaries had to have full-time church experience before they could be appointed, so their mission plans were temporarily put on hold. The Milams were called back to Tennessee to serve at First Baptist Church, Savannah, where he was minister of music and senior adults.
From there, the Milams were called to First Baptist Church, Paris in 1996 and then to Alpha Baptist Church in Morristown in 2001 where they served until 2007. While at Alpha Baptist, Andy and Michelle had an opportunity to go to northern Portugal with a mission team through a partnership the Tennessee Baptist Convention had in Portugal. “God began to work on my heart and life again,” Milam recalled.
He related that in 2007, the missionary couple they had worked with in Portugal were planning to retire and they contacted the Milams and asked them to consider and pray if God was calling them to serve in Portugal.
Milam said he went to the prayer room at Alpha Baptist to pray and there was a copy of Open Windows in the room. Open Windows is a daily devotional produced by Lifeway Christian Resources and contains a list of missionaries to pray for. On that particular day, the missionary listed was Ramona Mercer.
“The question I had placed to her all those years ago at Union University, God brought back to me to say, ”This is the time and this is the place.”
Ministry in Portugal
The Milams began the process with the IMB and were appointed in 2008 to serve in Porto, Portugal, where they have served as church planters for the past 13 years. They are now team leaders in Portugal, working closely with an association of churches in northern Portugal. In essence, Milam serves as an associational missional strategist or director of missions.
When the Milams first arrived in Porto, there was little if any church planting. He recalled one older pastor in Portugal who told him “We don’t need any more churches in Portugal.”
But the Milams remained faithful to God’s call and “stayed faithful and cast a vision while working alongside the pastors and loving them.” It took an effort and a lot of relationship building but the Milams have begun to see the fruits of their labor. There have been six church plants in northern Portugal, all in the past three years, he said.
“It has taken time and has taken churches from the United States working in partnership with us,” Milam said. One of those churches has been Hilldale Baptist Church, Clarksville, who has sent teams to Portugal for 10 years, he added.
The couple has seen God do some amazing things in Portugal, a country with a strong Catholic heritage and one that has few evangelical churches.
A few years ago, an American football league was started, and Milam, since he was an American, was asked to coach a team in northern Portugal. Milam basically played baseball and basketball as a youth but he saw coaching football as an opportunity to build relationships and share the gospel.
One of his players was Maurico, who told him he had to quit because he didn’t have a ride to practices and games. Milam assured Maurico he would provide him transportation. “He was a captive audience,” Milam laughed. Soon, the conversations began to include things other than football, including the gospel.
Milam gave him a Bible and asked him to read the first chapter of the book of John and they would talk about it if Maurico wanted to. Milam intentionally did not pressure him. When Milam asked Maurico if he read the first chapter, he replied that he had not. Before Milam could become discouraged, Maurico informed him, “I read the entire book, and I gave my life to Christ.”
Milam began discipling Maurico for the next five years and today he feels the call to be a pastor and to be involved in ministry. “He has enrolled in seminary and is preparing for the pastorate,” he said.
He also shared the story of Daniella, one of the converts of Oasis Church, a new church plant. Daniella has since become the leader of the church’s online ministry.
Both Maurico and Daniella are the only believers in their family, Milam said. It’s a reminder that one person has the potential of changing an entire family’s dynamic, he continued.
“Our ministry in Portugal has not been about the hundreds or the thousands. But it’s about the one, and it is a reminder of the story in the Bible of the 99 sheep and the one that is lost,” Milam said.
“The one that is lost is just as important as the thousands.”
The Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering have been a part of the couple’s lives since they were children. Though not raised in a minister’s home, Michelle was involved in Harrisburg Baptist Church in Tupelo, Miss., which she described as a “very missions-minded church.”
Michelle recalled being taught what the Cooperative Program and the mission offering was about. “But until the Cooperative Program is your means of sustenance and sustaining, you don’t fully understand. We were able to go on the mission field and have our training and know our family was cared for because of the Cooperative Program.”
The Milams know missionaries who have to raise their own support. They are always concerned about whether they will have enough money to remain on the field, she noted. “We are very blessed to be a part of what Cooperative Program funds do. We have that security that allows us to be on the field and be about sharing the gospel.”
The couple also is extremely grateful to Tennessee Baptists. “Just to know that we come from a very strong heritage of missions in Tennessee Baptist churches is a blessing. We know Tennessee Baptists have got our backs. They may not all be able to come but they are faithful givers and they are faithful prayers.”
Her husband agreed. Through his dad, their education at Union and their ministry in several TBC churches, “it’s a blessing to have a connection in every single part of the state,” Milam said. “it’s almost as if we know the state and the state knows us. It really is a joy.” B&R