Earlier this month, we had the pleasure of hosting Sam and Rachel James on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Wisdom, humility, and graciousness were the hallmark of the James family time here on campus, and of course, for over 50 years of missionary service with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Until their retirement in 2013, the majority of their missionary service was among the Vietnamese people.
When asked, “What do you need to persevere on the mission field?” Sam James responded with three things: 1) Spiritual maturity, 2) A strong sense of calling, and 3) A sense of humor. His book, Servant on the Edge of History: Risking All for the Gospel in War-Ravaged Vietnam, is replete with all three of these characteristics. Here are a few selections to whet your appetite:
When Sam was struggling with his love for the Vietnamese people early in his missionary career, he recounts, “God said to me, ‘My son, you are not in Vietnam because you love the Vietnamese people. You are here because I love them. I want to love them through you’” (26).
Later, when reflecting on his call to continue serving among the Vietnamese, he writes, “when I first went to the mission field, I did so because of the masses of people without Christ. With all my heart I wanted to learn the language of the masses. I wanted to identify with them and share the Good News of Christ cloaked in their language and culture. This motivated me during my first term of service. However, what kept me returning to the mission field was not just awareness of the masses. It primarily was the individuals whom I had known personally and who needed the ministry the Lord wants to give them through His servant” (99).
Finally, when the James’ stayed during the beginnings of war, he reflects on the role of parents with their children in missionary service: “During this particular event I learned that children tend to take the attitude of parents to an extreme. If we were afraid, our children were terrified. If we were at peace, our children would go to sleep. I observed this from many perspectives. I saw that if we like our Vietnamese people, our children absolutely loved them. If we spoke disparagingly and disliked the people, our children would hate them. If we liked our fellow missionary families, then our children loved these families and wanted to be around them . . . The attitude of parents has a tremendous long-term effect on children” (133).
If you are unfamiliar with the life and work of Sam and Rachel James, I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. In this work, you will find yourself at once regaled with many amazing stories, while also coming face-to-face with real people living out their calling to the nations. To spend any length of time with Sam James is to be infected with a love for God, and a love for people.
Sam and Rachel James truly are living missionary heroes. Who are some of yours?