When Ralph and Joyce Anderson, 20 years into church ministry, experienced the power of encouragement personally in their own lives, it ignited an interest in their hearts to be the ones to bring encouragement to global mission workers. Since then, they have brought 25 years of encouragement to OC’s personnel around the world.
In the early 90’s, a connection with Chuck and Betty Holsinger, led to an invitation to the couple to pursue a role in One Challenge as the mission’s pastoral couple. Andersons interviewed with OC and joined in 1994. Although OC had an ethos of care for mission workers, pioneered by several OC couples, Ralph and Joyce became the first to have the official role as the mission’s pastor couple.
One Challenge sat “virtually” with Ralph and Joyce to hear some of their story. What a journey!
OC: You are the first ones to officially fill the role of mission pastor couple in OC. How did that come about?
Ralph: We were in a transition. We’d been at our church for almost 25 years when the Holsingers spoke at our annual missions’ conference. At that point in time we were sensing our “nest” being stirred and had been asking the Lord to renew our call to the local church or open other doors for us. At the end of the conference, over coffee and dessert with the Holsingers, Joyce asked Chuck, “Do you see any place for us in the world?” expecting him to recommend a church. But he said, “Oh yes!” and talked about the role of the mission pastor with OC. It took both of us by surprise, but it struck a responsive chord in us. Over the years our church was increasingly involved in supporting mission workers – the annual mission’s conference was a highlight for us – so our hearts were drawn that way. We had never imagined, however, that we might be asked to become the mission’s pastor couple.
Joyce: I think an integral part in our responding with interest towards this position is we had begun to experience the power of encouragement to people in the ministry personally in our own lives through Sonscape, an organization focusing on strengthening pastors and others in ministry. As we thought of being able to give pastoral care to cross-cultural workers – of bringing words of refreshment, of noticing their work and speaking words of encouragement, and praying for them – we were excited and humbled by the opportunity. That was a significant impetus for us to begin to consider the position and find the possibility of raising support less daunting.
OC: You mentioned what a huge decision this was for your church and for OC, and how you came to a clear understanding of God’s direction; knowing you had a lot to learn about mission workers and what their lives were like.
Ralph: As it looked like it was going to happen, I remember asking Larry Keyes, who was the president at that time, “Why do you think we’re qualified? We’ve never lived overseas so we’ve not experienced these cross-cultural challenges.” His answer was, “You’ve persevered in one place for 25 years. I think you’ve probably learned some ministry lessons that are important to pass on to others in ministry.”
OC: After being officially accepted in Oct. 1994, you had to raise support, and then started in the role in Nov. 1995. Your transition into the job was to travel with Chuck and Betty from April 1996 to May 1997, meeting the field personnel on all of the resident teams around the world. How was that?
Ralph: (OC) accepted us with open arms. We experienced open hearts and open homes as we began to travel.
Joyce: Part of the uniqueness of that too was we realized we didn’t know what we were doing. (laughter) And so, when we would meet with teams and they would ask us, “What is your plan or agenda?” We would say, “We don’t have one. We need you to help us know what you need and how to put together what this position will look like.” It wasn’t a choice of humility on our part (more laughter), it was just the truth. We didn’t know what the needs were, so we didn’t come with certain plans we wanted to dump on the team. I think that was the goodness and grace of God to us and the teams.
OC: Other than traveling to teams around the world, what are your other responsibilities?
Ralph: To teach, preach, listen, encourage. I think about how Jonathan came to David in the wilderness, and he strengthened David’s hand in the Lord. Hopefully we would be people who would strengthen our folk’s hands in the Lord, to carry on, to persevere where God has called them. That was the big picture. Romans 1:11-12 captures the heart of what we’ve been doing: “We long to see you,” whether that’s overseas, or at the PEP summer program, or here at the office, “that we may impart to you some gift to make you strong, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” So, it’s a two-way thing. We are ministered to by the people we connect with.
OC: What have been some favorite parts?
Ralph: Our favorite part is seeing our people. Someone will ask us, “What’s your favorite place you’ve been to?” and we will say, “The last one!” Even though we have seen amazing sights and been in beautiful places, our favorite part is seeing our people. Whether it’s traveling internationally, being with them at our summer programs, or having them in our home – that’s our favorite part.
Joyce: One of my favorite parts in recent times has been to co-facilitate retreats with Ralph. Serving together in this way has brought much joy to me. Another thing I have especially enjoyed has been remembering what others considered a special treat and taking it to them when we visited. Chocolate chips, dill pickles, extra hot cinnamon candy, flavored coffee creamers, a requested Bible study – these were favorite things of specific people. They are small things, but hopefully convey love and appreciation for those who give so much to others.
OC: What have you learned about mission workers in the process?
Joyce: I’ve learned it takes a great deal of perseverance to be able to do what they are called to do, because of the circumstances in which they often have to live – whether it’s giving up lots of conveniences, or living in a culture that is completely different and not always easily understood, having to persevere to learn a language to communicate, educating their children, getting along with teammates. It’s something that requires a lot of perseverance and commitment.
Ralph: I think knowing that mission workers are real people, not higher than the rest of the church body. They may be more in touch with the Lord’s calling, but they are not some sort of super saints.
OC: What’s something you have learned personally in this process?
Ralph: I think just being alert to the sovereign hand of God, opening doors, closing doors, and the fact that we’ve even come to the role as it came about. It’s like Proverbs 16:9: “Man makes his plans, and the Lord guides his steps.” You plan but you sit back and say, “Lord, you’re doing this.” And his provision – how faithful the Lord has been to provide in such unusual and timely ways.
Joyce: In God’s kindness to us, it’s not so much the vocation (meaning the job and the output of the job), but it is the journey and the process. Obviously, yes, there is some good outcome that comes from our work, but the significance is what God does in us through the vocation, through the journey, that matures us and draws us further, deeper into his love.
OC: Any final comments?
R & J: These 25 years have been an incredible gift to us where we have grown, and we have been blessed. We couldn’t think of any other way we would have wanted to spend these years.
Gill and Karen Nash have accepted the role of OC mission pastor. Ralph and Joyce have been transitioning with them over the last six months. They feel God called them at just the right time, and they are glad now to be in a supportive position.