Posts Tagged ‘International Mission Board’

By Jim and Wendy Norvelle

For Lewis and Toni Myers, the road that winds from their childhood homes in the flat Mississippi delta to missionary and family life in Vietnam to retirement days in Richmond includes a very important bench outside a girls’ dormitory at Mississippi College in Clinton.

Day after day, Lewis patiently sat on the bench and waited for Toni to exit Jennings Hall so he could catch her eye. He wanted to make sure that she saw how serious he was about her—about marrying her.

“Every time I came out of my dormitory he was sitting on that bench, waiting for me,” Toni said, her eyes twinkling. Lewis smiled an impish grin, remembering that he would sit on the back of the bench and put his feet in the seat. He didn’t want her to miss him.

Lewis and Toni have been married for 65 years. For 42 of those years, they partnered with the International Mission Board, including 17 years in Vietnam. They arrived in Saigon in 1960, a couple in their mid-20s with their three children. One more child would be born there.

Lewis is from Skene, Mississippi, a delta crossroads community among cotton fields with a general store. Toni is from Boyle, Mississippi, about four miles away on Highway 61.

“It was helpful to be from a small rural area when we went to Vietnam,” Lewis said. “We went with the mindset to build close relationships as we were accustomed to in Mississippi. Vietnam was just opening up as a new mission field for Southern Baptists, and we thought the new work there would fit us well.”

The same could be said for their marriage—it fits them well. Many times during the interview they either began each other’s sentences or they ended them.

What’s their secret?

“We both are of one accord,” said Lewis. Toni nodded in agreement. “Sometimes I have a good idea, and sometimes she does. Our faith has deepened over the years. We have a togetherness. We are not running off and doing many different things.”

The ending of their time in Vietnam did present a challenge. They were back in the United States on furlough in 1975 when South Vietnam fell, ending the long civil war. Eventually Lewis joined the staff of the then Foreign Mission Board in Richmond.

“It was tough when I came to the board and, for the first time, we were not in ministry together on the field,” Lewis said. Toni found her mission field at Richmond’s First Baptist Church, getting involved in the college ministry and Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) as well as serving as a volunteer interpreter for Vietnamese refugees, especially at the City of Richmond Health Department.

For Toni and Lewis, their marriage and their faith have always been intertwined.

“I made a good choice,” Toni said. You could say that it was like two parts of the same bolt of cloth or two sides of the same coin.

“I don’t know how to pull our faith and our marriage apart,” Lewis echoed. “We’ve made a faith commitment to each other and to the Lord.”

Their routine is a key, they said. They rise early, share a daily devotional time, enjoy a cup of coffee and read the newspaper. A morning walk is usually next. Faithful church attendance is a given. They return to Vietnam each year for Lewis to teach in the Vietnam Baptist Bible Institute. Toni counsels students dealing with long classes and final exams.

The road continues for this loving couple who started in Mississippi, heard the call to serve God while in seminary, preached and witnessed in Vietnam, and today teach a Bible study class, work with the WMU and sing with the choir on Sunday mornings at FBC. Together. Intertwined.


Jim and Wendy Norvelle met at First Baptist Church and were married in 1983. Jim sings in the choir and serves as president of the Endowment Fund. Wendy serves as a deacon. The Norvelles have two daughters, Laura and Kate, and two grandchildren to spoil.

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By Rachel Lewis Allee. Photo by Susan Brown.

calloutAnnette Hall doesn’t consider herself a natural-born storyteller. At first this appears to be a puzzling self-assessment: Annette recently came off the mission field after spending the last 19 years sharing the Gospel in story format as a missionary, serving through the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. Appointed in 1973, she served in Jordan, the Gaza Strip as a nurse educator, and in France for the last 21 years working with Muslim women and families.

Annette HallShe explains: “There are people who are gifted in storytelling. Those are the people at parties whom everyone is raptly listening to. I’m not one of those. But it is a learned skill, just like you can learn to cook or learn to swim. You can learn to be a good storyteller.”

After years of practice, Annette eventually became an expert storyteller, and she has passed on her knowledge by training countless others to “story” the Bible. She first learned about this art in 1994 while attending a storying workshop. “When I heard about it and learned what it was, the light went on…I already had twenty years of experience trying other methods that didn’t work because the people I was working with were oral communicators.”

An oral communicator is a person who either can’t or won’t read. They receive and learn information through stories. In France, Annette worked mostly with adult immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. She taught them French and hosted reading and speaking classes. The curriculum was based on chronological Bible storying –a story with every class, and the day’s grammar lesson based on that story.

Currently in Paris there are dozens of students in four or five of these classes, and there is interest in starting more. The whole enterprise began slowly. First, Annette started a children’s club, which morphed into clubs for older girls. Annette visited each girl in order to meet the mothers. One day a group of women in one of the homes said they wanted to participate. Annette soon realized that her students’ biggest need was literacy – and hearing God’s Word. “In France, anyone can get FSL (French as a Second Language),” Annette says. “So we told them, ‘You can take French somewhere else. If you come to our classes, you will also hear a story from God’s Word.’”

Annette and other missionary storytellers started at the very beginning with Adam and the prophets, biblical characters with whom the women were already familiar. They loved it, and word began spreading about the class. Annette found this out when she paid a visit to an absent student. She was prepared to tell the story, but the student already knew it because a fellow classmate had told it to her.

Annette also noticed that whenever she asked women in her neighborhood to come to the club, each would first ask permission of the community matriarch, who came to hear the stories herself, though she expressed no interest in learning how to read. This woman told the stories to her husband, and both of them eventually became believers, even though she still couldn’t read a word. “She was out telling stories in the community long before she became a believer,” Annette says.

Such is the power of a well-told story, particularly a story accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit, and Annette is eager to reach oral communicators in Richmond. “I would love to see people here in the U.S. – in our churches – recognize the oral communicators who are in our midst, right here in our city. If we are going to reach them, we have to approach them in their learning style,” she says. A person does not have to be illiterate to be an oral communicator; Annette has met oral communicators who have PhDs and Master’s degrees, and has spoken with many college students who prefer to learn orally. Regardless of education level, it’s key to understand that not everyone learns the same way.

“We expect them to come to church and join in our preferred learning style, and so they come but they don’t fit in our Sunday school classes because they don’t read. The story transforms the heart. What we see a lot of times is head knowledge but not heart change. If you tell people stories, you start to get into their hearts.”

Annette has retired from the foreign mission field, but she is eager to share her vast knowledge with Americans. “I can teach people to tell good Bible stories,” she says. “We can reach Richmond.”

Editor’s note: For more information on reaching Richmond through storying, contact Annette Hall.

Rachel AlleeRachel Lewis Allee and her husband, Jonathan, attend the Young Couples class. Rachel stays at home with their eleven-month-old son, Aubrey, and every now and then has time to work in the garden and write fiction.

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