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by Debbie Boykin

Sam James: A Life in Ministry

The James family

For over 55 years, Sam James, a long-time member of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, has served with the International Mission Board in Southeast Asia, East Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. He has been a church planter and administrator, as well as a preacher and teacher in 115 countries. It would be impossible to determine how many people Sam, and the love of his life, Rachel, have touched in their years of service. Sam and Rachel, along with their four children, Deborah, Stephen, Phillip and Michael have allowed the Lord to use them in mighty ways.

Sam James: A Life in MinistryIn the book, The Making of a Servant, Sam tells of his experiences on the mission field and of using any opportunity as a door opener to learn a new language and culture. He found that even laughter would allow friendships and relationships to develop. Many times, Rachel, a registered nurse, began ministries using her talents and profession as a tool to meet the physical needs of those in the communities in which they served. The relationships formed through meeting physical needs enabled both she and Sam to tell others about God’s love.

Sam James: A Life in Ministry

Rachel & Sam James

In the book, Sam reveals how many of their decisions required God’s discernment, particularly in stressful, painful and scary times. In every one of the situations, they felt the Lord’s abundant peace with them even when faced with death. Sam also spoke of the peace and joy—the exhilaration—in his life as he lived in the center of God’s will. Through ocean crossings, monsoons, and war, the James’s family became living witnesses to their communities in how the sovereign power of God was at work. Through Sam’s 55 years in the mission field, through his trust and obedience to our Creator, the Lord shaped Sam into the vessel He wanted him to be: a servant in a world that needs God so desperately. Sam explained that his inspiration came from Jeremiah 18: 3-6 (NIV):

So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as the potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”

With obedience and trust, Sam and his family have let the Lord use them. Sam encourages each of us to look back at the experiences that have helped shape who we are today and who we are becoming. Are we enjoying the thrill of discovering how the Lord has been preparing us for what He wants us to be and do in this world? Are we experiencing the peace and joy of living in the center of his will for our lives?

Sam signs his book with scripture from Galatians 2:20 (The Voice):  

I  have been crucified with the Anointed OneI am no longer alivebut the Anointed is living in me, and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live the faithfulness of God’s Son, the One who loves me and gave His body on the cross for me.

Amen, Brother Sam.  Amen.

Sam James: A Life in Ministry

Vietnamese Baptist Theological School

Editor’s note:
Watch an introduction to The Making of a Servant by Archway Publishing.
Watch a sermon preached by Sam James at The Summit Church.


Debbie BoykinDebbie Boykin is a nurse practitioner and medical consultant for the International Mission Board and is married to Dr. Joseph Boykin. Dr. Flamming, instrumental in their coming to FBC, married them 35 years ago. They have three children, Joey, Katie and Rachel.

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Story and photos by Allen Cumbia.

During 2013 and 2014 we will publish a series of articles written by Skyler Cumbia as she reports on her mission experiences in Ghana, Romania and Haiti. She is currently serving as a Venturer (long-term mission volunteer) with the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. The first article however, is being written by her father, Allen Cumbia, as he reflects on the beginning of Skyler’s year abroad.

Letting Go?Last night we embraced, a few tears were shed, and then she was gone. Today I am alone. I’ve just finished some coffee, the plane is cruising at 35,000 feet somewhere over central Africa, and I’m returning home without her.

As a young girl she used to say “I want to be a missionary,” but that talk faded as she blossomed into a teen. As the time grew near to complete high school, she struggled with what she wanted to do next. College was definitely something she was interested in, but what to study? Talented, smart and hard working, she could do anything she put her mind to, but what? How was God calling her? The idea of a gap year between high school and college became a possibility: a time to do some volunteer work or an internship, and in the process see a little clearer what it was she is called to do and be; a discerning time to grow some more, see the world with new eyes, and better understand herself and her passion in life.

So now, as Ghana recedes in the distance, I sit here and ponder how I have just let her go. She was such a precious little girl – quiet, observant and stoic. Hers was a tough shell to penetrate, yet underneath we could glimpse signs of the comic, the musician, the wit, and the artist. She has a compassionate and tender heart, a love for animals and a perceptive eye that saw what most missed. So many little things that add up to a wonderful mosaic, all wrapped into a tall and lanky body.

Letting Go?Leaving her as a young woman by herself in West Africa has been hard. She is not the first of our daughters to leave the nest. Two preceded her, but they were still relatively close. We could see them some weekends, get a package to them and just feel connected. But a small town in northern Ghana? That’s not so close! How can I still be a dad to her? How can I hold her and do for her the things that I want to do?

We knew when she was born that our job was to raise her up for a day such as this, yet how did it get here so quickly? A first tooth and then a step, that first day of school, a two wheeler at last, and all of a sudden – a drivers license. In each of these steps and more, we were slowly releasing her, allowing her to become independent, to become the woman that God has planned for her to be.

Letting Go?And now she’s gone, she’s beyond my embrace. It hurts, but also somehow it is right. I don’t want to hold her back, and really I can’t hold her back. Now is the time for this delicate bud to blossom into the beautiful and fragrant flower that she was created to be. To hold too tight now would be to crush and destroy that unique and precious creation that God has given to us. So here I sit, having released her less than 24 hours ago. But have I really released her? Physically we are going to be separated by more than 5,100 miles. In just about every other aspect we are as close as ever, perhaps closer.

I journeyed with her to Ghana for a variety of reasons. Of course as a dad I had some big reservations about her going off by herself and wanted to be with her and help her navigate a strange and distant land as she settled in. But more than that, this trip was a time to share some condensed one-on-one time. I had taken individual mission trips with my other three girls to foreign lands, but this was the first one for just the two of us. In making this trip we shared some unique experiences that bonded us closer than ever. I now understand so much better the daily things she will be doing, the people she will be with, and the physical environment in which she will be living. Now I know better than most how to pray for and support her.

Last night I gave her a last caress across her hair, a last squeeze of the hand and then I let go, but in the process of letting go she has in fact been embraced. Embraced by the new roommate she will have, embraced by the people with whom she will be working, and most importantly, embraced by the One who created such a lovely and fragrant flower of a child in the first place. She was ours to hold for a short while, and we will continue to do so on occasion, but now we give her to God and to the world in which she will work and serve and love … and at least in my mind, that is a good way of letting go.

Editor’s note: Check out Skyler’s blog, Skyler’s Scribbles.

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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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