Missionaries reside at Southern while preparing for IMB post
Randy and Kathy Arnett haven't stayed in one place too long since beginning their ministry in the early 1980s.
Randy, a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate, and Kathy are both attending classes this semester through the Billy Graham School but have been missionaries to the countries of West Africa since the mid 1980s. The couple is presently living on the campus of Southern Seminary but will be returning to their home in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, in January. Earlier this year, Randy became the International Mission Board's theological education consultant for Africa.
Randy is one of four theological education consultants working across the world in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. Randy and his global counterparts will be finding ways to liaise U.S. seminaries and global theological institutes to offer support, help with curriculum development, and in some instances, provide professors and planning.
"This is a job that has been needed for a really long time. I have no misconceptions, it will be difficult but it is needed," Randy said. "If we could help create a worldwide vision, even with just a half-dozen of these theological institutions in Africa, then wow, just stand back and watch it fly!"
Beginning in missions work
Randy was pastoring a small church outside of Kansas City when the Lord called him to international missions. Eager to serve, the couple began the IMB's application and interview process. They arrived at the final stage of the application process after preparing for a monumental move. Poised and ready to accept assignment, the Arnetts where surprised to receive word of application denial. Their request to serve was not going to be filled due to a number of reasons, but their desire to share the Gospel and care for the Lord's people remained as strong as ever.
The family regrouped, a process they say took several months, and Randy accepted a pastorate at a church in Missouri. A few years later, the Arnetts felt the timing was right to reapply for an international missions placement. They were pleased to receive placement in Lomé, Togo, a French speaking country of around three million people nestled between Ghana and Benin. The Arnett family, which now included two daughters, Bevin and Jillian, moved to France to attend a one-year language training and then headed to Togo for Randy to join the work at the Baptist School of Theology for West Africa.
Arriving in Togo in spring 1988, the family found the West African people to be very warm and welcoming. Just a few weeks in, the Arnetts started working on a church plant. "We didn't know what we were doing," Randy said. "Nobody in seminary had told us how to start churches. I was trained to pastor First Baptist Church of County Seat town."
God put the Arnetts in touch with a local Togolese man who had just graduated from a seminary in Ghana and moved his family to Togo. With that family, the Arnetts began leading Bible studies in a neighborhood on the outskirts of town. After three months, the Togolese attendees were asking to meet on Sunday mornings "like all of the regular Christians." Thrilled, the couple purchased an old wood shed, which resembled "a bunch of poles with a tent on top," for $30. Local men cleared a corn field and carried the new "church" to its location and they began Sunday services.
Work in West Africa
In 1999, the Arnetts left Togo to return stateside for job training before heading back to West Africa, but this time to Abidjan, a city of around five million, in the country of Côte d'Ivoire which is known as the Ivory Coast.
The IMB placed the Arnetts in Côte d'Ivoire as human-needs facilitators for a region of 22 countries that were, and remain today, as some of the most impoverished and underdeveloped countries in the world. Randy helped fellow West African missionaries develop a better understanding of human needs, and he taught them how to apply this knowledge strategically to reach even more people groups. Kathy worked with missionaries and Africans, teaching about preventing and living with HIV and AIDS. She shared the Gospel with individuals living with HIV and AIDS and also taught them about simple things they could do to build healthier immune systems and prolong life.
"That was a very emotional job," Kathy recalled. "One of my very best friends in Togo lost his son to AIDS. I was there, and literally watched this man's son take his last breath."
In 2004, Randy became the IMB's regional leader for West Africa, a position that allowed the Arnetts to travel more extensively across the region. Kathy continued with her HIV and AIDS work and began assisting Randy with administrative tasks. The couple returned stateside in August 2009 to attend classes at Southern and prepare for Randy's new post.
Advice for future missionaries
The Arnetts could write a large book filled with words of wisdom to young missionary couples. They are passionate about encouraging and building up young missionaries that are awaiting assignment, awaiting deployment and even dealing with application denial, since they have experienced all these circumstances first-hand.
For those new to the field, Kathy said to expect culture shock to hit the hardest when you're not expecting it. "When you go on volunteer mission trips you are taken care of by someone else already on the field," she said. "When you are on your own, you really are doing everything on your own. Bonding as quickly as you can with the nationals will help you stay there."
Randy built on Kathy's thoughts, adding, "On the field, you are not spoon-fed. It is too easy to go to church here (stateside), where the Scripture appears on a screen for you, where the pastor tells you what to think, where you have a devotion guide, where you have chapel and all other types of spiritual input. On the field, you have to take responsibility for your quiet time and a lot of people just don't know how to do that. If you are not doing it here, you are not going to be doing it there, and that applies to everything: quiet time, family time, everything."
While on Southern's campus, the Arnetts are opening their home to anyone that is contemplating or preparing for missions. To meet with the Arnetts, please contact the Billy Graham School for further information.