It was going to be a hot week in that part of western Africa, but we were excited. I was going to teach a group of African students about the topic of pastoral theology. Pam, who loves missionaries and nationals more than anyone I know, would be there to do her thing: graciously, sacrificially show the love of Christ. Our friends and teammates, Randy and Kathy Arnett, would be our hosts and translators. They had been teachers on the African continent for decades, but we had never been with them on their soil.
I met them when Randy became a Ph.D. student at Southern Seminary, where I was a dean at the time. He had already earned a D.Min. degree, but he wanted additional training to be more equipped. Kathy was earning an M.A. herself so she, too, could be better prepared to do what they had already been doing for years. Still, I had never seen them “in action” on the field.
Frankly, I watched in humility that week as Randy and Kathy interacted with our African students. As he translated, Randy whispered in my ear whenever he suspected some “cultural move” was going to happen among the students – and it happened every time as he thought it would. He patiently explained to me why he translated my words the way he did. Kathy helped Pam know the proper way to respond when the Africans called her “mama.” They both showed us how best to respond when the gracious cook gave us chicken feet for lunch (to their delight, by the way). I may have been in the role of their partner and supervisor that week, but they were our teachers from beginning to end.
We taught the African believers all day long. During the breaks, Randy and Kathy stayed with them, breaking down concepts so they could not only explain them but also understand how the ideas should change the way they live. In general, I seldom had to question where Randy stood on an issue, and even now I can hear him say over and over, “You have to disciple their worldview.” The Arnetts understood as well as anyone that gaining head knowledge didn’t always result in life change.
Later in the evenings, we returned to the campus to visit the students and help them with their homework. Randy and Kathy did it with sacrificial joy, their deeply wanting to guide the students to learn. In fact – and I do not make this statement lightly – I have seldom seen such obvious delight in professors in my 20+ years of teaching. In no way could I have denied that Randy and Kathy were created for this task. They were what missionaries are supposed to be: more at peace where they serve than in America. They were a team, and they were home.
I write this post because last week, God called Randy and Kathy to their eternal home. In a tragic automobile accident, they died as they lived – together, on African soil, on their way to train Africans. Pam and I will always cherish the privilege we had to serve alongside them.
Please pray with me for their family, for their African partners, and for the next persons — including you, perhaps — that God is already raising up to continue their work on that continent.