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June-July 2016


Hidden Heroes


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Hidden Heroes

By Neil Gilliland

Some of my earliest memories involve missionaries visiting my little, rural church in southern Ohio. Those missionaries were larger than life. They always filled a table with fascinating artifacts from strange, exotic lands. I could hardly wait for the slide presentation to start. I sat and stared in wonder at pictures of places about which I had only heard. When the slides finished, I always hoped they would start over. As a little boy, I sat in slack-jawed amazement in the presence of true heroes.

After church, I would rush home and head straight to our set of World Book Encyclopedia to read about and see more pictures from these strange lands and people. Never, in my imagination, did I believe a boy from Slocum Station, Ohio, would one day visit many of those places. Certainly, I never thought he would live in two of them. Missionaries have long since packed away their slide projectors and slides. I no longer run to the encyclopedia, but I assure you, the hero status of those men and women has not changed for me. Each of those visiting missionaries etched life-long, indelible marks deep in my soul, inspiring me to reach to the ends of the earth with the Good News of a risen Savior.


The Hidden Heroes

As a wide-eyed boy, I didn’t realize others were also engaged in reaching the world. To be sure, I knew there was a director of the organization that sent missionaries and that some other men worked for it, because they, too, visited from time to time. For a little boy, in all honesty, their visits to our church were not as exciting… no tables or slides. As I grew older, and eventually enrolled as a student at Welch College, I had a part-time job working for what was then called Free Will Baptist Foreign Missions. It was then I discovered the Hidden Heroes of IM. Their pictures are not on our map or even in the directory.

However, if you call or visit International Missions (IM) today, these hidden heroes are typically the first people you see or hear. They are most likely the ones who answer your questions. You may not recognize their names, but you could probably identify their voices. Most of them have either not traveled internationally or, if so, only minimally. Yet, their impact on the Kingdom and the ministry of IM cannot be overstated. Without these heroes, the ministry of IM would be significantly hampered around the world. They epitomize the IM mission statement: we exist to labor with the Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission.

I call them hidden because they simply do their jobs as servants of the Most High God without fanfare or notoriety. They labor tirelessly to fill their role in the Great Commission as part of the IM team. One of IM’s core values is interdependence—that is, we work together to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. This group of hidden heroes epitomize this concept of interdependence…they are a vital part of the team. We work together, and without them fulfilling their roles, those who are engaged in “frontline” ministry would be severely wounded.

So, just who are these heroes? Let’s take a walk through the IM office, and I’ll introduce you. I’ll share a bit about who they are and what they do so, when you pray for the ministry of IM, one of these heroes will come to mind and you can pray for them, as well.


As you walk through the door, you meet Jen Thomsen. Since she sits by the door, she is the unofficial official greeter of all guests. While she is slightly (okay, perhaps a little more than slightly) vertically challenged, her smile and quick wit aren’t. Her uncanny ability to be both warm and caring with a touch of sassiness endears her to us all. Her official title is church relations assistant. As such, she coordinates all the logistics involved in the ministry of church relations. If you’ve called the office or have written to arrange a service with a missionary, most likely, you have talked to Jen. She coordinates re-entry for missionaries returning from the field and assists with the logistics of the E-TEAM program. Jen’s highly refined organizational skills and personality make her a perfect fit for her role in laboring with the Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission.

Across the room from Jen you find Cyndi Ludeman. Cyndi is the assistant to the general director of the Mission. I am afraid if I listed all the things she does, this article would turn into the whole issue. Suffice it to say, she not only coordinates the activities of the general director, but her service touches nearly every aspect of the ministry of IM. I am confident her Dutch heritage has contributed to her frugality, not only personally, but in her role at IM as well. She books hundreds of flights, hotels, and a myriad of other things, and she knows how to find the best deal. I had to take a box of tissues to her desk the other day. A penny lay on her counter, and Lincoln was crying because he had been pinched so hard. It’s not that she is cheap, but she understands and believes deeply in the biblical concept of stewardship. Cyndi’s attention to detail and ability to multitask make her ideal for her role in laboring with the Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission.

Turn left at Cyndi’s desk, and you will find the office of Deborah St. Lawrence, communications manager. If this article makes any sense, you know Deborah has done her job. Her desk is piled high with papers and proofs. Her eyes are glued to the monitor in front of her as she executes editorial magic on all the communications coming from IM. A few of us who write from time-to-time are a little concerned about Deborah. When we turn an article in, she seems to cut herself every time. The amount of red on our paper could not come from a mere flesh wound. Deborah is responsible for all official communications (in every form) that emanate from IM. When you stop and think about the critical nature of her responsibilities, it makes you appreciate even more her attention to grammar, punctuation, and all things related to communication. It is clear her editorially skilled mind and hands suit her well for her role in laboring with the Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission.


As you move down the hall, you will run into the desk of Stacie Compton, financial operations clerk and newest member of our IM family. Stacie processes donations and sends out receipts and missionary reports. A window rests between my office and hers. More often than not, when I look out, I think she is praying; but she is simply poring over spreadsheets on her computer, focused on her tasks. At the same time, she probably is praying that she gets every number in the right place. Even early in her tenure at IM, we see her diligence and focus, and also her sensitive heart for the Kingdom of God around the world. It is little wonder she was hired to labor with the Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission.

Beside Stacie’s desk is the office of financial operations manager, Cheri Ham. Given my consummate knowledge of all things financial, I will not even attempt to describe what Cheri does. Suffice it to say, everything to do with finances, at some point, crosses Cheri’s desk. Truth be told, Cheri would rather sit on the back of a horse and herd cattle across the Western plains. Not unlike Annie Oakley, her marksmanship hits the financial bullseye every time. Her passion for the gospel and reaching the world for Him is a testimony to all of us at IM. She works tirelessly to ensure all things financial are precise, adhering to the parameters set by the government and the Mission. I promise, herding cattle would be far easier than herding the financial concerns of missionaries and staff. Her heart and demonstration of excellence is an inspiration to all who join her in laboring with the Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission.

To find our final hidden hero, you would have to board a plane and head to Michigan, the home of Hanna Mott, student ministries coordinator. If you have had any connection with student ministries (E-TEAM, CMP, or OA) over the past three years, you have encountered and experienced the wild and wacky world of Hanna. Hanna is incredibly passionate about missions and students. While she does most of her work from home, she occasionally makes a trip to the office to complete a bevy of tasks. When she arrives, she brings LIFE. She is a free spirit who is deeply in love with Jesus. If your child has been involved in E-TEAM, CMP, or OA programs, you understand the vital role Hanna plays as we labor together with the Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Dari Goodfellow, retiree from the Free Will Baptist Executive Office who volunteers weekly in financial operations. Why? Oh, the same as all the above: Dari does not simply want to be a spectator in missions, but wants to be involved with those who labor together with the Body of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission.

These heroes (and all those who preceded them) may be somewhat hidden from the casual observer of the ministry of IM, but I assure you, they are not hidden from our missionaries and our directors. Our deep appreciation and gratitude will pale in comparison to the words each will hear when the Father says, “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”


About the Writer: Neal Gilliland is member care consultant for IM. Learn more about how you can become an IM hero:




©2016 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists