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two hearts for brazil: the legacy of John and Kay metcalf

by Jack Williams

Find out more about the Free Will Baptist Foundation, visit or call (877) 366-7575.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Jack Williams is director of communications at Free Will Baptist Bible College and secretary of the FWB Historical Commission.

TWO FREE WILL BAPTIST MISSIONARY APPOINTEES to Brazil made national headlines on February 28, 1984…not because of what they did in Brazil, but because they died at exit 82 trying to get there.

John and Kay Metcalf’s 1979 Chevy Caprice slammed into an eastbound, 18-wheeler that jack-knifed on ice-coated I-40 at Jackson, Tennessee, and slid across the median into the westbound lanes. Collision! Fire! Death! John was 26, Kay 25.


A Perfect Match

The couple met at Hillsdale FWB College in Oklahoma, two Free Will Baptist kids who seemed perfectly matched for each other. John began preaching at age 13. Kay was a preacher’s daughter who never had a permanent home, moving from church to church with her father, the late Jerry Dudley.

John and Kay sang with Hillsdale’s New Life Singers. While in high school, they sang in the same high school All-State Choir, but did not know each other at the time.

They felt God’s call to missionary service at Hillsdale. John spent a summer in Brazil, while Kay went to Africa. Together, they decided that Brazil was where God wanted them to serve, and began arranging their lives to make it happen.

Needing practical experience, they taught for two years at Oxnard Christian Academy in California, and worked with music and youth at East Tulsa FWB Church. By May 1983, they completed missionary internship in Michigan. Then it was a matter of raising financial support through multi-state deputation services.



The Last Day

Everything seemed to come together in a rush for the talented duo who created homemade Christmas gifts for everyone and entertained family and friends with hilarious anecdotes. On the day they died, John and Kay completed a month of services in Florida and Georgia, and stopped in Nashville to consult with the International Missions staff.

Before day’s end, General Director Rolla Smith gave them the green light to leave for language school in December, spend Christmas in Brazil, and start language school in January at Campinas. Late that afternoon, they loaded their car with literature, supplies from the Missionary Provision Closet, and headed to Tulsa.

Shirley Lauthern, former International Missions secretary, wrote a letter to Kay’s sister (Mrs. Debbie Burden) chronicling their last day—what Kay wore, a staff lunch at Quincy’s Steak House, discussions about a house rented from a Tulsa deacon, and the excitement radiating from the exuberant couple.

As the Metcalfs left the office at 3:45 p.m., Kay stopped outside Shirley’s office and said, “I’ll see your kids tomorrow!” (Shirley’s son Kevin and his wife worked at West Tulsa FWB Church.) Then, the two smiling missionary appointees waved goodbye and headed west on I-40 to keep a divine appointment at exit 82.


Curious About Life

Wherever John and Kay Metcalf showed up, they took over, and nobody objected.

“They were great people to be around,” said Debbie Burden. “They didn’t need money to have a good time. They’d come into a family gathering with their golden laughter, and it was non-stop fun. They would tell stories, describe a mural they painted on the wall of a Sunday School class, sing a song they were teaching the kids, or break us up trying to explain some kitchen event that boiled over. Anything they touched turned beautiful.”

Bea Dudley Kirby (Kay’s mom) said, “She was the most inquisitive child. We always had to go find her whenever we started anywhere, because she was so curious about everything.”

Kay got lost regularly. The family lost her in a crowd of thousands at Arlington National Cemetery. Three hours later her frantic parents found her eating a sandwich with National Guard troops. She smiled and told them what a great meal she had.

She got lost in Sacramento at the California State Fair. Someone finally remembered that Kay wanted to ride the upside-down airplanes. Sure enough, an attendant had strapped the little girl in a seat, and she was having an upside-down party all by herself.


Surrendered Wills

“She was a peace maker and never showed anger,” Kay’s mother said. “Her death was the hardest thing I ever went through. My perspective on everything changed. My priorities changed. Jerry and I were surrounded by Free Will Baptist preachers at a Hillsdale Bible Conference when we received word about the accident. I couldn’t ask for a better group to support us with love and prayers.

“I encourage every parent to pray that your children be used in God’s service. I’d rather my children die young in God’s service than live a long life and go astray.”

Debbie Burden echoed her mother’s sentiments. “Kay’s death was a dividing line for me. That was the day I realized there’s no promise of tomorrow, and what we intend to do for God, we’d better do today. I did not understand why they had to die, and I did not want their deaths to be in vain.

“Kay always saw the bigger picture. Even though she was younger, she was a model for me. She did not get bogged down in the moment.”

More than 600 people filled West Tulsa FWB Church to say goodbye to John and Kay Metcalf…or perhaps to comfort one another. Everybody understood that something extraordinary happened that snowy day when God’s sovereignty and two surrendered wills came together at exit 82.

Keith Burden (now executive secretary) gave a brief eulogy in which he said about John and Kay’s call to the mission field, “There was never a great revelation. They did not put out Gideon’s fleece. They just simply surrendered their wills to the Lord, and He gave them assurance and peace.”




Metcalf Endowment

The story continues. Hillsdale College established the John and Kay Metcalf Scholarship Fund for missions students. The Master’s Men Department built a 52-bed dormitory at Jaboticabal Youth Camp in Brazil and named it Metcalf Memorial Dormitory.

In 1986, the International Missions Department established the Metcalf Memorial Endowment that perpetually benefits the Brazil Bible Institute in memory of two young missionaries who wanted to give their lives in service to the people of Brazil.

David Brown, associate director of the FWB Foundation, said, “What an opportunity for families to memorialize loved ones through an endowment, or establish an endowment and give gifts now or gifts by will to the family endowment.”


Looking Toward Brazil

A simple headstone in a Collinsville, Oklahoma, cemetery marks the resting place of John and Kay Metcalf with five words—“Their hearts were in Brazil.”


a perfect match

John Metcalf

  • Age 26

  • Converted at age 6

  • All-State Singer

  • Preacher

  • Summer Missionary

  • 1979 Hillsdale College graduate

  • Teacher, Artist, Chef

  • Missionary to Brazil

  • February 28, 1984

Kay Dudley Metcalf

  • Age 25

  • Converted at age 6

  • All-State Singer

  • Preacher’s Daughter

  • Summer Missionary

  • 1979 Hillsdale College graduate

  • Teacher, Artist, Chef

  • Missionary to Brazil

  • February 28, 1984


They live On…

  • John and Kay Metcalf Scholarship Fund / Hillsdale FWB College

  • Metcalf Memorial Dormitory / Brazil

  • Metcalf Memorial Endowment / FWB Foundation

To find out how you can leave an enduring legacy through planned giving, visit the Free Will Baptist Foundation at



©2007 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists