"The Lord gives and takes away" are the words of a praise song that has been running through my mind ever since Sunday, a day set aside to celebrate the ministry of John and Jennifer Duncan at the First Baptist Church in Cassville. The Duncans have served First Baptist and the Cassville community for the past 22 years and five months and are now preparing to serve as missionaries in Thailand. As that song verse reminds me, the Lord brought the Duncans to Cassville over two decades ago and is now sending them on a new journey far away from here. It's all in God's timing and all part of God's plan.
John and Jennifer's arrival in Cassville in May of 1985 preceded our move to Cassville by eight months. Within just a few weeks of moving here, Mike and I began attending First Baptist Church. We were first attracted to the church because of John's inspiring and always practical sermons and then we realized there were other young couples attending and we decided to make First Baptist our church home.
This Sunday, as we viewed pictures taken of the Duncan family over the past 22 years, memories of our own years at the church came flooding back and we realized how much of a role John and Jennifer and the entire church family have played in our lives. I remembered baby showers held at the church after the boys were born, the prayers and support we received when Ryan faced surgery at five days old, John preaching at the funeral of Mike's beloved Grandma Jane, John baptizing both our sons, and most recently, taking communion as a family at the front of the sanctuary with John and Jennifer by our side. I also remember all of the times I called John and Jennifer when our family faced tough circumstances and how comforting it was to know that our pastor and his wife truly cared and would be praying for our needs. I also remember the handwritten note Jennifer sent me last fall after Nick left for college. She realized without me even telling her that I was struggling with the transition, and the kind words of one mother to another brought me the peace I had been seeking.
The love the Duncans have shown Mike and I and our family is repeated over and over again throughout the First Baptist Church congregation and beyond. John and Jennifer have had a huge impact on the Cassville community as they have served as living examples of Christ's love, sacrificing time for themselves and each other and their family to serve their flock, which grew dramatically in 22-plus years.
John is a gifted preacher and teacher who has the spiritual ability to make God's Word leap off the pages of the Bible and into the hearts of those who are listening. John's messages were always practical, and almost every Sunday, I felt as if John had written his sermon just for me. I can also honestly say that after hearing at least 800 sermons preached by John, I never left feeling guilty or downtrodden. Instead, John's words, which were always based on God's Words, inspired me to believe I could do better and start fresh any time I wanted. John brought me back to the basics of staying clean and close to God and living in a way that would be pleasing to God. He also taught me to seek God at work around me, to watch for opportunities to tell others about what God was doing in my life and to make time with God a priority. John's counsel is wise and I will greatly miss his God-given ability to use stories, illustrations and his dramatic touch to make God's Word applicable to everyday life.
While John is comfortable speaking to an auditorium full of people, Jennifer is more suited to one-on-one conversations. Jennifer's gentle spirit and soft-spoken nature have the power to heal and there is no doubt Jennifer's gifts lie in the areas of counseling and encouraging others. A number of years ago, Jennifer was instrumental in establishing a lay counseling ministry at the church that has literally made a difference in the lives of hundreds of area residents. She served as a counselor herself but also trained others to join the ministry and widen its reach. When I think of women I admire, Jennifer is one of the first who comes to mind. She is a model of a Godly woman, possessing quiet strength that comes from an unshakable faith in God and an incredible kindness and gentleness that is evident in all she does and says.
Thank you John and Jennifer for guiding our church for over two decades and contributing so much to this community through your dedicated service. As you leave for God's next adventure, know that you will be remembered, missed and prayed for often. You leave behind your legacy of missions and lives will continue to be changed by your challenge to reach the world with God's message of love.
A Bible passage John has quoted frequently over the years is found in Phillipians 3:12-14. In these verses, Paul uses a racing analogy to challenge believers to forget what is behind and press on toward the goal God has set before us. John and Jennifer's departure is one of those times when we must all look to the future and "press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." John and Jennifer are pressing on and following God's call and we must do the same. God speed John and Jennifer - you are loved and you will truly be missed.