By Beverly Cooper
In an apartment hotel in the progressive, antebellum town of Brookhaven, Mississippi, an 81-year-old missionary is living large for Jesus.
On her latticed patio, she has a small garden filled with fragrant flowers, luscious cucumbers, and sweet tomatoes. She makes mayhaw, grape, and plum jellies from scratch and bakes dump cake, using fresh blueberries and peaches from her own bushes and trees. Her name is Betty Barham Newsom, and she is a North American Mission Board missionary.
Betty’s assignment is to visit the churches in her nine-county circuit and educate them on the importance of supporting God’s work by supporting missionaries through the Cooperative Program, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®, and other special offerings. Newsom is also a strong advocate for the Woman’s Missionary Union® (WMU). In the first 12 months of her NAMB appointment, she logged 30,991 miles, visiting 44 different churches and making 182 revisits. Between January and June 2011, she made 86 church-related visits. What drives Newsom to serve the Lord so energetically when many would retire? “It is my love for Jesus and His love for me,” she says. Betty’s sweet, gentle face is well-known in the area, and her godly spirit is well-respected. Sometimes she receives email from people requesting that she pray for a loved one. Betty feels honored to do so. “It is an acknowledgement of my ministry,” she says.“I will pray for anyone who requests it, and I do for some who are not aware.” Each visit to a church is an exciting and new event. She never knows what she will encounter. It is all part of her grand adventure. Sometimes she speaks to children’s groups and sometimes to groups of women and men. She seeks not only to encourage support for missionaries, but to meet needs as well.
While speaking to a WMU group, she learned they were having trouble affording individual subscriptions to their treasured Missions Mosaic magazines. Betty suggested they inquire about placing a request with the church budget committee to add to the church budget. They did, and the problem was solved. A pastor’s wife expressed concern about some things her son might encounter as he was serving overseas. Specifically she was concerned about leeches and other creatures that might be lurking in baptismal waters. Betty drew on her years of experience as a missionary serving in Africa to ease the mother’s fears. The Lord has been shaping Betty since she was born on Nov. 10, 1930, during the Great Depression. Betty grew up in a Christian community of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. During her early years, her father worked away from home, but he knew his family was safe and loved by people who loved the Lord. Betty doesn’t remember a time that she wasn’t in church with her family. The big family, with God’s help, was self-sufficient — raising vegetables, fruits, and meats which were canned for the winter. Often the children saw drifters come through, seeking a meal. Betty’s grandmother always welcomed them, modeling Christian charity for the children. Betty recalls a happy childhood. At 16, Betty, a lover of God’s Word, became a Bible teacher. She says she has never been far from God and has always listened for His guidance and direction. Little did Betty know then that He would radically change her life by sending her to Africa. Her African “adventure” began when her first husband died at age 50.
With two children still at home, Betty concentrated first on providing for her family. The Lord led her to pursue nursing. She completed her studies and worked as a registered nurse for one year to gain nursing experience. She then applied to serve as a missionary through the International Mission Board. At that time, there was a severe famine in Ethiopia. The mission board called Betty to help. After a year of service, she received a four-year appointment, serving five years total. The medical needs in Africa were tremendous. Often she helped people with preventable diseases, such as goiters, caused by iodine deficiency. During her later time in Ethiopia, drought and famine spawned political instability. Betty was evacuated to Kenya. The trip across the Serengeti was one she will never forget. She worked in Kenya for a short time and then in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. When the civil war in Ethiopia ended, she returned to serve the last 10 months of her appointment. She was 62 at the time. Betty returned home to Lawrence County, Miss. One day in church she noticed a man she had once known — an old flame from when she was 19 years old. After 47 years, the Lord brought him back into her life. The couple was happily married, serving the Lord together for 15 years. In 2009 Betty’s husband passed away, and she found herself slipping into depression. That is when God showed her it was time to get up, get out, and get busy. She became a Missions Service Corps missionary with the North American Mission Board, with a two-year appointment in Mississippi. Betty jumped in with both feet.
Betty has no plans to retire from serving the Lord. She plans to continue living large for Him. She hopes to write another book and to continue to promote WMU through her Baptist association. She gives this advice to those who would seek to truly experience God intimately and to walk lockstep with Him: “There will be problems along life’s way. Stay close to the Lord and know that you are in His will. Don’t be so busy that you neglect time with Him. Stay close and ask, ‘Is this You, Lord, or something else?’”
Beverly Cooper writes for the North American Mission Board.
This article originally appeared in the February, 2012 issue of Mature Living Subscribe