By Betty Thomason Owens
I was a teen in the early seventies and part of a vibrant youth group at a local church. We were out to change the world. I remember the night Billy, along with his girlfriend Connie, became a part of our group. There was something special about them from the first. God’s hand was on them. I left when my dad was transferred to another city, but I kept up with the youth group through some of my close friends. After I returned to Louisville, I married and attended another church. I ran into Bill and Connie several times over the years. He went to college, they married and had a daughter. They pastored a church nearby.
What impressed me most about them, was their dedication. They suffered losses. Connie had a terrible accident, they lost two children due to a genetic disorder. Life wasn’t easy for them. Then I got a letter from Bill. They had accepted God’s call to missions. Their heart was set on Ecuador. They were leaving for missions school in Costa Rica, where they’d be immersed in the language. Would I be interested in supporting their ministry? Absolutely.
I started small, since I was a stay-at-home-mom at the time. But every month, I sent in my donation. They graduated from missions school and I received another letter. Cuenca, Ecuador, in the Andes Mountains. Wow. I was so proud of them, but I could not imagine moving to a foreign country with my little guys, leaving all my family and friends behind. They were very brave, and I was in awe of them.
Later, I spoke with Connie about what it was like to leave all she knew behind. She told me about that first day, after their arrival. She faced fear, but they were together, and not only that, God was with them. She had to trust Him for everything. The worst time came at Christmas, far from home and family. I could only imagine. I had a difficult time with the holiday when my parents moved three hundred miles away.
Their first order of duty in Cuenca was to establish a church. Centro Cristiano started small, but in a very short time, the church had grown and they needed a new building. As their ministry expanded, they developed and led a childcare program under the Assemblies of God, to plant schools with a Christ centered curriculum.
Years passed and Bill and Connie welcomed another child, Seth. I loved watching their children grow up through photographs received in their updates (no Facebook back then, just snail mail). The church in Cuenca continued to grow as well. Bill made trips into the Amazon regions, into places only accessed by canoe and on foot. Scary. I received pictures of their excursions into the Andes on foot and on horseback. He led missions teams into some of these places as well as to the Galapagos Islands. I longed to go on one of these. But the opportunity never came.
After their daughter Leah married, she and her husband also became missionaries (Jungle Missions), traveling into the Amazon regions teaching and preaching the gospel.
In 2002, I got a letter from Bill and Connie. They were turning over leadership of Centro Cristiano to Ecuadorian nationals in order to pursue other forms of ministry. Then he wrote about a new opportunity. A television station called Unsion. I had no idea what a bright star had just dawned on the world and through Bill and Connie’s ministry, I was part of it. Exciting stuff!
Bill and Connie’s son Seth is now grown, also working in missions. Their daughter Leah and her husband Joil Marbut have four children; Bill and Connie’s grandchildren, growing up on the mission field.
When Bill speaks, God speaks through him, using his natural abilities, the perfect mix of wide-eyed-wonder, humility, and humor. He’s never lost his awe of God and seems amazed of God’s goodness. He’s dedicated to Jesus, Connie, his children and grandchildren. Connie is one of the most humble women I know, yet beautiful, accomplished, and strong. She’s endured many hardships, but is always found serving God, her husband, children, and grandchildren with a graceful smile.
There’s a song we sang back in the early days, when Bill and Connie first got involved in the youth group. A line from that song says, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, but soon all those around can warm up in it glowing.” Bill was the spark God used to ignite a mighty, glowing flame that continues to spread across the world, carrying the greatest message of all. The gospel of Jesus Christ.
For this reason, Bill and Connie McDonald are my heroes. Modern-day heroes of the faith. They would not wish to be exalted. They would give all glory to God, which is exactly where it belongs. He who has called them has given them the grace to perform His calling. (But they’re still my heroes!)
For more information on Bill and Connie McDonald’s ministry:
Joil and Leah Marbut: http://junglemissionary.com/
Today’s Prompt: Darcy had often dreamed of serving God in a remote region, but she’d never planned on the degree of hardship she’d endured. And she wasn’t even there yet. After twenty-four hours en route, eighteen of them spent in the Bangladesh airport, what she longed for most was…