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You’re Never Too Old (by Jonita Barram)

On June 9, my father, John Barram, will turn 81. He will turn 81 in Santiago, Chile. He’s not on vacation. He’s not visiting a family member or a missionary—he’s being a missionary.

You Don’t Have to Be a Pastor to Be a Missionary
My dad was never a pastor or a church planter. But after he retired from the USAF in 1972, he and my mother, Lolita, went to Fortaleza, Brazil, to be dorm parents.

A few years earlier, my dad was stationed in Okinawa. He and my mom took opportunities to visit nearby countries, including the Philippines. While they were in the Philippines, they discovered two things: An elderly missionary was delaying retirement to stay and run a guesthouse, and (2) church-planting missionaries were sometimes diverted from the priority of starting churches to serve in other areas, such as parenting kids in a dorm and doing outreach on college campuses—things that non-preaching Christians could do. God used that trip to lead my parents into missions.

They thought they would return to the Philippines, but as they sought the Lord’s will, He closed that door and opened another one. The Association of Baptists for World Evangelism missionaries in northeast Brazil who wanted to send their children to Fortaleza Academy (FA) needed dorm parents for their kids.

John substituted one year as the boys’ basketball coach.

Fortaleza, He We Come!
My parents went, arriving in 1974, for a “short” term that lasted three years. They did not speak Portuguese and had no time to study it in school. Immediately they were immersed in starting and running the dorm, known as the Wee House. (Baptist Mid-Missions’ dorm was the Big House, and the Conservative Baptists’ dorm was the High Home.) That year, a retired couple known as Grandpa and Grandma Gripp were ministering at FA. Grandma Gripp taught art, and Grandpa Gripp was a beloved gofer.

One of the girls John coached wrote this on his Facebook page
when she learned he was going to Chile: “Hey Uncle John – I
wanted you to know you were my favorite Bible teacher
at FA and a fantastic coach!”

My parents returned to the States in 1977, went through candidate school, and became full-time missionaries. They returned to Brazil for the 1978–79 school year, and served another five years (with one more furlough).

A Change of Life and Pace and Place
They came home with my younger sister, Lori, who attended Cedarville College. My dad went to school with her, even taking the same class or two. He’s very proud of acing a course that she struggled with (and she was an intelligent child who started our first school year in Brazil in the fifth grade and ended it in the sixth). My dad took a variety of courses so he would be knowledgeable enough to teach a variety of classes if needed.

From Cedarville, the Lord led my folks to Lisbon, Portugal, where they helped start the Greater Lisbon Christian Academy. My father was the principal and taught various classes. My mother served as librarian and choir leader.

Snowbirds in Reverse
When my parents retired from ABWE and moved to Lakeland, they spent their summers running the store (aka Snack Shack) at Camp Patmos, Kelleys Island, Ohio. Our extended family enjoyed a week of family camp there one summer and were planning another one for the summer of 2002, but God had other plans.

In January of that year, my mother became paralyzed from the chest down due to a rare physical occurrence. She continued ministering by praying for others and sending encouragement cards. My dad continued his ministry with the senior adults in their church. Then, in October 2009, the Lord called my mother Home.

Okay, I’ll Go
One day this past February, my dad received an e-mail saying that the Santiago Christian Academy in Chile needed a short-term teacher to cover US history and world geography—courses my dad has taught and enjoyed. He began praying about whether God would want him to go.

When he arrived in Santiago on February 26, missionaries Doug and Sharon Kreeger, from his church in Lakeland, met him at the airport and got him settled. Missionaries Mark and Jenn Rubin invited him for a meal his first Friday, and have further befriended him. Jenn says:

“Your dad is an incredible man! We are honored that he has come to help our school, and my husband and I love listening to his stories and hearing how God has used him. We respect him so much for being willing to serve at his age!” 

Steve and Leslie Schneider have been a blessing too, as Leslie takes my dad grocery shopping. She says:

“He is a very good friend and will be greatly missed when he goes back to the States after the semester is over. I pray that his life example and testimony will have a great impact on many, to the glory of God!”

Missionary Leslie Schneider says that John “has really served here
with joy and enthusiasm!” Here is his 8th/9th U.S. history
class at Santiago Christian Academy.

My dad got a surprise when he arrived at the school: he was scheduled to teach world history, a course he had never taught before. He struggled with that class and asked that someone else teach it, which the school administrator is now doing. In spite of dropping one class, my dad spends most of his free time preparing lesson plans and lessons.

My dad has some age-related issues that make teaching junior-high and high-school students more of a challenge than normal. The biggest one is his hearing (or should I say, lack of hearing). The Santiago school is also more structured than the schools in Brazil and Portugal, which means more adjustments for him. And perhaps the biggest difference is that he is there without my mom (or another wife). “Bach’ing it” may have some advantages, but it can be lonely too, although my dad hasn’t complained.

Another adjustment is his students. In both Brazil and Portugal the majority of his students were missionary kids, but SCA has a number of students whose parents are not missionaries. In fact, many are not American either, and English is not their first, or even their second, language.

You’re Never Too Old
You could say my dad has a lot of strikes against him. On paper, he doesn’t look like a good candidate for short-term missions work, yet God led him and is using him in Chile. Several of my friends have said they hope they will still be as actively serving the Lord when they’re his age.

God leads few octogenarians to go to a strange country with a language they don’t speak. That’s not really the point. I am proud that my father was willing to go and that it wasn’t just talk. He replied to the e-mail. He found out if he could be used. And when the answer was yes, he went.

Robert T. Ketcham said:

“Our churches are full of men and women who are saying, ‘I can’t’ in the face of God-given responsibilities. Thousands of these dear ones would be the most surprised individuals in the world to discover that they can do that which He asks them to do. They will never make this glorious discovery until they make the first effort of obedience” (God’s Provision for Normal Christian Living).

You’re never too old to do what God burdens your heart to do.