Columbia, Mississippi, wasn’t originally home for Tom and Gloria Thurman.
But thanks to a ministry at First Baptist Church Columbia that’s grown over the years, the city became the Thurmans’ home away from home while they served as missionaries to Bangladesh for 33 years.
And now it’s home full time.
How it started
Gloria Thurman said it started like this:
“The director of missions in the area knew about the availability of a missions house at First Baptist Church in Columbia,” she explained, noting Tom had grown up in a town about 30 minutes away.
The couple got in touch with FBC, and they and their sons spent five furloughs at the church during their missionary career, living in four missions houses.
“It’s like home here, and it became that for our boys,” Thurman said. “It gave them contact and a home base.”
Then when the Thurmans came back from the missions field in 1998, one of the church’s homes they had lived in became theirs indefinitely. The congregation decided to expand its temporary housing ministry to add something more long term — permanent homes for retired missionaries who were of a certain age and had spent four or more furloughs (now called stateside assignment) with them.
“It’s like a lease — as long as we’re living, it’s ours,” Thurman explained. “The church provides a home not only for us, but [also] for a couple who lives next door who served in Venezuela for 36 years.”
That couple — Richard and Martha Beal — became part of the fabric of FBC life over the years just like the Thurmans. Tom Thurman currently serves as FBC’s senior adult minister.
Pastor Brett Frazier said the church’s heart, and his heart, is to serve missionaries who have dedicated their lives to sharing the gospel in hard-to-reach places. He hopes the missionary housing will offer “a time of refreshing, a time to think and reflect and seek the Lord and recuperate so that when they go back, they’re ready to go.”
And for those who are retired, Frazier hopes it fills a need and enables them to keep serving in their next season of ministry.
Missionaries don’t often have the opportunity to build equity in a home, he noted, so the housing takes care of a need and at the same time infuses a missions passion into the church.
“Can you imagine the difference when several IMB missionary couples join your church? It changes the DNA,” Frazier asserted. “I think some of our missions emphasis has to do with the fact that we’ve had these missionaries inside our church body for so long beating that drum. It’s contagious.”
Faye Hemphill, who serves on the FBC missions house committee, said the ministry began in the early 1970s when God placed it on the hearts of two couples to provide a home for missionaries while they were on stateside assignment.
With that encouragement, the church turned a small building it had used as a daycare into its first missionary home. A couple serving in Niger stayed there first, then two more couples, then the Thurmans.
As time went on, FBC changed and added to its facilities and now owns five missionary houses — the Thurmans’, the Beals’, two that still need to be renovated and one currently hosting a family from Asia.
FBC also has a one-bedroom apartment on its campus that can be used for missionaries.
Over the years families serving in more than 20 countries have lived in the church’s housing, Hemphill noted. Each is fully furnished. After a family moves out the committee goes in and prepares the home for the next residents.
Thurman said it’s a wonderful ministry and “a very giving church. We’re blessed to be in their midst and enjoy being a part of their fellowship too.”