On Friday's for the past several weeks, we have been on a journey with Robert and Margaret Fortenberry. This journey has taken us back to 1994 when they left the U.S. to travel as IMB Missionaries to Botswana Africa and through key points in their time and ministry in Africa. Today, that journey will conclude with their retirement and return to the states a couple of years ago. I know you will enjoy looking over their shoulder and remembering.
"As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country."
As Margaret and I were coming to the end of our last furlough, somewhere in February, 2013, I shared a kind of odd premonition with her. In my times with the Lord, and even as I just went about the business of those days in America, I began to have a sense that we were coming to the end of our time as IMB missionaries in Botswana. At first I dismissed those thoughts as just a natural reaction to the birth of our first grandchild. But the sensation was strong enough that I mentioned it to Margaret, freely acknowledging the faint, indistinct nature of it. Then we came back to Botswana, jumped back into ministry, and the thought of returning to America faded into the background. It would occasionally resurface, to be sure, but I could never cause it to clarify in my heart. It was kind of like a mosquito that flies by in the middle of the night, just near enough to be heard, but always far enough away to be dismissed as perhaps a dream or an irritating figment of the imagination. So we carried on with our work here, happy in what we saw the Lord doing, always asking Him to increase the harvest among our dearly-beloved Batswana, knowing that if it were His will for us to be elsewhere, He would let us know.
I am writing you all today to let you know that He has done just that. I won’t give you all the steps along the way by which we have become convinced that we need to transition to the country of our birth. It has been a process of some months, but the way forward is clear now. It is time for us to return to America and reside there, using that place as the base for whatever ministry He may have for us in this next phase of our lives. The immediate means for us making this move is the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) sent us by the IMB as a way of reducing its staff and bringing its financial situation into order. After praying over the package offered us, we have decided to accept it, and will begin working through the paperwork necessary to put it into effect. Of course, that means we will also be working through the process of closing down the house we have called home for 21 years. We have many people to whom we want to say goodbye. The next few months will be busy.
As you will understand, this is a bittersweet time for us. We love what we do and still feel called to it, in some form, for the foreseeable future. And we love working among the people here. This past Wednesday Margaret and I went with three of our local guys (Jack, Thato, Kabo – for those of you who know our Lobatse Baptist members) to the village of Mabutsane for a day of training with believers from that west-central part of our area. Margaret and I did very little of the teaching that day. Most of it was handled by those who went with us. We sat in the shade of a tree in a lady’s yard, moving our chairs as needed to stay in the shade as the sun moved westward, listening to our Lobatse guys teach what we have taught them, equipping their fellow countrymen for the making of disciples in the places the Lord has placed them. The satisfaction of seeing II Timothy 2:2 being fulfilled was immense. It is hard for us to leave this work, in this place, with these people. But it is time, we are sure.
On the other hand, the thought of being close to our family in America helps to assuage our sense of loss at moving so far from our friends in Botswana. All four of our parents are still living and in reasonably good health. We look forward to walking with them through the remaining years God may give them. At the other end of the age spectrum, we now have two grandsons. It will be our happy privilege to enter their lives and help their parents raise them as godly young men. August recently asked his mother, Bethany, “Where’s my koko (his Setswana name for Margaret)?”. Very soon she will be able to say, “Here I am.” That is a good thing. And in between the oldest and youngest are a host of other family members with whom we will happily reunite. We would have gladly stayed in Botswana until we graduated from here to heaven but, since the Lord has allowed us to have some years with our family in America, we intend to make the most of it.
As we move toward our departure from Botswana, we have a few prayer requests. We want to finish well and exit well. Major moves and deep spirituality are not natural companions. Please pray that our walk with God would continue to be a priority, and that our daily routine would reflect that. We need to draw deeply on the wells of grace, and live out the overflow of that, even as we take care of a host of practical matters. We also need to express our thanks to and affection for many people all over the country of Botswana. Sometime before our departure, we plan to make a circuit of the country, stopping along the way to speak a word, say a prayer, shake a hand, or hug a neck. We want our brothers and sisters around the country to know that we will miss them and, if the Lord should grant the desire of our heart, we will see them again someday when we return to Botswana for a time to share the Gospel and make disciples alongside them. We don’t really think our last days of ministry in Botswana have come yet but, if they have, we want to let people know how much we love them and to encourage them to serve the Lord faithfully. Please pray for every contact we have in these days to be blessed with that sweet aroma of Christ that leaves people hungry to follow Him.
Finally, pray for us to find our new niche for ministry. We have intentionally specialized ourselves out of most conventional work. There isn’t much demand in the regular work force for an over-50 couple who have lived outside the United States for the last 20 years, and whose primary job skill is a better-than-average knowledge of Setswana language and culture. ☺ But we do feel that there is a position, or a place, or a role for us. We don’t know what it looks like, but we have an affirmation in our hearts that it is there. Please pray for us to find it and fulfill it, as unto the Lord, with joy.
Thanks so much for your prayers for us during these years of our ministry in Botswana. You have partnered with us by your intercessions. We will keep you informed on how you can continue to pray for us. God bless until we talk again.
Robert and Margaret