By Cheral Critser
Editor’s note—Sometimes the story that doesn’t get told is the one about family and friends who are left behind when missionaries leave for the field. Honoring the retirement of career missionaries Sherman and Kay Critser, Cheral Critser—Sherman’s sister—offers a tribute to the couple and, at the same time, a unique perspective on missionary service.
Kay Critser was pregnant with Ryan and went to the doctor to see if she was having twins (Kay was a twin and there are twins in our family). They called on the phone, asking me to come over. I was excited and asked if they were having twins. Sherman laughed and hung up on me! As I went down the hill from the dorm, I was thanking and praising God for the twins. I crossed the street and was at the light post on the corner of the college library. I heard a voice loud and clear, “They are not having twins.” I jumped, looked around and there was no one around. The voice told me God was sending Sherman and Kay to Africa.
I remember saying, “Lord, if this is you and you are sending them to Africa, as long as they are in your will, please promise you’ll take care of them, protecting them and their health. Provide for their needs, give them the strength to do the work you have set before them. Give them wisdom and knowledge in what to do as they work in Africa. Bring them back safely and soundly.” God told me I had his covenant. God has kept, and is still keeping, his covenant with me.
I walked to their little house/apartment. I walked past their living room picture window, curtains wide open, and Sherman sitting at the table while Kay was at the sink. I knocked, walked in, and asked them, “When do you leave for Africa?” I remember one of them saying, “This is the confirmation we were looking for!” Sherman had a map of Africa open on the table and we looked at it and discussed where they would be going.
You see, there is another side of the missionaries’ story—the families they leave behind. They are as much involved with the mission work as are the missionaries. This happens through much prayer and support in any way possible. It was very hard to see them go with a baby, Ryan, whom I had grown very close to. Down through the years, Sherman and Kay stayed in contact via e-mail. Many times, there were illnesses, uncertainties of the politics in different countries that affected them in so many ways. I remember when they went to Tanzania with limited food. Tanzania was in a severe drought with limited to no availability of food. Sherman and Kay went with little food and were not prepared for such a situation. But God took care of them. The ribbon of God’s covenant was flowing and wrapping around Sherman and his family.
Then the Rwanda War broke out. Sherman and Kay had picked up the kids from the Kigali Airport and were almost home, when the plane carrying the Rwanda and Burundi Presidents crashed, signaling the beginning of a terrifically horrible war. Sherman and Kay, along with the kids, were missing for six weeks. I was teaching, and my sister was involved in corporate business. In school, students would watch Channel One News. Rwanda was the topic majority of the time. Many times, I had to step out of the room to keep from crying as we did not know where Sherman and Kay were, or if they were safe. Each time I cried, God reminded me of that covenant, and I would thank him. But I am human and I still worried.
We did not know where they were, communication was silent, and the Church of God Missionary Board was unsure of what was going on. If my memory serves me correctly, the embassy left, but sent someone to try and find them, and they couldn’t. I believe the Missionary Board sent someone and they, too, could not find Sherman and Kay. Finally, a runner was sent through the “underground railroad,” locating Sherman and Kay up in the hills with refugees. God’s covenant was flowing like a ribbon in their lives and ours.
When missionaries leave, they go knowing changes in families can take place. And such an event was to take place. A decision was made for Sherman and the family to come home for a visit. It was extremely hard when it was time for them to return to the field. They knew this was the last time they would see Dad alive. Dad had cancer. In February 1990, Dad went to be with God. After the burial in Lapel, Indiana, the mission staff so graciously and lovingly let us conference-call with Sherman and Kay. We could talk as long as we needed (I am tearful now, thinking of the staff’s kindness, love, and prayers). God’s ribbon of covenant continued to flow, not only with Sherman, Kay, Ryan, and Carrie, but also with us on this side of the world.
Sherman and Kay’s last international field of service was the Ivory Coast. There, too, was political unrest, but God was able to use them, alongside Larry and LeAnn Sellers. God’s ribbon of promises continued to flow.
Sherman and Kay left the field and were serving in Nebraska [with Native American Ministries] when Sherman hit his head on a slide cover, leading to an aneurysm, which would require brain surgery. I know at this moment God’s promises to me continues to flow, wrapping itself around the Critser family.
I know with all my heart that, as they go into retirement and are still looking to serve our Lord in whatever capacity, the ribbon of promises from God will continue to flow through their endeavors and personal lives until he calls them home. I have this assurance now as I did the night I was told they were going into the mission field.
Thank you and the staff at Global Strategy for all you have done for them, and for us, down through the years. God bless you in your endeavors to send forth workers for the kingdom of God.
Learn more about Church of God missions at www.chogglobal.org.