Advance Magazine

Truly by Grace Alone

Remembering Dr. Vernon Rosenau

After an extended battle with cancer, President Emeritus Vernon Rosenau completed his life’s journey on December 25, 2020, beginning a new life in heaven. Dr. Rosenau served as Baptist Mid-Missions’ eighth president from 2016 to 2020.

Rosenau doctorate

No one could have anticipated that the child born to missionaries Eugene and Ernestine Rosenau on August 5, 1949, would not only follow in their footsteps as a missionary to the Central African Republic, but he would also lead BMM at its highest level. His missionary grandparents, Ferd and Ina Rosenau, as well as his parents surely would have been proud of him. Yet Dr. Rosenau attributed everything in his life to God’s grace, shown in the closing remark of all his letters: “Truly by grace alone.”

As high school ended for Vernon (as he preferred to be called), he chose a career in accounting, reasoning that his contribution to missions would be financial support. But God wanted him to pour out grace in a different way. Vernon surrendered to God’s leading and began studying for youth ministry at Bob Jones University. There he met and fell in love with Janet Shutt. In 1970, Vernon was drafted into the Army, and he and Jan married on February 12, 1971. Together, they spent what Jan called an “extended honeymoon” in Germany, where he was stationed. Throughout his life, Vernon often said of his accomplishments that “none of it would have been possible without Jan.”

It was in Germany that the Lord worked further in Vernon’s heart, whispering “Africa” deeper into his soul. After his tour of duty, Vernon graduated from LeTourneau College, and he and Jan joined BMM in 1975 to serve as the third generation of Rosenaus in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Vernon always thought his role in the CAR would be one of helping with physical needs. But his father challenged him to teach at the Sibut Bible Institute founded by Vernon’s grandfather, Ferd. It did not come easily to Vernon, but he drew upon God’s grace. From that experience, Vernon developed a lifelong burden for training nationals. He saw the need to develop his own Timothy who would take over the work after him. God sent him René Malipou, who became the first African in BMM history to earn a doctorate. René later co-founded the first graduate-level seminary among BMM-affiliated churches in Africa. Vernon learned an important missions lesson: Find a Timothy, pour yourself into him, and let him climb up on your shoulders and reach higher than you ever could in ministry.

Vernon carried this lesson to the US when he was chosen as BMM’s Field Administrator for Africa and Europe in 1999. He was passionate about challenging missionaries to train their own Timothys so that the work of missions would continue in national hands. And he endlessly reminded missionaries to take care of themselves to avoid burnout and attrition. Dr. Gary Anderson, then BMM’s president, saw Vernon’s big-picture perspective and invited him to coordinate BMM’s Strategic Planning Initiative in 2004. Vernon passed along his lifetime of practical missions experience as he shaped BMM’s future.

In 2015, when BMM’s Elected Council sought a new president to replace retiring President Anderson, Vernon’s qualifications were just what they sought in this transitional time. Vernon was already 66 years old and had dealt with recurring cancer for the previous 13 years. The lure of resting from a lifetime of work was strong, but his life’s pattern was one of selfless service. The Lord had poured grace into him all his life, enabling him to do what he never thought possible. Vernon answered the call and brought new strength to BMM until his retirement on June 30, 2020.

We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Dr. Vernon Rosenau. With the wisdom of a seasoned leader, he strengthened the church not only in the CAR but also around the world. He demonstrated that sacrificial service is worth the cost and leaves behind “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17). His life lived by grace alone was a life that honored Jesus Christ, and it will remain as a model for generations to come.

Vernon is survived by his family, who were the most precious thing in his life: his wife, Jan; their children Julie, Sam (Landi), and Bill (Erica Kuczma); and eight grandchildren.

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