A conversation with Vernon Rosenau
Published: February 15, 2016

On January 1, 2016, Rev. Vernon Rosenau began his tenure as Baptist Mid-Missions’ fourth full-time president, succeeding Dr. Gary Anderson. The Lord has given us a new leader who can build upon our strengths and create a strong future.

Vernon’s roots run deep in Baptist Mid-Missions: His grandparents served on BMM’s first missionary team in what is today Central African Republic (CAR). Vernon was the third generation of his family to serve in CAR, where he and his wife, Jan, spent 24 years. In 1999, they were called to BMM’s Home Office, where Vernon served as field administrator for Africa and Europe until his call to the presidency. Vernon and Jan have three adult children: Julie, Bill, and Sam.

Get to know our new president as he shares his heart for Baptist Mid-Missions and his passion for the Great Commission.


 

In your lifetime association with Baptist Mid-Missions, what have you most appreciated about this organization?

VR: At its core, Baptist Mid-Missions values the development of national leadership and the national church; it’s part of our DNA. In the 1920s, the first evangelist trained by my grandfather, Ferd Rosenau, could not read or write, so my grandfather orally taught him Bible verses and theology. Today, we have leaders like Dr. Rene Malipou, an African with undergraduate and graduate degrees in French and a doctorate in English from the US. He is the codirector of a graduate-level theological seminary in CAR, and I’ve invited him to be the speaker at my installation service. We have national leaders like Dr. Malipou all over the world.

I also appreciate that BMM works very hard in the arena of finances, both in managing ourselves corporately and in helping our missionaries meet legal requirements, stay transparent, and stay debt-free. I’m taking over the presidency with no fears of our fiscal behavior or of us going over the cliff financially. We’re working hard to do the right things.


 

What have you observed as Baptist Mid-Missions’ greatest strengths?

VR: We can look around the globe to any of our established fields and see that we’ve left behind a national church that’s functioning autonomously and yet still working in partnership with us. That’s good missiologically: You raise up Timothys and let them move ahead and take the lead, but you never divest yourself of the ministry relationship with them. We have the capacity to say to beginning missionary couples and singles, “You’ll work both with veteran missionaries and at the same time with veteran national ministry personnel who will teach you what you need to know as you start out in your first term.”

Another strength is that, with our experience and infrastructure as an agency, we could probably help anybody serve anywhere they feel God is calling them. Now, we won’t send anyone just anywhere—requests need to be carefully evaluated, and we have a screening process that helps place qualified people where they will be effective—but our strength is that we can figure out how to do it because of our experience. We have a solid understanding of how to deal with legal issues such as residency and taxation, how to handle emergencies and medical and political evacuations, and how to manage many other situations a missionary might face.


 

What has God taught you that will undergird your leadership?

VR: Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40 that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This may seem terribly simplistic, but ministry should center on loving God and loving people. In the business of daily ministry, it is easy to lose sight of those two commands. We must keep the main thing the main thing: God and people. All other things, which we spend so much time on, are just tools to serve Him and others. 

I’ve learned that leaders must be lifetime learners. They always ask the questions, “Why?” and “Why not?”  If they do not, they will settle into a “same old, same old” routine. My missionary grandfather said, “Doctrine is never changing; methodology is ever changing.” He made this comment back in the 1930s or 1940s in a discussion as to whether a missionary should have an IcyBall [early form of a refrigerator] or whether that was an extravagance. He was of the opinion that if his wife, Ina, could better serve the ministry with a refrigerator, then she should have one.

Good leaders find people of character, equip them to do the ministry, and then release them to do the ministry for which God prepared them. God graciously allows us to partner with Him in their preparation. They are His servants and He will be their sufficiency. Equip good people and get out of their way. 

If you are in leadership, you need to stop every now and then, turn around, and make sure that people are following. If they are not, go to the Lord and seek His face as to the reason for the problem. Self could be in the way. As a leader, always be ready and able to say: “Thank you” or “I made a mistake” or “I am sorry” or “Please forgive me.”


 

As you begin your presidency, what vision for BMM has God placed upon you?

VR: I would like to see BMM utilize our experienced, educated, godly missionary force in a greater and greater manner within BMM. Dr. Anderson initiated strategic planning for us in 2004. It was stellar for him to pursue that process with a room full of field missionaries involved. I want to see more field missionaries offering their experience to help us craft what BMM does and who we are.

I also see the importance of an organization to be cognizant of changes in our world.

It’s important to be a student of your world at large, as it was with “the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do”  I Chr. 12:32.  As a leader, I ask the Lord to make me a son of Issachar and surround me with men and women who think like the sons of Issachar. It is possible to become so involved with daily ministry that we lose track of the times. Then, as has been so aptly said, “We are at risk of answering the questions that no one is asking.”


 

Building on that thought, how do you view the future of missions?

VR: The face of global missions is changing, without a doubt. We have gone from a climate in the post-WWII years where North America had great influence and strong funding of world missions to today’s landscape of fewer American missionaries and fewer American missions dollars. Many factors have contributed to the complexity of this issue. As I assess these changes, I love it that we have a French mission board started by missionaries but governed by trained French leaders. I love it that pastors in Côte d’Ivoire are asking us how they can start a mission board to reach Muslims living north of them. I like that discussion, because it’s part of the future of missions. With our expertise and knowledge, we can help the church launch global ministry efforts that continue as partnerships with them.


 

As a field administrator, you initiated enrichment conferences for our missionary family. Why has member care become so important to you?

VR: If you look at the numbers of missionaries who have failed in ministry due to emotional, physical, or family breakdowns, they vastly exceed the number of theological failures. Issues such as war, residency permits, or economies are not what are taking people out of missions. What’s taking them out is what I call “not tending the garden of their own heart.” Member care is very important, because it provides tools for missionaries to care for themselves and their families.

I don’t know that I want a Member Care Czar in the BMM Home Office as much as I want multiple missionaries who are passionate about member care, and whom we can help gain training in this area so they can take that information to their coworkers on their own fields.


 

If you could look into the future, what would you most like to leave behind as your contribution to Baptist Mid-Missions?

VR: I want BMM to become an organization to which people are drawn, especially young people, and to have them say, “I want to be part of this.” I want to communicate with this generation, to challenge them that Baptist Mid-Missions is a great doorway to world missions.

Photo: Vernon with Rene and Henriette Malipou (at right) and their coworkers. During his years as a missionary, Vernon mentored Rene, who is now the codirector of the FIBAT theological seminary in Central African Republic.