Were it not for grace
Published: February 15, 2016

A tribute to President Emeritus Gary Anderson

On December 31, 2015, Dr. Gary Anderson left his office for the last time as Baptist Mid-Missions’ president. He finished his task well, faithfully wrapping up 30 years of leadership with BMM marked by integrity, a deep respect for God’s Word, and a shepherd’s heart. Many stories of God’s goodness can be recounted from Dr. Anderson’s life. These stories may never have unfolded, however, were it not for grace.

A heritage of grace

The Lord stepped into the life of Gary’s great-grandfather, a well-known West Virginia bootlegger. By God’s amazing grace, he was born again late in life. Gary’s grandfather struggled with alcohol dependency until he received Christ in his early 70s. Before moving to Dellroy, Ohio, Gary’s parents made professions of faith as young adults, but they weren’t established in a sound church until 1962. In that year, Gary’s mother saw a flier for evangelistic meetings being held at Carrollton Baptist Temple. Although 13-year-old Gary and his older brother felt they had better things to do on that Saturday night, they attended with their whole family. The Holy Spirit moved in each family member old enough to understand, and they surrendered to Christ. Within two years, many of Gary’s aunts, uncles, and cousins also received Christ.

Gary surrendered to God’s call to full-time ministry when he was 16. After high school graduation in 1967, he enrolled in Bob Jones University, where he heard BMM missionary Bill Grant appeal for workers in Australia. At the conclusion, Gary told the Lord he was willing to be a missionary, if God chose. Also at BJU, Gary met his future wife, a North Carolinian named Barbara White. They married in 1972, planning to serve together in missions. God fulfilled that plan in a way neither could have anticipated.

Missions detour

In 1975, the year he received an MDiv from Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, Gary went on a mission trip to India. During that trip, he received a telegram that changed his life’s direction. Springville Baptist Church in Springville, Pennsylvania, extended to him an invitation to become their senior pastor. Although missions remained in his long-range plans, Gary sensed complete peace about accepting the church's call. He desired to follow God’s will—unexpected or planned.

The Andersons grew to deeply love the people and ministry at Springville Baptist. With Gary's passion for the Great Commission, the church forged a strong missions program. He also developed close relationships with several BMM missionary families. Although the Lord had redirected the Andersons from on-field missions, Gary was determined to uphold his church’s missionaries as fully as he could. During those years, the Lord blessed Gary and Barbara with three children: Tim, Stephen, and Joy.

At Springville, Gary’s leadership abilities grew, and his peers elected him to the Council of 10 for the Pennsylvania Association of Regular Baptist Churches. He also served as chairman of the board of trustees for Baptist Bible College & Seminary of Pennsylvania (BBC&S, now Summit University).

Called to the presidency

In the late 1980s, BMM’s governing board, the Elected Council, was searching for a successor to President Raymond Buck. Gary Anderson, who had joined BMM’s Advisory Council in 1985, received high recommendations from council members who served with him on the BBC&S board. As the search committee explored further, Gary rose to the top of the list. They valued his accomplishments and character, and they appreciated his love for BMM missionaries. In 1987, at age 38, Gary was selected as BMM’s executive vice president and served two years as chief operating officer under Dr. Buck before Gary's installation as president on November 14, 1989.

In the year Gary assumed the presidency, BBC&S bestowed on him an honorary doctorate of divinity, giving him the title he was known by throughout his presidency: Dr. Anderson.

Servant leadership

Dr. Anderson manifested servant leadership from the start of his tenure. Surrounded by administrative staff older than he, Dr. Anderson sat down with each of them, asking, “How can I help you do your job better?” Always willing to listen, he readily postponed what he was doing to meet others’ needs. He forged a sense of unity and trust that generated camaraderie in his staff. During his presidency, only twice did he fill administrative positions for reasons other than retirement. He also enjoyed great harmony with the BMM Elected Council, the Mission’s governors.

Dr. Anderson’s mindset throughout his tenure was to propel others forward and to keep himself out of the spotlight. When one of his field administrators, Dr. Gerald Webber, was called to the presidency of Continental Baptist Missions in 1991, he communicated to Dr. Anderson, “You showed me how to do this.” His model of leadership helped prepare Dr. Webber to accept the new position.

One of the challenges faced by any president of a nonprofit agency is fundraising. The global economy endured instability from wars, recessions, and job losses during Dr. Anderson's tenure. God, in his grace, provided the resources needed to keep BMM stable, and Dr. Anderson worked diligently to keep us in the black throughout his 26 years as president.

Baptist Mid-Missions expanded its worldwide reach under his administration. Nearly 20 new fields on five continents were added. As the Iron Curtain was dropping country by country across Europe, Dr. Anderson accompanied the late Dr. Alexander deChalandeau on his missionary expeditions to assist persecuted believers. Dr. Anderson’s vision to see us fill the spiritual vacuum in Eastern Europe became even more resolute. Today BMM missionaries continue to plant churches in former Communist countries such as Romania, Russia, and Slovakia. Europe has become BMM's fastest growing region in numbers of new missionaries.

Dr. Anderson demonstrated trust in BMM personnel to venture into new countries, create new types of ministries, and use new technology. That trust was also shown in the appointment of missionaries as on-field coordinators for continent-wide missionary teams. These coordinators have enhanced overall ministry by mobilizing representatives who can quickly and easily travel to missionaries in need.

Strategic leadership

Even from his early years, Dr. Anderson helped BMM more sharply define who we are so we could operate with greater focus and efficiency. Fifteen years ago, a deeper question began to fill his thoughts. How much more could BMM accomplish if we did it through formal, proactive strategy? In late 2003, he launched our first strategic planning initiative, which defined our core values and vision and also yielded the mission statement by which we operate: “The Baptist Mid-Missions family exists to strategically advance the building of Christ’s church, with His passion and for His glory, in vital partnership with Baptist churches worldwide.” The plan has helped us strive with unity toward common goals, and it is being renewed periodically.

Even while looking forward, Dr. Anderson never forgot BMM’s roots. Apart from the Bible, BMM’s history, Burning Wicks, was perhaps his most studied book. He drew from the wisdom of the past, applying it to the present so that Baptist Mid-Missions did not lose its way in a quickly changing world.

Endowed with empathy

An offshoot of BMM’s strategic plan that incorporated our past was the annual William C. Haas Lifetime Service awards, which Dr. Anderson developed. He sought to give honor to whom honor is due by recognizing missionaries with the same pioneering spirit as BMM’s founder, William Haas. Since 2008, at each July Annual Conference we have recognized two missionary singles or couples. The awards encapsulate the respect Dr. Anderson has for the BMM Family as a whole. Having surrendered to missions himself and seeing firsthand the pressures and sacrifices missionaries willingly accept, Dr. Anderson considers them heroes worthy of esteem. 

A student of God’s Word, Dr. Anderson recognized that, to lead an undertaking the size of Baptist Mid-Missions, he needed to abide in God’s wisdom. Through prayer and God’s Word, he guided BMM through seasons that were sometimes smooth and sometimes fiercely challenging. Through such times, he exercised wise leadership defined by patience, humility, and grace while taking a godly stand when necessary. Rev. Tom Townsend, president of BMM’s Elected Council during Dr. Anderson’s final year, said of his leadership, “He had the wonderful ability of making sure everyone felt like his or her opinion or position was important, yet he brought us to a consensus that recognized what was the best for the Mission.”

The position of a mission agency president naturally entails much travel. When people met Dr. Anderson and learned his title, they wanted to know all about his travels.  However, travel was simply a means to an end for him; the real thrill was interacting with the people of BMM. Dr. Anderson has been their biggest champions and has rejoiced and wept with them as if they were his own family. 

The joys of retirement

In order to minister to the BMM Family, one of the sacrifices he accepted as president was travel that took him away from Barbara and their children. Today, a blessing of Dr. Anderson’s retirement is greater freedom for Barbara and him to visit their children (all serving in Colorado pastorates) and their seven grandchildren. Tim and his wife, Stacie, serve at First Baptist Church in Springfield; Stephen and his wife, Joy, serve at Faith Baptist Church in Fowler; and Joy and her husband, Ryan Lundquist, serve at Mountain Shadows Baptist Church in Pueblo West.

Retirement won’t mean a separation from the ministry Dr. Anderson has long enjoyed. As president emeritus, he now represents BMM through speaking engagements around the country, and he welcomes those invitations. For the past several years, Dr. Anderson has shared the gospel at sportsmen’s banquets, another ministry close to his heart. An avid hunter, Dr. Anderson took up turkey call making more than ten years ago. His callmaking skills earned him prestigious national awards from the National Wild Turkey Federation. The notoriety generated by those awards has opened new avenues for Dr. Anderson to give his testimony of the grace of God that changes lives through Jesus Christ. Sharing the life-changing story of His grace is something he never plans to retire from.

God's amazing grace

Grace has been intertwined not only with Dr. Anderson’s ministry but also with his entire life. In his November 2014 Family Letter newsletter to the BMM Family, Dr. Anderson wrote that he had become “determined to plumb the depths of grace.” Through Dr. Anderson’s studies in Romans, he discovered the treasure of a richer understanding of God’s unreimbursed, unrecompensed favor. In his last weeks as president, when asked about specific ways he has seen that grace in his ministry, Dr. Anderson responded with honesty and with a heart of gratitude to his Savior: “I can’t find a thing in my life or ministry that isn’t obviously attributed to God’s grace. Looking into my ancestry, humanly speaking the indicators predicting the direction my family would take two or three generations down the line—starting from a great-grandfather who was a notorious bootlegger—there’s nothing in any of that which would point to the experience of seeing my family and my extended family come to Christ, my brother and myself called to ministry, and now Barbara and I enjoying having all three children in ministry. I can’t look at any part of my life and ministry without thinking in terms of grace.”