As a young pastor, Russ Bare says that he was a “cocky, banty rooster type guy and, in my limited vision, I was convinced that I would be the next Billy Graham or W. A. Criswell.” He says he was a gifted preacher. “That’s how God gifted me and I was enjoying it. I had no intention of leaving my church.” Russ would never have dreamed that God was preparing him and his family to spend the next twenty years as missionaries in South America.
Pastor Russ was a volunteer for the part time Director of Missions in their association. He says, “I was the ‘new work starter, encourager.’ We had started a new mission church out of our church, which is now the largest church in that association.” So, Russ already had a heart for missions. God was at work.
This particular year, Russ attended the Northwest Baptist Convention, where friend, Jim Edwards, was in charge of the Baptist Book Store booth. Russ had read a small book by Henry Blackaby, What the Spirit Is Saying to the Churches, about church growth and planned on getting more copies. Jim did not have that particular book, but recommended Blackaby’s Experiencing God study. Russ purchased two and he and his wife began the study together. God pulled their hearts to the mission field through this study.
Russ says that the best thing that ever happened to him in ministry, aside from accepting Christ, was language school. Being a bit cocky and self-reliant, “the way many of us preachers tend to be, I thought Spanish couldn’t be that difficult to learn. I had done well in seminary and Greek classes. But it was the hardest thing I have ever done – trying to learn a language and be able to speak it.”
Then, God stepped in and put this young preacher’s feet on the ground. The language school was in Costa Rica. A friend and Greek professor at the seminary, Dr. Roy Cooper, asked Russ to stand in for him at a small mission church he had started. Dr. Cooper and his wife were going out of town and Russ was to preach at the church while they were gone. He said to Russ, “If you could just share something about sharing your faith, that would be good.”
This struck fear into Russ’ heart, as he was only in the first semester of language school. “I fell on my face before God, poured out my heart to Him and said, ‘Lord, I can’t do this. I can’t even speak as a five-year-old in Spanish yet.’ (Seems like I remember that Moses had some of the same excuses!). ‘If anything is going to happen that will benefit these people at all, you will have to do it.’ Then, that still, small voice shouted in my ear, ‘Russ, it’s always that way.’”
Russ knows that God is not necessarily concerned about His people being comfortable in ministry. He says, “I have learned that the most comfortable place for me in ministry is to be so in-over-my-head that I know I can’t do it. When you are in that kind of position and you are dependent on God, you see what He can do.”
Currently, the Bares are back in the States and residing in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. They are waiting on God’s next assignment for them. Their hearts remain strong for the mission field in South America and they desire to return, but God, so far, has other plans. Russ believes, “God has something He needs to teach us in the meantime. I’ve been to God’s school and His seminary. He’s not done yet and I’m still learning. There’s no graduation until we get to glory.” Russ preaches as he gets opportunity and he and his wife are mentoring a young adult group at their church.
When new leadership came to the International Mission Board, it was evident that changes were to be made. The missionaries were encouraged to view an online town hall meeting for information. The Bare family did not have a chance to watch it and received an email the next day from the leadership. Russ read it and was very surprised by the changes that were encouraged. All the missionaries were asked to pray about what their involvement in God’s Kingdom’s work was to be, and consider “voluntary retirement incentives.” Russ says that they were not coerced, but to simply consider and pray about their future.
After Russ and his wife prayed and sought God’s will, they were convinced that it was time for them to leave the mission field, at least temporarily. For the last few years before this decision, Russ had been a supervisor for missionary teams in Ecuador and Peru. “These teams were well trained, in place and engaging the unreached and hardest to get to people in very remote areas of South America.” Having confidence in his teams that he had trained helped Russ make this important decision.
Their decision was not, of course, taken lightly. Russ was doing what he absolutely loves to do. He had administrative responsibilities as he oversaw the teams of missionaries in Peru and Ecuador. These included filling budget requests and keeping everyone within budget, ministry accountability reports, working through various problems, training for the teams and visiting the teams in the field and encouraging, training and helping.
To visit these teams was not a small undertaking. We who drive the freeways in America get frustrated with the traffic jams, crazy drivers and construction slowdowns. But consider Russ’ trip to visit one of his missionary couples:
. Fly to Lima, Peru
. From there fly to a jungle city
. From there drive two days over the Andes mountains to a small town
. Then a nine-hour boat trip up river to the community where the missionary couple lives
There are no roads and the community generator runs for a few hours each day. There is no electricity at night. (I would say that we are blessed to have the traffic jams!)
Russ is very appreciative to God for his career. He says, “I’ve had the privilege to be on the front lines and see these couples living among these people groups.” One couple lived on the coast and worked with the Afro-Ecuadorian people. “They lived in two shacks for three years in a fishing village, because that is where they need to be.” Russ’ spirit bows to these heroes of the faith that he is so connected with.
It is my great privilege and blessing to have met and interviewed Russ Bare. In my next post, I would like to share more of his story. We will see some of his team members, how they live and minister as well as many wonderful things that God has done and continues to do.