Our award for the missionary of the year goes to a man who was born to military parents - both mother and father served in the U.S.Army. Our recipient this year was born at Fort Benning Military Hospital in Georgia as a result. He actually grew up, however, in Eden, North Carolina. There he attended Emmanuel Baptist Church and made a decision to accept Christ as a child with the help of his Sunday School teacher.
While in junior high school his father answered the call to missions work in the country of Brazil. Visas were hard to come by in the late seventies and the family waited for several years to be approved. Each year our candidate remembers telling friends he was going to Brazil soon, and each year he was back for classes in the fall until at the age of fifteen he finally moved with his family to Fortaleza, Brazil.
As his mother and father went to begin language study, our man and his sister started classes at Fortaleza Academy in late October of 1979. Our missionary of the year traveled extensively around Northeast Brazil and into the Amazon region often making trips on his own with limited language capabilities. At one point his father hired another MK who had grown up in Brazil to give private Portuguese lessons to our man. Our recipient was a good student and learned quickly with good grammar skills and accent.
After graduation from the missionary school, he returned to the States and entered school at what was then Piedmont Bible College. Money was tight and our award winner remembers when other students praying for checks to come in the mail to help with tuition. He would pray and get slips about job opportunities in his mail box. And many jobs he did have during his Piedmont days including working maintenance around the college and even some at Salem Baptist, working in the college cafeteria, at Wachovia Bank downtown at night in the loan department, and later at Sears Automotive Center for several years.
While still in school, our award winner, married his wife who had been well advised that someday he would be heading back to Brazil and that he only intended to marry someone with the same interests. That was in May of 1987.
Mr. Missionary took the complete aviation mechanics course at the old M.A.I. and also completed degree in Automotive mechanics from Forsyth Technical College before graduating from Piedmont in 1991.
That same year he and his wife began looking to go to the mission field of Brazil. They were on deputation for three years finally arriving on the field in 1994 with not much support, a few suitcases and lots of ambition. Their mission board allowed them to go without that 100% everyone needs because there was a desperate immediate need for teachers at Fortaleza Academy. The deal was that this young couple could stay for one year if their money held out and from there things would be reevaluated.
They stayed for four complete years and came back to the States with language school completed, a congregation underway, and two boys in tow... the rest is history. Our candidate for missionary of the year has now been on the field for twenty plus years in a variety of ministries and still has about the same support as he went out with in 1994. He is often quoted as saying that he just uses whatever the Lord provides. You couldn't find a more honest, down to earth missionary on the planet.
Our hats are off today for Byron William Atha, II!