From Suffolk to the World: Travelers from Suffolk have a mission

Published 7:14 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

By Tracy Agnew


Multiple times a year, people depart Suffolk and head to other places all over the world carrying the most precious of cargo — the good news of Jesus Christ.


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Many churches in Suffolk are active in sending short-, medium- and long-term missionaries to far-flung places. First Baptist Church on Main Street, where Senior Pastor Thurman Hayes is a trustee with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, is one of them.

As part of his IMB work, Hayes does a lot of international travel to visit and support missionaries. His work has connected him with missionaries serving Haiti, the Roma people, Ukrainian refugees, Pakistani refugees living in Thailand, people groups in the Middle East and North Africa, and many others.

For Hayes, the reasons for mission work are multifaceted but all stem from faith.

“It’s obedience to the Great Commission,” he said, noting that in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus told His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

“We believe the big story of the Bible is that people from every tribe and tongue would know Him,” Hayes said. “There’s so many people on this earth that have limited or no access to the Gospel. If our lives have truly been transformed by the love of Christ, it’s natural to want to share that.”

Hayes also treasures the relationships he builds through mission work.

“You find a way to love people practically, and that’s how you build relationships and become a bridge for the good news of the Gospel,” he said.

That sentiment is echoed by Mary Williams, a church member who with her husband, Ryan, and their three children, has been a big part of the church’s missions program. 

“The most rewarding thing is the relationships developed there in Haiti that are lifelong with people we now consider family,” Mary Williams said. “At the medical clinic, I may help them and ease their pain for a little while, but my hope is to allow them to hear about and see the love of Christ through what we do.”

As a nurse practitioner, Williams finds her gift in caring for the health needs of people. Her first trip, in 2012, was to Cambodia, and she has also taken one trip to Mexico, but she has been to Haiti multiple times since then. Many of her trips to Haiti have been in partnership with Supply & Multiply.

“The biggest needs are food and water,” Williams said. “But there’s no hospital. There’s no access to medical care. You’re not really treating the disease. You’re treating at the moment.”

Williams tries to buy all of her medical supplies in Haiti to support the local economy. When she holds medical clinics in Haiti, she can sometimes see upwards of 200 people before she has to end the clinic for the day.

“One lady brought her triplet newborn babies and walked about 2.5 miles up a mountain in the pouring rain to see me,” Williams recalled. 

She also described helping a surgeon open up an infected C-section wound in the middle of the night on a table with a cellphone for light. “There are lots of very heartbreaking things you can’t really explain unless you’re there.”

Williams’ husband, who runs Faith Farms, has helped people in Haiti learn how to grow their own crops, so the Williamses have a two-fold ministry of expertise. Son Casey helps with the agriculture component, and daughters Clair and Kendal help with medical clinics and also organize Bible clubs for children in Haiti.

“I would encourage anyone who has never been involved in missions to get involved, because it opens your eyes to a whole other world,” Mary Williams said.