A few months after my husband died last year, I went on a mission trip he was scheduled to take to the Dominican Republic. It is a very special place to both of us. We led numerous teams there to help local churches reach the people in their communities with the gospel.
This was the hardest trip I’ve ever taken. The people Keith had worked with there were grieving his death, as I was and still am. Even after decades of marriage, I hadn’t fully realized the deep impact he had on other people. Keith was a simple man, but he was so authentic in his relationships. Like a dad or a big brother, he often represented strength to the people around him.
Walking through a Dominican village on that trip, a lady stopped me and grabbed my hands. “Keith,” she said to me. “I was his best friend.”
Over and over, I met with people in that country who felt the same way about him. I had gone to the DR to see people we love and to get some kind of closure. What I experienced there showed me Keith had been aware that his investment in the place was only as valuable as his willingness to prepare the people to take responsibility for their mission field.
He didn’t help create ministry so he could run it during a couple of trips overseas every year. He intentionally invested in leaders there. His friend Ramon Ortiz is one example. Over the years, Keith brought volunteers to help Pastor Ortiz’s church host Vacation Bible School and train adults to share their faith. He encouraged the Dominican church toward their own missions strategy—to reach their country and others. Our church in Raymond took a vision trip to Mexico, with the intent that we would return with a team from Pastor Ortiz’s church.
Keith’s legacy is evident in the DR. Pastor Ortiz’s church is preparing to dedicate a new building. There are dozens of families involved in the ministry there and committed to seeing their fellow countrymen come to know Christ. Here in Illinois, many of the people and churches Keith took to the DR are still going. They’ve developed long-term partnerships because of the missions potential he saw and shared with them.
I don’t know exactly what my role will be in continuing Keith’s work in the Dominican Republic. Much of what he worked toward is already continuing through leaders there. But I did come away from my trip reminded of this part of Keith’s legacy: he knew it wasn’t about him. All the effort he put in would have been wasted without the intent to turn the ministry over to the people best positioned to do it. He also spent much of his time investing in them personally.
There are connections to be made to our work here, as local church leaders are called “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). May we be the kind of leaders who are called “friend” by the people we lead, and whose legacy is that we knew it was never about us.
Carmen Halsey is director of leadership development with IBSA. Keith pastored Raymond Baptist Church from 2014 to 2019.