Southern Baptist Missions Prayer Pioneer, Catherine Walker, Dies at 100

Catherine Walker IMB Photo
Catherine Walker
IMB Photo

Southern Baptist missions pioneer Catherine Walker, age 100, who influenced generations of missionaries and Christian workers in Asia before launching IMB’s global prayer strategy effort in the 1980s, died Jan. 7 in Richmond, Va.

Walker, a Georgia native, first went to China as a Southern Baptist missionary in 1946, before communist rule forced Western missionaries out. She stayed as long as she could — and longer than many dared — before moving on to Indonesia. She became one of the first faculty members of the infant Indonesian Baptist Theological Seminary in Semarang, which she helped to start in 1954.

She taught there 26 years, encouraging students to try creative ways to spread the Gospel and multiply churches as Indonesian Baptists increasingly took over responsibility from missionaries for church growth and evangelism. She wrote several influential books, including “Bible Workbook: Old Testament” (1943), which has been translated into more than 50 languages, and, years later, “Disciple’s Prayer Life: Walking in Fellowship with God” (1997, with T.W. Hunt).

She also mentored several future IMB presidents who started out as Indonesia missionaries.

“Catherine Walker is one of the first persons to come to mind if I were asked to name significant mentors in my life and missionary career,” said Jerry Rankin, who led IMB from 1993 to 2010. “She was one of those who ‘adopted’ us when we arrived in Indonesia and took a personal interest in nurturing us in cultural, spiritual and missiological insights. She was a pioneer, if not revolutionary, in mission strategy, having a significant influence in leading the Indonesian mission to an indigenous, house-church approach to church planting and creating a network of theological education by extension rather than the Western model of an institutional seminary.”

R. Keith Parks, Rankin’s predecessor as IMB president (1980-93), was another longtime Indonesia colleague of Walker, who encouraged him and his wife Helen Jean as young missionaries. Three months after Walker retired from missionary service in late 1980, Parks invited her to join the mission board’s home office staff to focus on mobilizing Southern Baptists to pray more strategically for missions. Until her second retirement in 1985, she led the new office of IMB prayer strategy as Parks’ special assistant for intercessory prayer.

“She came to be a trusted adviser to us, and one of the strongest spiritual influences in our lives,” Parks recalled. “I told her that [the prayer strategy job] was a very simple assignment: All she had to do was to get specific prayer requests from the missionaries, share the requests with Southern Baptists, find out how God answered the requests and inform those who had prayed.”

“I feel she set a model that has been a blessing all over the world to those who sent requests as well as those who prayed for them,” Parks said. “She was instrumental in initiating prayer for unreached people groups, which at the time were unknown to most Christians. It was amazing how groups like the Kurds and Kazaks suddenly became well known. Only the Lord knows the full extent and impact of her life. We know that she was very special to us.”

Walker initially hesitated to take on the “simple assignment” of global prayer mobilization. But she decided God was telling her to do it, so she obeyed.

“I never would hold up my prayer life as a model,” she said at the time. “But I’m not concerned about my capabilities. I’ve found God uses a person as he is.”

Today, IMB’s ongoing prayer strategy — using digital media and other means Walker never dreamed of — mobilizes thousands of praying believers who “go to the nations” on their knees.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Erich Bridges