NORMAN, Okla. (ABP) – Nearly 20 years after their appointment as the first missionary couple of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, T and Kathie Thomas are returning to France, where they formerly worked as longtime Southern Baptist missionaries.
If his visa is approved on time, T Thomas plans to become pastor of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Argenteuil, a suburb of Paris, the first Sunday in October. He steps down at the end of this month as coordinator of the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma.
Thomas, 62, said he and Kathie have long thought about returning to France after they retire, but recently the French Baptist Union contacted him about a church in need of a pastor. He visited in June and wound up being called as pastor.
In 1992 the couple resigned after 17 years as missionaries employed by the Southern Baptist Convention Foreign Mission Board to protest the board of trustees’ defunding of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Ruschlikon, Switzerland. They didn’t know it at the time, but the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group formed in 1991 after failing to halt an SBC takeover by conservatives, had decided to launch its own missions program with an offer to support missionaries expected to resign from the FMB.
They were introduced at the CBF 1992 General Assembly as two of the first four “missioners,” as they were briefly called, along with John David and Jo Ann Hopper, at the time president and first lady of the Swiss seminary that since has relocated to Prague.
The Thomases, who after serving in Burkina Faso and France became the first Southern Baptist missionaries to Romania, returned to Europe under CBF appointment to work with the Romani people, also known as Gypsies, in Europe, India, the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2000 T became coordinator for mission for the CBF of Florida. In January 2004 he became coordinator of Oklahoma CBF.
In 2005 he and one of his daughters co-founded His Nets, a non-profit organization that fights malaria through the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets in Africa. Recently His Nets, a primary mission partner of Oklahoma CBF, passed the 100,000-net milestone. Thomas said the His Nets board has asked him to stay on as director while they look at longer term options for keeping the ministry alive.
Thomas said the French Baptist Union has a shortage of preachers. A church in Marseilles recently found a pastor after searching for one for five years. “It’s a huge problem over there,” he said.
Thomas said he and Kathie weren’t looking to move, but the opportunity to return to France is “kind of like going home.” He plans to go alone at first while his wife, who serves CBF Oklahoma as finance and communications director, wraps things up in Oklahoma.
Thomas said he is glad to have been a part of the CBF’s history, because it now provides a spiritual home for his children’s generation. He said his hope for the organization’s future is that it will keep its main focus on missions, which he believes is important even to younger Baptists.
“It’s not going to be easy for us to say goodbye to CBF,” Thomas said, but “not everybody gets to have so much fun” in the waning years of their ministry.