Missionary, disciple-maker Avery Willis dies from leukemia
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) -- After a nearly seven-month bout with leukemia, Avery Willis, former senior vice president for overseas operations of the International Mission Board (IMB) and author of the MasterLife discipleship series, died July 30. He was 76.
"My dad graduated to Glory early this morning, July 30," Willis' son, Randy, posted via Willis' Twitter account. "He died peacefully, without pain or anxiety."
Taking Jesus' command to "make disciples of all nations" seriously, Willis dedicated his life to winning people to faith in Christ and helping them mature in their relationships with God. In particular, he had a passion to reach oral learners—individuals who are illiterate or whose most effective communication comes through oral means—and served as executive director of the International Orality Network. Additionally, his MasterLife discipleship materials have greatly impacted Christians around the world.
"Southwestern Seminary has lost a dear friend and certainly a worldwide figure in missions and discipleship with the homegoing of Avery Willis," seminary president Paige Patterson said.
"Because of his discipleship materials, Avery would be as close to a household name among Southern Baptists as any other figure. A loss of a man like this would leave a crater in Southern Baptist life were it not for the fact that he has so effectively filled his own crater with the thousands that he has discipled. God bless you, Avery Willis. Enjoy heaven 'til we join you."
Willis earned a B.A. degree from Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, Okla., as well as master's and doctoral degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. After pastoring churches in Oklahoma and Texas for 10 years, he served as an international missionary to Indonesia for 14 years, including a role as president of the Indonesian Baptist Theological Seminary.
Upon his return to the United States, Willis led adult discipleship programs for LifeWay Christian Resources before serving on leadership with IMB. He retired in 2004 and continued to be involved in overseas missions through international trips as well as leadership on numerous missions organizations. In 2005, Oklahoma Baptist University established the Avery T. Willis Center for Global Outreach in his honor.
Willis is survived by his wife, Shirley; five grown children; 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A viewing will be held Aug. 2, from 5:00–7:30 p.m. at Bella Vista Baptist Church in Bella Vista, Ark. The funeral service will be Tuesday, Aug. 3, at 10:30 a.m., at Bella Vista Baptist Church.