Arkansas Woman Makes Missions Her Driving Force Amid Life’s Highs & Lows

Among Diana Lewis’ many ministry outlets is making quilts embellished with Scripture passages for friends and acquaintances coping with grief or illness. Photo by Pam Henderson/WMU

Missions has been pivotal to Diana Lewis’ life for almost as long as she can remember.

As a member of Girls Auxiliary (now Girls in Action) during her grade school years, she recalls the life-changing influence of Muriel Smith, her GA leader at Elmdale Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark.

Missions has been pivotal to Diana Lewis’ life for almost as long as she can remember.

As a member of Girls Auxiliary (now Girls in Action) during her grade school years, she recalls the life-changing influence of Muriel Smith, her GA leader at Elmdale Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark.

“She’s in heaven now, but she was a real blessing in my life,” Lewis reflected. “As a girl studying about missions, we didn’t just sit in a room and learn about what missionaries do somewhere else … but she took us to do missions.”

Recounting those childhood memories with vivid detail, Lewis said, “The most outstanding one of those adventures, in my mind, was a Christmas when I was maybe 9 or 10. We went to take Christmas to a single mom and her children who lived in an old chicken house with holes in the wall.

“And we didn’t just go drop off food and gifts at the door. We went in and spent time with the family and helped the kids decorate a tree and just spent quite a bit of time with them. I never forgot that experience,” she said.

“I’m grateful that I had that experience as a girl because I really believe that’s where God began to speak to my heart about at least one of the calls He would have on my life to help people who live in poverty.”

The impact of obedience

Following those formative years, Lewis continued to sense a call to missions as a teenager. She went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., with majors in sociology and religious education followed by a master of religious education degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

Affirming the impact of obedience to God, she said, “I’m so thankful that God led me to Louisville because that’s where I met my husband. He was from North Carolina and I was from Arkansas. I don’t know that we would have met otherwise.”

While in seminary, she and her future husband, John, both spent the summer of 1977 working in New Orleans. “I went to work at Baptist Friendship House in downtown New Orleans and he went to get a unit of clinical pastoral education at Baptist Hospital.

“We actually started dating in New Orleans — cheap dates,” she recalled fondly. “We would get on the streetcar and ride it to the end of the line and then ride it back, so that’s where we dated and fell in love. Then we both went back and finished our last year of seminary and then we got married in Louisville a week after we graduated.”

Over the years, John served as a pastor of churches in Arkansas and Tennessee. They later moved back to Arkansas where he served as a chaplain at the Alexander Youth Services Center and at McClellan Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Little Rock.

Diana’s work and ministry experiences ranged from her role as a pastor’s wife and Acteens leader to being a home health social worker and working with Northwest Arkansas Head Start. She then served 20-plus years in community ministries with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and North American Mission Board.

Serving people in poverty

She and two pastors from Central Baptist Association first delivered food to the community 30 years ago after the area was flooded by heavy rains. Over the years, ministry efforts have included planting and building a church; hosting Backyard Bible Clubs and after-school tutoring; leading women’s Bible studies; baptizing people in horse troughs; and providing residents with clothing and food.

Noting that the women’s Bible study group “raised the first wall of the church building,” Lewis added, “I probably learned more than those women ever learned from me — just their strength, their endurance, their love of the Lord when they have nothing materially.”

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Source: Baptist Press