September 5 will mark 30 years since former missionary to Nigeria Bill Cowley delivered the commissioning sermon at my home church, Mountain View Baptist in Phil Campbell.
The congregation under the leadership of Pastor Sammy Taylor commissioned me for a two-year missions stint serving the Caribbean through the International Mission Board.
Several churches in Franklin County Baptist Association came alongside Mountain View to support and encourage me in a variety of ways, including a commitment to pray for me.
Brother Sammy hung a banner over the baptistry — “Holding the ropes for Jennifer and the Caribbean” — to remind our church family to pray.
They remained connected and engaged throughout my two years on the missions field and built a bond that exists to this day — a connection that continues to give me confidence in following God’s call.
Dr. Cowley’s message during the commissioning service also resonated with me in a way that affirmed the step of faith I was about to take.
While I’m not sure I truly grasped the depth of his own missions experience, one particular phrase Dr. Cowley stated that September Sunday in 1993 has remained with me: “The safest place you can be is in the center of God’s will.”
I’ve restated it out loud to myself several times through the years, especially when I’ve found myself in uncomfortable or confusing situations.
It’s helped me regain my focus and recenter my heart when I’ve felt unsure and realized I needed to wait on the Lord.
Dr. Cowley’s words also have resurfaced in my mind when I’ve not understood exactly what God was doing even though I knew I was to be involved.
It was through my work at The Alabama Baptist where I learned how Dr. Cowley could state this truth about God’s protection with such confidence.
Bill and Audrey Cowley served as IMB missionaries for 23 years. They were assigned to Nigeria in 1955 to help start schools in anticipation of the nation’s independence in 1960.
They later risked their lives to help the Nigerians they served during a horrific genocide in September 1966 that ended with as many as 50,000 Igbo tribe members murdered. Their story is included in a documentary called “The Disturbances,” which was released by the Baptist Center for Ethics in 2016.
After returning to Alabama in 1977, Dr. Cowley began a 16-year tenure on the Samford religion and speech faculty.
Audrey served as campus minister at Jefferson State Community College and treasurer of national Woman’s Missionary Union. The Bill and Audrey Cowley MK Scholarship was named in their honor in 2014.
The two were married 66 years and beloved by countless people around the world. I’m honored to have crossed paths with them and their family.
Audrey died in December 2020 and Bill died in April 2023. A combined celebration of life service will be held July 22 (see details in photo cutline).