Mission of My Life
by Bobby Keith

My name is Robert “Bobby” Keith. I am retired from three different careers I truly believe I was led to all of them by my Savior, Jesus Christ. I hope in this story, I can tell you a few things about my third career, which turned out to be the most meaningful and the culmination of the other two.

I have given much thought to what I could say that would be helpful and possibly meaningful to others. I am now 81 years old, and while thinking about the past, I have been reminded of the many, many blessings I have received in life and of how faithful God has been to keep the promises He gives to those who choose to put their faith and their lives in His hands.

I feel that I was led to each career by God as I have tried to follow His guidance in my life. This dependence on God began as a 14-year-old finishing up my freshman year in high school. My younger sister and I were raised by a single mother. My parents divorced when I was 10 years old.

In the last few weeks of my freshman year, God sent me a case of the mumps. Mumps were common then, and the recommended approach for boys was to go to bed for a couple of weeks. This came at a very bad time for me, as we were nearing six-weeks and final exams. In addition, I had an English course project I had put off doing that was due at the end of the period.

My grades as a high school freshman were awful. A lot of Ds and a few Cs. This had not been the case in elementary school, as I had been able to get excellent grades with little-to-no studying or effort on my part. My high school had an excellent academic program, and my old habits of very little studying were not getting the job done. In fact, I’m ashamed to say that I had cheated on a few tests. I guess those were the subjects in which I received a C.

Suddenly, God made me very aware of the fact that I was about to fail several subjects. That would have meant repeating my freshman year. Several months earlier,
I had walked the aisle of Shades Crest Baptist Church and pronounced my faith in Jesus Christ, joined the Church and was baptized.

As a 14-year-old with the mumps, I suddenly realized I was about to fail my freshman year and seriously disappoint my mother and my God, I was really shaken. I cannot adequately describe the feeling of guilt that overcame me. It was overwhelming! Now, this awareness did not come from a loving, sacrificing mother who, apparently, still had confidence in me and only wanted me to get well, but from a loving God who was shaking me to the core. The only place I had to turn was in prayer to God. I prayed for forgiveness and direction. God gave me both.

I built my English project (a replica of Shakespeare’s home) while lying in bed with my mother and sister bringing me the materials when they were home from work and school. I also studied hard while in bed and managed to do well enough in all my exams, not failing any subject.

However, it did not end there. I spent the next three months with my grandparents in Miami. I spent the entire summer dedicating myself to God and was determined to follow His guidance. I remember watching several Billy Graham crusades on TV and praying to God on my knees.

I was, in fact, a different person, and I owed it all to God. From that point on, I finished my high school career on the A/B honor roll. I’m not that smart, but God had showed me that hard work can overcome a lot.

Years later, I graduated from Auburn with a Mechanical Engineering degree and married Donna Vanderver. Only God could have made that match. She was and is an angel on Earth. I started my first career in Huntsville working in the Saturn/Apollo Lunar Landing Program. This lasted seven years, and then I left Huntsville—more than a year after the first lunar landing.

Only with God’s help could a kid from Bluff Park, AL, have been involved in developing the guidance system that would help take man to the moon. More importantly, God blessed us with two daughters, Laurie and Susie, who have grown up to be godly women.

I had earned money for most of my college education working as a laborer for F.R. Hoar & Son Construction. With my mother’s help and some other part time jobs while in college, we were able to pay for my college education. I left Huntsville to rejoin my old company F.R. Hoar in a start-up role. I was hired to work there by one of the owners, V.C. Handy, who had been a deacon while I was a member at Shades Crest Baptist. God’s hand was still on me.

I spent my second career, and the next 30 years, at what became Hoar Construction. Again, God had His hand on me as my partners at Hoar were Christian men who tried to live their lives to please God. We never once had a serious argument nor fight but were always able to resolve our many problems amicably. The company is still guided by Christian principles.

My second career enabled me to retire early enough and to afford my third career, which was to focus on mission work. I was in my early 50s when a Christian friend and coworker, Jerry Cross, started talking to me about missions. He wanted me to join him in a church building project in Brazil. I trusted him as a friend and told him I would be glad to support the work financially but I did not see any reason for me to go.I had several sensible reasons for that decision, but my sensible reasons did not dissuade him. For the next three years he continued to insist that I go until finally, out of love for my friend, I told him I would go just to appease him and prove that I was right. God was working on me again.

It was during that 7-day trip that I realized my life was changing again, I just did not know how much. During that week, with only three other Americans, we worked in a very poor and dangerous favela in the suburbs of Brasilia. We witnessed, through an interpreter, to the young Brazilian man who was making the mortar for the church we were building. While we were there, he accepted the Lord. When he announced his belief in Jesus Christ, my third career began. I didn’t know how, but I was committed to missions. I had never felt closer to the Lord than while I was utterly dependent on Him for my safety, and only my ability to get things done in order to accomplish His will.

At that time, the Birmingham Baptist Association’s (BBA) Director of Missions was Pastor Earl Tew. Pastor Tew was very mission-minded and wanted to make a difference for God, which, I believe he did, in every aspect of his life. Dr. Tew formed a partnership with Baptists in Brazil to build churches in their poor communities (favelas), and, as the Iron Curtain fell, he formed a partnership with the IMB to build churches in Romania, a former Soviet Union communist country.

These partnerships led to 40+ churches being built by BBA partner churches in very poor neighborhoods in Brazil and over 140 churches in Romania by working with church groups from several states in the United States.

Mission work also led me to Dawson. I had known Ben Hale, Dawson's Evangelism & Missions Pastor, through his involvement in other missions work, and so Donna and
I decided to move our membership to Dawson due to their growing missions emphasis.

I had already been aware of Dawson’s mission work, which had sent a team to Romania. Debbie Moss, Dawson’s Health & Wellness Minister at that time, had spoken to my former church's mission group about their work in Sudan, and Dr. Gary Fenton, Dawson’s former Senior Pastor, had partnered with us in our work in Venezuela.

I prayed for the Lord to "enlarge my territory" like Jabez did in 1 Chronicles 4:10. I prayed this prayer after two or three trips to Brazil. Don’t pray for something you are not ready to receive! I’m convinced that prayer led me to Romania (Romania Chapel Project), Venezuela (Fundabrez), Honduras, Ukraine (LifeSong for Orphans), Spain, Sudan/South Sudan (Living Waters Community Transformation), World Changers/Metro Changers (BHM), and Carpenters for Christ (multiple states). I must admit that I got to the point that I thanked God for His answer and that I was overwhelmed. I hope that was in His will.

I cannot begin to tell you all the blessings I received from following God’s will in my life. I just wish I had followed it 100% of the time. When you are confident you are in His will, everything is easier. I felt a closeness to God like I had never felt before. When you are crossing a country like South Sudan on a dirt road, known for its violence including murder, you have no one else to trust but God. I will forever be grateful to my dear departed friend, Dudley Hindman, who, knowing the risk, accompanied me on that day-long trip. I know he is in Heaven with our Lord.

Sometimes I would be asked if my efforts were making a difference. Why go to South Sudan which has been mired in its own culture for generations? My response was that I was there because God sent me. As my friend Ben Hale often says, “We go because God tells us to go.” And really, that is enough. But I’m equally convinced that it always makes a difference, because I have personally witnessed the difference. For example, during a time of civil war, two elementary schools, a farm (partially watered with solar power), a community building used for worship, and a women’s ministry that touched hundreds all became a reality in South Sudan.

Also, it most certainly changed me. God’s train leaves the station every day. And every day, we believers have the opportunity to board or not! “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Bobby Keith is an Auburn University graduate in Mechanical Engineering. He is married to Donna Vanderver. They have two daughters (Laurie and Susie), five grandchildren related by blood and seven related by God’s providence for a total of 12, plus two great granddaughters. Bobby worked in the space industry then with Hoar Construction. He then spent around 20 years doing mission work, both foreign and domestic.