By Kathryn Moore
Amid the hustle and bustle of campus life, missionary families from around the world find time for rest and renewal as a part of the campus Missionary-in-Residence Program.
The program, sponsored by the Office of Spiritual Life, is designed to provide a temporary home for international missionaries serving on stateside assignment. The program also promotes awareness of global missions to Union’s campus and surrounding church communities.
Dwight and Gloria Fern, longtime friends of Union University, are spending a year-long furlough away from the international mission field as part of the program.
Before they were married 33 years ago, the Ferns knew they each were called to the international mission field. Dwight Fern grew up immersed in urban Atlanta culture, and while working as a teacher and coach at a high school, he felt God calling him, saying, “I want you to do more than this.”
As a teenager, Gloria Fern told God she could never be a missionary. Through various circumstances, she came to accept God’s calling for her life.
“It was the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon,” she said of the date, July 21, 1969. “I walked outside, stared at the moon and surrendered to God’s call. If Neil Armstrong could walk on the moon, I could spend time walking in another culture.”
The couple served as church planters in Houston for seven years before they were sent to work with Hindus and Muslims in the island nation of Fiji in 1988. Then, in 1992, the Ferns were transplanted in Manila.
The couple has spent the last 22 years in the Filipino city working as part of a church mobilization movement with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
Dwight Fern mentors young, urban pastors in the city through Training for Trainers, or T4T, a program also used by Southern Baptist missionaries in China and elsewhere. Gloria Fern, a former nurse, helps with out-of-school training and medical clinics while also homeschooling the couple’s six children.
After much prayer, the Ferns decided to take a year-long furlough from their home in Manila to take part in the MIR program. Union is a place with which they are familiar because all of their children attended or are attending the university.
“Union has been such a blessing to our family,” Gloria Fern said. “We love being around the students and encouraging them in their walks with Christ.”
The Ferns live on campus in the Warmath apartments, which allows them to fully integrate into campus and community life. Although one MIR family is typically serving on campus at any given time, two families live on campus this year.
The other family, missionaries to a majority-Muslim country, is also spending its furlough in the Warmath apartments.
The Ferns said they especially love getting to spend time with their son Josh, a junior nursing major, and daughter Grace, a freshman nursing major and women’s basketball player. Their other four children and their families live close by.
“One of the first things we did when we got here was take a family photo,” Gloria Fern said. “All of us hadn’t been together since 2007. Dwight had not even met three of our grandchildren yet.”
The Ferns take part in campus events such as GO Week and athletic events. They meet regularly with students to answer questions about international missions and the struggles of raising a family overseas.
They also fulfill many speaking requests from churches statewide.
The couple plans to return to their home in the Philippines after their leave of absence. However, they understand God’s plans may change.
“We just need to reconnect with people in this culture and to be supportive to our family on this side of the world,” Gloria Fern said.