Donald R. Kammerdiener, a longtime missionary and administrator with the International Mission Board, SBC, died Jan. 23, 2019. He was 82.
Kammerdiener was especially known as the steady hand administering day-to-day operations of the International Mission Board under two presidents and stepping in to lead as interim president between the two, spanning a period from 1990 through 2001.
Kammerdiener and his late wife, Meredith, began their missions careers in 1962 in Colombia and later served in Argentina as he moved into leadership positions, first on the mission field in Latin America and later at the IMB’s home office in Richmond, Va.
“Don Kammerdiener is a legend in Southern Baptist missions,” IMB President Paul Chitwood said. “Leaders around the world consistently use words such as integrity, faithfulness, wisdom and role model to describe Dr. Kammerdiener’s reputation and his impact on their lives and work. And it is because of his unwavering commitment to his Lord’s work that the lives of countless people associated with the International Mission Board are richer for the privilege of knowing him and working alongside him.”
According to Jerry Rankin, IMB president emeritus, Kammerdiener was a respected administrator, “giving oversight to operations while others of us traveled the world and sought to mobilize Southern Baptists. When other administrators advocated idealistic visions and innovation, Don kept his feet on the ground with a pragmatic balance.”
“His humble and gracious style engendered respect and defused many tensions and conflicts,” Rankin noted. “He led and mentored as a servant and was largely responsible for my survival as president and any accomplishments attributed to me in the early years of my tenure.”
‘On my way
Kammerdiener’s passion for missions was born in boyhood during nine years in Royal Ambassadors, Southern Baptists’ mission organization for boys. His mother was his leader.
When he headed to Oklahoma Baptist University, Kammerdiener wrote what was then the Foreign Mission Board, saying, “I’m on my way.” He kept in touch at least once a year through college and then as one of the first students at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which opened in 1958.
He kept his word, serving with IMB almost 40 years.
In Colombia, Kammerdiener held such positions as pastor-director of the Christian Cultural Center in Cali, national coordinator for the Crusade of the Americas evangelistic campaign, field missionary in the Colombian department (state) of Valle, treasurer of the Colombia Baptist mission and trustee vice president of International Baptist Theological Seminary in Cali.
“If I would get out and witness to somebody, life became vibrant.”
As Kammerdiener found himself taking on administrative tasks, he says he quickly learned he would grow stale if he let those drown out more important things.
“But if I would get out and witness to somebody, life became vibrant again.”
During his first term in Argentina, a fellow missionary brought a man, a ditch digger for the city water department, to Kammerdiener’s Sunday School class.
He and Kammerdiener became fast friends and ministry partners and made a pact: anything the Argentine learned about the gospel he would teach Kammerdiener and anything Kammerdiener knew about Christian leadership he would teach his partner.
On Saturday mornings, the two took a 6 o’clock train to the town of Mercedes and went door-to-door praying with people and reading the Bible and witnessing to them. Kammerdiener said it brought meaning to his administrative duties.
In Argentina, Kammerdiener served as field representative, seen as a pastor to missionaries, in eastern Spanish-speaking South America from 1970 to 1980. He also directed evangelism and missions for the Argentine Baptist Convention and taught missions at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Buenos Aires.
Whatever his role, Kammerdiener quietly nurtured leaders, both Latin American and missionary. Ron Wilson, retired IMB staffer who started as a missionary in Latin America, has vivid memories of the way Kammerdiener guided by asking questions. “If you were going to do this over again, what would you do differently?” Kammerdiener would ask.” Or “You read this book? What did you learn from it?”
Kammerdiener was always open to talk with him, said Wilson, but he was also firm that Wilson make his own decisions and own them when he presented them to those he led. “Don’t hand your leadership over to me,” Kammerdiener told him.
Ron’s wife, Janice, remembers a time when she and Ron were young missionaries in the Dominican Republic. They were discouraged to report how little response they had seen. Kammerdiener responded by asking them to tell what their plans were, what they were trying to do. “If I can hear you’re making attempts and failing, I’m good with that,” said Kammerdiener. He would be concerned, he said, to hear they were not trying.
Kammerdiener later served as area director for Middle America and the Caribbean and then vice president for the Americas until 1990, when he assumed the role of executive vice president.
According to Tom Elliff, IMB president from 2011 to 2014, “Don Kammerdiener’s impact on the IMB is both considerable and enduring. Coupling wide experience on the field with his administrative gifts, Don helped shape much of what IMB is today. Don epitomizes the role of a missionary-statesman. His genteel nature never subdued his passion for the lost, nor did his dry sense of humor mask the fact that he is studied and well informed.”
Rankin, who served as president of the IMB from 1993 to 2010, recalled Kammerdiener as an integral component of his leadership team, calling him “one of the most competent mission leaders in a modern era of growth and change.”
Kammerdiener continued to serve as executive vice president of IMB until his retirement in 2001. A multipurpose auditorium complex at the IMB’s International Learning Center training center was named for Kammerdiener in 2002 as a testament to his legacy.
Before missionary appointment, Kammerdiener was pastor of churches in Richville, Okla., and Kansas City, and assistant pastor of a church in Independence, Mo.
He received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, and the Master of Divinity degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City. He received Oklahoma Baptist University’s Alumni Achievement Award in 1987 and the Joe L. Ingram School of Christian Service Award in 1986. He was named an Alumnus of the Year at Midwestern in 1982. Kammerdiener also received an honorary doctorate degree from OBU.
He is survived by five grown children: Carol, Joyce, Linda, Donny Jr., and Jon.
Read more about Dr. Kammerdiener’s legacy in this 2001 story on Baptist Press: IMB honors Kammerdiener
Mary Jane Welch is a contract writer for the International Mission Board. Russell Rankin also contributed to this story.