Faye Pearson, first woman to serve as IMB area director, dies

Faye Pearson

Faye Pearson, the first woman to serve as an area director for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, died Feb. 20, 2019, following a long illness. She was 78.

Pearson started her career in the early 1960s as many women did then — working as a secretary, a teacher, a church education director. But how things had changed by 1993, when the world’s largest evangelical missions organization elected her to lead their work in East Asia.

In that role, Pearson supervised the work of approximately 450 missionaries relating to nine countries.

“Faye was a leader who cared greatly about the missionaries whom she led as well as the lost millions with whom they were seeking to share the gospel,” said Clyde Meador, IMB’s interim executive vice president. “She was both firm and gentle in making difficult decisions, and in communicating those decisions to those who were affected by them.”

During the four years they both served as area directors in different parts of Asia, he said, they shared a workspace whenever they were at the IMB’s home office in Richmond. “She was a wise and helpful person with whom to share challenges in our leadership responsibilities,” he said. “I came to know her as a committed servant of the Lord — a student of missions deeply devoted to seeing the Great Commission carried to every part of East Asia and its peoples, whom she greatly loved.  She was a joy and an encouragement to all of us who worked with her.”

“Faye Pearson is remembered at the IMB with much love and respect,” said IMB President Paul Chitwood. “She clearly was passionate about serving her Savior, working across the SBC in roles with churches, state conventions, Woman’s Missionary Union, the Home Mission Board, and the Foreign Mission Board. She exhibited the gifts God gave her by nurturing relationships and modeling servant leadership. We thank God that so many fellow believers around the world had the blessing of working alongside Faye.”

Pearson felt God’s call at age 12 to be a missionary. Sixteen years later, in October 1968, she was appointed a missionary to Taiwan by what was then the Foreign Mission Board. While in language school in Taiwan from 1969 to 1971, Pearson taught English Bible classes, worked with children, and was involved in student ministries in Taipei. For the next nine years, she did student ministry in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, relating to students from Jung Shan University, Kaohsiung Medical School, Normal University, and four junior colleges.

Pearson then served a year as administrator of the Taiwan Baptist mission. She also was religious education department head and religious education teacher at the Taiwan Baptist Theological Seminary in Taipei from 1982 to 1988, having served earlier as a part-time professor there.

‘Fond memories’

Pearson became associate to the area director for East Asia in 1988 and held that position, along with serving as IMB’s East Asia cross-cultural resource specialist until 1993, when she was elected area director. After retiring in 1998, Pearson taught at Nanjing (China) Theological Seminary for five years. Then she returned to the Taiwan seminary to assist in writing curriculum for a newly established missions department and to direct the ministry of the World Mission Center.

Faye Pearson

Faye Pearson speaks at an “Experiencing God” conference in the mid-1990s in East Asia, where she was named area director in 1993. She was the first, and only, woman elected to serve as an area director with the International Mission Board, SBC. (IMB Photo)

“Not only was Faye my supervisor as she served as area director for East Asia, but she was my friend for 30 years,” said Gayle Stanley, executive assistant to the IMB president. “Faye taught me the true meaning of friendship and how to love and care for our missionaries. I will always remember how much she knew about the personnel of East Asia, how she enjoyed times in their homes with their families, and how she stood beside them in times rejoicing and times of hurt. In her later years, the love that Faye had for others was returned by missionaries and Asian friends as they served as her caregivers for many, many months.”

Pearson’s work in Taiwan with students considering their place in world missions — and the questions they asked — caused her to write the book, A Link In God’s Chain: Fond Memories. In it, she told the stories of 30 of the missionaries who had served in Taiwan between 1952 and 1976.

A native of Laurel, Miss., Pearson earned the Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from McNeese State University, Lake Charles, La., and the Master of Religious Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. She did advanced studies in missiology at Fuller Seminary, Pasadena, Calif., and received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary, headquartered in Baguio City, Philippines.

Before her appointment, Pearson was education director for University Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Ark.; held secretarial positions at McNeese State; and taught elementary school in Lake Charles.

She also worked as state YWA (Young Women’s Auxiliary, now myMISSION) director for Oklahoma State Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and served as a student missionary in Arkansas, Florida and California.

Visitation will be Friday, March 1, from 5-8 p.m. at Memory Chapel, Laurel, Miss., and funeral services will be Saturday, March 2, at 10 a.m. at First Baptist Church in Laurel.

Mary Jane Welch has long written about missions and edited missions publications and websites.