By Nathan Peterson

Always a Missionary: From Oregon to Okinawa and Back Again*

Twenty-three-year-old Reyburn McCready sat on a bench in the train station, waiting for a cancellation on one of the many trains gusting through. The station—like most of the country in the days after World War II—hummed with a sense of purpose.

Reyburn watched it all a little uncertainly. Having served as a medic in the Marine Corps during the war, he was still trying to get used to life back home in Corvallis, Oregon. Right now, he was working as a bricklayer till he figured things out.

But after seeing an ad for a missions conference called Urbana 48 in HIS, InterVarsity’s magazine, things had become a little more clear. “I wanted to hear what it was all about,” Reyburn said matter-of-factly.

After several hours of waiting, a station clerk waved him over, looking a little surprised. A spot had just opened up on the train. And so Reyburn began the nearly weeklong trip to Urbana, Illinois, that would change his life.

Becoming Willing

“I knew for a very long while God wanted me to be a missionary,” Reyburn said. “I was unwilling though.” As he experienced Urbana 48 and heard more about what it really means to be a missionary, his attitude began to change. Drastically.

“I came away from Urbana having decided I would be willing to serve as a missionary,” he said.

Shortly after returning home to Oregon, Reyburn found himself back on the train heading to John Brown University in Arkansas. During the long ride, he got to know a number of the other passengers and began sharing how he was going back to college, having changed his major from studying the arts to biblical literature. One night the others gathered around him, listening as he shared his testimony till the early morning hours.

Reyburn’s plans for ministry continued to develop as he arrived at school, met his future wife, Doris, and graduated. Not long after, they partnered with the Far Eastern Gospel Crusade (now SEND International) and were on their way to Okinawa, where he’d served as a marine.

While raising two boys, the couple settled to work learning Japanese. But Reyburn soon developed chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that forced him to stay in bed most of the time.

This didn’t stop God from using the couple, however. One day a Japanese friend came to visit. After a few minutes’ conversation, he broke down, crying openly, and shared that one of his relatives had just passed away. He feared her newborn wouldn’t survive either. As soon as Doris—who had trained as a nurse— heard, she said firmly, “I want that baby.”

Approaching the baby’s father, they arranged to take care of the child. “He’s probably a grandfather now,” Reyburn said. “My wife saved his life. I still pray for him, and my wife did too as long as she lived.”

Influencing Generations

After four years of struggling with chronic fatigue, Reyburn realized that he couldn’t stay in Okinawa any longer. “It was very difficult,” he said. “I knew nobody would send me back as a missionary. But I had no choice. They had to carry me on the airplane on a stretcher.”

Moving back to Oregon, Reyburn earned his master’s degree and became a librarian at the University of Oregon. He was part of the group of faculty who started an InterVarsity chapter at the university and was a sponsor for most of his career from 1961 to 1984. He and his family would often invite students over to their house for dinner and special events.

This gave him the chance to return to Urbana, which had grown from a gathering of 2,000 people to over 17,000. “I had no idea that it would grow that big,” Reyburn said. “I just knew it was a good thing when I went, and it had gotten even better.”

Since going to Urbana 70 years ago, Reyburn has continued to serve in God’s mission. “I still consider myself a missionary,” he said. “The people here in my assisted living center need to hear the gospel too.”

He also has faithfully encouraged others, including one of his sons, to go to Urbana. “Urbana changed my life completely,” he said. “It will change other people’s lives, too, for the better.”

*On April 6, 2018, Reyburn McCready went to be with the Lord. One of his sons said, “Telling his story about Urbana was one of his last earthly acts before passing on. I think he would be pleased to hear that his story will perhaps help others to choose to attend.” Urbana is grateful for Reyburn’s faithful service to the Lord and his missionary heart. Our prayers go out to his family.  

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