William and Virginia Loft

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From February 1979 Horizon

"While a student at Johnson Bible College, I didn't want to be a missionary. The Holy Spirit changed my mind. During my junior year at JBC, on March 22, 1949, I dedicated my life to the mission field after sermon and invitation by M.D. Madden, who had spent 54 years in Japan as a missionary. Many missionary speakers and the missionary spirit which prevailed at JBC helped me to accept the Holy Spirit's call." After much prayer, Bill Loft chose the Amazon Valley for his field of service. This valley presented such a challenge and an opportunity of such vastness that Bill felt compelled to go.

Pre-Ministerial Years

William E. Loft entered this world on Feb. 18, 1924, on a farm in Tipton County, Tennessee. He is the son of Eddie Earl and Katie Maurine Loft. He grew up in the Methodist church. The family moved to Memphis during the "great flood" of 1937.

Bill graduated from Humes High School in 1942 and became a member of the National Honor Society. He also graduated from a trade course at the National Defense School in Memphis that same year. He worked in a shipyard, helping to build LCT’s (Landing Craft-Tank) and in the mail order department of a large department store, until he received a letter of "GREETINGS" from President Roosevelt (draft notice).

Bill was inducted into the Armed Forces (Army Air Corps) on March 4, 1943, and was shipped to the European Theater of Operations in September, 1943. Bill graduated from the Air Corps Special Purpose Motor Vehicle School at Chanute Field, Illinois. He completed his overseas combat training at Kerns Field near Salt Lake City. Utah.

Bill’s time "overseas" (2 years, 3-1/2 months) was spent in Scotland, England, Belgium, France and Luxembourg! He worked in the post office, served as courier for air base message Center and eventually became Chief Message Center Clerk. He was with the only Air Corps outfield stationed in the area of the infamous "Battle of the Bulge" and holds two battle stars (Ardienes Campaign and Rhineland Campaign).

Bill returned home on Christmas Eve, 1945. He considered entering law school and politics. He worked first as a taxi driver, then with the County Sheriff’s Department, and as an electric welder at National Butane Gas Company. The sheriff assigned him as a guard at the Gartley Ramsey Psychiatric Hospital for patients sent there from the Criminal Court. In this work he went through the same program as medical students from the U. T. Medical School in Memphis. While there he showed a certain propensity for working with people and getting through to some particularly difficult patients. The head of the hospital knew of Bill’s love for hunting and gave him a nice rifle and offered to get him a full scholarship to study psychiatry.

Bill’s reason for wanting to get into law and politics was to change the world into a better place for human beings. Along about this time he had become involved in forming a good government league which helped to end the rule of corrupt machine politics in the state. But the offer to study psychiatry was a challenge to get at the root of the problems in the world - confused thinking.

His Ministry

In February, 1946, Bill made a personal commitment to Christ and was buried with Christ and arose to walk in newness of life. After much prayer and several months of the study of God’s work, he decided that he could best meet man’s basic needs - not through law, politics or psychiatry, but as a proclaimer of God’s Word. The real problems, he decided, were spiritual, a matter of the heart and soul as well as the mind. In September, 1946 he enrolled in Johnson Bible College and graduated in 1950 in the upper quartile of his class.

At JBC, Bill was active in the Jail Missions group, in evangelistic campaigns during his first and second summer vacations, and started the First Christian Church of Oak Ridge, Tennessee during his third summer vacation in 1949. That fall he became minister of a floundering congregation in Bearden, Tennessee. At JBC, he met Virginia Sarah Hamilton of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, daughter of James and Helen Hamilton. They were married on August 4, 1950 at McKees Rocks, by Norman R. Able, Bill’s former roommate and soon to become forwarding agent.

Ginny became a Christian as a teenager at the church on Island Avenue in McKees Rocks, just down the street from her home. Her mother was a Roman Catholic who had dropped away from the church and the VBS down the street and church summer camps became Mom's source of Christian education. Her nickname in high school was "Preacher" and her parents were disappointed when she turned down math scholarships to go to Johnson Bible College. She was active int jail ministry there and was interested in going to Japan as a missionary-- but ended up in Brazil after marrying Bill. She was a year behind Bill and didn't graduate from JBC until just a few years ago when she completed the work by correspondence from Spain. She was also studying Arabic to help in her work with North African immigrants in that part of Spain. That all came to an end with her paralyzing stroke a few years back.

Those early years were extremely difficult for direct-support missionary recruits. There was no listing of churches which lean toward this form of mission support, no listing of "independent" preachers, and hardly anyone knew who the direct-support missionaries were, nor in which countries they were serving. But, despite these obstacles, and a harsh winter (1951-1952 when he served the Crafton, Pennsylvania Church as ad-interim minister), and several rattle-trap cars that played out along the way, one wreck, and a fire in their panel truck which burned up almost everything they had packed to take to Brazil; Bill and Ginny and their 13 month old daughter, Sarah raised a bare minimum of support and set sail to Brazil on July 17, 1952. They departed for the port of Belem, 100 miles up the Amazon River, on their second wedding anniversary, August 4, 1952.

Brazil Ministry

The Lofts served Christ and His church for six years in the Amazon Valley and another 11 years in Brasilia, They established churches, Christian Schools, a children’s home, trained national leaders, translated and published large quantities of sound Christian literature, recruited additional missionaries and helped them get oriented to the field and work and to get settled, often helping them through the maze of red tape of getting visas and other documents, and on much social, benevolent and first-aid work as well.

The Lofts participated in the establishment of preacher-training programs, Christian camps, ministerial associations, the annual Church of Christ/Christian Church Missionary Conference and the Association for Christian Literature in Brazil (APLIC).

LAMP Missionary Magazine

At a luncheon for missionaries to Latin America, and others interested in evangelizing this part of the world, during the 1965 National Missionary Convention in Joplin, Missouri, Bill presented an idea for turning the spotlight of missionary interest upon Latin America. Until then there was little or no missionary promotion or thinking in terms of Latin America as a whole, but of individual "missions" or "missionaries" seeking support. This left vast areas and even entire countries with no emphasis among our brotherhood. The idea was to start a magazine to publicize the work being done, to bring about more coordination and cooperation and to present to the brotherhood-at-large the unity that exists among what some call "independent" missionaries. Being a part of the same body means functioning for the benefit of all and for the even greater purpose-expansion of God’s Kingdom on this earth.

Bill had no intentions of publishing a magazine, but only of stimulating the idea. He was convinced that others more capable than he, in the field of journalism and publishing, would be willing to do this. He would work at getting the missionaries to give it their backing and cooperation. No one volunteered to take on the project, but Bill was encouraged by a number of missionaries present, and by letters which came later, and from Bill McGilvery at Mission Services, to "take the bull by the horns" and do it himself. Some missionaries even sent money to help get out the first edition.

After much prayer and study of the project, Bill decided to publish one edition to "test the waters", to see if the missionaries would cooperate and if enough money would be on hand to get it published. All the correspondence with missionaries all over Latin America, study of journalism and publishing, raising of money, getting photographs, etc., at the same time the Lofts were involved in a dynamic program of evangelism, camps, preacher training, Portuguese language literature, building program, Christian school, Food for Peace programs, and Bill’s being president of SEMA (Evangelical Mechanized Agricultural Service), two years went by between the 1965 Convention and the first issue of the magazine in September, 1967. It was then decided to put out a second edition on the same basis.

Thus LAMP Missionary Magazine was born, and has been published on the average of four times a year ever since. Latin America Missionary Pioneers (L.A.M.P.) was incorporated on September 11, 1968, in the State of Indiana, as a non-profit organization with 21 directors, because the idea was launched at the 21st National Missionary Convention. L.A.M.P. secured mailing permit No. 21 at the Garret, Indian Post Office shortly thereafter.

Post Brazil

In 1969 the greatly increased Loft family moved to Puerto Rico to be in a more strategic location for recruitment and training of missionaries, for surveys and groundwork preparatory to opening of new fields in Latin America and the Caribbean, and for the gathering of news and reports and getting the edited copy of L.A.M.P. to the printer and mailer in the U.S.A.

The family now consisted of Sarah, born in Knoxville, Tenn., July 8, 1951; Billy, born in Belem, Para Brazil, March 13, 1953; Mara, born in Garret, Indiana, May 24, 1956; Jim, born in Belem, Para, Brazil, May 17, 1958; Lee, born in Taguating, Brasilia, Brazil, October 7, 1966; and two adopted daughters, Gerri and Alda, born in Estrella do Norte, Goias, Brazil.