Frank and Beth Radcliff have been happily married for over 40 years. And, like a modern-day Aquila and Priscilla, this amazing couple has travelled throughout southern Africa to spend time with different churches and to strengthen and encourage the disciples there. We caught up with them in Johannesburg, South Africa, halfway through their trip, to chat about the experience so far:
You’ve visited southern Africa previously on shorter trips. What motivated you to come for an extended stay?
The seed for devoting our first year of joint retirement to live and serve in Africa was first planted when we visited Kenya in 2005. We made several more trips to East Africa in the years that followed, fell in love with the people, and saw many needs and opportunities to encourage both individuals and the churches. In 2014, we moved from Charlotte, NC to Columbia, SC. We were immediately inspired by the Columbia church’s support of the southern Africa churches and the newly established Africa Missions Association.
We traveled with Paul and Candy Ramsey in 2015, and visited several churches on a whirlwind trip to five congregations in southern Africa in less than three weeks. We returned with a larger group from Columbia in 2017, spent a week with the HOPE Compassion tour in Johannesburg, and then split into smaller groups, and each group spent about 10 days with one of the southern Africa churches. We became convinced that even longer stays would allow for developing deeper relationships and serving in a more effective way.
How many churches have you visited in southern Africa and what has been the longest period of time you spent with one congregation?
We’ve had the privilege of spending six to eight weeks each in the Central and Soweto regions of the Johannesburg church, as well as the churches in Gaborone, Botswana, and Lusaka, Zambia. We’ve especially loved our short visits to some of the small house churches in southern Africa: the house church that meets in Palapye, Botswana; the couple that serves God in Tsabong, Botswana; the few dozen disciples that worship in Monze and Livingstone, Zambia. Our plans before returning to the US are to make short visits to Harare, Zimbabwe and Durban, South Africa and spend six weeks in Windhoek, Namibia.
What has impacted you the most, either on a church or individual basis?
Each stop has provided a unique experience and opportunity to form new relationships and learn more about how God is working in His kingdom. Our focus in each church has been helping to build strong, spiritual families. It has been so encouraging to see the humility to learn and change in order to be better parents, build stronger families, and bring glory to God. The small group parenting discussions have been most rewarding.
My (Frank) personal highlight was a parenting workshop we conducted in Tsabong, Botswana, in the Kalahari Desert about eight hours from the capital, Gaborone. One couple from the church in Gaborone moved there a few years back because of a job transfer and has remained faithful despite the distance from other disciples. They had over 20 of their friends at the midweek service, and several visitors to the workshop told them if they “started a church” they would love attend. Most inspiring was seeing the renewal of the couple’s faith and dream for their small town.
I (Beth) have been most-touched by spending time with individual disciples and hearing their stories of faith, perseverance, sacrifice, gratitude, and love. I have been reminded repeatedly that one of our greatest needs as humans – no matter where we are from – is to feel loved, believed in, heard, and valued.
There are no elders in southern Africa yet. What is your encouragement to those aspiring to become shepherds of God’s people?
Just before Beth and I were married more than 40 years ago, one of the elders at the church where we were converted encouraged me to “live my life according to the Biblical qualifications for the eldership” and, if it was God’s will, he could see me serving in that role someday. Shepherding God’s church begins with shepherding our families and diligently fulfilling whatever roles we are given in the local church. My encouragement is to first continually deepen your relationship with God, love and lead your family, and serve your church in whatever ways you’ve been, and then trust that God will reveal His will.
What is your encouragement to other disciples around the world, to visit other churches elsewhere (and specifically, Africa)?
We believe there are many mature couples, whether or not they are currently serving in leadership roles that have much to give to other churches in Africa. Many US disciples have heard lessons from great evangelists and teachers over the years, and what they have learned and experienced would be of great value to churches that have not had access to those resources. Others have had careers in business, education, health care, or social services. Those experiences could benefit church administration, benevolent programs, and strengthen individual disciples in other countries.
Senior ministry staff, nearing or in retirement, and those currently serving as elders would have specific experiences that would benefit less-experienced ministry staff and those aspiring to leadership roles including the eldership. Also, for American disciples willing to spend a month or more with a church in Africa, it is life-changing. Our experience has required us to deepen our convictions and rely on God in new, deeper, and daily ways.
About the Radcliffs:
Frank and Beth both were baptized in 1972 at the Crossroads Church in Gainesville, Fl. They met while college students at the University of Florida and were married in Gainesville in 1979. In their 40-year journey together, they have lived in the United States in Connecticut, North Carolina and Columbia, South Carolina, before beginning their travels through southern Africa in June 2019. They have three daughters who are disciples, and eight grandchildren. They have practiced servant leadership throughout their years as disciples. While in SC, Frank coordinated the Bereavement ministry and served on the committee promoting racial diversity and unity within the church. He also represented the Columbia Church on the Africa Missions Association board of directors. Frank has previously served as both a church deacon (Columbia) and as an elder (Charlotte).
Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the Radcliffs had to return home to the US. They are now in self-isolation from their family for 14 days in Charleston, SC. Frank said, “We tried hard to find a way to stay in southern Africa because we felt like there was unfinished business, but God (and the South African government) made it clear that it was time to go home.”