Notable Missionary Deaths in 2021

Luis Palau  (November 27, 1934 – March 11, 2021)

Three years after receiving a lung cancer diagnosis, International evangelist. Luis Palau died March 11 at his home in Portland, Ore. He was 86. Luis was born in Argentina and moved to Portland in his mid-twenties to enroll in a graduate program in Biblical studies. Palau had a long and close relationship with evangelist Billy Graham, and had been characterized by many as Graham’s successor. In 2007, he was estimated to have shared the message of Jesus Christ with 25 million people in 70 nations. For five decades, Palau conducted large evangelistic meetings in English and Spanish. “I have not preached the gospel if I have not included the cross—the death of Christ and the resurrection,” he said.

Robert M. Bland (December 8, 1928 – April 2, 2021)

Robert “Bob” Bland, founder of Teen Missions International, passed away on Good Friday, April, at the age of 92. Teen Missions International was Bland’s concept for getting younger people involved in Christian missionary work.  Born in Alma, Ohio, he was inspired by his Christian faith to expand his outreach beyond the Midwest. 

He eventually went on to become a preacher and lead one of the most prominent youth missionary groups in the country.  From its home in Merritt Island, Florida, Teen Missions International has been responsible for sending 42,000 teenagers on hundreds of outreach trips to over 80 countries throughout the years with thousands of teenagers from all over the country.  “Teen Missions is legendary, introducing more young people to deep and serious mission work. I don’t know of any other organization that has got their history,” said Joe Hurston, who was close friends and worked alongside Bland for many years. 

C. René Padilla  (October 12, 1932 – April 27, 2021)

C. René Padilla, influential Ecuadorian theologian, pastor, missiologist, and longtime staff member with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, died on April 27, at the age of 88. Padilla was best known as the father of integral mission, a theological framework that has been adopted by over 500 Christian missions and relief organizations, including Compassion International and World Vision. Integral mission pushed evangelicals around the world to widen their Christian mission, arguing that social action and evangelism were essential and indivisible components—in Padilla’s words, “two wings of a plane.”

Padilla’s life story was surprising in its global reach—from an impoverished childhood in Colombia and Ecuador to sharpening evangelicals throughout the world. He ministered with American missionaries Jim Eliot, Nate Saint, and Pete Fleming before their untimely deaths outside Quito in 1956; he translated for Billy Graham crusades across Latin America in the 1960s; and he shared intimate friendship and speaking tours with John Stott in the 1970s.

Richard James Griffiths  (Nov. 12, 1928 – May 5, 2021)

Pioneer missionary, linguist, and church planter Richard “Dick” Griffiths went home to be with his Lord and Savior on May 5, 2021 at the age of 92. Born in Philadelphia, PA, he graduated from Columbia Bible College in 1952. As a missionary with The Evangelical Alliance Mission, he was commissioned in 1956 to be a linguist and pioneer church planter. Dick and his wife Charlotte made their home in the jungle of Papua, Indonesia among the previously unreached Hatam people. He worked there for 42 years translating the entire Bible into the previously unwritten Hatam language. He and Char witnessed a mass movement of the Hatam to Christ and today the entire tribe of over 16,000 have come to Christ with over 150 churches established.

Floyd Lee McClung Jr.   (August 3, 1945 – May 29, 2021)

All Nations International Founder Floyd Lee McClung Jr., global missions leader, bestselling author and international speaker, died on Saturday, May 29, in Cape Town, South Africa. He was 75. In his more than 50 years in full-time ministry, McClung lived in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, worked on every continent except Antarctica, and authored 18 books, including the international bestseller The Father Heart of God. McClung was born in Long Beach, California.

McClung first joined Youth With A Mission (YWAM) on missions trips during school breaks from college. In 1973, he along with his wife Sally, moved to the Netherlands, where they led the work on the Ark, two houseboats moored behind Amsterdam’s Central Station that served as an outreach center among hippies and drug addicts. In 1991, McClung moved back to the United States and started the first of many leadership training programs. In 1993 Floyd and Sally co-founded All Nations, an international leadership training and church-planting network.

Marilyn Joyce Laszlo   (July 20, 1933 – Sept. 9, 2021) 

Marilyn Joyce Laszlo, a pioneer missionary and Bible translator known for her bold faith and powerful storytelling, died on September 9. Laszlo spent 24 years living in the Hauna Village in Papua New Guinea. There, she formulated a written language and translated the Bible for the once-unreached Sepik Iwam people, starting by carving words into banana leaves. Laszlo was sent to Hauna through Wycliffe Bible Translators in 1967 and later served as a speaker for the mission, before launching her organization, Laszlo Mission League, in 2003. Laszlo’s story of persistence in the face of a challenging mission field was retold in documentaries, memoirs, and, most poignantly, her own speaking appearances in churches and colleges. It was used as a testimony of God’s work in faraway places and as inspiration for Christians to dedicate their lives to the Great Commission.

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