Ron McKeon: A Life in the Path of Jonah, Job, & Mary

“Where there is a will, there is a way”- especially if it is the will of God. Ron McKeon, SAMS missionary with his wife Debby since 2008, was not one to accept tragic circumstances as an excuse not to follow God’s call. As we wrap up our focus on perseverance this Advent with our SAMS theme “Keep Calm and #CarryOnAdvent,” we would be amiss not to give tribute to a minister of the Gospel who persistently gave witness on Earth to the glory of his “Lord, Savior, and Friend,” until he went home to God on September 28, 2019.

Ron speaks to Portuguese parishioners in 2006.

At the time of his passing, many of our Society were together at the New Wineskins Conference in North Carolina. During the announcements before Eucharist on Sunday morning, New Wineskins Director Jenny Noyes recapped Ron’s call to ministry powerfully while sharing the sad news of his death: “[Ron] was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2003, and they removed his tongue and thought he couldn’t eat or talk again through the mouth. But God had called him to be a preacher, and he obeyed- not only did he learn how to eat and swallow, not only did he learn how to talk and how to be able to be heard and understood without a tongue- but He was ordained and God called him and Debby to Brazil- where he learned Portuguese.”

Filled to overflowing with God’s love by the Holy Spirit, Ron and Debby engaged in ministry in Brazil initially through short term trips, year after year. They stayed with a different church family each time so as to build genuine relationships. Ron engaged in preaching and pastoral care of clergy and laity, magnetically engaging youth with the love of God after church services. Debby trained children’s ministry teachers with Portuguese translations of the program Godly Play, empowering them to raise up other teachers. In 2015, Ron and Debby became full-time missionaries and moved to Brazil. Ron and Debby dedicated themselves to helping the Anglican churches in João Pessoa grow spiritually, numerically and missionally–especially through equipping Brazilian leaders for ministry.

Debby trains children’s ministry teachers in the Portuguese translations of Godly Play,
“Na Presença do Pai.”

Ron McKeon’s life could be described as a path in the footsteps of several biblical figures. Ron’s daughter Anna reflects on his life, and the road he travelled to ordination: “I always thought he portrayed a bit of Jonah- he would switch jobs searching for the right one yet he always knew that God was calling him to go to seminary and become a priest, but he didn’t think he was the right person for the job. God was calling him to ministry and kept sending ‘whales’ until he finally said- okay, I will go into ministry. He had some Job in him too- his brother died in the World Trade Center attacks, and then a year later his mother passed away, and then four months later he got tongue cancer. But, like Job, he was never angry, he didn’t say ‘oh, forget God.’”

Far from it! The saving grace of God, as well as a second chance to serve Him on earth, joyfully propelled Ron not only to remember God, but also to share worshipfully the love of God with the people of João Pessoa, Brazil.

This time of year, Christians are likely to hear or read the Angel Gabriel’s consolation to the Virgin Mary regarding the first Advent of our Lord Jesus. “How will this be?” she asked. “Nothing is impossible with God,” the angel said. Armed with the knowledge of the Spirit’s miraculous favor upon her and her cousin Elizabeth, Mary carried our Lord, Savior, and friend in the womb, persevering in the face of social disgrace. Her betrothed, Joseph, also placed his confidence in God, caring for Mary and the Holy Child in Bethlehem and as refugees in Egypt. Ron likely heard a similar message from God- nothing is impossible with Him. Ron’s miraculous ability to taste food, to talk and be understood in spite of new speech impediments astounded doctors and medical students. It was impossible. Well, God specializes in “the impossible.”

The relational depth of Ron and Debby’s ministry was evident in the love and care they received back from the Brazilian church community, the Anglican Diocese of João Pessoa, as Ron fought an aggressive cancer. His family shared how this church community “surrounded this ‘couple of Christ’ with love, support, and assistance with the cultural uniqueness of Brazilian daily life. And so, as Ron’s days grew short, this special form of Brazilian love and support grew to immense importance for both him and Debby.” Over Ron’s last few weeks the clergy of the diocese held an around the clock prayer vigil by his bedside.

SAMS Mission Director Stewart Wicker passed on a story from Diocesan Bishop Marcio Meira of Brazil of Ron’s perseverance in spite of devastating setbacks in the weeks before his death. “It was made clear to Ron that he would not ever speak again. So when Bishop Marcio went to visit him, he was surprised to see that Ron had a guitar since he had never seen Ron play one. Ron was able to communicate to the bishop that he had just picked it up because if he was never to preach again, he would learn the guitar to praise the Lord in order to continue his ministry there.” Ron carried on the hope of the Gospel to the very end of his life- he never took his limitations as an excuse not to give witness to the greatness of God. He continues to worship God in heaven, joyfully anticipating with us the day when Christ will make all things new.

How did Ron never give up? How did he maintain hope after losing his brother, his mother, his tongue, and finally his voice? He learned that his identity was not in the fulfillment of his plans and hopes, but as a servant “hidden with Christ in God.” While giving the missionary testimony at New Wineskins Global Mission Conference 2013 (which you can view here), Ron concluded:

“The unexpected is God’s plan for my life. Only with a life hidden with Christ in God can Debby and I put all that we possess, even our very lives at risk, to serve God alongside our brothers and sisters wherever we are sent, that all may have the opportunity to hear the Gospel of peace and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

#CarryOnAdvent : Hondurans Introduce Mountain Village to Christ

Honduran Christians from the town of La Ceiba recently carried on the hope of the gospel to a mountain village,
Las Flores, via mules

By Kate Ulrich, with Betty Kaszer

Mentors, parents, and teachers receive great pleasure when their mentees take what they are learning and share it with others. Missionaries experience the same joy when people in whom they have invested carry on the work of the Gospel to new communities, especially when they make an arduous journey on mules to do so!

Mike and Betty Kaszer have been bringing medical mission teams to La Ceiba, Honduras for many years, providing healthcare where it is scarce. Rev. Nery Yolanda Varela Zuniga is an Anglican priest in this community, at the church Iglesia Santisima Trinidad. They met her 12 years ago, shortly after she was ordained. In Betty’s words, “She’s smart, energetic and sold out to Jesus.  She’s amazing! She imitates everything we do in the medical clinic and in discipleship. She has picked up our training, even though we didn’t realize we were ‘training’ her. She is carrying on the work we started and building up the pharmacy at the clinic. She is only 36 years old. She loves the Lord so much! When you see her she radiates love and gives you a big hug.”

Recently, the Diocese of Honduras informed Rev. Nery that people of a small mountain village, Las Flores, needed food and clothes.  She figured that they also needed to hear the gospel, so she went prepared with a team of people from La Ceiba to minister to this village of about 25 families. However, this day-trip was not a simple drive to a local destination. The team drove 3 hours to the base of the mountain, followed by a 45-50 km (28-36 mile) trek up a mountain with the help of mules. This village is multi-cultural with various people groups from within Honduras, and the chief of the village, Don Pedro Ramirez, is a descendant of Maya Shortis Natives. As they ministered, 10 people responded to the Gospel message, and Rev. Nery baptized them. The team from La Ceiba returned home the same day- spiritually encouraged by the Lord’s work in Flores and quite tired, no doubt!

Rev. Nery leads an evangelistic service in Las Flores

Mike and Betty have been leading medical mission teams from America in Honduras since 2007. Rev. Nery is “carrying the torch” with her own mission team to a remote village

Rev. Nery plans to return to the village with a small medical brigade.  The Kaszers have started an operating clinic in La Ceiba, from which Rev. Nery will take the doctor and nurse on the next trip (date to be determined).  Rev. Nery will use the medical ministry skills she has learned from the Kaszers in this effort.

Raising up leaders in mission reaps joyful fruit. Betty shares her joy, “If you go and build a building, it can be lost in an earthquake, but when you teach people to disciple other people, it goes on forever.” Whether missionaries train locals in evangelism, healthcare, or construction skills, investment in local leaders is a gift that keeps on giving in the mission field. How will you #CarryOnAdvent this season, empowering others to share the hope of our King’s first advent (coming), as we wait in hope for His second advent?

See the video below of Rev. Nery’s team ministering in Las Flores. You may hear an unexpected voice join in the singing!

Contagious Gospel Joy Pitches a Tent

Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and there are the people!
Have you heard that children’s rhyme and finger game before?
Or how about-
Here is the ground, here is the tent, the family of God says, come and join in!
The latter would be a more accurate description of a little community of God that meets in a shantytown, under a tent on a small property lovingly tended by Maty. Maty is a Peruvian woman whom God reached through the ministry of our SAMS missionaries Juan and María Marentes. As María shared the Gospel with members of a shantytown south of Lima, Peru, Maty began shadowing her and helping her tell people the Good News, even before she had clearly confessed Christ. In the Marentes’ words:

“In 2005 we met Maty when she came to be a volunteer at the weekly breakfast for the children in the “pueblo joven” (shantytown) of San Francisco, south of Lima. She was a woman without any schooling, she had suffered a lot in her life. She looked about 10 years older than her real age. She had prodigious hands to knit by hand.

Once the weekly women’s ministry was started by María Isabel, Maty never missed a gathering. She was always attentive and willing to help. Little by little she began to join the evangelistic visits to the surrounding homes. She gave her very simple testimony, but always coming from her soul: ‘Although I don’t know how to read or write, I tell you that the most wonderful thing in my life has been accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior. That has made me a new and a happy person.’”

María, with funds from supporters, found an opportunity to give a small piece of property to the Diocese of Peru for the purpose of hosting a Christian community. Years after the Marentes left Peru to do ministry elsewhere, the Bishop of Peru reported that Maty faithfully defended from “invaders” that piece of land, and now she and a youth group tend the property and draw people into this small church in the San Francisco shantytown, Peru.

Visiting the SAMS home office for a retirement commemoration luncheon, Juan and María point to their home country, Colombia, on the world map.

We at SAMS are deeply grateful for Juan and María’s faithful service to God’s call in 33 years on the mission field. Originally from Colombia, they retire in Jacksonvile, FL this year after decades of service in Ecuador, Honduras, Peru, Belize, and California. Yet, we know that God’s servants don’t truly retire as much as they take on a different shape of ministry, encouraging us as we all press on toward the goal of knowing Christ and making him known.


“From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 6:14 NIV

Spiritual Warfare in Madagascar

Patsy McGregor (left) and Jacky Lowe (right) have had similar experiences with spiritual warfare in Madagascar.

Jacky Lowe woke up in terror. Never before had she experienced a nightmare like this one. She had just returned to Madagascar from a visit to the United States. In this dark Thursday night, deeply disturbed in her spirit, she struggled to find the peace she needed to return to sleep. She got up from her bed and paced her home in prayer for two hours before returning to her bed. She continued to pray to the Lord as she fell back asleep.

Jacky is not the only Christian in her Madagascar community to experience such a disturbing dream this past year. Her fellow SAMS missionary Patsy McGregor has also suffered from a nightmare the first night returning from a trip – on a Thursday as well. This is hardly a coincidence: Jacky and Patsy have received reports that a local group of witch doctors prays against Christians, marriages, and families every Thursday night. “Why would witches pray against marriages?” I asked Patsy. “Because marriages are strong,” she replied. In the words of last week’s New Wineskins for Global Mission Conference theme (September 26-29), God’s people are #BetterTogether. 

The Anglican Diocese of Toliara, of which Patsy’s husband, Todd, is the bishop, ordained and commissioned ten leaders on August 25: one priest, three deacons, and six evangelists. With such growth, I am not surprised that the devil is nervous. “Spiritual attack is ongoing on a daily and weekly basis. It’s very heavy,” says Patsy. “We have done a lot of ‘spiritual sweeping’ to get the darkness away. God is stronger and breaking through!”

Here in the West we rarely encounter such obvious spiritual warfare. One could say this is because our senses are dulled by entertainment and comfort, and the devil has an easier time distracting us from God. Whatever the reason, we can respond in two ways to this story. First, we can pray for spiritual protection over Jacky Lowe, Patsy and Todd McGregor, and their community near Toliara on Thursday afternoons Eastern Standard Time (Thursday night in Madagascar). We can pray in Jesus’ name that the witch doctors would be freed from the forces of evil. Second, we can live daily with deeper assurance that the spiritual world is real and the material world is not all there is. St. Paul’s words are true: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:12 – 13 NIV)

Stand firm and pray, friends.

Kate Ulrich, SAMS Home Office