Just before Mike and Debbie Baker left home for a three-year appointment by the International Mission Board to serve in Southeast Asia, he went out to his game preserve — not to hunt, but to pour his heart out to God.
“I was crying, praising God, and saying, ‘God help us,’ ” Baker recalls. “We were committed to three years, but they told us we could re-up. That day, I was thinking about [the previous] 30 years of ministry, running the preserve and guiding hunts, and I realized that we might never come back.”
God gave him peace and assurance that January day in 2008. “I said, ‘OK, Lord, I am going to mark this spot.’ I cut down a cedar and made a cross out of it and stuck it in the ground. I had never done anything like that before in my life. I hung my dog whistle and my orange cap on it. It was so peaceful. I felt I had nailed it down and that the Lord was saying to me not to worry about it — He would take care of us.”
The couple left the next day for the IMB’s International Learning Center, near Richmond, Va., followed by three years of mission work in Southeast Asia. His son, Daniel, went to that cedar cross several times over the next three years while his mom and dad were overseas.
The Bakers’ daughter, Miriam, was a student at North Greenville University at the time. Mike’s younger brother had cancer, and his mother had Alzheimer’s. “Still, I knew it was the right time to go,” Baker said.
Later, when Miriam went to the financial aid office at North Greenville, she burst into tears as she told them her parents had left the area and moved away. The bill needed to be paid. Michael Jordan, who worked at North Greenville, knew Mike and asked Miriam about her parents. She answered, “They are in Southeast Asia serving as missionaries.” Jordan inquired, “Did they go with the IMB? Do they have a letter of appointment? If they do and you can get me a copy, your bill will be taken care of.”
While the Bakers were serving overseas, Daniel, who was already established in his career and had become a homeowner, met a young woman, Deena. Their relationship became serious, and they shared with his parents that they planned to be married.
“Daniel told me that she was not a Christian and really had no church background,” Baker said. When Deena began to ask questions about the Christian faith, Daniel referred her to his parents. She sent them an email. “She told us her life was a mess and that she wanted to be different,” Baker said. “She wanted to know what she needed to do. We sent her an email that she calls a book. It was long, and we explained to her the plan of salvation.
“She read it, got on her knees and prayed to be saved over and over — 10 times total. When she told us the next day what she had done, we shared with her that the first time was enough. She wanted to know what to do next. I told her she needed to go to church and be baptized, but to wait until I got home because I wanted to baptize her.”
Keith Shorter, pastor of Mount Airy Baptist Church in Easley, counseled with the couple, and they were married while Mike and Debbie were overseas. Today, Mike says his daughter-in-law is a committed follower of Christ.
The Bakers missed daughter Miriam’s graduation and son Daniel’s marriage, but they got home in time for Mike to preside over Miriam’s wedding and to baptize daughter-in-law Deena. They left their mission field quickly in order to get home in time to see Mike’s mother before she died.
Baker was the founding director of the traveling worship group Joyful Sound at North Greenville University, worked in various churches, and worked on his hunting preserve until he and his wife left in 2008.
Today, he is director of missions for Palmetto Association and still operates Sunshine Preserve in Anderson County. Bird hunters and those wanting to learn how to hunt birds (quail, dove, grouse and pheasant) book guided hunts with Baker. The motto of the preserve is “Great friends, great dogs, great outdoors.” Executives, politicians, and leaders in business, industry and church have come to the preserve. “I have probably shared the gospel with more men at the preserve by accident than I have on purpose anywhere else,” he said.
Both Bakers were music majors in college, and Mike is quick to point out that, apart from Jesus, Debbie “makes it all worthwhile.” There is a piano in the old farmhouse that serves as the lodge for the preserve. He frequently sits and plays.
Earlier this year when he accepted the position of director of missions, he saw God work through a series of events that reminded him of that day when he cut a cedar, fashioned a cross and planted it in the ground. Even though the cap is faded and the cross is overgrown with brush, it is still standing as a reminder of God’s care and direction.
Baker speaks at wild-game banquets in churches and at men’s outings. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 864-845-6400.