Jim and Joyce Carpenter have been married for 63 years and have served Christ overseas, in America, and through the opportunities presented to them in the medical field.
Jim, a physician, is still practicing medicine at age 91, with the support and help of his wife.
Joyce was born in China to missionary parents and lived there until she was 9 years old. The couple met when Jim was a student at Tulane Medical University in New Orleans. Following his residency at Tulane and internship in Florence, S.C., he worked briefly at a private practice in Cowpens. In 1962, the Carpenters traveled to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to prepare for medical missionary work and were deployed to Indonesia later that year.
“We wanted to go to Indonesia, but the government there said ‘no more missionaries,’” Jim said. “Colleagues, including (then) Foreign Mission Board President Keith Parks, intervened for us and spoke with officials in the Indonesian department of religion. They said, ‘Look — we have a doctor that’s wanting to come, and you need doctors. Will you let some missionaries in if we get this doctor to come?’ The response was simple: ‘Yes we will.’ That’s how we got to go to Indonesia.”
For the next seven years, the Carpenters served in that Southeast Asia country. Several experiences assured them of God’s care and providence during some turbulent times for the nation.
Communists were working to overthrow the government in Indonesia, and foreigners, especially those who opposed communism, were often in harm’s way. Once, the Carpenters and their three daughters were traveling to Kediri where he worked in the hospital. “Six communists dressed in black and carrying machetes formed a line across the road and would not let us through,” Jim recalled. “I slowed down in our Volkswagen Microbus — which does not have the pickup of a BMW — but when we got even with them and they moved to our side doors, I jammed on the gas and we got through.”
On another occasion, as the coup activity intensified, Jim was called to the hospital around 11 p.m. for an emergency. “The Muslims had gotten to one of the communist leaders and cut him badly,” he said. “When I walked into the emergency room, he was lying on the stretcher wide awake, but scared to death of me. I told him, ‘I know you are a communist and you think I’m your enemy, but Jesus Christ died for both of us. It is because of His love that I want to take care you.’”
Carpenter worked on the man for three and a half hours. No one would help (there wasn’t even a nurse to assist him), but people were there who wanted to kill him. “He knew I was risking my life to help him,” he noted. The man’s throat had been cut through the trachea and jugular veins “all the way to the carotids, but the carotids were not cut,” he said. “I sewed him back together, set his broken arms and jawbone. While I was doing all this, I was talking with him about Jesus. His eyes softened, like he [was] just my best friend. He really hung on every word, and I believe that he believed the gospel message.”
After Carpenter left the hospital, some Indonesians commandeered a pickup truck and took his patient down to a cemetery and killed him. To this day, Carpenter believes the man trusted Christ as Savior. His patient could not speak because of his injuries. “He didn’t have any voice, but I am convinced he believed — because of his eyes,” said Carpenter.
That incident happened on Nov. 5, 1965. The Carpenters had not heard anything further until a detective named Santoso, who had become a Christian, came to their house for a visit. He said, “Do you remember that guy you tried to save? He was the head of the Communist Party in that part of the city. We read the notes of their last meeting and found that he was to lead a group of men to your house on Nov. 8 and behead you and your family.”
The Carpenters returned to the United States in 1969, and Jim opened a private practice in Seneca. He later served as a trustee of the International Mission Board and continued to do and support missions.
A massive tsunami hit Indonesia in 2004. “I immediately felt like I had to go, because I knew the language and I love the people so much,” Jim said. He left his partner in charge of the practice and headed off to Indonesia. He made several trips that lasted four to six weeks each.
“There was a mosque where we used to do our work,” he said. “The roof was flat and 60 feet high. On top of that roof, bodies had washed up from the tsunami. I had to come home [to the U.S.] and work, so that I could buy what medicines we needed, and return. The medical teams who came to help would bring medicine — mostly samples, but it just wasn’t enough to treat all those people.”
His last trip to Indonesia was in 2006. After that, he sold his practice and began to practice medicine through “locum tenens,” a Latin phrase that describes a process where doctors work for companies that provide physician staffing services for hospitals, outpatient centers and other organizations.
At age 89, he decided he wanted to go into addiction medicine. He got qualified in a year and a half and went to work at a Suboxone clinic for opiate addicts.
Carpenter is thinking about cutting back some on the “locum tenens” work but continuing to serve at the opiate addiction practice. His reasoning: “So much traveling is a little hard on Joyce, but she has enjoyed it.” (The couple lives in Jacksonville, Fla., but they drive to Greenville once a month for his work in the addiction clinic.) Her response: “You can work as long as you want — don’t blame me.”
The Carpenters have three daughters and three sons-in-law, a son and daughter-in-law, and 10 grandchildren.
In January, Jim will turn 92. He is still practicing medicine, sharing the gospel, and serving the Christ both he and his wife love.