Donation of Baptist’s farm honors her passion for missionary work

Donation of Baptist’s farm honors her passion for missionary work

Joy Ledbetter (left) was a longtime member of Jonesboro First Baptist Church who strongly supported Southern Baptist missionary activities. Her farmland (right), shown with rice growing on a portion of the property, was auctioned this month to raise money for the denomination’s International Mission Board and its North American Mission Board. (Left, First Baptist Church of Jonesboro archives via The Jonesboro Sun; right, courtesy Glaub Farm Management)

Born into a farm-owning family in 1920, Joy Gregory Ledbetter saw plenty of rice, cotton and cornfields in rural Craighead County.

But her passion, as a lifelong Christian, was for mission fields. The harvest she cared about most was souls.

She and her late husband, Dr. Joe Ledbetter, were decades-long members of Jonesboro First Baptist Church and traveled around the globe so that they could see missionary efforts firsthand.

Before her death in 2010, she established the Joy Ledbetter Trust, which recently donated her 2,146-acre farm to the Southern Baptist Foundation.

The property sold at auction this month for almost $10.3 million. The net proceeds will be evenly divided between the denomination's International Mission Board, which spreads the gospel overseas, and its North American Mission Board, which starts churches in the United States and Canada.

International Mission Board President Paul Chitwood said Ledbetter "was known for her love for the Lord and her efforts to help send His gospel message to the nations, particularly in Asia and Africa."

Missions work is part of the denomination's DNA, he noted in a written statement.

"For 178 years, Southern Baptists have obeyed the Great Commission by sending missionaries overseas through the International Mission Board. We've shared a collective promise to hold the ropes for those missionaries who have said goodbye to their families, comforts, country and home churches to bring help, relief, and -- most importantly -- the hope of the gospel to the lost. This generous gift testifies to Mrs. Ledbetter's desire to continue that unwavering support even after her death, and we're so grateful for her commitment which will have an eternal impact on those waiting to hear the good news," he said.

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, portrayed the donation as a blessing.

"We are grateful for Ms. Ledbetter's generosity and for her missional legacy. Not only will this gift allow missionaries to continue to serve [in] the field and provide them with the resources they need, it also serves as a tangible reminder that God will provide for their needs in big and small ways as they are faithful to carry out His mission," he said in a written statement.

The daughter of Claude and Pearl Johnson Gregory, Ledbetter grew up in Cash and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

She and Ledbetter were married in 1949; they resided in Jonesboro for the rest of their lives.

They had nephews and nieces but no children of their own.

Over the years, she was active in the Women's Missionary Union, a group that prays for, promotes and raises funds for the denomination's missionary activities.

She also served as First Baptist Church's Sunday School superintendent.

Her favorite Bible passage was from the book of Romans: "For I am persuaded that neither death or life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, not things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Over the years, Ledbetter led the Women's Missionary Union group at her church. Her commitment never wavered, according to LaVelle Dryer, a longtime friend and fellow member.

"She was so dedicated to missions. I think it was her life purpose. I really do," Dryer said.

One year, Women's Missionary Union members mulled taking a summer break, but Ledbetter made clear she wouldn't be having a hiatus herself.

"She said 'God doesn't take a vacation and the missionaries don't get to take time off.' She didn't think we needed to either," Dryer recalled.

For Ledbetter, missions work was a matter of obedience, Dryer said.

Jesus told his followers, in Mark 16:15, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."

"That's our primary assignment as Christians is to tell others about Jesus and His purpose for coming and that if you believe on Him, when you perish from this earth you will have everlasting life with the Lord," Dyer said.

Over the years, the Ledbetters spent time with missionaries in Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, Australia and in Africa.

They also invited missionaries to stay in their home, eventually buying a second house in Jonesboro for missionaries to use while they were stateside.

Dyer praised Mike Ledbetter, her friend's nephew, for his work in overseeing the trust and his efforts to honor his aunt's wishes.

Ledbetter said his aunt was "always interested'' in missions.

"I guess she just thought that was where the most good was probably to be done,'' he said. "Bringing about a new faith in a new believer, I believe that would be what she said was ... important to her.''

The Southern Baptist Foundation acted as a conduit to the mission boards, commissioning Glaub Farm Management and Hendrix Auction and Realty to sell the land by auction.

"The [Southern] Baptist Foundation really did an outstanding job of putting all this together. ... We're kind of proud to be part of that," said Ted Glaub, owner/manager of Glaub Farm Management LLC.

  photo  Farmland in Craighead County, 2,166 acres once belonging to Joy Ledbetter, was auctioned this month for just under $10.3 million. The net proceeds will go to the International Mission Board and the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. (Courtesy Glaub Farm Management)