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GOD & TEXAS: To Brazil with Love

In 1881, Texas was emerging from the horrors of Reconstruction following the Civil War. It was in that year that the old state capitol burned down, and the legislature was debating the merits of making school attendance compulsory for all children in Texas.

It was also the year that Texas newlyweds William and Anne Bagby became the first Baptist missionaries to Brazil. Their commitment to evangelistic and educational endeavors led them into life-long ministry in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. After 58 years of “honeymoon,” it is estimated that the Bagbys' ministry planted at least 694 churches and harvested over 53,000 believers.

William Buck Bagby was born in 1855 in Coryell County, Texas, near Gatesville. After earning his B.A. and M.A. degrees at Baylor University, he earned his Doctor of Divinity in Tennessee. It is said that since the age of three, William would preach from his chicken-roost pulpit by the barnyard gate and hold his audience spell-bound.

Though he had always felt the Call to foreign missions, recently graduated William tried his hand at farming and teaching in the local school. When he met his future bride Anne Luther, he discovered she also had a Call to Missions.

Born in 1859 in a pastor’s home, Anne Luther was baptized at 11, and attended Baylor Female College where her father was president. That school grew to be the University of Mary Harden-Baylor in 1879 in Belton. Upon graduation, Anne became a professor of mathematics.

Family history says that when Anne was 12, her father, Dr. John Hill Luther, was preaching a powerful message on reaching the lost for Christ. As he closed his message with an appeal for more missionaries to foreign countries, Anne stood up and said, “Father, I’ll go.” The stunned father said, “I didn’t mean you!”

Anne was the first Baptist female from Texas to become a foreign missionary. In fact, the Baptist state convention organized the women’s missionary union in October 1880 mostly to support the work of Anne Bagby.

The early days of the Bagbys' ministry was difficult. Their first rented building was attacked by neighborhood ruffians during a service. Rocks were thrown at William, and one knocked him unconscious. But he soon recovered and continued preaching. And there were many more amazing stories of God’s mercy and grace.

William and Anne were blessed with nine children, though only five survived to adulthood. When their three year old son Luther died of scarlet fever, Anne wrote the following poem:

I'll trust Him to keep my Luther and me,

To bring us together at last

Where mothers and babes forever shall be

With Jesus — their sorrows all passed.

All five of their remaining children became missionaries and have carried on the vision of reaching the lost for Christ. William died in 1939, and Anne in 1942. But together, they leave this inspiring legacy of faith: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV).

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