International Mission Board :: Law Students' Mission to Missionaries

December 01, 2011
Author: Philip Manns, Jr., Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law

Little did I realize when I trudged off to Richmond in 2008 for training required by the Virginia Bar that God would use the journey to bring together two needy groups:  missionaries needing wills and law students needing to ply their newly-acquired skills in preparing wills.  From that trip burgeoned Liberty University School of Law’s “Wills for Missionaries” program where dozens of students annually help missionaries prepare wills before leaving for foreign missions.

The missionaries are affiliated with the International Mission Board (“IMB”), an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest evangelical denomination, claiming more than 40,000 churches with nearly 16 million members. IMB’s mission is to make disciples of all peoples in fulfillment of the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20. See  All IMB missionaries are sent outside of North America, as the IMB’s sister organization, the North American Mission Board, sends missionaries within North America.

At its International Learning Center near Richmond, IMB conducts extended training for missionaries soon to leave for foreign mission fields. During the six-week training sessions, missionaries are made aware of their need to have legal documents in place, particularly powers of attorney, medical directives, wills, and travel authorizations (which allow one parent to travel internationally with the couple’s children). For a time before 2008, the IMB made document forms available for missionaries to complete.

On December 4, 2008, when I attended the professionalism-training course in Richmond, I attended only because I had to, and I was not particularly enthusiastic about driving to Richmond for an introduction to law practice when I already had been practicing for more than 20 years.  Yet my attending of one session turned out to be quite fortuitous.

In the workshop I attended, I introduced myself as a member of the Liberty law faculty, and Derek Gaubatz introduced himself as IMB’s new General Counsel. After the session we found each other, and Derek asked if I would be willing to review documents that the IMB had been providing to the missionaries. I agreed, of course.

As I reviewed the documents and prayerfully considered the matter, another alternative became clear. In 2007, I had participated in the Virginia State Bar’s Wills for Heroes program, which provided documents for first responders. I began to contemplate whether the law school could undertake a Wills for Missionaries program, in which we would not just draft form documents for clients to complete themselves, but we would interview the clients, prepare the documents, and supervise the client’s execution of the documents.

I envisioned that I could involve students in Liberty’s Estate Planning and Wills, Trusts & Estates courses. The Lord blessed the effort; many details quickly fell into place. I conferred with Deans Tuomala and Staver; the law school agreed to sponsor the program and Liberty Counsel agreed to provide malpractice insurance. I talked with Cheryl DeVries, a faculty secretary who was a missionary to Holland for many years. Not surprisingly she has a heart for international missionaries, and she enthusiastically agreed to assist the program.

Next, I sought volunteer lawyers from the recent Liberty law graduates which, at that point, consisted of but two classes. Yet undaunted by the small numbers, I found that Sara Pope (’08), Dennis Englerth (’07), and Rick Kuenzi (’08) quickly agreed. Now we had enough lawyers, and we put together a program. We held our first document execution session on May 30, 2009, and we held our tenth on September 17, 2011. We have served about 500 clients. Sara and Rick deserve special mention. Each has participated in every session but one, missing only to attend a wedding of a brother (in Sara’s case) and a daughter (in Rick’s case). Doug Wilson has been a regular since his graduation in 2010. Along the way, Randy Holley (’08), Brandon Osterbind (’08), and Eric Gordon (’10) have participated as well. And, within the last year, Monica Schmidt (’09) joined the IMB General Counsel’s office, and she conducts the considerable amount of work from the IMB side.

Liberty law graduates thus have the program covered. After almost three years, the program has developed a rhythm. The IMB conducts four Field Personnel Orientations (FPOs) per year, and we serve clients in each one, typically holding execution sessions in September, November, March, and May. For the September session, third year students enrolled in the Wills, Trusts and Estates course proofread documents, assist the lawyers during the execution sessions, and scan executed documents. For the March session, Estate Planning students, under the supervision of lawyers, prepare draft documents, correspond with clients, and conduct execution sessions. For the May session, we sometimes are able to have first-year students act as witnesses, and they gain a live-client experience at the end of their first year of law school.

For each FPO, a lawyer travels to the International Learning Center (ILC) to conduct an educational session, to teach the importance of estate planning, to explain how the document drafting program operates, and to distribute Questionnaires that collect data from clients interested in having documents prepared. As Questionnaires are received, they are assigned to lawyers. Lawyers draft documents, email them to clients for review, address client questions, prepare final drafts, and supervise executions. Cheryl DeVries keeps it all moving.

The Great Commission deserves its great name; IMB missionaries head into the harvest to fulfill that Great Commission; we do a small part to assist them.