Merriam-Webster defines “mentor” as a “tutor or coach.” That’s an excellent description of John Seaman, mentor par excellence.
Amy and I arrived with our young sons, John and Brad, in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire just after Thanksgiving in November, 1994. John Seaman called us “the kids,” and at age 30, young we were. Sure, I’d pastored in Missouri with Amy by my side for nearly 5 years prior to us being deployed as Nazarene missionaries, and we’d just wrapped up 11 months of French language training in the French Alps. But we were green when it came to cross-cultural ministry. Right away he taught us the most important lesson, especially for one as achievement oriented as myself: Pace yourself. “Greg and Amy,” he insisted, “when you make up your daily ‘to-do’ list, at the end of the day, if you’ve accomplished just one item on your list, declare victory.” He knew the rigors of life in sultry and malaria-infested West Africa. Many times we quoted his words back to ourselves over the next decade of ministry in Côte d’Ivoire and Benin.
When it comes to the distinctive doctrine of the Church of the Nazarene – the message of holiness of heart and life – John is one of the most committed individuals I know. He was concerned that he wasn’t hearing the message preached often enough in our fledgling churches. On a trip together to Ghana early after our arrival in West Africa, he asked me to develop a holiness sermon and preach at our church in Kumasi. From Galatians 5:16-26, I spoke of the fruit of the Spirit and what it means for the sinful nature to be crucified. On the trip home, he lavished praise on what I thought had not been one of my best outings. He knew how to encourage people.
Though John is a committed Nazarene, he modeled during his 17 years in West Africa a love for the broader Body of Christ. He invited a missionary couple from a sister holiness denomination to join us every Wednesday morning for our prayer meeting. More than that, on Sunday nights when Nazarene churches had no services, he and Linda set the example by attending an interdenominational fellowship where missionaries from a dozen or more evangelical churches worshipped together. When later I read John Wesley’s sermon, “Catholic Spirit,” it just seemed normal to me since I’d already seen that same spirit lived out by John and Linda.
John modeled hard work and expected the same of those who worked under him. Yet he also realized the importance of taking care of your family. “The best thing you can do for your children,” he confided once to me, “is to love their mother.”
After four years training pastors at our Bible Institute in Côte d’Ivoire, God began stirring the nest. Through a series of events, it became clear that the Lord was asking us to spearhead Nazarene church planting efforts in the neighboring country of Benin. John was reluctant at first, not wanting to spread our missionary forces any thinner, but he had confidence in the ability of his missionaries to discern the voice of the Lord. He sought funding for an exploratory trip to Cotonou (Benin’s capital). I’ll never forget that week we spent together as John, one of our Ivorian District Superintendents and I trekked east along the coast, heading through Ghana and Togo and finally arriving in Benin. That was the modest beginning of something none of us could have predicted. Today, Benin is one of the fastest growing areas for the Church of the Nazarene in Africa, with more than 15,000 members worshipping in over 100 congregations.
Those were not easy years for the Croffords as we laid foundations for the church in Benin, the “cradle of voodoo.” Malaria was a constant threat, and the spiritual opposition was palpable. It was not easy being the only Nazarene missionaries in the country, but the Seamans had set the example, and we became friends with missionaries from other evangelical churches, a crucial support network. At key junctures, Uncle John and Aunt Linda – as our sons called them – came to visit, praying with us, encouraging us, and playing with us. (See photo at right).
Not long after that water gun battle, the Seamans were called to Michigan, where John serves as district superintendent of the Michigan District, and we moved on to assignments elsewhere in Africa. General Assemblies became joyous times of reunion as John and Linda organized a West Africa missionary reunion. People passing by would comment about the uproarious laughter that emanated from our table as around thirty of us told funny stories and celebrated the good things God had done during what we fondly dubbed “the Seaman era.” Out in the long corridors between sessions of the General Assembly, Uncle John’s booming bass voice and distinctive laugh would carry from a distance, giving away his presence on the escalator before he even came into sight!
In July 2016, I was traveling west through Michigan and stopped in Grand Ledge to see John and Linda. They put me up overnight, and took me out for a delicious steak dinner. It was a wonderful time of catching up as they bragged on their children and grand kids. Speaking of the progress of the church, John was concerned to see the power of the Holy Spirit moving across the district. “People think I’m becoming too Pentecostal,” he remarked. But I knew what he meant. Like in West Africa, so in Michigan, he longed to see spiritual revival, holiness aflame.
The next morning, I drove to Chicago to have lunch with Lauren Seaman (John and Linda’s son), who is leading a team that plants Nazarene house churches in that great metropolis. As for John and Linda, they drove to the doctor where John had testing done that revealed the presence of cancer in his body. John has been fighting the cancer ever since and now is in hospice care, surrounded by family. We and many others have fervently prayed for his healing yet trust God for the outcome, knowing that Jesus does all things well.
Tutor, coach, and friend – All these words describe the mentor par excellence that John Seaman has been to Amy and to me. Though time has passed and we are no longer “the kids,” we can thank the Seamans for helping us grow into the seasoned missionaries that we are. Thank you, Uncle John and Aunt Linda, for opening up your hearts and making the Croffords part of your family!