Gentry, Arkansas, USA., Jan. 3 - Southern Baptist farmer-evangelist Calvin Fox, who brought the Gospel of Christ and better farming methods to hungry families in the Philippines and India, died of a heart attack on Dec. 14 at his home in Gentry, Arkansas, USA.
Fox, 62, had recently arrived in the United States from India, where he and his wife, Margaret, had worked since 1995 among some of the nation's poorest tribal highlanders. They brought the simple but highly effective SALT (Sloping Agricultural Land Technology) farming method developed in the Philippines by Fox's longtime colleague, Southern Baptist missionary Harold Watson.
Fox's adaptation of the method, called "Indian SALT," helped tribal farmers grow more and better food while reversing the soil erosion that has devastated much of Asia's uplands.
"In the last eight years, Calvin has led in eliminating the desperate physical hunger the people he served had been experiencing, and ministering at the same time to their spiritual hunger," said Clyde Meador, executive vice president of the International Mission Board. "The 'hunger season' was eliminated from their agricultural calendar, while he developed agricultural techniques that have been adopted throughout many parts of South Asia. At the same time, he led in outreach efforts that saw 100 churches become more than 2,000 churches in these last few years."
Combining farming and evangelism started early for Fox, who grew up in the small agricultural community of Gentry. A follower of Christ from childhood, he sensed a call to ministry early on but didn't see himself as a preacher. His direction came into focus during college days at the University of Arkansas, when he went to the Philippines as a Baptist Student Union summer missionary in 1962.
"The reason I didn't want to be a preacher was my love of agriculture," Fox once wrote. As he served among the poor in the Philippines, he realized the two could go together.
"God showed me how I could use my agriculture training as I told the people about Christ," he said. "When I came home from the Philippines, I was not the same person. My life's purpose had been radically changed."
Another young man who visited the Philippines the next year remembered that folks were still talking about Fox.
"Everywhere I would go as a student summer missionary in the Philippines in 1963, people were talking about the engaging student by the name of Calvin they had the previous summer, who would go anywhere and do anything to win people to the Lord," recalled Jerry Rankin, now president of the International Mission Board. "Three years later, I found myself in a missions class at Southwestern Seminary with him and discovered his passion for reaching a lost world was genuine."
Fox returned to the Philippines with his wife, the former Margaret Cotton of Paris, Ark., after their appointment as Southern Baptist career missionaries in 1967. They spent the next quarter-century planting churches and helping farm families increase their yield. As extension director for the Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center, Fox helped spread many of the SALT farming techniques that have transformed the lives of millions of Asians living in erosion-ravaged highland regions.
Asked to consider transferring, at age 55, to one of the poorest and most difficult regions of India, Fox visited the area to check it out.
"It was the middle of dry season. It was hot. It looked just one step above a desert," Fox later recounted. "I was riding in the back of that kidney bruiser of a jeep we drive, and thinking about the nice pickup truck we had in the Philippines and our nice house and all the things we'd collected over the years. I said to myself, 'It's too hard. I don't know if I can do it, and I don't want to ask my wife to do it.'"
He came back, however - this time with Margaret. "She is one tough lady," he said. "She looked at this place and said, 'With God's help, we can do it.'"
They whittled their worldly possessions to a few hundred pounds and moved into a 320-square-foot house as they developed a demonstration farm and training center for tribal farmers. Their first month, both caught Indian flu; Fox contracted malaria. He was so sick that he quit praying for healing or anything else except faith - to stay and obey. Local believers working at the center cared for them until they got better.
As the center program grew, the Foxes and visiting missionaries also trained local health workers, who in turn taught village families simple life-saving practices. Most important, they trained farmer-evangelists to plant the Gospel among their families and villages through Bible storying and other means. The harvest: hundreds of new churches, thousands of outreach groups, tens of thousands of new believers.
"One of the keys to Calvin's success with subsistence farmers was his appreciation for their skills," observed Fred Beck, a missionary coworker and friend. "He didn't try to change how they farmed. Instead, he introduced off-season agriculture to provide additional much-needed food or cash crops.
"Another key was that instead of trying to do everything himself, Calvin trained local agricultural technicians to extend his concepts. Because of an especially high mortality rate among infants and small children, he enlisted a local physician with a heart for the poor to join him in training village health workers to minister to simple health needs, deliver babies, teach nutrition and train mothers how to plant backyard gardens.
"Those practical expressions of God's love for the people opened their hearts to learn more about God.
"Over a five-year period, we saw three church-planting movements take place. Those movements produced nearly 1,000 new churches among three separate people groups. In addition, the seeds for several more church-planting movements were planted among other unreached people groups."
Fox's passion and vision will be missed, said Avery Willis, IMB overseas operations chief.
"Calvin Fox was a missionary's missionary," Willis said. "He got his hands dirty with his agricultural projects, brought light to darkened eyes through his chronological Bible storying and impacted a church-planting movement in India. He will be sorely missed in the work - and in helping train new missionaries, as he was planning to do the first of next year."
A message sent Dec. 16 from Indian believers said Fox "will remain in the hearts of all farmer pastors, opening-door leaders and listener groups that he founded.... Amidst all odds, he always showed a ray of hope to glorify our Father in heaven, and he built in us the spirit of strong disciples.... At this hour we pray to the God of patience and consolation to enrich the Fox family with the spirit that Mr. Calvin exhibited as he worked among the needy without any complaint."
Fox is survived by his wife and three grown children.