Missionaries retire in peace

Missionaries retire in peace

Herald Staff Writer
Posted on Sat, Jun. 05, 2004

EAST MANATEE – In a village of salmon and pale green duplexes just
off State Road 64, roughly 100 retired missionaries and their spouses
live quiet lives surrounded by swaying palms and four man-made lakes
stocked with fish.

But the stillness of Bradenton Missionary Village doesn’t silence
the strong emotions these retirees feel for their brethren serving
in missionary fields around the world.

“On Thursday, missionary doctors were killed in north Afghanistan,”
said Berge Najarian, 79, who had a 25-year missionary career in the
Middle East, Caribbean and Africa. “But this is a calling. Even though
we are always in danger, we feel safe in the center of God’s will.”

Established in 1980 by Anthony T. Rossi, the founder of Tropicana
Products Inc., Bradenton Missionary Village allows needy retired
missionaries to live rent-free for as long as they can live
independently. Many of these residents worked 20 to 40 years as
Christian missionaries and came away with no money for rent or to
buy a home.

Najarian, whose parents escaped the Armenian massacres in Turkey,
estimates he earned only $3,000 or $4,000 yearly in his missionary
life. When he began in the 1960s, he and his family received only
$100 a month plus free rent.

“I thank God for this place every day,” said Najarian, who has a
duplex on the 300-acre tract, about 200 acres of which are scheduled
to be sold to developers.

Rossi was a born-again Christian whose second wife, Sanna, was a
missionary, said Ken Solomon, 77, a Pennsylvania-born resident who
spent 14 years in Argentina and 11 years in Colombia.

“Before Mr. Rossi passed away, he sold Tropicana and a large part
of that money went to create the Aurora Foundation that supports
Missionary Village,” Solomon said.

Rossi, who was 92 when he died in 1993, left the president’s chair at
Tropicana a year after the company’s stock was purchased by Beatrice
Food Co. in 1978 for $490 million.

There is a handsome picture of him in the Rossi Activities Center,
which includes a large cafeteria, a well-stocked library and offices.

The cafeteria serves a sumptuous lunch meal for residents and their
guests every day for $3.

“We are all a lot more plump than we were in the field,” Solomon
kids. “The food is great here.”

Every Friday morning, many retirees attend a worship service and
prayer requests. Most residents spend their days volunteering at
area hospitals, churches and nursing homes. On Sundays, there are
no services in the Village, allowing the retirees to attend their
own churches.

There are also two swimming pools, shuffleboard courts and a Jacuzzi.

But the pleasant surroundings and the sound of birds in the trees
that rim the Village don’t keep out the outside world and all its news.

“Recently I read about the killing of one of our pastors in Colombia,”
Solomon said. “It was discovered that he was slain by Satan worshippers
who were opposing the spread of the gospel.”

Solomon dodged bullets himself during 11 years in Medellin, Colombia,
from 1973 to 1984. Fights between guerrillas and government troops
would lead to scattered gunfire.

“Once we had to duck in the doorway of a shop while bullets were
flying,” Solomon said. “Sometimes I would have to keep parishioners
at our church inside until the shooting was over.

“But you know, I never experienced any great fear,” Solomon added. “I’m
not especially brave. But we knew our lives were in his hands.”

Fred Kowalchuk, 79, served 30 years in Peru and 12 in Spain. One year
a rumor spread through the jungles of Peru that the U.S. government
was rendering people into grease for atomic weapons, Kowalchuk said.

“We were told that people would greet us with shotguns when we came,”
Kowalchuk said. “We never had trouble. But I was at peace. When you
place yourself in God’s hands, if he wants to take you, he takes you.”

Richard Dymond, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at
[email protected] and 782-5517.