Missionary Ron White served his Savior faithfully and fervently in active duty for the best part of 60 years, mostly in Japan where he and his wife, Odessa, headed to Japan as ambassadors of our Lord soon after graduation from college having raised a marginal amount of support to couple with their full load of faith, still both in their early 20’s. Ron and Odessa would serve in Japan for four decades together until God chose to call Odessa to Himself for her reward and rest leaving Ron to continue serving solo as a “missionary to the world” encouraging young missionaries and especially missionaries to start Bible Institutes and plant churches while training national leaders. As a pastor for forty years at Thompson Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis it was my privilege to invite Ron to lead in our annual faith-promise world mission conferences on several occasions and he never failed to leave us stronger in faith, sharper in vision and deeper in commitment to world missions than when he came. Ron just recently suffered some physical setbacks that have sidelined him from his itinerant missions ministry, but his life, labors and legacy are written indelibly on the hearts of believers around the globe which benefited from his indominable spirit, his insightful, soul-stirring preaching and his singularly blessed skills on the keyboard through which God set souls singing wherever Ron was ministering.
Though our church has supported the Whites since the late 60’s, it was, I believe, in a conference in the late 80’s or early 90’s when I first met him. In our 10th annual faith-promise conference I discovered he could not only preach but he could also play the piano. Our church supported (and still does) a rescue mission ministry, Good News Ministries, that at that time had a family shelter for homeless families. I remember arranging housing for Ron, who attended this particular conference without Odessa, in the homeless family shelter of Good News. Little did I realized then that Ron White was to become one of my missionary heroes, but had I known then how highly I would come to esteem him for the Lord’s sake and for his selfless missionary endeavors, I would have done whatever I could have done to provide him with housing other than in a shelter for the homeless. The shelter was clean and comfortable, and we were appreciative of their hospitality, and Ron was grateful for it, but as I look back, I marvel at the humble graciousness the man of God displayed as I assigned him housing for the week with the homeless. That was Ron White.
He grew up in a humble, broken home in West Virginia and was for the most part reared by his grandmother. His mother, overcome with the thought of having to care for a child she had not anticipated having at that juncture in her life, was not exactly overjoyed at his birth. When asked what she wanted to name her baby boy, Ron’s mother in exasperation said “Oh, I don’t care, name him whatever you want to!” The doctor who delivered her child had Ron as a first name, so he named the infant Ron White.
As a lad, someone invited Ron to church, and his first Sunday there happened to be the Pastor’s last Sunday there. He had arrived in town about a year earlier, but after a year-long spiritual draught with no conversions and very few attendees, he was ready to “throw in the towel there.” The discouraged pastor had just closed the door and walking down the steps saw a ten or eleven-year-old boy sitting on the steps, and asked “What do you want, son?” Ron said, “I want to be saved.” That pastor led the little boy to Christ and though then leaving his church discouraged, will be “clipping coupons” through eternity.
Ron would grow up in another Baptist Church near his home, the church “coincidentally” where Odessa and her family attended. Ron and Odessa became childhood sweethearts and would eventually attend Tennessee Temple Schools. As a teenager Ron responded to a missionary message to support missions by going forward at the invitation and telling the preacher, “I don’t have anything to give, but I want to give myself.” And now you know the rest of the story!
He fell in love with gospel music at the church and was captivated by the piano. He never had a piano or lessons, but he would position himself so that he could see and study the techniques of the church pianist. When eventually he had the opportunity to try playing on this beautiful musical machine, it was immediately apparent that he would make not just a good but a gifted pianist. The church bought and had delivered a piano to the home of Ron where he lived at that time with his mother and stepfather. When Ron saw it, he was thrilled, but his exuberance was short lived in as much as when the stepfather came home upon seeing the piano and learning that the church had bought it and had given it to Ron, he ordered it out of his house saying that there would be no piano in his home. Not long after that, Ron and Odessa would find themselves as students at TTU where he would soon thereafter be regularly accompanying a university singing group that traveled with Dr. Lee Roberson, the school president and pastor of the Highland Park Baptist Church. Interestingly, Odessa was also a participant in the ensemble that sang.
Ron and Odessa and two or three other missionary couples were used of God to establish four churches in their first term in Japan as missionaries, a feat almost unheard of then or any time thereafter. He would also found the Kansai Independent Baptist Bible Institute where Japanese young men and women were trained for ministry, all of them being required to learn to play the piano. That Institute has thrived and is thriving after more than 50 years doing what it was established to do. Scores of its graduates serve not only in Japan but in several other countries as church planters and educators.
In one of those churches planted on that first term in Japan a group of believers meeting in Osaka were overhead by a passerby business man hoping to learn some English singing “What a Wonderful Change in My Life Has Been Wrought Since Jesus Came into My heart.” That dear soul stopped upon hearing that line and thought “I have never had any change in my life that was wonderful.” He slipped into the service, was gloriously saved, later attended KBBI and was trained for ministry. Ellen and I visited the church in Osaka that he founded and was pastoring when we were there in 2009, and it is one of the largest if not the largest church in Japan with beautiful modern facilities. Pastor Ogawa’s sons serve alongside of him in this exciting work.
Ron White, teacher, church planter, missionary statesman, musician and man of God whose touch upon the hands and hearts of multitudes world-wide in the 20th and 21st century may not result in any biographies or books written about his wonderful works, but his memory has been etched upon the minds of co-workers, converts and church members wherever he ministered. We have read the book he is still writing, the living epistle, known and read as the life and labors of Ron White, with his loving wife, Odessa, faithful, fruitful follower of His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to whom Ron would humbly beg us to give all praise, honor and glory. Amen.
“You can only do two things with your life: give it away or throw it away, but you cannot keep it.” (Ron White, October 2003)
“You’re the best Christian that somebody knows; if you don’t go, who will?” (Ron White)