The pastor stood behind the flower-draped casket and jokingly urged mourners to try to keep up with the hearse that carried the body of Margaret Burks.
“Margaret had one speed,” said the Rev. Chuck Nation, pastor of First Baptist Church of Flowery Branch. “When I talk about not driving less than 80 miles per hour or stopping at stop signs, that was the way Margaret drove. But that was a reflection of the way she lived. That’s what kept her alive so long.”
Burks, 99, of Flowery Branch died Tuesday. Her funeral was held Friday morning at First Baptist Church where she was an active member for many years.
Burks was remembered as having a colorful personality, an independent, fearless nature and passion for sharing the gospel.
Burks began her missionary work at a later point in her life.
Not long after her husband Jesse Burks died in 1985, she went on her first mission trip abroad. Burks was 70 years old when she boarded a plane the day after Christmas to minister to the people of Liberia, a West African nation.
By the age of 76, Burks had enrolled at the Atlanta campus of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She graduated with a master’s degree in divinity and pastoral ministry at the age of 81. Shortly after her graduation, she was appointed as a missionary under the Southern Baptist Convention and traveled to Tanzania, a country in East Africa.
While there she helped to establish the Mission Through Education ministry that aims to support educational opportunities for children in the country. An elementary school, which she helped to build there, was named in her honor.
“She was passionate and driven about anything relating to missions,” Nation said. “Here at the church she was always super involved in all these mission organizations. A lot of people in the service today, because of Margaret’s influence, have gone on foreign mission trips, raised money, built buildings, taught boys and girls. She just had a tremendous influence on a lot of people’s lives. That’s all she ever wanted to talk about. She didn’t like to talk about herself but she wanted people to be involved in missions. That’s what she’ll be remembered for most.”
Jojo Thomas, director of missions for the Chattahoochee Baptist Association, grouped Burks with other well-known women missionaries like Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong.
“Margaret is kind of like that locally,” Thomas said. “There are almost countless people who will tell you, ‘The first time I went overseas was with Mrs. Burks.’”
Thomas said Burks was involved in the association’s mission efforts and was faithful no matter where she happened to be.
“When she couldn’t go back to Africa (because) she had kidney failure and had to go on dialysis,” Thomas said, “she said ‘You know, I’m stuck here in this dialysis room so this is my mission field.’ You’re hooked up on dialysis, sitting next to somebody who is going to be there three or four hours, so she just got to know those people and share the gospel. Whether she was in Africa or tied to that machine, that’s what she was about.”
Thomas said Burks inspired everyone she met with her fun-loving, vibrant personality.
Thomas laughed to himself as he recalled “a Margaret story” about the time she accidentally joined a cross-country car race in Africa.
Burks was trying to help a friend get to the airport on time but the pair were running late. As she pulled up to an intersection, a stream of cars sped by. On that particular day, the city had closed the streets to host a cross-country race. Without hesitation, Burks pulled in behind the racers and got her friend to the airport on time.
Thomas said the story illustrates Burks’ zest for life and positive attitude.
“When her husband died, she just sort of reinvented her life,” Thomas said. “Her best years were the latter years of her life, when most people just decide ‘Well, I’m not going to do anything of value now.’ She inspired a whole additional generation because of her attitude.”