Jim’s Playground

COMPACT Family Services opens recreational area for developmentally disabled kids.

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Both Jim Andrew Dickey and his wife, Brenda Johnson Dickey, grew up in Augusta, Georgia, and obtained elementary education degrees from Southeastern University. While pastoring Gloster First Assembly in Mississippi, they bivocationally taught grade school in nearby Liberty for two years.

Jim, who served in the Vietnam War in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Coral Sea, obtained a master’s degree in cross-cultural communication from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Brenda a master’s in guidance and counseling from the University of South Carolina.

But the Dickeys felt drawn to Japan, and in 1981 embarked on a 38-year career to the Land of the Rising Sun as Assemblies of God world missionaries. They took a linguistic course, which served as a valuable foundation for learning the complex Japanese language. They spent two years studying the language in Nagano State until they could speak and read it fluently.

“Even with our academic ability, it was very difficult,” Brenda remembers. “We applied ourselves, and studied 12 hours a day the first year.”

Their first evangelistic effort took place in Matsumoto City, also in Nagano. They held meetings in their home, and later in a community center. They distributed thousands of gospel literature newspapers thanks to Light for the Lost funding.

“We had to plow first, then dig the ground, because people had never heard of Jesus,” says Brenda, who started Mpact Girls in Japan. “Missionaries don’t build a church in a couple of years in Japan.”

But the Dickeys consistently held Bible studies and eventually started Asumigaoka Gospel Church in Tokecheva, where they stayed for 15 years. None of the attendees had ever heard of Jesus before.

Brenda eventually obtained her doctorate in educational psychology from Regent University.

“Education opens so many doors,” she says. Brenda retired in 2019 after teaching education at Mississippi University for Women during her furlough years.

The couple, married for 48 years, retired in 2018 and moved to Springfield, Missouri, to be near their only child, Karen Beiler, who operates Eurasia Café and Hotel. Beiler and her husband, Justin, have two children, 3-year-old Greta, and 7-month-old James — named after his grandfather.

But in February 2020, as Jim and Brenda traveled on an Arkansas highway, a motorist crossed the center line and hit their car head-on. Jim, 71, died instantly. Brenda suffered broken bones, but recovered physically.

Subsequently, Brenda wanted to honor her husband’s legacy and she felt a newsletter from COMPACT Family Services, the national child welfare agency of the AG, provided the perfect fit. COMPACT expanded its ministry to care for developmentally disabled children and youth in foster care last year. The six-student cottage at COMPACT’S Hillcrest Children’s Home in Hot Springs, Arkansas, is often full.

The newsletter detailed plans to construct a playground this year, complete with a pavilion, playground equipment, and circular sidewalk on which students can ride oversized tricycles.

Brenda immediately knew she needed to support the project.

“Jim loved children so much,” says Brenda, 71. “He was such a good mentor to children. Jim talked a lot about doing something for autistic children.” Jim had befriended Kyle Schoenborn, the autistic son of AGWM missionaries Scott and Beth Schoenborn, whom the Dickeys had mentored in Japan.

Brenda provided seed money for the COMPACT project, which is called Jim’s Playground.

In June, a U.S. Missions Church Mobilization team from Generations Church in Tallahassee, Florida, installed the playground equipment behind the developmental disabilities cottage.

Although a towering figure at 6 feet, 2 inches, Jim had the nature of a gentle lamb, according to Brenda. Children felt naturally drawn to him, and he would squat down on the floor and play with them, or go down a slide with them at parks.

“Children followed him around,” Brenda says. “He believed children learned from playing.”

COMPACT Executive Director Jay Mooney says the $50,000 project has been paid for by donors, including Generations Church of Tallahassee. The pavilion will be installed next month and the playground dedicated in October. But children already are benefiting.

“Kids can ride on the sidewalk, play on the playground, and swing on the swing set,” says Mooney, 59.

Mooney first met the Dickeys when he pastored Roswell Assembly of God in Georgia. The couple spoke at a missions convention at the church, which financially supported them monthly as Japanese missionaries.

“Jim was a wonderful man,” Mooney says. “Brenda is an outstanding person.”