Milton A Combs, American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) alumnus, passed away peacefully at the age of 94, on April 14, 2022 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Milton (Milt) was born on February 19, 1928 in Mounds Midway Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Andrew and Albertine Alise Doty Combs. Milt was the oldest of four children.
The first ten years of Milt’s life was in a typically underprivileged part of St. Paul, daily witnessing many of the seamy sides of life. Milt wrote about this time in his ABFMS application: “However, I am grateful to this day to those, my mother especially, who influenced me to pursue sound and lasting values.”
Both Milt and his brother attended Sunday Church School and other activities fairly regularly at the Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul. It was at Pilgrim Baptist Church that he was baptized at the age of twelve. From that age and for about five years most of his religious experience was intensified and nurtured through the Boy Scout program in the neighbor community center. The scoutmaster of the troop was very much a Christian man who made a strong emphasis upon the religious and spiritual aspects of the scouting program, all of which made a marked positive influence upon all the boys.
Following high school, where Milt was a varsity athlete in football and track, he attended Macalester College. Milt wrote: “It was here I am sure that the foundation was laid for my future aspiration to become a Christian minister, for it was here I began having a realized experience with the living God, in terms of change of attitude and perspective about life.” His college training was interrupted by a time in the U.S. Army where he received the WWII Victory Medal in 1947.
Milt returned to St. Paul and became involved in veteran activities at the Hallie Q Brown Community Center. It was here that he met a very special volunteer, Edna Mae Stone, who would be his future wife. On June 28, 1949 Milt and Edna were married at Edna’s mother’s home. The service was officiated by the Pilgrim Baptist Church pastor, Rev. Floyd Massey. Pilgrim Baptist Church was the church of Milt and Edna in their youth.
Milt returned to study at Macalester earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1952. By this time Milt had a definite calling to the Christian ministry. He decided to pursue divinity school. Milt and Edna along with three small children packed up and drove to California. Milt studied at the American Baptist Seminary of the West (now Berkeley of Theology) in Berkeley. It was at seminary, through the influence of missionaries, students from mission fields, and missionary curriculum courses, that the challenge of foreign missionary service appealed to Milt.
Milt and Edna decided to pursue missionary service overseas. In November 1955 they were appointed by the ABFMS as the first African American missionaries in the post WWII era. The family moved to Cornell University where Milt completed his BD while awaiting their assignment. The Combs family arrived in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1957. Roy, their fourth child, was born about two years later. It was reported that Roy was the first African American born in Burma (now Myanmar).
Milt and Edna, and their children, became fluent in the Burmese and Karen languages. Milt worked as Associate Secretary for youth work of the Burma Baptist Convention. He helped to plan and carry out youth leadership training conferences, camping programs, evangelistic tours, and the publication of a youth magazine. He also taught at the Burma Baptist Divinity School in Rangoon (now Yangon). He often traveled to remote areas of the country preaching as well as doing agricultural education and evangelical work. Milt and Edna served in Burma (now Myanmar) for five years. They learned to appreciate and respect the rich diversity of the Burmese people, their culture, their food, their religions, and their hopes and aspirations. In March of 1962 there was a military coup d’état and the Combs family, along with other missionaries, returned to the United States.
With no idea when or if, they might be able to return to Burma (now Myanmar) Milt and Edna settled in Richmond, California. Their fifth child, John, was born in 1964. Milt and Edna became active in civic and community affairs. Milt focused on youth activities involving Richmond’s African American young men and boys. In the mid-1960 and early 1970’s their home became one of the hubs of community organizing activity.
In the mid and late 1960’s Milt was a counselor at the Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall while completing a Master’s Degree in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1969, he became one of the first African American instructors at Solano Community College in Fairfield, California. Milt taught courses in the social sciences division including sociology, psychology, and world religions. He also developed and taught Solano’s first Ethnic Studies and African American History courses, and advocated for Black, Latino, and Native American studies. Milt taught for over 30 years at Solano.
In their later retirement years Milt and Edna moved to Oklahoma where they lived near their son, Milt Jr.
Milt’s spirit will live on through his positive impact on the lives of those around him, including thousands of young people through his ministry, community work and teaching, and his quiet and consistent devotion to God, family, country and community demonstrated his life of faith and integrity.
Edna predeceased Milt on August 3, 2020. He is also predeceased by his siblings.
Milt is survived by his five children: Milton Jr., Karyn, Kristina (Rudy), Roy (Barbara), and John; a host of children-in-love, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family, extended family and loved ones throughout the country and world.
A memorial celebration for Milt will take place in-person and virtually on Saturday May 14, 2022, at 3:00 P.M., PST at the Arlington Community Church, 52 Arlington Ave., Kensington, CA 94707. COVID-19 safety protocols will be followed for in-person attendees. For more details about the memorial service, please email email@example.com or call 510-798-8948 and leave a message.