When we started serving the Lord 62 years ago, our ministry was vastly different than it is today. Over the years, we have seen many changes that have influenced what we do and how we do it. Politics, revolutions, government regulations, travel methods, technology, spiritual awakenings, Christian culture, and many other influences have all brought radical changes.
It has been a transformative journey adjusting to the changing times and circumstances. The foundational message and biblical principles have remained absolutely steadfast — not changing one iota — but the methods, the means, the processes, the people, the atmosphere and attitudes have all been in constant flux as we have watched the Holy Spirit work in different ways at different times.
Here are seven of the many significant changes that we have seen in our ministry lifetime.
1. The enormous contribution of short-term workers.
In the beginning of our ministry experience, there was a lot of opposition to short-term missionary work. Some people were afraid that it was just a partial commitment to the Lord. But a short-term commitment often led to a lifetime of service, and thousands began serving on a permanent basis. If the person did return home, the experience and radical change in them after their short-term mission brought life, fervor, wisdom and compassion back to the home church. The young worker, having seen the mighty power of God at work in a cross-cultural environment, would never be the same again.
Today we rejoice in the wide-spread acceptance of the effectiveness of short-term ministry, and it has become a wonderful stepping-stone for many into full-time service. There are far more short-term termers going out today than ever before. Our son, daughter-in-law, and three of their adult children are all involved full-time in the training, development and sending of about 1,500 young people a year into missions. The vast majority have a revolutionary spiritual and ministry experience that changes their lives and brings the gospel to hundreds of thousands of people each year.
We should all be encouraging young people to get involved in dynamic, life-changing short-term experiences that will have far-reaching eternal consequences. As the local church takes steps of faith to cultivate and partner with young eighteen to thirty year olds, they will also experience the joy of participating in daring adventures of faith.
2. The constant changes in methods.
In our 60 years, the Lord has called us to have different emphases at different times. When we began our ministry, we were young and passionate about reaching lost people for Christ. In Calcutta, we sold 100,000 gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in three months; and Hindus and Muslims read about the transformative life of Jesus and sent in for a free correspondence course on the Gospel of Mark. They saw the life of Jesus up-close for the first time and many of them trusted Christ as Saviour.
A few years later, God opened a wide door for us to minister to the suffering Church in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. For 22 years, part of our focus was on that special ministry. It consumed much of our time, energy and money as we developed a large, sophisticated operation that clandestinely provided Bibles, Bible study books, medicines and money to tens of thousands of suffering believers all across those communist countries.
At the same time, we realized that many people were escaping from persecution in those communist lands, so we set up refugee centres where we ministered to those who had lost their country, home and family. That was another change of emphasis, and God brought thousands to himself in these centres.
However, the Iron Curtain was knocked down in 1989 to 1991 and our whole emphasis changed again. Through Bright Hope, we began focusing on the extreme poor, those who earned less than one dollar a day. We taught them skills like sewing, gardening, cooking; and selling their products, and many came to know Jesus as Saviour, powerfully demonstrating the combined impact of learning a skill and receiving salvation to radically change the lives of the poor.
All through these changes, God has mightily been at work. We learned to adapt and change as God led us step by step on a journey of radical transformation through many different methods and emphases.
3. Cooperation with other believers.
We work with assemblies wherever we can, but in many of the poor communities, there are often no assemblies, so when a poor family trusts Christ, we try to connect them to the closest Bible-believing fellowship where they will be loved, cared for and taught how to grow in Christ.
We encourage cooperation and fellowship among all believers so the poor community sees the unity in our witness and realizes that the radical life and death of Jesus changes everything.
We want to demonstrate the unity in the Body of Christ and encourage all believers in a poor community to work together for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
4. Partnerships with national believers.
Another radical and wonderful change we have seen over the years is the acceptance of national believers and missionaries as being co-workers together, dispelling the notion that only missionaries have solutions for local problems. Bright Hope encourages national believers to conduct seminars that help the poor see that they have gifts, talents and resources to help their community, church and families break out of the bondage of poverty. We want to elevate the value of their work and contributions so they don’t look for us to bring resources to solve all their problems.
This is a major shift in how the poor view themselves, and how we view ourselves. They are not just receivers but givers too. If someone has a shovel, they can loan it to someone who doesn’t. If they can read, they can teach others who can’t. If they know how to sew, they can teach someone else the same skill. Before we give a pig or goat to a family, they must commit to giving one piglet or one kid of each litter to another poor family. Even though they are poor, they can help someone else.
We also encourage the leaders of the local church to develop a banking system where a poor family puts one dollar a month into a fund supervised by the local church. There are often no banks in these disadvantaged communities, so the local church holds the money on behalf of the people. If there are eight to ten families in a small group, after a few months they have saved $50 between them all. Then they can loan that money to one of the members to start or develop a small business. The loan is paid back with interest. The poor families not only build up a reserve for a future family health crisis, but they earn some interest as well. They learn valuable lessons on money management, and they help each other rather than depending on us for handouts.
We do assist with many large expenditures like digging a well, developing a school, paying a teacher until the school becomes self-reliant, or loaning funds to families to start a garden or small business. However, the emphasis is on recognizing that they can help each other solve most of their own problems. This builds up the value of local believers and gives them a sense that they have much to offer.
5. Relationships with the commending church.
When we first expressed a desire to serve the Lord to our two home assemblies, there was a lot of discussion about whether we were too young and too inexperienced to be ready for full-time Christian work. We had three years of Bible study at Emmaus, but there were doubts in many people’s minds because we had never done this kind of ministry before. We took a step of faith, trusting God to lead us and provide for us. After two years of God’s miraculous provision and powerful work, both assemblies commended us to serving cross-culturally.
Today many young people starting out are still often left to their own planning and finding support, so we are seeing a generation of young people doing short-term experiences without the involvement and encouragement of their local church. They independently build a support base of prayer and finances that sadly bypasses the involvement of the local church; and as a result, the believers at their local fellowship lose the joy of sending young people out as risk-takers for the Kingdom of God.
Local assemblies should encourage, counsel, and push young people forward. They should take risks with them and see their short-term experience as a building block in their spiritual development.
Recently, a 22-year-old young lady that we know well went on a six-month missions experience. Her life was revolutionized, changed to a firebrand for God, possessed with a deep desire to share the hope of the gospel with everyone she meets. There are thousands of others like her.
6. Changes in financial support.
In the early days, we were young and had lots of energy to find new partners to stand with us in our work. Now, as senior citizens, it is much more difficult. Many who supported us in the past have gone to heaven, and it is very hard to find new helpers at this stage of life. Our ministry continues just the same, and it is our plan to serve as long as God provides the strength, health and money we need. Sometimes we have to cut back to live within how much He supplies for us personally and for the work we do. Our faith is still rooted in Him, and we fully believe He is abundantly able to do exceedingly more than we can ask or think.
7. The involvement of our family.
When we first began, many missionaries made huge sacrifices by being apart from their children while they were educated in a different location. I never had peace that it was the right course for our family.
We came home for crucial years because our son had dyslexia and was having trouble in school. We got through those hard years and sacrificed some ministry opportunities. We actually didn’t see it as a sacrifice, but rather God’s plan to help us in our family life.
Now all of our three children, two of their spouses, and three of our adult grandchildren are in full-time ministry. Two other grandchildren are praying and planning for overseas ministry.
At International Teams, we always urged missionaries who faced circumstances that caused difficulties for their children to change locations so they could keep the family together and get the help they needed.
I counsel our workers to seriously consider making changes so their families benefit and grow in their love for the Lord and His work. I remember counseling a couple to return from France, put their two boys through high school in the United States, and then go back to France after their sons were established on their own. That’s what they did, and both of their adult children are serving the Lord today, one in France and one in the Muslim world, all because their parents made a tough decision to keep their children a vital part of their service for the Lord.
I am currently counseling a family presently serving in a dangerous community in Africa. Both the wife and son are very fearful and struggling, and I have urged them to consider a different missions field. It was a hard decision, but they have just chosen to move to Spain where the circumstances will be much safer. In Spain, they can continue in ministry and help their teenagers in the process.
Over the years, our foundations haven’t changed. They are firm and secure, but there have been radical transformations in our methods and experiences. Not every missionary will have the same experiences we had, but these are some of the ways the Lord led us through changing times and circumstances. It has been an amazing journey and we give Him all the praise and glory for the mighty work He has done!
by Kevin G. Dyer