by Dr Kevin G. Dyer
Kevin has been commended from the assembly in Sheffield, Tasmania, Australia for over 60 years. He started One Collective, Bright Hope International and Renewed Interest Ministries.
When my wife, Eloise, and I started serving the Lord over 60 years ago, our ministry was very different from what it is today. Changes in politics, government regulations, technology and Christian culture have influenced mission. It has been a transformative journey, adjusting to changing times and circumstances. The foundational message and biblical principles have remained absolutely steadfast but the methods, means, processes, people, atmosphere and attitudes have been in constant flux as we have watched the Holy Spirit at work.
When we first expressed a desire to serve the Lord to our two home assemblies, there was discussion about whether we were too inexperienced. We had three years of Bible study at Emmaus Bible College, but there were doubts in people’s minds. We took a step of faith, trusting God to lead us and provide for us. After two years of God’s provision, both assemblies commended us to serve cross-culturally.
Adapting to Change
When we began our ministry, we were young and passionate about reaching lost people for Christ. In Kolkata, we sold 100,000 Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in three months. Hindus and Muslims read about the life of Jesus and requested free correspondence courses on the Gospel of Mark. As they learned about the life of Jesus for the first time, many trusted Christ as Saviour.
A few years later, God opened a door for us to minister to the suffering Church in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. For 22 years, this special ministry consumed much of our time and energy. We developed an operation that clandestinely provided Bibles, Bible study books, medicines and finance to thousands of suffering believers across those communist countries.
At the same time, we realised that many people were escaping from persecution, so we set up refugee centres where we ministered to those who had lost their country, home and family. God brought people to Himself in these centres.
When the Iron Curtain came down, 1989- 1991, our emphasis changed again. Through Bright Hope, we began focusing on the poorest people, those who earned less than one US dollar a day. We taught them skills like sewing, gardening, cooking and selling their products, and many came to know Jesus as Saviour. This powerfully demonstrated the combined impact of learning a skill and receiving salvation to transform the lives of the poor.
Over the years, our foundations have not changed, but our methods have.
The poor are not just receivers but givers too. If they can read, they can teach others to read. If they know how to sew, they can teach someone else the same skill. If someone has a shovel, they can loan it to someone who hasn’t. Before we give a pig or goat to a family, they must commit to give one piglet or one kid of each litter to another poor family. We learned to adapt and change as God led us on a journey through different methods and emphases.
We encourage local church leaders 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 disadvantaged communities, so the local church holds the money on behalf of people. If there are eight to ten families in a small group, after a few months they have saved US$50 between them. Then they
can loan the money to one of the members to start or develop a small business. The loan is paid back with interest. Rather than depending on handouts, they learn valuable lessons in money management and help each other to solve the problems they face.
When a family trusts Christ, we try to connect them to the closest Bible-believing fellowship where they will be loved, cared for and taught to grow in Christ. We encourage cooperation and fellowship among all believers so the impoverished community sees the unity in our witness and realises that life in Jesus changes everything. Another change we have seen is the acceptance of national believers and missionaries serving together as co-workers. We need to value national workers and the resources they can bring. We want them to exercise the gifts they have been given to create solutions and drive positive change.
In the early days of our ministry, there was opposition to short-term mission work. People were afraid that it was a partial commitment to the Lord, but a short-term commitment often led to a lifetime of service. If the person returned home, the experience and radical change in them brought life, fervour, wisdom and compassion back to their home church. The young worker, having seen the power of God at work in a cross-cultural environment, would never be the same again.
Today, young people starting out are often left to their own devices in planning and finding support. We are seeing a generation of young people going out into short-term service without the involvement of their church. 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.
We rejoice in the widespread acceptance of the effectiveness of short-term ministry. It has become a stepping stone for many into full-time service. We should encourage more young people to explore short-term mission.
On Unchanging Foundations
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 this was right for our family. We came home for crucial years because our son had dyslexia and was having trouble in school. We didn’t see this as a sacrifice, but rather God’s plan to help us as a family. Now all of our three children, two of their spouses, and three of our adult grandchildren are in full-time ministry.
Over the years, our foundations have not changed, but our methods have. Not every missionary will have the same experiences as us, but these are some of the ways the Lord has led us through changing times and circumstances. Our ministry continues and it is our plan to serve as long as God provides the strength, health and support we need. Our faith remains rooted in Him, and we fully believe He is abundantly able to do exceedingly more than we can ask or think. It has been an amazing journey and we give Him all the praise and glory for the mighty work He has done.