How I got involved in overseas missions is a long story, so let me start at the beginning. I received the Lord in April of 1979. I wasn't raised in a Christian family, I always believed there was a God and even believed the story about Jesus. However, they were only historical facts.
In 1975, my older brother Scott had gotten involved in flying hangliders and taught me to fly that summer. It was a very addicting sport, the natural high from flying free flight was a very heady experience. Never satisfied, we were always seeking higher altitudes, etc. In August of 1976, we were flying in Heavener, Oklahoma, off the Talihina mountains. Scott crashed his glider, breaking his neck. It was at that moment, on top of the mountain, I began crying out to God.
It was another 2 and 1/2 years before I actually responded to the Gospel and asked the Lord to come into my life. My life changed radically, being set free from substance abuse and other perversions. I quickly integrated my life into church life, attending as often as I could. I had an intense hunger for the Word of God. The Lord began opening opportunites for me to speak in churches and I taught Sunday School classes regularly.
In 1984, a couple who had a Bible School came to minister in the church I attended. During that service, they played a video of the work they were doing in the Philippines. Something came over me and I began to weep profusely as I watched the dark skinned people of the Philippines. After the service, they asked the congregation that if anyone had two weeks vacation time available, they were invited to their base in the Philippines to help and see first hand what they were doing.
Strangely, I felt I should try to go. All the obstacles to go were removed, (finances, vacation time, etc.) and I left for the Philippines for 10 days in April of 1985. I had never been on a plane before in my life! So the 24 hour travel time was quite an experience. But it didn't match what the Lord did when I got there. The missionary asked me to teach a 2 hour course each day in the Bible School. I had preached a little up to that point, filling in for a vacationing pastor, or maybe on a Sunday or Wednesday night. But it did not compare to this. The Word just poured out of me to these hungry students eager to win their nation to Christ. I was hooked. Nothing I had experienced in the USA compared to being used by God on foreign soil.
I returned two more times to the Philippines, in January of 1986 and May of 1988. In 1987, my first wife and I divorced, it was a devastating blow to me. I was so ashamed, I could hardly face anybody. And thats how I came to live in Oklahoma. My parents had moved down to Grove in 1976. My mother was really concerned for me being alone. She asked me to come to Grove and live with them until I could get back on my feet, so I did. Which, looking back, I see God's hand in it as I had never dreamed of leaving my home town of Columbus, Kansas.
I moved to Oklahoma in June of 1987 and got involved in the church my parents attended, by now, both mom and dad had given their lives to the Lord as well. I met a couple in the church who were going regularly to Honduras on mission trips. So in the fall of that year, I went to Honduras for a couple of weeks. Not much happened outwardly, but inwardly, it really helped me get over the shame and humiliation of the divorce. I was back on track again. I met a lady in the church that winter and in July of 1988, we married.
Two weeks after Judy and I were married, she went with a team to Honduras and I stayed home alone as I had no vacation time. In February of 1989, we returned to Honduras together and the next year we went to Venezuela. Life was good, both of us having a heart for foreign missions.
In 1991, I took a leap of faith and started my own travel agency. The Lord prospered it and after about 18 months, I had to either devote full time to it ( I was doing it part time with the help of my dad) or scale it back because it had grown so much. I chose to quit my present job and go on my own. It was a great decision, I wish I had done it sooner.
But starting a business and getting it going grounded me, I was locked in to working long hours and not able to take any time off for overseas travel. But the fire was kept burning because my specialty was buying wholesale international airline tickets, marking them up, and selling them to missionaries. So I was in almost constant contact with people traveling overseas in the Lord's service.
In 1995, Judy and I went to Estonia, a small former Soviet republic on the Baltic Sea south of Finland. It was a great trip and I felt the Lord tell me I would be ministering to Russian speaking people. In the fall of that year, I was invited to go to Ukraine with a team that was to help start a new church in the city of Poltava. A lot of good things happened and in my heart I fell in love with the Ukrainian people. I still remember one afternoon passing out several thousand tracts on a street corner with my friend Joe Niehus and two Russian interpreters from St. Petersburg. I had always been intimidated passing out tracts and the Lord delivered me from that fear in one afternoon.
I was invited back to Ukraine in 1996 but I didn't go. 1997 rolled around and the opportunity came again, and with my company more in order, I went. The team spent a week ministering in the city of Pereyaslav, distributing the Book of Hope in schools during the day and conducting evangelistic meetings in the evening.
The second morning of the trip, I was getting dressed in the hotel room and I heard the Lord tell me to begin bringing teams to Ukraine. It wasn't an audible voice, but it resonated loud on the inside of me. The moment I said, "Ok, Lord", he told me to get my business in order. I knew what He meant. I controlled everything and did all the administrative work, it was smothering me. I came home from the trip and promoted one of the ladies who worked for me to office manager and began to learn how to release and delegate responsibility to others.
Four months later, March of 1998, I was back in Ukraine with the first team I had organized myself. We had a great time, probably one of the best trips I ever experienced personally, it was extremely fruitful and I felt the Lord changing the kind of ministry I had always considered myself doing, which was teaching and preaching. From that point on, I had no real desire to speak publicly, rather encouraging others to fulfill their giftings. I learned that taking humanitarian aid to cities opened doors of opportunity quickly, it seemed people were more interested in seeing your good deeds than great speaking. I took my next team in the fall of 1998 back to Pereyaslav and we distributed food to poor families for the first time, it was a very effective form of ministry.
We have been distributing aid to the poor and orphans, this opens many opportunities for ministry. The aid we take in secures permission for evangelism and transfers favor we have as Americans to the churches that partner with us with the local government. In the summer of 1999 and 2001, our teams conducted Christian music festivals with thousands hearing the Gospel through music and drama.
Presently, we are ministering in partnership with several national churches, distributing food to the poor. Orphanages are also targeted, supplying to them some of their basic needs: toothbrushes, toothpaste, shoes and clothing. Our organization supplies the resources and the churches distribute for us. Its a great partnership, they have the desire and manpower, and we provide the resources.
Since 2001, I have been teaching Christian Business Seminars throughtout Ukraine. At the time of this writing, (2004), we have hosted more than 50 seminars in about 20 cities, teaching Biblical principles for success, as well as sales and marketing skills for the small businessman.
I feel the Lord has told me He is going to break the back of poverty in Ukraine, so our ministry there is not just distributing aid but providing solutions. Our goal is to revive the economy with Christian businesses operating by Biblical principles. We want to also start schools, training believers with computer skills in order for them to improve their employment opportunities. I believe the Lord is going to use Ukrainian missionaries to reach Europe and middle Asia. The finances will be provided by Ukrainian businessmen raised up by God for this express purpose.
In the future, our plans are to develop and distribute a Video Business School through a network of churches. We'll reach many more people as compared to me personally visiting each city and conducting a seminar.
So that's how I got involved in world missions, which, as it turns out, is my calling and how my vocation as a businessman fits into God's plan for my life.