Sunday, August 7, 2011

A man who changed my life

Often we are influenced by someone who has a vision.  Perhaps we follow a charismatic pastor with a vision for starting a new church or churches.  Or maybe we are inspired by a teacher in school who has a vision for how society ought to be.

While the Lord called me to work with Russian-speaking young people, He left the specifics rather undefined.  When I was in seminary I met the dean of the Eastern European Bible Institute, a ministry of Greater Europe Mission.

Greater Europe Mission was started in 1949 by Rev. Bob Evans, a Wheaton College graduate.  Dr. Bob had been a Navy chaplain in World War II and landed with Allied Forces on Normandy Beach on D Day.  While driving a scooter on the beach, he hit a landmine and eventually woke up in a hospital in France.  Since he had been a missionary kid in French speaking Africa, he could speak French. As he talked about Jesus with the nurses and hospital staff, he realized that they knew nothing of a personal relationship with Christ.

After the war, Dr. Bob returned to France and was a part of evangelistic campaigns with Youth For Christ along with his college buddy, Billy Graham.  Seeing many young people accept Christ led Dr. Bob to the realization that there was no place for these new converts to train for ministry.  So he started Greater Europe Mission, known affectionately as the Bible Institute Mission. GEM started as one Bible Institute, the European Bible Institute in Lamorlaye, France, just north of Paris.

From these beginnings Dr. Bob envisioned and helped begin ten Bible Institutes and three theological seminaries:  the French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Nordic, Belgian, Greek, Eastern European, and Zaporozhye Bible Colleges; the German Theological Seminary (Freie Theologische Akademie – Giessen), the Spanish Theological Seminary, and Tyndale Theological Seminary. The goal of these schools was to train evangelical young people to be leaders of the emerging churches resulting from the evangelistic campaigns, and to stem the tide of liberal theological education in Europe.

When we joined the Eastern European Bible Institute, it was then the newest of the Bible Institutes founded by GEM. We only met Dr. Bob after we had decided upon joining GEM and EEBI.  We did, though, have to attend Candidate School and also later Pre-Field Orientation.  During Candidate School and Pre-Field we learned how GEM got started and perhaps more importantly got to know the man who started GEM.

Dr. Bob’s enthusiasm for evangelism was infectious.  His main vision as expressed in the GEM motto was: Training Europeans to Evangelize Greater Europe.  Dr. Bob knew that North Americans coming to Europe would be unable to reach most Europeans.  He realized that, unless Europeans were doing the evangelizing, the effect would be limited at best.  For this reason we North Americans were to evangelize and train Europeans so that they could evangelize and train other Europeans.  Europeans would have a much deeper and more intuitive sense of how to reach their own people than we ever would.  So the GEM motto reflected both Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:2 “And the things you have heard from me in the presence of faithful witnesses the same entrust to faithful people who will train others also” and the cultural sensitivity and missiology which said it was best for people from the same people group to reach their own people if possible.  Training nationals to do the work of evangelism and training would mean a greater, long term result.

Dr. Bob was a funny man.  He had a dry sense of humor, which was perhaps a remnant of his Navy days.  Later (many years later, 16 years, I think) we saw him at Tyndale Theological Seminary, where he was speaking at the graduation ceremony.  He made a comment along the lines of “You know I have friends who believe in perfectionism.  I, however, haven’t seemed to be able to obtain it myself.”  He was a down-to-earth man who did whatever was necessary to get the job done.  He even slept on the floor of the elementary school he had found near Amsterdam which was to become the Tyndale Theological Seminary.  At that time if a property was left uninhabited a law, left over from after the war when housing was scarce and owners perhaps dead, allowed squatters to take it over (without remuneration to anyone!).  So, Dr. Bob slept in a sleeping bag on the floor to keep squatters out.  As I recall he also bought the first set of curtains, which served for at least 15 years!

I knew of Dr. Bob Evans even before our joining GEM from my seminary advisor, Dr. Arthur P. Johnston, who was Tyndale’s first president.  Dr. J was considering joining GEM and starting a new theological seminary in the Netherlands.  I didn’t know much about GEM at that time or about Dr. Evans.  This new seminary was to be the English language seminary of GEM which would serve all Bible Institutes which did not have a seminary in their own language.  We as advisees prayed with Dr. J about whether he was to take up this new work.  Linda and I were thrilled when Dr. J joined GEM at the same time we did and started the new school, i.e. Tyndale Theological Seminary.  Over many years at GEM Annual Conferences Dr. J would say to me, “Phil, when you get your doctorate come and teach for me.”  I would usually reply something like, “Sure, Dr. J!” thinking it was a sort of joke; I would never leave Eastern Europe.

Well, time has a way of changing circumstances and other factors.  Eventually I found myself in the Chapel at Tyndale Theological Seminary with Dr. Bob and Dr. J shaking their hands as I joined the faculty.  Though I had a vision (to work with Russian-speaking young people), Dr. Bob had an even larger vision (Training Europeans to Evangelize Greater Europe).  My vision has been implanted in his for all of the 27 years we have been missionaries under Greater Europe Mission, whether as a part of the Eastern European Bible Institute, or Tyndale Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bob’s vision lives on in all of us who continue to serve here in Europe under Greater Europe Mission.  None of us would be here without him and we would be far poorer never to have known him.

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