60 Years in Missions PDF Print E-mail

Rev. Bill Bathman has ministered in over 100 countries and served the Lord as a Missionary for over 60 years. JOY! Magazine interviewed him:

 1.  How did you come to the Lord?

It was my first night at university. I was almost 21 years old, recently completed my service in the U.S. Navy, and now enrolled to study for the ministry at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. Each semester began with a series of evangelistic meetings. I am eternally grateful for that tradition.

Having grown up in a spiritually-dead, modernistic church, I had never once heard the Gospel, the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The service that evening was full of joyful singing and concluded with a powerful message by Dr. Bob Jones, his words made the Bible come alive to me, in a way I had never before experienced. He identified sin, labeling its cause and pointing to its cure. After about 20 minutes I thought he was preaching straight at me. I thought 'someone has told him all about me' and my discomfort changed to anger. "Doesn't he know I'm on God's side, that I've answered the call to preach?" The Holy Spirit was doing His office-work and convicting of sin, righteousness and judgment. I was almost ready to get up and leave when it dawned on me that he was right. Truly, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." I couldn't argue with that. But if he was right, it meant that I was wrong. "He came unto His own and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name.”

That was the moment – 9 pm, September 8, 1948 – when I realized that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for my sins, and by faith I opened my heart and received Him as my Lord and Saviour.

2.  How did you become involved in Missions to the persecuted Church?

In my third year at College the Lord put Europe on my heart and the next summer I spent three months traveling as an evangelist, through ten countries on the continent and throughout the British Isles. That experience confirmed God's call to Europe.

Harriett and I were married after that summer and following graduation we left for Europe. We lived and ministered in Western Europe for ten years before God opened the door for us to begin a serious ministry in the communist countries of Eastern Europe.

My first trip behind the Iron Curtain was to Yugoslavia, in October 1961. On that trip I met a Baptist pastor in Zagreb, who implored, "You must come back. Even if the door is closed, try it, to see if it’s locked!"

Those words were like a clarion call from God. The Lord clearly showed me that my future ministry would be to preach the Gospel and serve persecuted Christians in restricted-access countries.

3.  Who are some of the unforgettable personalities that you have met amongst the persecuted Church?

I've written a book that only touches the surface of that question. Christians living in communist or Muslim lands aren't "playing Church" as many in the West are doing. Their very lives are on the line every day. Everyone I've met, across the past 50 years of ministry in that environment, is a hero to me. For example:

Richard Wurmbrand, whom I met at the Vienna airport after his release from 14 years in Romanian prisons where he was brutally tortured for his faith in Christ and with whom I worked closely over the next 12 years. Andrew van der Bijl, better known as "Brother Andrew", whom I first met in Bensheim, Germany in 1957 after his initial trip to Poland and then on his way to Hungary. The Lord used him to open my eyes to the possibility of ministry behind the Iron Curtain. We worked closely together evangelising communist soldiers during the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and other times together in Eastern Europe, later developing a training program to prepare other missionaries to work in communist countries.

Dr. Josif Tson, the Baptist Reformer of Romania, whom I met in 1972 in Oradea. We worked very closely over many years. After his exile from Romania, he asked me to write a book about the Reformation in Romania.

I will never forget Dr. Nick Gheorghita was Romania's leading endocrinologist and an outspoken Christian witness. He refused to compromise with the communists when they tried to force him to tone-down his evangelistic stand. Later, when he left his medical practice in Deva to answer the call to pastor the 2nd Baptist Church in Oradea (the largest Baptist Church in Europe – East or West) the communists did everything they could to destroy him. He and his co-pastor colleague, Dr. Paul Negrut were constantly under persecution and threats of death from the atheist authorities.

A man God used to challenge and inspire me to greater dedication is George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilization. I first met George in Madrid, Spain in October 1961. I thought I was a dedicated Christian until I stood next to this man and realized what true dedication really is. George has a worldwide ministry including many restricted-access countries. Harriett and I worked in an OM team in Austria in 1963, and later moved our home to Salzburg to establish a Mission base for working behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.

4.  What are some of the most outstanding answers to prayer that you have experienced?

Living by faith is a constant experience of God answering prayer. He does not always answer "Yes," but He always answers.

In the years we worked behind the Iron Curtain, during the Cold War, there were many occasions when we received a letter from someone in America telling us that at a certain hour on such and such a day the Lord awakened them to pray for us. When we compared the date and time it coincided with a very critical hour when we were facing certain danger or extreme need. God answered prayer in real time across 9 time-zones. This happened many times.

On one trip we had a large monetary gift from Pastor Wurmbrand to deliver to a pastor friend of his who had been in prison with him. The family lived in a small Romanian town for exiles we'd never been to. It was evening when we arrived. The streets were dark and we had no idea how to find their house. We prayed. Afterwards, I looked down a side street and saw a light on in the house at the end. We enquired there. The family were Christians and they knew where the pastor lived! Their daughter came with us to show us the way across town to the man we sought. When we arrived, the entire family were standing in front of their house all dressed in their Sunday best to greet us. How did they know we were coming? The night before the Lord had told the wife in a dream, that "Tomorrow night you will receive a great gift." By faith, they were waiting for our arrival.

5.  Missions must have changed a lot over the last 60 years. What are some of the changes that you have noticed?

There is much more opportunity today for lay people to be involved, particularly in the area of technology and tech support. A whole aviation ministry has evolved since World War II and is vital to reaching remote areas. There is hardly any category of vocation that is not needed to extend the Kingdom of God.

In the early days of my missionary ministry two-thirds of our financial support came from mission-minded churches and one-third from individuals. Today it is reversed with over half of our support coming from individuals.

There is a 'trend' today for churches to "do missions." While the intention is admirable, it often results in poorly trained, ill-equipped "2-week wonders," devoid of any cross-cultural experience, or understanding of language skills. Full-time career missionaries are rare today. When we started out, the thought of setting a time-limit didn't occur to us.

6.  What advice do you have for someone wanting to get involved in Missions today?

Be certain of God's call. Be willing to be misunderstood by those closest to you. Our Lord was misunderstood by His family, His disciples and the religious leaders.

If the burden of your heart is to share the Gospel and preach Christ to precious souls in other lands or cultures, then you should prepare by proper training, education and discipline; raise your personal support (trusting the Lord for all of these) and then Go.

7.  What do you believe are some of the greatest threats facing the Church today?

A shallow, superficial façade seems to have infiltrated many churches in the West, where entertainment has replaced worship. There are two crosses preached today: a modern, smooth, highly-polished cross, easy to bear, that makes no unpleasant life-changing demands. This is in stark contrast to the Old Rugged Cross. The old cross slew men; the new cross amuses them. As A.W. Tozer put it, "The flesh, smiling and confident, preaches and sings about the cross; before the cross it bows and toward the cross it points with carefully staged choreography – but upon that cross it will not die, and the reproach of that cross it stubbornly refuses to bear."

8.  What do you believe are our greatest priorities today?

Obedience to the Great Commission. Taking the initiative to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Facilitating the national; he already understands the language and knows the culture. We multiply our ministry when we come alongside the national and work as his colleague, not as his commander. Putting some tools in his hand will help him achieve our mutual goal.

9.  What are some of the most vital lessons that you have learned during your 60 years in Missionary service?

First of all: God just loves to be trusted. In my 84 years, I've learned one thing about life: we never get out of it alive! We all have a Divine appointment. "It is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the judgment." Hebrews 9:27. The only way to live, is to be ready to die. The only way to be ready to die, is to know Jesus Christ as your own, personal Saviour. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." John 14:6

Rev. Bill Bathman is the Chairman of Frontline Fellowship. He is author of Going Through – Even if the Door is Closed. Angola by the Back Door and How Did You Hurt Your Hand?  Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; www.frontline.org.za

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