About Ministry & Evangelism at Wheaton

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Find out about the histories of the groups that send out Wheaton students to serve the world.

It was an electrifying moment. Wheaton College was in the midst of special services held twice each year in chapel.

It was February 1936. The speaker, Dr. Robert McQuilkin, founder and president of Columbia Bible College, had been taken ill with the flu and was unable to speak. Dr. Walter Wilson of Kansas City filled in for him that day. As the chapel hour drew to a close, song leader Homer Hammontree was about to dismiss the meeting.

Suddenly a senior male student, Don Hillis, stood up and inquired what Christian students who truly love the Lord, should do to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit's power. He deplored the fear of emotionalism that he saw among many Wheaton students. He said he believed such fear was hindering the work of the Holy Spirit.

Students responded to his earnest concern, and the chapel service became a prolonged period of confession of sin and praying to God for forgiveness that lasted until the evening service.

Thus, began what came to be known as the Revival of 1936. By the final day of the week Dr. McQuilkin had recovered and brought the closing message. He gave a ringing challenge for missions to which scores of students responded, committing themselves to overseas service.

Wheaton students returned to the campus in the fall of 1936 with a new enthusiasm to follow through on what God had done in their hearts during the revival of the previous February. What had been the SVM (Student Volunteer Movement) chapter at Wheaton now became a charter member of the SFMF (Student Foreign Missions Fellowship). Students held weekly meetings of missions emphasis with outside speakers. Prayer groups based on geography were organized again, so that students concerned for a specific area of the world could pray together. Teams of students from Wheaton fanned out to colleges and Bible institutes in the Chicago area to share their vision for fulfilling the Great Commission.

As the son of Wheaton graduates Clayton and Helen Prestidge Howard of HCJB in Ecuador, Lee spoke Spanish and enjoyed working with missionaries, so the time in Spain under a mission society had been enjoyable. Following his time in Spain, he and several other Wheaton students decided to travel around Europe together before returning to the the United States.

In Geneva, Switzerland, they stayed in a youth hostel, where he met a young Englishman named Brian. They spend the next twenty-four hours together in friendly conversation. However, as Lee bade good-bye to Brian, and the train pulled out of Geneva, he was suddenly overwhelmed with a disturbing thought. He had been with Brian for twenty-four hours and had never once mentioned the name of Jesus Christ! Having just completed the time as a summer ‘missionary’, watching and helping career missionaries, he now realized that this had been his golden opportunity to be a true missionary himself, and he had failed. He found himself asking whether his Christian faith was something he lived only in certain contexts. Was Jesus Christ ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life’ only when Lee was ‘doing’ missions? This dichotomy was troublesome.

During the next few days he reflected deeply on what had happened. Hours of conversation with a young man who was open to discuss the deep issues of life—a characteristic common among youth on the hostel circuit—had not evoked a response from Lee to share his faith in Christ as the true answer to these issues. Lee determined not to let this happen again.

Thus the idea of a Youth Hostel Ministry (YHM) began to germinate in his mind. He would return to Europe another summer to travel among the youth hostels with the specific purpose of giving the good news of Jesus Christ to the ‘world travelers’ who stayed in the hostels while backpacking through Europe and other areas.

Lee returned in the fall of 1970 to Wheaton's campus with its many disillusioned, cynical students for whom missions and missionary were dirty words, as described in the preceding chapter. Nevertheless, Lee's burden was increasing. Having grown up on the mission field with men and women whom he loved and respected, he felt missionaries were some of the sharpest people he had ever met.

He was a leader of the Student Missions Fellowship, but this was now a pitifully small handful of students—only about half a dozen—who met weekly (and some might mock them by saying 'weakly') for prayer, a far cry from the heyday of Jim Elliot when 500 or more students attended the SMF. Lee sensed that new methods of influence were desperately needed.

In the summer of 1971, Lee Howard, Mike Spencer, Ruth Springer, and Linda Shoemaker joined one million other college-age youth to travel around Europe. Lee commented, ‘A lot of kids saw [traveling through Europe] as a real adventure, something really exciting to do, but once they hit Europe and the initial excitement wore off, there were a lot of lost, frustrated, confused kids...just traveling around, not knowing where they were going to go. A lot of them were just escaping bad situations in the States. And we found them incredibly open to hearing the gospel. Every day they found new and exciting challenges in meeting other youth, interacting with them about the important issues of life, and explaining how Jesus Christ could meet their deepest needs.

Lee commented that he had spent the previous summer in Spain observing missionaries, but now he was the missionary. He saw himself and his colleagues as the ideal missionaries to their own disillusioned generation.

On returning to campus Lee and his team members imparted the vision and the great potential of college students being summer missionaries to their peers in Europe. Thus in June of 1972, Lee and fourteen other Wheaton students left for ten weeks of ministry in the youth hostels of Europe. The goals were threefold: the clear presentation of the Gospel to non-Christians, the encouragement of Christians in Europe, and the individual personal growth of the team members. Thus began what has been an ongoing and fruitful ministry by and to Wheaton students. Over the decades well over 600 students have participated in the YHM projects.

Ron Chase, a graduate of the Class of 1956, spent the summer of 1957 in Mexico assisting some Presbyterian missionaries. He was so moved by this experience that he went back to Wheaton College in the fall of 1957 to share his vision. Chase shared what God was doing in his life as a result of his experience in Mexico. He urged [Foreign Missions Fellowship] to consider doing something similar with Wheaton students. The Student Missionary Project was born.

In the fall semester of 1957, Lee Ballard and Jim Muir initiated the plans. When the project was presented to the student body, forty-seven students applied for the summer of 1958. A careful screening process was followed, and twelve students were selected. Throughout the spring term this group, who became known as ‘The Wheaton Twelve,’ met weekly for orientation, bonding, and spiritual growth. They went to Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica in three different groups.

SMP sought to help missionaries in practical ways in their ministry on the field. SMP also hoped to expose students to the realities of a cross-cultural experience for their own growth. Finally, SMP wanted to challenge the entire Wheaton College campus with the responsibility to take the Gospel to the whole world. When The Wheaton Twelve returned to campus in the fall, they all reported having been positively and personally affected by this new experience. They said they had a new understanding and appreciation of missionaries and missions in general.

Excerpt of a letter written in 2003 from the former Office of Christian Outreach Director, Dante Upshaw:

When I (Dante Upshaw) surrendered to the call to be an urban disciple of Christ Jesus, I did not anticipate that following Him would mean serving in the suburbs. The last place on earth that I desired to be or thought that I would be useful was in an upper middle class Christian community.

One lesson, of the many, my Lord is teaching me as I preach it to others is don’t keep Him in a box! He is too great and awesome to be limited by our fears and prejudices, even when we mask them behind our ministry expectations. And to think, I almost missed out on being a part of His equipping process for students to the cities of the world.

I am so excited to be a part of the establishing of a new ministry through the Office of Christian Outreach that is committed to mobilizing our campus community to be bridges to the cities of the world.

Over the past several years, the urban-focused organizations National City Ministries and Rebuilders suffered a great decline in interest and participation. NCM sent out their last team in the summer of 2000 and we decided to end Rebuilders last spring. This raised considerable concern and led us to seek the Lord for His heart and plan for the urban direction of our office.

Last spring, after a powerful BreakAway missions trip to New York City, I felt the Lord impress upon my heart to seek out students in order to establish a new urban ministry. I was humbled and amazed as I watched the Spirit of the Lord orchestrate divine appointments and craft a cabinet of diverse students that felt called to urban ministry.

Under the chair direction of Sung Yeon Choi and six other cabinet members, Global Urban Perspectives has taken on the responsibility of raising the awareness of our campus community to global urban issues. Their plan is to initiate programs that will keep our campus in touch with the realities of urban life, and then send out summer teams to cities around the world. Over this past year we have watched our campus get reignited with a passion to see what God is doing in the city. This has been a challenging foundational year as we have struggled to gain a handle on what will be the identity of GUP.

We are so thankful at the same time for the support from administration, faculty, staff, and students as we look to take on a task that many would describe as Mission Impossible. A great reason to celebrate God’s goodness is the fact that we will be sending out the first summer ministry teams for GUP in 2003. I praise the Lord for this group of global urban pioneers! The seven of them along with the cabinet have been fully involved in training and preparation since last December.

Your prayers that the Lord of the Harvest would raise up workers for His harvest field have been answered. Please continue to pray for them, and the future growth of Global Urban Perspectives.

In 1979, a powerful hurricane devastated the Dominican Republic, resulting in the loss of many lives and homes. Back in Wheaton, a group of college students spearheaded and organized a public-awareness campaign with the goal of helping to provide for our neighbors in the Dominican Republic. Students raised support and materials to provide the Dominican people with temporary shelter, clothing, and food rations.

This same spirit of compassion-in-action found its way to Honduras, and the Honduras Project officially began at Wheaton College in 1982. Each year since, a group of students has gone to a different rural village in the mountains of Honduras to help install a gravity-fed water system and to share the love of Christ incarnationally. The project has evolved, with the addition of a children's ministry and later a women's ministry, and will likely continue to do so. Likewise, since the project is student-led, leadership and membership has continually changed, but the heart and mission has remained the same


Ministry & Evangelism Staff

Meet our Ministry and Evangelism team!