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.
Meeting with Lee Ballard, president of Foreign Missions Fellowship; Jerry Stromberg, Student Council President; Bill Kelly, Student Union President; and Jim Muir of FMF, Chase shared what God was doing in his life as a result of his experience in Mexico. He urged them to consider doing something similar with Wheaton students.
These men rose to the challenge, and the Student Missionary Project was born.
In the fall semester of 1957, Lee Ballard and Jim Muir, who became chairman of the project, 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.
The purposes of the SMP were these:
To help them in practical ways in their ministry on the field.
To expose them to the realities of a cross-cultural experience for their own growth.
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.
One student, Bill Barr, probably spoke for all of them when he wrote in his report:
‘The most significant thing which has come about during the past year was not the actual trip to Costa Rica, but the crisis which God ushered into my life before I ever went to the field. The application for the trip was a springboard which initiated the crisis and set in motion many new and gripping things. The crisis was that God entered my life concerning missions—a previously dead and meaningless idea. The actual journey to the field was the capstone of that experience and the source of material for further understating and amplification for this vital concept.’
So in the fall of 1958 another group was chosen to go overseas in the summer of 1959. This time sixteen students were chosen in the careful selection process. In the ensuing years the Record often reported the plans for SMP and carried inspiring reports from those who had participated in SMP. Not only did students benefit spiritually from SMP, but they had down-to-earth experiences that covered a broad spectrum of life.
From 1958 to the end of the century, some 1,200 Wheaton students participated in SMP. The program was the vanguard of the movement of short-term missions.”
Excerpt above taken from the book From Wheaton to the Nations: The story of cross-cultural missionary outreach from Wheaton College, by David. M. Howard. You can purchase this book at the Wheaton College Bookstore.