50 Years of Ministry and Open Doors: Len Andyshak’s Story
Like many InterVarsity students, Len Andyshak met the Lord as a college student.
“I learned what it meant to know him versus know about him,” Len said.
He also learned that Jesus had a purpose for his life, a mission. Soon after graduating, Len began a 50-year journey of continually discovering that mission as an InterVarsity staff.
Revival in Churched and Unchurched Places
Len’s journey started when he came on staff with InterVarsity at Virginia Wesleyan University and Tidewater Community College in 1973. In 1974, Len and his wife, Mary (who also served as InterVarsity staff for several decades) were asked to move to Tennessee. For five years, they planted at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and revived a chapter at the University of the South in Sewanee.
Tennessee colleges were seeped in Christian culture at the time. Identifying as a Christian was the norm, but having a truly deep connection and understanding of Jesus was less common. Because the InterVarsity chapter at the University of the South in Sewanee was dying, Len decided to invest in freshmen students his first year. During his second year, he witnessed at least one student accept Jesus each week. Eventually, 10% of the campus was involved in InterVarsity.
1980 saw the Andyshaks make a dramatic shift—they moved to Corvallis, Oregon, Mary’s hometown, to witness to students at Oregon State University (OSU). Oregon was culturally opposite of Tennessee. It was and continues to be, one of the least churched states in the county. Len and Mary began developing OSU students to lead over a dozen Bible studies that invited Christians and non-Christians to meaningfully explore Jesus.
“The hallmark of the OSU chapter during his [Len’s] tenure was the great number of students engaged in group Bible studies,” said Fred Wagner, InterVarsity volunteer and former Northwest Regional Director.
Many OSU students came to faith because of the transformation they experienced through InterVarsity.
Historical Moments in Ukraine
In 1992, Len was asked to consider moving to Ukraine to lead a newly arrived InterVarsity Link team.
“I said, No way, I’m a chicken!” Len recounted. “I couldn’t imagine moving to Ukraine. But then, it just seemed like the Lord opened that door.”
Miraculously, it took the Andyshaks only two weeks to raise support for Ukraine, and the experience changed their lives forever.
At the time, the Soviet Union had just disbanded, making Christian ministry legal for the first time in 70 years. Naturally, there was deep curiosity about Christianity among students.
“We walked into a historical moment. All we had to do was sow the seeds and things grew,” Len said.
In those two years, the Ukrainian student movement grew tremendously, so much that the fruits of Len’s ministry can still be observed today, more than 30 years after he first arrived in Kiev! There are 2,000 students currently still involved in CCX, the name of the Ukranian student movement. And students like Maia Mikhaluk, who met Len and InterVarsity as a student, are now leading the church in Ukraine even in the midst of war.
“I’ve always felt intimidated by new experiences,” Len said. “…especially experiences where I was out of control, and that was exactly what Ukraine was. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t know how to navigate that place.”
International Student Ministry in Kansas
Just as Ukranian students helped Len and Mary figure out the day-to-day complexities of living in a foreign country, they wanted to do the same for international students in the U.S. In 1995, when they moved back to the states, they planted International Student Ministry (ISM) at the University of Kansas (KU) and began a holistic ministry aimed at meeting the physical and spiritual needs of these students.
Len and Mary met international students at the airport, helped them find furniture, helped them open bank accounts, fed them, invited them into their home, etc. Eventually those students would become curious about the Bible.
“They would ask such different questions than a bunch of Christians or people from a Christian culture would ask,” Len said. “They opened my eyes to Scripture in such new ways all the time.”
The Andyshaks’ ministry also provided students with conversation partners—pairing international students who wanted to practice their English with American students or staff.
“It was an amazing opportunity to build a friendship between two people. They were interested in my life, which included my faith, and I was interested in their life. I never felt like I was preaching at them. I was just Len.”
Len asked God to send him 100 people that would want to participate in having a conversation partner. Their first year, 10 people joined, the next year, 20, and so on until 100 Americans were meeting one-on-one with international students, creating a network of 100 Lawrence families that cared for and loved international students in their city. Word about the ISM chapter spread across the globe, with students in China and India calling Len to ask if they could join InterVarsity at KU once they arrived on campus.
“Together, [Len and Mary] have opened their home to hundreds of thousands of international students and loved them,” said Susan Park, Associate Regional Ministry Director, GFM Northeast.
Len and Mary led ISM at KU for 23 years. Some years, 20 people became Christians. Other years, two. But even when it felt like nothing was happening, Len’s connection to students kept him going.
“Every year, I would meet new students, and I was all in again. I would immediately bond with them and be excited about getting to know new people.”
A Great Life
Reflecting on his own life, Len is still perplexed as to why God chose him for this mission for so long. From Virginia to Tennessee to Oregon to Ukraine to Kansas, God has used Len to facilitate life-changing experiences for countless students. But for him, it always just felt like God was constantly opening doors, allowing Len to walk through them and be a part of his beautiful plan for the campus.
“I’m really not an impressive person. I felt like I was in the center of a tornado or something, and all this stuff was spinning around me, just happening. It was the Holy Spirit sort of spinning all around doing things. And I got to be there.”
Len’s latest role has been serving on the National Interim Ministry Team, taking on assignments as Interim Area Director for Graduate and Faculty Ministries (GFM) in the Northeast, Lakes and Plains, Mid-Atlantic, New England, and Southern California regions. He is currently assigned to the Indiana & Illinois Region. He and Mary live in Bend, Oregon, where Len also volunteers as a greeter at his church, opening doors for church members on Sunday mornings.
As InterVarsity celebrates Len’s 50 years on staff, he reflects on God’s faithfulness. “It’s really worth following Jesus your whole life. If I found out I was going to die next week, I’d go, Wow, what a great life I’ve had, rather than being so worried about leaving or having regrets for what never happened. I’m amazed God has loved me this long, with this deep sense of purpose, security, and joy.”
Emily Baez is a writer on InterVarsity’s Editorial Team in Madison, Wisconsin. She enjoys long hikes, watching movies, and overly competitive game nights with friends. You can support her ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#22836.
It was 1983, at the height of the Cold War. Bob was an InterVarsity Area Director in New Jersey with four years of campus ministry experience preceded by four years as a local church pastor. A friend working in Eastern Europe had invited Bob to teach church history to Romanian pastors for three weeks during the summer.