It’s typical for a church to have a missions program that supports U.S. missionaries as they work overseas. It’s much less common for a church’s missions program to support indigenous pastors on almost every continent.
But that’s the way the overseas missions program developed at Northbrook Church in Richfield, Wisconsin, just outside of Milwaukee. After Lee Heyward graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and became Northbrook’s first pastor in 1986, it felt natural to invite his friends from seminary to come visit for the weekend. Most of his friends, who had been neighbors in on-campus housing, were from places like Ghana, Nigeria, the Philippines, Guatemala, Japan, and Canada.
Global ministry developed
“One by one we started to take on these folks for support,” he said. “They taught our congregation to reach across ethnically diverse categories.” Soon Northbrook’s “missionaries” began to invite Lee to come and visit. He’s been traveling abroad to work with indigenous pastors from two to four times a year for most of the last two decades.
“This has been one of the most enriching experiences in my life.” he said. “It has changed me dramatically.” Last October Lee established Brooklink, a non-profit organization dedicated to serve as a catalyst for indigenous Christian leadership around the world. Next month he’s stepping down as senior pastor at Northbrook to become a “missionary-at-large,” as he put it.
He will still be a part of Northbrook but will spend most of his time developing Brooklink. He already has partners in India, Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia. Working on his Doctor of Ministry degree, he developed a curriculum for teaching homiletics in a cross cultural setting. He then tested it abroad and got feedback from indigenous leaders to improve it.
Commitment made at Urbana
Looking back to the moment that he and his wife-to-be stood at InterVarsity’s Urbana 76 student missions convention, in response to a call to commitment from Billy Graham, he would not have anticipated such an innovative ministry track lay ahead of him.
“We felt compelled to stand because we knew God had spoken to us,” he recalled. “We committed ourselves to expanding God’s kingdom around the globe, whatever that may be. That was the lynchpin that took the trajectory of my life and put it in a completely different direction. I have had some extraordinary experiences in this life, over the past 24 years.”
Lee had come to Urbana on a bus from South Carolina with about 50 other Furman University students. An InterVarsity chapter had just gotten started on campus and missions had been a major emphasis in the chapter, much more so than the other Christian groups he had been involved in.
He believes it’s an emphasis that’s still needed today. “Young people today are far more globally savvy and aware than I even thought of when I was in college,” he said. “Today it’s even more important to have a global vision. Our young people are longing for a compelling global vision and an understanding of how the church fits into that.”
Lee Heyward’s global vision, nurtured at Urbana, has broadened in unexpected ways over the past 33 years.