by Bill Walsh
Director of International Outreach
International Outreach became part of The Gospel Coalition more than two years ago. So I think it’s about time I shared my personal story of how this ministry came to be.
I spent the first few decades of my walk with Christ in church circles where global missions was not a priority, and thus, not really on my radar. In 1999, my family relocated to Minneapolis as I joined the staff at Desiring God Ministries. Part of that transition included our joining Bethlehem Baptist Church and sitting under the preaching of John Piper.
A significant awakening to global missions occurred at Bethlehem in the mid 80’s and the church grew in global influence in cross-cultural ministry. Within this environment, my family and I began to partake of the global vision that so many have received through John’s preaching. I clearly remember where I sat one Sunday morning as John preached a missions sermon and the Lord began to move my heart. I sensed a call to join a support team for a certain missionary—who would end up in Indonesia in the coming years.
The year 2005 turned out to be a watershed season for me. God took me through a significant gospel-centered awakening in my own heart as I more deeply perceived my ongoing need for grace. During this time, Bethlehem asked me and a church brother to visit our supported missionary in Indonesia. Later that year, I had the opportunity to co-lead a short-term team to Northern Pakistan after its devastating earthquake. These two trips dramatically opened my awareness to global needs.
The Lord used the mission trips to awaken me in significant ways, as evidenced in my Indonesia journal:
I learned that there is a heart for missions deep inside me. God stirred me on this trip in unexpected ways. I needed to be in a cross-cultural setting to be jarred awake to the needs that are outside America. In the past few years I have felt called to be a sender. During this trip, I felt that I was open to God more than ever, for him to call me to be a goer if He so willed.
I came back from these trips personally changed, with a fresh new burden for the nations. During that time I asked the leadership of Desiring God whether they would allow me to dream about how our ministry might serve the cause of missions in new ways. They graciously allowed it. In the first quarter of 2006 I wrote a vision paper, which launched the start of a new department, International Outreach.
Desiring God was a providential place for the birth of this work, mostly due to how many people around the world knew of John’s ministry and associated his name with the call to engage in global mission. In those early years we simply went to work finding ways to get strategic Piper books into the hands of cross-cultural workers and nationals who were particularly involved in training indigenous church leaders overseas.
We had much to learn about the lack of resources available to churches in the Global South. But God brought us many partnerships for sending resources into dozens of countries. He was doing above and beyond what we could ask or think. We began to get our minds around how translation and foreign publishing worked so that we could fund and deploy biblical resources in strategic languages.
God brought us a small but great team, and steadily opened doors for us to grow the mission. After a few years, a phrase that helped to more clearly define our work emerged: Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church. This has proven beneficial in communicating our approach to literature-based missions for helping to equip pastors and church leaders around the world.
In late 2011 we began a dialogue with Dr. Don Carson and Ben Peays that turned into a generous invitation to transplant our work to The Gospel Coalition. By early the next year I began the hard work of re-establishing the vision within the much broader platform of TGC and found more opportunities to partner with givers, translators, publishers and goers from all around the world.
Now, in any given year, we see tens of thousands of resources go to church leaders in more than a hundred countries. The distribution and impact stories steadily come back to us.
All of this deeply impacted my family as we became involved in international missions to varying degrees. My wife Cindi, son Beau, and daughter Regan have joined me in various short-term missions and ministry trips abroad. It’s been a great joy to see my kids pick up a vision for global work. We feel very thankful to have been given a view into what God is doing to build his church.
In recent years, Isaiah 43:5-7 has become a dear passage:
Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.
For me, this verse so richly expresses the certainty of the sovereign God who is gathering His people from every tongue and tribe, throughout history.
We have a small part to play in partnering with leaders and congregations around the world. What a joy it is to be allowed the privilege of co-laboring with our great God, for the sake of His Name. We would love to have you join with us.