Outreach Interview Click Here (pdf file)
Ruth Siemens Article: Below
Rebecca Manley Pippert
In Memory of a Mentor
Ours is a strange age. Never have we hungered more for heroes while our culture tries so hard to defame them. Yet it’s hard for us to deal with courage or dedication or sacrifice in the abstract. We need to have people who embody those qualities, who reassure us that it is possible to be noble and faithful to God. The truth is, in our age of celebrity mania, we need heroes more than ever. How grateful I am to God for having given me a true hero.
Ruth Siemens came bursting into my life when I was a recently converted college student studying in Madrid, Spain in the 1970’s. Ruth was already a veteran missionary who had pioneered campus ministry in Peru and Brazil with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Now living in Spain she was pioneering student work at universities in both Spain and Portugal. A whirlwind of zest and enthusiasm her passion for God was contagious.
Yet as a young college student, I couldn’t have fathomed the impact she would have on my life when I accepted her invitation to transfer to the University of Barcelona and share her apartment. Many of the stories in the early chapters of my book Out of the Salt Shaker took place in Ruth’s apartment!
I recently flew to California to attend a party given by her family to celebrate Ruth’s 80th birthday. Her health was failing and I wanted to honor her incredible ministry. I brought with me letters of people from 3 continents expressing their deep gratitude for Ruth’s ministry in their lives. Many of the letters were read aloud - to her great joy and delight. It was a glorious party and a profound experience for those who attended.
To our surprise and sorrow, just 5 weeks after her party, Ruth suffered a stroke and died on December 20th. I spoke to her in her hospital bed just 24 hours before she went to be with the Lord.
How I thank God that we were able to honor her while she was alive to hear it!
Naturally with the passing of someone so special in my life, I have been reflecting on the life lessons I have learned from my mentor:
1. God doesn’t require perfection to be able to use us
Rarely at memorial services do we hear any mention of the person’s idiosyncrasies or weaknesses, especially when it’s someone whom God has greatly used. We assume these “saints” had remarkable ministries precisely because they never struggled with our problems and weaknesses. While Ruth’s tributes were glowing there was also a delightful honesty. One comment especially made her laugh: “Ruth was gifted with more than average persistence and prayerfulness. Her wide-eyed femininity gave no hint of her iron determination, unrelenting persistence, with perhaps just a touch of a stubborn streak!”
Why was that important to hear? Because what God requires of us isn’t perfection but a teachable spirit. Our usefulness in ministry lies is acknowledging our inadequacy; because it’s only when we see that we aren’t enough, that we turn to the One who is enough! From Ruth I learned perhaps the single most important insight in regards to the Kingdom of God: that it is the dismantling of our own power and trusting instead in God’s power that makes us truly effective.
2. God multiplies our efforts
When Ruth arrived to Spain in the late sixties, the evangelical church had suffered greatly under Franco’s regime. But persecution had only made the Spanish church stronger and more spiritually vital. However there was little knowledge back then of how to establish a national campus witness. Ruth, along with David Burt and Stuart Parks, was instrumental in the formation of Spain’s first evangelical student movement. When she returned to the U.S. in 1975 she left behind several small but strong student groups that she had helped start.
Before I flew to California a package arrived from Spain bearing several gifts for Ruth’s honoring. I was puzzled when a multitude of pamphlets spilled out, but as I read the letter from Francisco Mira, the Spanish General Secretary of IFES, tears filled my eyes. The pamphlets represented Christian fellowship groups that were now on nearly every major university campus throughout Spain! To think that the seeds of Spain’s vibrant campus ministry today, began in part, with Bible Studies that Ruth led right in our apartment!
Never underestimate what God will do through our service to Christ. Jesus took the meager resources of 5 loaves and 2 fish and he fed 5,000 people. God delights in taking our limited resources and expanding His Kingdom through our acts of obedience!
3. To be effective for Christ – pay attention to the eternal!
In 1954, when Ruth began a student ministry at the University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru, she sensed the Christian students’ timidity about witnessing. So she asked them to bring their non-Christian friends to her apartment where she led Seeker Bible Studies that focused on the Person of Jesus. Those who came were struck by the friendly atmosphere and by the discovery that the Bible was a comprehensible book. Seekers were drawn to Jesus and many students were converted. That, coupled with Ruth’s discovery of two very innovative and gifted student leaders who would go on to become Christian leaders on the world stage – Samuel Escobar and Pedro Arana – caused the newly formed Christian fellowship group to grow.
Only time prevents me from sharing her tremendous 11 years of student ministry in Brazil. But fifteen years later, upon visiting Portugal and being told by the Christian students “Ruth, no skeptic college student would ever come to a Bible study on the person of Jesus” she responded, “Just let me try it 3 times. If it doesn’t work then I’ll never mention it again.” She then took six frightened Christian students to a noisy student cafeteria at noon and began a discussion on a gospel narrative. Soon a circle of curious students gathered around them, and then another circle around that! When Ruth announced she would lead a similar study at noon the next day, students clamored for it to be offered at different hours. She ended up leading a dozen Seeker Bible studies the next day and some students even cut class to come! During the series that followed several students met the Lord and the faith of the Christian students was strengthened mightily.
When Ruth encouraged me to lead a Seeker Bible Study in Barcelona, my initial response was no different from the Peruvians and Portuguese. I thought she’d been in the Spanish sun too long! Imagine my astonishment when every international student I invited to the Seeker study came –and soon began inviting their friends to come as well! Five students gave their lives to Christ in that study and as a result my own life was changed forever. But that was then. Does Ruth’s strategy work for today’s postmodern culture? More than ever! In my own evangelism training ministry, people are not only learning an incarnational approach to sharing faith, but we’ve seen Seeker Bible studies begun in America, Europe and Asia. And to think it all started from a single Seeker Bible Study in Barcelona at Ruth’s prodding!
Why was Ruth’s ministry so fruitful? Because she engaged in the eternal! There is much talk today about our need to be cutting edge. But Simone Weil, the French philosopher, wrote insightfully: “To be always relevant, you have to say things which are eternal.” Ruth had absolute confidence that true spiritual power lay in utilizing God’s supernatural resources.
Does that mean our witness is removed from the perils and struggles that engulf humanity? Does engaging in the eternal mean we cast a blind eye to social injustice, poverty or world hunger? Absolutely not! The love of Christ demands our ministry to every aspect of broken humanity including the care for our battered planet. But as important as it is to mediate the love of Christ - it is not enough. We must be armed with all of God’s supernatural resources: declaring God’s truth and exposing seekers to his living and written Word; depending on God’s Spirit through prayer and other means he has provided, and displaying God’s love. It is important to be relevant, but what I learned by watching Ruth is that only the eternal is eternally relevant.
4. God is faithful
After 25 years of fruitful student ministry Ruth went on to become one of the leading thinkers and mobilizers of the worldwide tentmaking movement. She founded what one Christian businessman, Gary Ginter, described as “the single most important tentmaking mobilization ministry in the USA.” Why did she invest 25 more years in yet another ministry? “Because,” she told me at her party, “God is committed to world-wide evangelism and the end-times cannot come until the church has completed her mission. So if God never, ever gives up then how can we?”
Her response belies Ruth’s greatest lesson to me: that God is faithful. That it is the Lord who guards and keeps us. It is upon God’s fidelity and on nothing else that our life and future hang. The question is never whether God will be faithful to us: but will we be faithful to His faithfulness?
Not long ago a popular show was being broadcast on American television: top news people were questioning a politician. He was an exceptionally good guest that night. His answers were characteristically tough, feisty, and candid. As the program came to a close, one interviewer said, “Senator, we always ask this in the last thirty seconds, realizing it’s not nearly as significant as the other things we’ve discussed, but who has been the greatest influence in your life? Who has been one of your heroes?” There was dead silence. One by one each reporter looked up. The silence was awkward. As the camera zoomed in the reason for the silence became immediately apparent. The Senator was fighting back his emotions. His voice breaking, he apologized to the startled reporters.
Finally he said, “It’s a man the world has probably never heard of. He wasn’t famous, or rich, or powerful in the world’s sense. But he pointed me in the right direction. He saw something in me as a young man, he believed in me and cared for me. Above all else, he modeled for me all the things I’ve ever aspired to be. He was truly a great man.”
That night a politically powerful man wept publicly on television. Not because he won an election or had lost an election. He wept because he had a hero. That night I realized that the Senator and I had a great deal in common. The thought of my hero also makes me weep.
[Rebecca Pippert, who credits IFES for her early spiritual nurture, is recognized internationally as a prominent speaker and authority in the area of evangelism, founder of Salt Shaker Ministries, and author of several books that include the modern classic, Out of the Salt Shaker]