Roy LeTourneau and Kenn Opperman

Roy LeTourneau and Kenn Opperman

Church Ministries International traces its roots to the dreams of two men–Kenn Opperman and Roy LeTourneau. Kenn was a veteran missionary that pioneered work in the city of Lima, Peru at a time when most considered “legitimate” missions to exist only in rural areas. Roy was a businessman and the son of famed industrialist and inventor, R.G. LeTourneau.

In the 1950’s Roy was assigned by his father to direct the construction of a new road through the Peruvian jungle. Roy’s frequent contacts with government and business leaders necessitated that he live in Lima. It was there that he met Kenn.

The two men soon discovered that they shared a similar passion. Both were frustrated with the meager evangelistic results achieved despite years of missionary effort in Peru. Each was convinced that a new strategy was needed if there was to be any hope of transforming the entire nation for Christ.

The task of discipling an entire nation seemed so monumental that many people had written it off as an impossible dream. But growing up as the son of R.G. LeTourneau, Roy was taught to believe nothing was impossible. R.G. had a favorite saying, “There is no such thing as a big job, just small machines.” R.G. lived his life by that motto, designing and developing massive machines to accomplish what others regarded as impossible.

The more that Kenn and Roy talked, the more they became convinced that the same type of innovation was needed in missions. Traditional strategies were too slow and were ill-equipped to produce the kind of results needed to transform a country. A new missions strategy was needed-—a strategy big enough to impact an entire nation.

A New Foundation

As Kenn and Roy surveyed the missions landscape they became convinced of three things.

First, missionary efforts needed to be focused in the capital city. By 1957, migration to the city was already underway. Roy knew from his experience while working in the jungle just how influential the capital was on the entire nation. If they were to impact the entire nation they would first have to impact its capital city.

Second, they recognized that for a church to reach people and have a significant impact on the city, it would have to be on a main avenue where it would be highly visible and easily reached. In those days, few evangelical churches ventured outside of the backstreets and alleys. Consequently, most were virtually invisible to the majority of the population.

Lastly, they knew that if they were to reach the nation, reproduction would be the key. To reproduce effectively they would need leaders and resources. The growing middle class offered a wealth of people with the education and skills needed for leadership. Moreover, this group possessed resources to sustain and reproduce the church.

With this in mind, Kenn found and secured a piece of property located in the middle class Lince district of Lima and situated on the most important avenue in the city. The church moved into the house located on the property and immediately began its outreach.

In 1961, Roy returned to the U.S., but before leaving he left the funds needed for the Lince Church to conduct a year-long evangelism campaign. Evangelistic events were held for two weeks out of every month for 12 months. By the end of the year they were stunned by the results. More than 1,000 people had trusted in Christ!

Unfortunately, lack of planned follow-up and inadequate facilities resulted in the loss of many of these new converts. Even so, the church was filled to capacity with over 200 people.

Soon afterward, health problems forced Kenn and his wife Joyce to return to North America and for the next 11 years the church maintained itself with a full-time pastor. In the ensuing years, however, church attendance failed to grow and even declined to 180 people. But a core of believers remained unsatisfied. They recalled the exciting year of evangelism in 1961-1962 and began to pray in earnest that God would use them in that way again.

Birth of a Movement

Three of the original founders of Encounter with God: Roy LeTourneau, Eugene Kelly and Kenn Opperman (not pictured - Alfredo Smith)

Three of the original founders of Encounter with God: Roy LeTourneau, Eugene Kelly and Kenn Opperman (not pictured – Alfredo Smith)

In 1973, their prayers were answered. The church called a new pastor, Alfredo Smith, from Argentina and a partnering mission agency (the Christian and Missionary Alliance) assigned veteran missionary Eugene Kelly to help. Roy and Kenn reunited in North America to coordinate the financial effort.

They began laying the groundwork for an unprecedented campaign. As they reviewed the 1961 evangelistic campaign, they realized that for the results to be enduring they would have to be prepared to follow-up with new believers and they would have to have the space in which to house them.

They called the campaign Lima to an Encounter with God. With initial funds provided by the LeTourneau Foundation, the church began construction of a new Christian Education building with a first floor auditorium equipped to hold 325 people.

They launched a massive publicity campaign and held special services aimed at readying the believers in the church. In November, the four-story Christian Education building was dedicated and the church initiated the first of its monthly evangelistic campaigns patterned after the 1961-1962 campaign.

175 people accepted Christ in the first two weeks—almost as many as were members of the church. Immediately, construction began on a 1,000-seat sanctuary, dedicated in July 1974. Fifteen months later, the church was filled.

But that was just the beginning. Rather than simply adding to its numbers, Lince began to reproduce through new daughter churches. The Pueblo Libre Church began in 1975 with 36 believers. Following the same strategy and with the help of the LeTourneau Foundation, Pueblo Libre built and filled a 2,000-seat sanctuary in 1978.

In the ensuing years, more daughter churches were planted throughout Lima. In 1979, four Encounter churches produced 5,600 decisions for Christ! Clearly, a movement of God was underway which would change the history of the Church in Peru and profoundly influence the course of missions in Latin America.

A New Vision

Back in the U.S., however, Roy and Kenn faced a new challenge. In the midst of this rapid growth, the limited funds of the LeTourneau Foundation had reached a point of crisis. Demand was fast outpacing resources.

After much prayer, Roy and Kenn sensed God’s direction in forming a new organization, known today as Church Ministries International, to appeal to North American Christians to partner in the support of the burgeoning Encounter with God Movement. In time, an expanded vision emerged to see the effectiveness of the Encounter with God Model spread beyond Peru. In light of this, CMI set forth its 20/20 Vision—a vision to initiate the Encounter with God Model in the 20 capital cities of Latin America and to build twenty churches in all 20 capital cities.

In Lima alone, the first church of 180 people that initiated Encounter in 1973 has now grown to more than 70 churches with tens of thousands attending each Sunday! In addition, the Lima churches have established churches in each of the provincial capitals of Peru.

The Program Expands

But the growth is not just limited to Peru. Encounter churches are now active in 10 Latin capital cities with more waiting to begin. More than 90 churches now form the Encounter with God Movement with new ones joining or being planted each year.

In cities throughout the continent, Church Ministries International is making an important contribution to the growth and development of strong, reproducing churches–churches that are impacting thousands of lives and transforming the image and credibility of the evangelical church in their societies. These churches represent a new paradigm in church planting and are innovating new programs and new models of evangelism and discipleship. More importantly, they are raising the credibility, achieving sustainability and multiplying the impact of the evangelical church in Latin America.