Gene Kelly – A Legacy of Faith and Faithfulness
On March 17, 2016, Eugene Kelly – one of the four “founders” of the Encounter with God Movement went to be with the Lord. He was 88 years old.
He was preceded in death by his wife Muriel and two children, Marilyn and Daniel, that died in infancy. He is survived by three children, Ellen Ruth (John) Rollins, Rebecca Jean (Tim) Egeler, and Charles Stephen (Karen) Kelly, nine grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren, as well as several nieces and nephews.
A Memorial Service was held Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. in the Assiniboia Alliance Church, Assiniboia, SK.
Gene grew up in Assiniboia, SK on a family farm. A teenage friend shared the gospel with Gene and at the age of 18 he knelt in the back bench of the Assiniboia Alliance Church and gave his life to Christ.
The Lord led Gene to attend Western Canadian Bible Institute (known today as Ambrose University). There he met his wife of 64 years, Muriel Grace Green. It was at WCBI that Gene and Muriel received the challenge to consider missionary service in South America.
Following graduation, the Kelly’s pastored a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in British Colombia for three years before heading to Colombia to embark on three decades of service in Latin America.
Gene’s dark Romanian features and his excellent Spanish led many to assume he was a Latin American and paved the way for fruitful ministry for many years.
In 1972, the Lord brought together a team of four men from different backgrounds to launch a dream. For years, Kenn Opperman – a former missionary, and Roy LeTourneau – a businessman and lay evangelist, wrestled with how to see a significant impact for the gospel in Latin America. They and others were frustrated by the limited evangelistic fruit despite years of missionary effort. After many years of service, Gene, too, felt a holy discontent with “missions as usual.”
In conjunction with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a vision emerged to launch a new trial concept in Lima, Peru, starting with the Lince Church – a church of approximately 180 people. The plan called for a year of intensive evangelism, followed by immediate and systematic discipleship.
Investment in facilities, training and leadership preparation was imperative. The church called Alfredo Smith of Buenos Aires, Argentina as the pastor. Roy led the effort to provide the catalytic resources for the work through the LeTourneau Foundation. Kenn served as the intermediary between the field, the Alliance Mission and the LeTourneau Foundation. Gene was recruited to coordinate the work on the local level in Lima.
For the next ten years, Gene spearheaded a movement of evangelism, discipleship and church planting with few parallels in missions history. They called it Lima to an Encounter with God. The Lince Church held two weeks of evangelistic campaigns every month, followed by two weeks of immediate discipleship. In just 15 months, the church grew from 180 people to more than a thousand. Gene estimated in that time there were only two days in which he was not at the church.
Today, that first church has a weekly attendance of 7,000 people and has daughter and granddaughtered more than 75 churches in the city of Lima and many more in secondary cities of Peru. When it began, it is estimated that less than 1% of the Peruvian population were gospel-believing Christians. Today, that number is more than 15% and climbing. While not all of this is directly attributable to Lima to an Encounter with God, other evangelical Christians in Peru openly acknowledge that it was the spark.
In the succeeding years, Gene served as the first international coordinator of Latin America to an Encounter with God and was instrumental in sparking similar movements in many cities throughout the continent.
His impact is reflected well in the words of the Peruvian Church upon his passing:
“His optimism, his vision, his concern for the churches and the pastorate, is reflected in his arduous work. Thank you, Pastor Eugene Kelly, for your service and ministerial labor in our country. We will always remember your example of spiritual leadership.”
We at CMI echo these words. We are eternally grateful for Gene’s life and are blessed by the legacy of faith that he and many others have provided. We count it a great privilege to continue extending their vision to see Latin America experience an Encounter with God.