Gary Bekker, who has had a varied and faithful career within and for the Christian Reformed Church, will retire this month. Bekker’s CRC-connected vocations include roles as an educator, academic dean, pastor, missionary and church leader. He served 16 years as director of Christian Reformed World Missions, leaving that role in 2017 as the agency joined with Home Missions.
For the past two years Bekker has directed a group of three leadership training ministries: Timothy Leadership Training Institute, Global Coffee Break, and Educational Care, which have recently unified under the name Raise Up Global Ministries.
Bekker said he's had a lifelong “curiosity and concern for people who did not look or live like me.” Perhaps it was coming from a childhood in smalltown Pennsylvania. It was a diverse community of coal miners, farmers, and woodcutters, as well as scientists and scholars, of which his father was one.
Bekker’s commitment to living out a Reformed worldview was solidified at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., and Calvin Theological Seminary, where he received degrees. In 1977, Bekker went to the Philippines as a missionary teaching and church planting on Negros Island. For Bekker, this was an eye-opening and challenging experience that would serve him well in future work.
Subsequently, he earned a doctorate in education at Michigan State University and then taught missions and church education at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. During this time, he also pastored a local CRC congregation for two years.
In 1995, Bekker accepted the role of academic dean at Calvin Seminary. As much as he enjoyed academia, his “mind and heart needed more than what that life could offer.”
In 2000, Bekker was invited to become the director of Christian Reformed World Missions. This would become Bekker’s deep passion and his longest place of service. (2001 to 2017)
On Sept 11, 2001, just 10 days after beginning the CRWM directorship, terrorists’ planes flew into the World Trade Center towers in New York. This single event changed the work of global missions, security, and the entire world’s perspective on safety.
“It was a dramatic beginning,” Bekker said, and its impact would not let up for the next 16 years.
Bekker’s great joy was to visit missionaries in the field. He aimed to always improve accountability and responsible stewardship within the denomination, providing support and advice for continued reorganization and restructuring with a mind to the safety of field workers. Bekker also valued the role of the CRWM board, providing board members with the opportunity to experience the work of CRWM first hand.
Bekker’s CRWM era culminated in uniting World Missions with Home Missions to form Resonate Global Mission. This unification was significant and important to Bekker as the church needed to gather its mission, purpose and resources to meet the needs of a new global reality, at home and abroad. Bekker is grateful to have been part of that arduous yet necessary process.
Bekker was honored at the June 2019 Synod (annual general assembly) during a luncheon that was shared with delegates and visitors.
“The CRC does well to pray,” he reflected, “not for survival but for God’s direction and an obedient heart and for a way of serving Christ with others. If we do so, we ought to be prepared for lots of God’s surprises.”
Ko Spyksma, a member at Living Hope CRC in Abbotsford, B.C., and former CRWM board member noted, “Gary Bekker loves the CRC with his life.”
Bekker’s family has experienced this love first hand. Norma, his wife of 42 years, his children, grandchildren, parents, and in-laws all have been traveling companions with Bekker on this journey. None of this would have transpired “without Norma’s quiet, rock-solid faith in God and willingness to explore where he wanted us to go,” Bekker said.
Bekker’s immediate plans will be to spend time with his wife and family and also to fish. No doubt the years ahead will be a continuation of the “Jesus–follower fishing” that he was called to these past many years.