Mike Yoder’s path to becoming executive director of Encompass World Partners, a role he began on July 1, started when he was just a teenager. He grew up in a Charis Fellowship church and was involved in and connected to several ministries during his formative years.
“If someone could be born into the Charis Fellowship, I was.”
Mike Yoder grew up in northern Indiana, and both of his parents were professors at Grace College in Winona Lake. Some of Mike’s earliest memories are of his family’s involvement and participation at Warsaw Community Grace Brethren Church. “This set such a good foundation of my spiritual understanding, and I’m grateful for the spiritual investment I had growing up.”
Perhaps what had the biggest impact in Mike’s life was the exposure to cross-cultural missions from a young age. At the time, the Warsaw/Winona Lake area was the unofficial mecca of the Charis Fellowship and many national organizations had their home office there, including Encompass World Partners (known then as Grace Brethren International Missions). With missionaries coming to the area on furlough, being sent out from the local churches, and giving talks at Grace College, the seeds of cross-cultural missions were being planted. And Mike — already having an interest in cultures, languages, and geography — was fertile ground.
“I regularly heard people talking about God’s call to the nations as being central to His redeeming work in Christ,” Mike recalled. “I had youth leaders who, several years later, left for long-term deployment with Encompass. I began to wonder if God could use me with my passions and interests. By the time I was 16 I was quite interested in the idea of cross-cultural missions.”
Mike’s family moved to Iowa in his final years of high school, but he moved back to Winona Lake to attend Grace College, double majoring in sociology and communications. After his sophomore year at Grace, he spent a summer in Europe. The first half of the summer he spent on a missions trip sponsored by Momentum Ministry Partners (known then as CE National) and the second half immersed in French language study in France. “It was kind of my baptism into cross-cultural missions in Europe. It confirmed that I was interested in that ministry, and that there were real spiritual needs and practical opportunities in Europe.”
During his junior year at Grace, Mike met his future wife, Letitia. Later she also spent a summer in Europe, the first half on a similar missions trip with Momentum and the second half in studying Shakespeare in England. “Both of these trips confirmed for us our desire and willingness to live and serve in Europe,” Mike said.
Mike and Letitia married in June 1994, ready and willing to start their newlywed life abroad. Mike began to meet and pray with Kip Cone, now pastor at Winona Lake Grace Brethren Church, about their families doing cross-cultural work together. Kip and his wife, Mary, were leaders of Mike’s earlier mission experience, and soon an invitation from the Encompass team in Germany was extended to them. In 1997 the Yoders and Cones moved to Berlin, Germany.
“As a young, (hopefully) engaging couple with decent education, we were an enigma to the Germans,” Mike said. “People couldn’t understand why we believed in Christianity.” Less than a decade removed from the Cold War, communist reign, and the demolition of the Berlin Wall, Germans were skeptical and somewhat opposed to organized religion, especially in the east.
In addition to helping young adults in church planting efforts, the Yoders had to find creative ways to meet and engage with people in spiritual things. They held a German-American club to connect the two cultures, sometimes in explicitly spiritual aspects and other times in social, relationship-building aspects. They hosted an evangelical Bible study on a college campus. They took classes at a university and intentionally engaged with their classmates in the classroom and cafeteria. They took advantage of their German language learning and both Mike and Letitia met with dozens of conversation partners who were as eager to learn English as they were to learn German. “We could practice our language skills while talking about spiritual things,” Mike said. “We were able to put words to the intrigue they had about our interest in God, the Bible, and Jesus.”
“We tried any and every way we could to get together with people to discuss our spiritual beliefs. And we saw handfuls of people come to know Christ.”
After 10 years in Germany, the Yoders, now with four young children in tow, moved to Chicago, Ill., where Mike began his doctoral studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He also worked full-time for Encompass doing international leadership training. During that time he took multiple trips to central Africa. “In hindsight, I see now how helpful that was for my current role with Encompass,” Mike said.
Four years later, with plans to return to Europe not panning out as expected, Mike received an invitation to consider the role of lead pastor at Grace Polaris Church in Westerville, Ohio. “I had told Letitia while were still in Germany that I wouldn’t want to be a pastor in a North American church. But if I was, I would want it to be in a major metropolitan area, a larger church with a multi-member staff, and with lots of young adults. Grace Polaris seemed to check all of those boxes.”
In 2011 Mike and Letitia moved with their four young kids to Central Ohio. “It turned out to be great for learning leadership, learning to love a church family, to be involved in ongoing teaching and vision. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and we have been so well received and loved by the church who became our spiritual family.”
“Encompass has played a major role in the health of the our Fellowship of churches, particularly under the leadership of Tom Julien and Dave Guiles.” Mike said. “Nothing unites people in ministry quite like cross-cultural missions.”
Mike hopes to continue in the legacy of infusing health into the Charis Fellowship and building connections among churches and for missions. “We have been at our best when we have rallied together as a Fellowship to take the Gospel to the nations; it helps us realize what divides us isn’t as important as what binds us — our mission of sharing the Gospel.”
It the coming years, Mike is praying for a refresh of vision and renewal of engagement with Charis churches. He is also praying for a new wave of cross-cultural workers, of people willing to go to hard places. “When churches send their people, their dollars, interests, communications, and prayers follow.”
On a more personal note, our Fellowship can support Mike in this new role by praying for specific things: for wisdom in learning a new leadership role and dynamics; for leading a team remotely that is deployed globally; for coming alongside missionaries and coaching them effectively; for guidance in setting a travel schedule; and for help in being a good husband and father.
“What motivated me to take this role, and what excites me about going forward, is my deep love for the Charis Fellowship. We aren’t the only evangelical group in the world, and we aren’t perfect. But what I love about our Fellowship is the strong commitment to biblical truth, relationship, and mission. I believe that God has a very strategic role for the Charis Fellowship to play.”