Learn how the cross and culture shaped the next executive director of International Ministries
Rev. Dr. Reid Trulson is well known to many as one who has served American Baptist Churches faithfully as a pastor, regional leader, board president, missionary to Europe based in the Czech Republic, and most recently as an International Ministries area director for Europe and the Middle East. However, many may not know how the newly appointed executive director of IM was shaped both by the Gospel and varied global contexts to lead this mission agency, at this point in its history to cross cultural boundaries to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The IM Update solicited answers to questions about formative experiences in Trulson's life sure to open up new aspects of his journey to our readers.
Q: How did you come to know Christ?
I grew up in a Christian family, the second of five sons on a farm in southeastern Minnesota. Our family was active in our local church, and I can’t ever remember not believing the basic truths about Jesus. In high school, I came to understand that being a Christian was more than just head knowledge, but was a personal, living relationship with God. During a Billy Graham Crusade in St. Paul, I committed my life to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
A deeper discovery of what it means to follow Jesus as Lord began to develop as I became active in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Minnesota. Through personal daily quiet time and small group Bible studies I began to experience God’s guidance in daily living.
Q: Tell us about your call to ministry in cross-cultural settings.
First you need to know that I am the grandson of Norwegian immigrants and grew up strongly identifying with those roots. My exposure to people of other cultures began at University. Then soon after arriving at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA, I was asked to lead Bible studies for international students studying at nearby universities. These men and women came from widely differing cultures. Many were having their first encounter with the Bible and Christianity. In very concrete ways these students showed me how our cultures shape our worldviews. They helped me learn the need to distinguish between the Gospel itself and the cultural “clothing” it wears both, in scripture and in our own times and places.
In the middle of my seminary studies, I served a one year missionary internship with Scripture Union. After working for a month in summer camps in Scotland, I moved to Ghana where I worked with the Scripture Union groups in 33 secondary schools and teacher training colleges. I subsequently visited missions in South Africa, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Returning to the States, I became an American Baptist and joined Friendship Baptist Church, the oldest African American Baptist church in Pasadena. While serving as Friendship’s Minister of Christian Education, the Lord deepened my ability to worship and shaped my skills in preaching. During these years, I continued studies at Fuller’s School of World Missions where I earned the Doctor of Ministry degree in cross-cultural ministry.
From California, I was called into the culture of north central Wisconsin as pastor the First Baptist Church of Antigo. God blessed our work in evangelism and discipleship as people came to faith in Christ and the church grew, moving from receiving financial support from the Region to full self-support. We paid off the church’s debts, built a new building, and began a rural mission in a community some twenty miles away. Throughout those years, the church nurtured me in the skills I needed for ministry and loved me into effectiveness.
Biennial Meetings can be wonderful events! I know because I met my wife, Janelle Losh, at the 1981 Biennial in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After we married, I was called into an urban cultural setting as pastor the Underwood Memorial Baptist Church in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Here the ministry included special attention to adult Christian education, racial reconciliation, poverty, hunger and homelessness.
During this pastorate our family grew with the birth of our daughters Lara and Emma. At the same time our ministries of evangelism and discipleship brought steady multicultural growth to the church. And my international involvements grew through my service as a member of the Board of International Ministries. This ultimately led to our service as American Baptist missionaries in Europe, and my subsequent ministry as Area Director for Europe and the Middle East.
Q: What other experiences have shaped who you are?
My love of mission came from many sources including my mother reading to my brothers and me from a small book of missionary stories and, much later, my attendance at several InterVarsity student mission conferences at Urbana, IL.
During a period of racial tension in Pasadena, there were threats that our church would be burned and that the senior pastor and I would be lynched. This powerfully impressed the cost of discipleship upon me.
A young boy begging on the streets in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia taught me about the dignity of the poor.
Participating in a Habitat for Humanity building blitz with President and Mrs. Carter showed me much about the roles of leadership and humility.