Spring 2022 Connections Alumni Profile
Jerry Vreeman ’68 can tell you gripping stories of all-night interrogations with government officials in India, or of Christians being beaten by the Hindu Indian government after being seen with him. Of meetings with Christian Rwandan leaders breaking down hate barriers, or of Indian widows whose lives are rescued by sponsored cows. And he tells them all just as fluidly as he tells his stories of marching in Tulip Time with HC’s 140 student band as HCHS’s drum major, or of being called out of class for whole school days to pick up landscaping for the then-new high school building. Or the time he was one of two male cheerleaders when the 1968 boys basketball team took second in state, then celebrated the next day with a 50+-car student parade to Hudsonville and back —and of the accidents that happened along the way.
He can also tell you delightful stories how he met his lovely wife Cori, whom he’s been married to for the last 49 years, of his six children, and seven grandchildren. A Dordt College and Calvin Sem grad, he can tell stories of the churches he’s preached at and the youth groups he led all over West Michigan and the greater Chicago area. How as both a child and an adult he and his family helped lead worship multiple summers at the Christian Reformed Conference grounds. Interestingly, even though he’s worked over the last 50-some years with big Christian evangelism names like Luis Palau, Billy Graham, James Dobson, and Max McClean broadcasting and directing their live performances, and he could probably tell you about that too, those stories don’t come out as much.
These days, you’re more likely to find Jerry traveling on a motorcycle through India or on a bus bumping through the backroads of Africa. It’s a role he relishes as the full time current executive director of L.I.O.N. Outreach International. Which, by the way, stands for “Leadership In Obscurity Network,” an organization he helped start back in 2010, when he was almost 60 and wondering what was next. There’s a story for that, too.
”We live in a time when information and resources for training and equipping are available to almost anyone anywhere through technology, transportation, and abundant print or audio visual materials. Yet, leaders in obscurity often feel more disconnected, lonely, insignificant, or abandoned than at any other era.
It all kinda started originally back when he was a junior at Holland Christan, though, working part-time as a radio announcer for Holland’s WJBL radio station. In between caring for her 10 children, his mother, (a Mrs. Michigan winner, and Mrs. America pageant finalist!) ran the daily WJBL am radio program “In Your Neighbor’s Kitchen” from their home, so he “grew up twisting dials and knobs on a radio/audio mixer,” he said. While at Dordt, he helped launch their KDCR radio station, then at Calvin Sem helped start CRC-TV at the request of Back to God Hour. Then eight years later he helped create Multimedia Ministries International (MMI) in the Chicago area “in order to credibly and effectively present the historic Christian faith through media” What followed were several decades of media ministry, working with big name evangelists all over the country from his Chicago area homebase, while raising six children with Cori, who taught piano lessons from their home, helping steady the family income.
And there are more than enough riveting stories to fill this issue of Connections with stories only about L.I.O.N. and its current worldwide impact. As with so many God-lead endeavors, it really started unexpectedly when Jerry, at the age most adults look toward retirement, was trying to figure out what was next, while working for a church plant in NW Indiana, but “wrestling spiritually with a change in our ministry focus,” he said.
He and Cori look back now and see God’s creative and convoluted planning: In 2002, their fifth child, Amy, was invited by Jerry’s college roommate, Dr. Rick Kruis, to attend Rehoboth Christian School for her sophomore year, and to live with the Kruises in nearby Gallup, NM, to “experience the adventure of living there with them” Jerry said. She loved it so much she asked to go back to Rehoboth for her senior year.
”It’s more empowering to them that the missionary is not there with them, but is an outside coach, mentor, motivator.
At the same time, he had been “challenged by two spiritual mentors to consider taking a leave from media ministry and serve in person the kinds of people Jesus called ‘the least of these,’” Jerry said. So he and Cori moved to Rehoboth, NM, with their youngest daughters, Amy and Carmen, thinking that “serving the Navajo and Zuni communities would be our faithful response to the nudging of God’s spirit.”
Instead, while at Rehoboth he happened to run into a Holland Christian classmate, Randy Disselkoen ’68, whom he hadn’t seen in years, and who just happened to be visiting Rehoboth on business.
“As we shared our wrestling to serve underserved people, Randy invited me to join him on a trip to India, to meet and possibly serve his friend, Mano, in India,” Jerry explained. “We now know that was a ‘God thing!’”
After that first trip, Jerry started traveling back and forth to India 4-6 times a year through Mano’s organization, FPTL from their new home in Colorado Springs. Jerry’s network of contacts and work in India was growing, and he had no intention of creating another non-profit organization. “I simply felt called to serve other leaders both here in the United States and in other developing countries,” he said. And “I felt a growing desire to focus primarily on leaders in obscurity in many different professions and walks of life.” So he started L.I.O.N. not to provide funding for these leaders and their important work as much as to help them network within the global Christian community, to encourage and enable them in their work.
“We live in a time when information and resources for training and equipping are available to almost anyone anywhere through technology, transportation, and abundant print or audio visual materials,” he said. “Yet, leaders in obscurity often feel more disconnected, lonely, insignificant, or abandoned than at any other era.”
Used to visiting the White House, or talking Jesus with Billy Graham before he broadcast him live to thousands, Jerry found new excitement in serving these Christ followers who were unknown, scattered, obscure, but doing important work for God’s kingdom in their own communities.
Ever since childhood “I had been thrust into more of a public eye and leadership, with national exposure, hanging with celebrities, that this is who I am, you just do it,” Jerry reflected. “But to be turned around and to be poured into the least of these, and end up being invested in the other side of the world, spending time in Rwanda, hearing life stories of going through 100 days of one million Rwandans murdered, more than half by their neighbors with machetes…” he trailed off. Then finished, “How can we come alongside and encourage and equip and empower them? How to love one another? The gospel has always been birthed in those horrendous situations…” and yet, he added, amazed that “how by God’s grace—I wonder that God would choose me for this kind of work…”
It’s now 12 years since it started, and L.I.O.N. currently networks with literally thousands of Christian leaders all throughout rural India and Africa, supporting them primarily through “the four Es”: encouraging them, equipping and empowering them, while also engaging them in whatever work they are already doing in their home locales. Not the old way of bringing in the white missionary to preach truth, but instead using normal people in normal everyday work to be Christ to the people around them—and help them do it even better.
”As I serve struggling leaders and families around the world today, I am so amazed by and grateful for the sacrifices made by several generations before me to lay the foundations and grow Holland Christian Schools.
“They’re making a difference, turning communities upside down,” Jerry said. “It’s more empowering to them that the missionary is not there with them, but is an outside coach, mentor, motivator. That is far more empowering; plus they’re networking with leaders in Nepal, in Punjab, Kashmir…” his list trails on.
Looking back, Jerry is grateful for his years as a student at Holland Christian, is thankful for how he was prepared by Holland Christian for leadership at a national and global level, for the variety of opportunities Holland Christian gave him, and especially for the community that wrapped itself around him: “As I serve struggling leaders and families around the world today, I am so amazed by and grateful for the sacrifices made by several generations before me to lay the foundations and grow Holland Christian schools,” he said. “I am so grateful to have specific memories of teachers, administrators, and school-associated parents outside of my own who cared about me and invested time to encourage me, or—more importantly sometimes—held me accountable.”
But like any true Christian evangelist, he doesn’t stop there: “I’d love to challenge anyone at Holland Christian that their gifts, their talents are what is needed globally— to open yourself up to being used just as you are, to live out the kingdom principles in their lives.”