“We can not convince or convict anybody. All we do is chatter the good news and then step back and watch God work. You ask, ‘What happens if I do all this stuff—talk to these people and get out there—and nobody responds? Relax, relax. That’s God’s work.”
Sharing the gospel and watching God work in the lives of others has been a life-long pursuit for J. Ronald Blue.
Take for example, when Ron served as a lieutenant in the US Navy in the late 1950s. His captain permitted him and the one other Christian officer to lead services on the ship. “One day we got called up to see the captain, and we were getting worried. But the captain said, [Ron mimics a gruff, boisterous voice] ‘I notice what’s going on here on my ship. And I like it! I want you guys to lead the ship in prayer over the loudspeaker every morning. And you might as well end the day that way too.’”
Ron laughs aloud, remembering that conversation. “Can you imagine? We led that entire ship in prayers every morning and at the end of every day.”
After serving in the Navy, Ron lived in Columbus, Ohio and worked fitting contact lenses for a living. “When I left the Navy, I went to Ohio State University to train in contact lens fitting. When I completed my training, they offered me a position at the OSU Starling Love Eye Clinic, so I continued there fitting contact lenses and artificial eyes for about two years. I had considered seminary studies before I left active duty in the Navy, but God protected me from [studying at] some liberal seminary.”
At the church where he regularly attended, two things happened. He got introduced to DTS, and he met his future wife, Libby. “I became active at Calvary Bible Church . . . and became acquainted with [DTS]. Phil Whisenhunt (ThM, 1956) was the associate pastor. God not only led me to the right seminary, but it was [there] that I met Libby.”
They actually sang in the choir together. “Libby and I formally met in the Calvary Bible Church choir. We were dating when I resigned from my position at the eye clinic. In fact, Libby encouraged me to attend DTS.” Ron spent the first year at DTS studying and thinking about Libby. The following year, when she visited DTS on a break from her teaching, he proposed. “We were married in Columbus on September 7, 1962 and took a ‘romantic honeymoon trip’ back to Dallas for my second year. I carried my new bride across the threshold of rather substandard DTS housing called Gaylord Apartments on Live Oak.”
Three years later, at a missions banquet at DTS, Ron started chatting with the stranger next to him.
“What do you plan to do after graduation?” the man asked.
“I’d like to be a pastor or a Christian education director.”
“Have you ever thought about doing that overseas?”
“No,” Ron smiled. “You mean you’ve never considered missions?” the man pressed him.
Soon after that conversation, Ron found out that Libby, from a young age, had prayed to serve as a missionary. It seemed the Lord had prepared her heart first.
Ron didn’t even know Spanish when he and Libby approached God about going to the mission field following that significant conversation at the banquet. Libby, however, spoke Spanish (and French) fluently. “She didn’t translate for me,” Ron said, chuckling. “She told people to ‘let him stumble around and get it.’”
Following his DTS graduation in 1965, the Blues departed for language school in Costa Rica. They started youth caravans, driving all over the country and region as they inaugurated Christian education programs from Mexico to Panama.
A pattern soon emerged. After only six years on the field, during which they adopted a baby girl from the US, Ron—now-fluent in Spanish—was asked to plant a church in Spain with a team of experienced missionaries with the Central American Mission (CAM International, now Camino Global). “We planted that church not from scratch but from itch—there was nothing there,” Ron recalls, referring to the dearth of evangelicals in the old world country.
In Spain, Ron learned the significance of asking the right questions. After an evangelistic meeting where response cards were handed out, he and his team followed up in person. “That meant I could talk to these guys,” Ron explains. “I asked them, ‘What if we got together and talked about these things? What’s a good time and place?’ I was just trying to figure out the logistics, but I stumbled onto something wise without meaning to: I brought the men into the decision-making process.”
They wanted to study the Bible and they chose to meet. And Ron led the local men and helped them find Scripture passages in their new Bibles. Before teaching he recalls asking, “Do you mind if I pray before we start?” Overcome with emotion, Ron remembers their words after the initial study. “They told me that the fact that I asked, meant something to them. And then they told me, ‘Do you know that we had never heard anyone pray?’” Tearing up, and shaking his head, Ron adds, “Can you believe that? Never! They only knew said prayers or read prayers. What we did impacted them—just talking to God.”
Proposal to Lead
Ron’s years on the mission field yielded first-hand experience and wisdom for the future missionaries he would later teach. During those three years, he had declined several offers to join the faculty at DTS, but in 1974, while at a Lausanne Conference, he encountered Dr. John Walvoord (then DTS president) with George W. Peters (the Missions Department chair at that time), who reissued that invitation. “Dr. Walvoord was a very smart man,” Ron chuckles. “He told me, ‘You just let me know when you are coming.’ When they asked me again, I realized it was time to let the nationals take over the church plant.”
Two enduring lessons materialized from the end of Ron’s tenure in Spain. The most effective mission work, Ron insists, incorporates the nationals whenever possible, rather than keeping the foreign missionaries in positions of leadership. And secondly, an effective missionary knows when it’s time to leave. “The church needed me to go,” Ron contends. “I knew God was using this call to move me along. That’s one of the hardest parts about church planting: we hang on too long.”
Ron moved his family, now complete with three children, Elisa, Laurie, and David, to the States to start his career at DTS. Laurie describes her father as an expressive, creative, and fun dad who loves to sing. In fact, during his DTS student days he sang with a quartet.
“We often say he looks like the Grinch from Dr. Seuss,” Laurie laughs. “He was always very silly with us and made up fun games. And he’s always been very creative and artistic. This creativity has been invaluable in ministry. For instance, my parents would create rhyming, illustrated Christmas cards each year.”
Reminiscing about his children’s younger days, while he taught and chaired the World Missions Department at DTS, Ron expressed his one primary regret: “I traveled all over the world, speaking and teaching. When I look back, I would have done that differently. I was gone too much, and it was hard on the family.”
When not on the road, Ron taught alongside Walt Baker. “We were the department,” he joked. “Dr. Walvoord used to call us the Bobbsey twins.” And after Dr. Peters retired, Ron assumed the role of department chair and continued to teach, serving students and the seminary through the 1980s.
In 1992, another defining question redirected Ron’s ministry. “I was asked,” he explains, “to return to CAM International as president.” By then in his late fifties, he had learned to listen when God invited him to serve him in strategic areas. CAM (now Camino Global) had continued to minister in Central America, and Ron’s experience and evangelistic fervor made him a natural fit to lead them.
Staffers during those eight years recall his gregarious, energetic, always smiling personality. His daughter, Laurie, concurs. “He rarely stops talking. Once he ended a sentence with, ‘and that’s all I have to say.’ My husband then said to me quietly, ‘I’ll bet that’s not all he has to say. . .’ Everyone laughed.”
The Next Challenge
No matter where he served, Ron maintained a passion for evangelism. His children recall how he would share the gospel, often more than once a day. Laurie explains, “I love his spiritual gift of evangelism, and that he uses it joyfully all the time to serve and honor the Lord. When we were little, he would share with our waiters, or anyone we would meet. He continues to do the same today, and is always telling me of a new convert.”
In the late 90s, as Ron prepared for his mandatory age-limit retirement from the presidency at CAM, he received an unexpected phone call from John Reed, the then director of the DTS Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program. John told him, “I’ve been thinking about a DMin in Spanish.”
“That’s great news!” Ron responded.
“We might have a campus as an extension somewhere in Latin America.”
“That’s even better news,” Ron replied.
“Why don’t you come over here and help us run it? But you know we don’t have anything in the budget for this.”
Ron laughed, and accepted.
Since 2000, the Spanish DMin program has offered the exact courses and work as the English program, but all in Spanish and contextualized for Hispanic ministry. Students must speak Spanish, be involved in a ministry to Hispanics, and take courses in Guatemala, at Seminario Teológico Centroamericano (SETECA), which Ron nicknamed “DTS South.”
At SETECA, DTS grads teach alongside visiting DTS professors. Ron’s primary responsibility included recruiting professors for each course, managing the students and classes, and advertise through word of mouth—utilizing his lifelong connection to the ministry in Central America.
Dr. Michael Ortiz, the current director of DTS en Español, praised Ron’s contribution. “Ron Blue was a major catalyst in allowing us to get this program off the ground,” he said. “If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have a Spanish DMin. He did pretty much everything to make it happen.” The Spanish DMin program now works within DTS en Español, which includes master’s-level students as well. “We started with a doctorate and worked our way backwards to a master’s program,” Ron said proudly.
Now What?—¿ahora que?
At the end of May, Ron retired from DTS. Despite recent health challenges, his sweet, cheeky smile and twinkling eyes have continued to counsel and support Spanish DMin students. Knowing his tenure is drawing to a close, Ron perseveres with several graduating doctoral students to ensure they finish their coursework well. He is proud of the fifty graduates the program has sent to serve the Hispanic world.
Laurie adds, “My father has spent his entire adult life serving the Lord through missions and evangelism with great joy and without fear of man.”
Dr. Ortiz recalls an event two years ago at SETECA, when a number of students and their professors—probably thirty to forty people—gathered in a room. “One student started playing a worship song on the piano, and others joined him in singing in Spanish. I noticed Ron sitting in the chair with this look on his face, eyes mostly closed, big smile, worshiping the Lord. What an example of someone who is looking forward to finishing well in ministry. He was just enjoying a moment that captured a lot of his work in bringing this ministry together. I saw a man enjoying the fruits of all his labor.”
Questions changed the trajectory of Ron’s life and they redirected him into a life and ministry that would reach across the world for over half a century. At that missions banquet many years ago, how could Ron have known that he would serve the Spanish-speaking world through teaching and pastoring overseas (1966–1975), would also teach and chair in the DTS World Missions Department (1975–1992), lead CAM International (1992–2000), and then further his influence (upon his retirement from CAM) after returning to DTS in 2000 to inaugurate and coordinate the new Spanish DMin program?
One thing’s for certain, Ron understood he had to respond. He had a passion to obey—share the good news among people—wherever God led him. So what happens now? He’ll step back, relax, and watch. After all, it’s been a life-long pursuit for J. Ronald Blue to observe God at work.
“I thank the Lord that he graciously gives us a flashlight rather than a life map. Step by step we walk in his way. The little praise song is right, “My Lord leads the way through the wilderness. All I have to do is follow.”