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A Tale of 2 MKs

Consider the history of Ethnos360, even going back to the New Tribes Mission days of the 1940s. God has blessed us with a panorama of leaders coming from all different walks of life and business and even other countries. We know that when our founder, Paul Fleming, was killed in a plane crash in 1950, many assumed the mission would “go under” since the presumed leader had died. But that is not what God had in mind, is it?

And yet, as I look at our history, I find it interesting that it wasn’t until Larry M Brown took the reins in 2007 that a missionary kid (MK) from this mission had filled the role of CEO. Paul Wyma was the chairman of the Executive Committee for about four years — he is an MK from Bolivia.* But let’s watch the progression of God’s Hand as He has now led two MKs to this position: Larry M Brown and Steve Sanford. I had the honor to interview the two during the transitional period of their leadership of Ethnos360.

Larry M Brown 

Larry on the Amazon River, PQQ Field Day, 1973
Larry on the Amazon River, PQQ Field Day, 1973

How did your childhood influence your later years?

“My parents served as support workers at PQQ, the [mission] school in West Brazil. My dad set up a print shop there and printed the Nyengatu New Testament among many other booklets to help church planters. As students at PQQ, we grew very close to each other and in many cases became like brothers and sisters. Sports were a big part of our lives. Hearing the reports from different families doing church planting and seeing the spiritual needs in Brazil shaped different values for me. 

“I was blessed to have a handful of excellent teachers who were great models for me, so this was very formative in my life, helping shape values that would stay with me for my life.”

Did the life lessons you learned while at PQQ influence your leadership later in life?

“I love to serve, and being at PQQ allowed many opportunities to help many students and missionaries. I spent much time on the Amazon River in the mission launch and made many supply trips into town to purchase items for school events and projects. 

“I also ran for office for the high school student council and served as treasurer and then as president of the high school in my senior year. This initiated me into the role of leadership as I served the student body.”

How did the Lord move you into positions of leadership that finally brought you here to Sanford, Florida?

“Looking back, I was unaware of how God was shaping me and what He had planned for me. I grew up very much hands-on, loving to work and serve however I could help. I enjoyed building, carpentry in particular, and after our missionary training, my wife, Debbie, and I were asked to help repair the Home Office building in Sanford, Florida, after a hurricane did much damage to roofs, windows and other parts of the structure. We moved directly down from the training in Canada to be part of the team working on the original building, the former hotel. 

“This ‘temporary’ move would last 13 years. During that time, I was blessed to work under some great servant leaders — Bob Meisel and Gideon Bader, for example — and learned much from them. I was about 28 years old when I was asked to serve with them as leaders. Whatever they were seeing in me, I didn’t see it. I always felt that I would step into whatever opportunities God opened up to me and trust Him with it. During that time, I was overseeing the building and maintenance team. Again, God allowed me to work with guys like Jake Toewes, Doug Caulder, Andy Kline, Dale Norton, Del McMaster and Tim Silvey. It’s important for me to mention these men because God used each of them to shape my life, and it was a great privilege to work together with them. My greatest pleasure was to build and work with a team that really loved working together. 

“The Lord continued to stretch me into more responsibilities, and I teamed up with Dan Taube to build the retirement homes in Sanford. This was a huge project, but I loved it. More than that, I loved working with the over 400 volunteers that would come to help us build this center in the first year. [Author’s note: I was blessed to come from our missionary training to be a part of the construction of the retirement homes under Larry’s leadership!]

1988 Larry on construction at the Home Office with Andy Kline
1988 Larry on construction at the Home Office with Andy Kline

“From there I was asked to take on the business management of the Home Office which was a very new environment for me. I am not the office type and being ‘confined’ to a desk was very difficult for me since I would rather be out doing physical work. However, God had things to teach me here too, and I appreciated being molded into administration and having the experience of working with different office teams.” 

What other doors opened up to you that would ultimately result in your taking the helm at Ethnos360?

“After serving about four years in this role, the Executive Committee asked Debbie and me if we would move to Papua New Guinea to help them with leadership and a rapidly expanding field. Again we accepted the opportunity, having no clue what we would actually be doing but willing to trust the Lord for each step.

“After about eight months of being there, I was asked to be the chairman of the leadership team in Papua New Guinea. Needless to say, we were way over our heads and felt there must be others who could do the job so much better than we could. Accepting that position expanded me into critical areas such as church planting, consultant work, security, team development and working with many nationalities and with other organizations. Again, God placed great men around me such as Bob Kennel, Tom Palmer, Ted Fitzgerald, Jack Douglas and Steve Bram from whom I learned so much. This was the most important and practical learning time for me.

“The next door that would be opened up to me was the Asia Regional Coordinating Team which provided encouragement and leadership to the leaders in the Asia Region. I would learn much from Larry Goring and Clark Aspinwall.

“The last phase of my leadership journey took place in 2006 when we were asked to return to form a US leadership team as the executive committee was dissolving itself. I became chairman of that team in January 2007. I was blessed to be onboarded by Paul Wyma who graciously worked with me to help me transition into this role. God has guided me through the ensuing years as CEO of Ethnos360 for the last 16 years.”

2004 Listening to church elders as they discuss outreach efforts.

What about the future of your ministry with Ethnos360?

“Having served on the Global Ministries Agreement (GMA) Board since 2012, the board asked me in 2022 if I would serve as chair of the GMA Board. Here I was blessed to learn from many international leaders such as Oli Jacobsen, Heiko Hagemann, Dan Rabe — well, I could name all of them! Working with the team that I have served with in Ethnos360, we agreed that it was time for Ethnos360 to seek a new CEO. Steve Sanford has been part of the Ethnos360 Executive Leadership Team for 10 years, and as we worked through our vetting process, we unanimously agreed that the Lord was directing us to appoint Steve as new CEO. 

“I will continue to serve on the Ethnos360 Executive Leadership Team but in a different role which will allow me the time I need to focus on the international side. 

“It’s an honor to serve with the team of the GMA board, and it’s been so good for me to be exposed constantly to the international partnership of Global Partners. While we all subscribe to a document defining our mission statement, doctrine, values and approach to ministry, how each country works out these distinctives looks different, depending on the culture and context of the church. With the GMA board, I look forward to moving us deeper into an appreciation of the uniqueness that each entity brings and recognizing how they will contribute to reaching unreached people groups. As a board, we also want to build a stronger cohesion with all our Global Partners.

“I believe we have exciting days ahead of us as we become more proactive to work through the global Church to reach the unreached. While the context is quickly changing around us, staying rooted in our same values and purposes will continue to serve us well.”

Having worked alongside Larry Brown these last five years has given me an appreciation for his heart for the unreached. I’m thankful that God allowed me the privilege of watching Larry direct and guide Ethnos360.

But as much as I have enjoyed ministering with Larry, the second of the MKs, Steve Sanford, has already been a blessing to Ethnos360. He and Larry started out in different worlds! Let’s take a look.

Steve Sanford

The Sanford family (Steve in front) visiting Tribal Air Communications (now Ethnos360 Aviation) in Grant, Nebraska. Circa 1975
The Sanford family (Steve in front) visiting Tribal Air Communications (now Ethnos360 Aviation) in Grant, Nebraska. Circa 1975

How did you grow up in what was then New Tribes Mission (NTM)?

“I was born in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, where my parents ministered at the NTM missionary training center. My dad was a traveling representative for NTM. I did not live overseas while growing up. However, my dad was privileged to visit most of the works that NTM was in, and I grew up seeing his pictures and hearing stories of missionaries around the world. I recall stories of missionaries living on floating houses in the middle of a lake in Colombia to avoid poison darts. I remember his stories of men like Chuck Johnson who led numerous contact teams into dangerous territory where no outsiders had been. I heard stories of sacrifice and dedication. I also saw and heard the stories of the people themselves who were waiting to hear of Jesus. The Lord used those stories, and I was hooked. I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. 

“I also traveled with my father to the churches he was speaking in as often as school schedules would allow and heard him teaching from God’s Word regarding the greatness of God and His love for all peoples. I recall my father saying that he thought everyone in the world should have the opportunity to hear what Jesus did for them at least one time before others in the world hear it for the tenth time. These were formative thoughts for me that have stuck with me my entire life. 

“Growing up at the training center, I was also privileged to meet many families headed out to the mission field. Hearing their testimonies of God’s faithfulness and their desire to be used in reaching unreached people groups impacted me in my childhood years.

“I met [my wife], Sharon, at NTM’s Bible Institute in Jackson, Michigan. She is an MK from Senegal. We both knew we wanted to be missionaries. She came to the Bible Institute during my final semester, and toward the end of that semester, we began to get to know each other. After I graduated, I went to Venezuela to visit my brother Greg and [his wife], Dawn, who were missionaries to the Yanomamo people. Their house burned down shortly after I got there, and I stayed almost a year to help with the rebuild. Watching my brother teach God’s Word every evening to the Yanomamo and seeing how it impacted their lives in the midst of an incredibly violent culture amazed me as a young man. The Lord used that to confirm the direction He had for me. Sharon came to visit on her summer break from the Bible Institute, and at that time we knew we wanted to marry. I returned to the Bible Institute to work in the area while she finished her final semester, and then we were married.” 

When I questioned Steve about how his experiences helped him prepare for positions of leadership, he explained that what he saw during his growing up years had given him a good understanding of the core values of the organization as they were being lived out in the lives of the missionaries as well as an understanding that personal sacrifice, faith, hard work and dedication are all necessary to complete the task. 

Steve with his language helper, Ikyutai, helping him break down the Joti language.
Steve with his language helper, Ikyutai, helping him break down the Joti language.

How did God lead you as a couple to this new position of leadership? What phases of ministry had you gone through to prepare you for being CEO of Ethnos360?

“Sharon and I spent the first 13 years of our ministry working on a missionary team planting a church among the Joti people in an isolated location. The Lord taught us much about hard work, teamwork, communication and how to work with others. I learned much from our teammates through those years as a young missionary, things that would help me in the different roles God has put me in.

“In our earlier years as I was involved in language and culture study and then moving into discipleship and developing curriculum for the Joti believers, our three boys were reaching school age, and Sharon was their teacher. We were in an isolated location without Internet access, so homeschooling was very much a full-time role for her during those years. As we look back on the blessing of being part of the Joti church plant and seeing the Lord build His church in that valley, it is so clear to me that we could not have been there as a family without Sharon’s faithful, steady service to the family and the team.

Teaching Joti believers, 2005
Teaching Joti believers, 2005

“We returned from the field in 2006 and joined the mobilization team, moving to the Wayumi campus in Pennsylvania where we served for the next 17 years. At Wayumi, the Lord used our years with the Joti and their enthusiastic response to the gospel to challenge and encourage many Wayumi attendees. Sharon’s gifts of service and hospitality were perfect for our positions at Wayumi. She was responsible for having the Wayumi lodging and dining facilities cleaned and ready for each group. She coordinated volunteers from the community to help her get that done. She was able to interact with thousands of Wayumi participants over those years and share how God used her in the Joti work. 

“In 2013, I was invited to join the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) and to serve as the Director of Mobilization. It has been a privilege to work with each of the members of that team over the past 10 years. I have learned much from each of them.”

Steve teaching a campfire session at Wayumi
Steve teaching a campfire session at Wayumi

How were you presented with the opportunity to become the CEO of Ethnos360?

“The ELT began talking about CEO transition about three years ago. Larry was seeing his global responsibilities increase over time and wanted to begin the conversation. As we discussed it and my name was mentioned as a possibility, I was initially dismissive of the idea. Sharon and I were very happy in our ministry at Wayumi and had no desire to move away from that. At that point in the conversation, we really did not sense the Lord leading us in that direction. 

“Over the next two years, our conversations as a team continued to come back to this possibility. I began to wonder if I was reluctant because I did not believe the Lord was leading us that way or if I was reluctant simply because I did not want to do it. Sharon and I began to pray more seriously about it. I asked the Lord that, if He was leading us in this direction, He would make it clear to us in three ways. 1) I asked him to change our hearts and make us want to do it. 2) I asked Him to lead the ELT and the Board of Directors to that conclusion unanimously. If there was any question on the part of any of the members, I would take that as from the Lord and stay where we were. 3) I asked Him to provide our replacement at Wayumi so that we would not be leaving that ministry that we care so much about in a difficult position.

“Over the next year, I saw the Lord answer our first two requests. Over time He did change our thinking, and we found ourselves being open to, and then even being excited about, the possibility of taking the role.

“He then led the ELT and board unanimously to ask Sharon and me to make the move. At that point I became convinced that the Lord did want us to make this transition.

“Request #3 had not been answered, though I felt convinced that the Lord would answer that in His timing. We said ‘yes’ with that conviction of His future provision. We continue to trust Him to provide a teacher for the Wayumi program.”

I think you’ll agree with me that there is nothing quite like the peace that passes all understanding as we follow God’s leading. I had one last question to present to Steve. 

What are your goals for yourself as well as for the organization?

“Personally, my goal is to be faithful to the Lord in this responsibility, to walk humbly before Him and trust Him to continue to guide us as an organization. 

“More than 80 years ago, the Lord gave our founders a vision of mobilizing, training and sending messengers of the gospel to unreached people groups no matter where they are located. From the beginning, those men were clear that being effective in this task would require hard work and sacrifice. It would require years of culture and language learning, careful teaching and long-term discipleship to see churches established. Over the years, our understanding has grown in how to carry out this task, but amazingly, the Lord has not allowed us to veer away from those founding principles. My heart and the heart of the ELT is that we as a sending agency remain faithful to that core focus. 

“A statement repeated early and often by our founder Paul Fleming was ‘God plus nothing.’ We understand that phrase to mean that God is the One who sends forth the workers, that He is the One who works in the hearts and minds of the hearers to bring understanding, and that He is the One who teaches and grows new believers toward maturity. He builds His church; we don’t. Our desire is never to move away from our confidence that He will do that; to ask Him and trust Him to provide all that is needed for the task. We never want to think that we ourselves are doing it for Him, but rather to trust that He is doing what He desires through us, His servants. My prayer is that Ethnos360 will remain faithful to that task until He returns. 

“My personal request to the Lord through this transition has been that He grant me humble courage. The humility never to forget who we are and who He is. The humility to treat co-workers and fellow servants the right way. But along with that humility is the need for the courage to do what is right even when it is hard. To do what is right when we know it will be criticized or worse. I know I speak for the entire leadership team when I say that we are asking the Lord to provide all that we need to lead the organization well. I would greatly appreciate prayers to that end.”

Two distinct men; two distinct lives; one heart and mind. Though many people assumed that the mission would “go under” after our founder was killed in a plane crash, 82 years after the founding of the mission, God continues to use godly men to lead Ethnos360 in reaching the unreached, until there is a thriving church for every people.

I ask you to stand with us in prayer for these two men and their families as they take on new roles of leadership. God is building His Church, and the gates of Hell will not be able to stand against it.

Tags: Ethnos360 Magazine, Unreached, Vision,
POSTED ON Apr 19, 2024 by Bruce Enemark