The Full Story
Part One — The Dreams
I am a Passionary! So says my youngest boy. He tells me I am part Pastor, part Missionary — thereby making me a Passionary. I like it. I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior when I was 6 years old. When I was 13 at a missions’ conference at my church, I submitted my life to full time Christian service. I thought that would be me going to medical school and working with orphans. That was not God’s plan and, as I have learned in life, it is not about me. However, God did take seriously my dedication of my life to His service.
Missionary work has always captured my heart; I love stories of missionaries and I love to spend time with them and hear of how God is using them to reach people. The fact that God calls us to play a part in the advancement of His kingdom has always humbled and fascinated me.
After marrying my wife Karina in 2002, we moved to Tennessee where we were involved in our first mission ministry together as youth leaders in a small church on Signal Mountain. I led music and drove a van to pick up youth kids and saw the ministry grow while we were there. It was during that time that Karina and I went on our first foreign mission trip together and my heart was lit even more aflame for the spread of the gospel to all people.
In 2009, I became the Pastor of Gowen Bible Church in Gowen Michigan. A small congregation was in need of a pastor and God saw fit to join our growing family together with these people here. And so continued the pastoring part of my Passionary life.
In 2010, one afternoon Karina and I pulled into the driveway and Karina asked if I had heard an announcement on our local Christian radio about a mission trip to Latvia. I had not. She told me she felt like God had told her I needed to be on this trip, however the deposit was due that week and we did not have the funds available for that. I told her if God wanted me on the trip, He would have to supply the deposit. And don’t you know, the very next day we received an unexpected gift for the very amount of the deposit. God wanted me there!
It was on this trip that God planted in my heart a vision for building a place that would both train people in ministry and ground them in Biblical theology, but also a place that would supply them with practical skills to earn a living to provide for their physical needs. This dream grew in my heart and during the following years I began to pray and ask God where we should begin to build this place.
My vision for this ministry was a place where people who did not have the means to receive a biblical education would be able to come and receive a college level education in biblical theology as well as ministry and church leadership training. As a pastor of a small church, I know that in many places in the world it is not always possible for the church plant to pay the pastor as they should or would want to. And so my vision also included training that would give pastors or church leaders marketable skills that could supplement their income while they built and grew a church. These skills would be dependent on the region and markets available to them wherever we built our training institutes.
In my vision, this place would be 5-10 acres and would have a main training building with classroom and auditorium space, dormitories for the students, and also operational training areas where the students would learn and practice marketable skills. To be sustainable, the student would also work and give back in the way of using their newly acquired skills to benefit and bless the students that would come after them. Since 2010, this vision has been building and growing in me.
Part Two — Going to Uganda
While at the Word of Life Bible Institute, my youngest sister Cassie, was required to take a mission trip; she went to the African country of Uganda. The following year, she traveled back again. On her travels she met a young man Denis who, in the next three years, would become her husband. So in December of 2015, my wife and I traveled to Uganda for a reception for them with his family and friends. It was there on that trip that Karina and I were invited to the wedding of a couple, Martin and Grace, who were leading a college ministry called the Finepearls. After this meeting, Martin and I began to dialogue via Facebook and soon had planned for a group from Gowen Bible to visit Uganda in 2017 with my brother-in-law Denis and my sister Cassie. By this time, our church had taken Denis and Cassie on as missionary candidates to Uganda and part of this trip was to visit some of their potential ministry works with the area director from ABWE. In my talking with Martin and preparing the itinerary for our trip, we planned to visit the small, rural village of Kamuli for three days and to hold a one-day meeting with some local pastors from the region and see firsthand the work happening there.
On that trip, the more Martin and I talked, the more I sensed God saying that the vision Martin had and the vision I had were given to both of us by Him for the growth of His Kingdom. He had planted this place and this dream in each of us. As we talked, we both felt this was something that God was leading us to explore and follow through with.
During that time we spent in Uganda, and especially with the rural pastors, I became ever more sure this was where God was going to plant this part of the vision he had given me. And so Martin and I began to talk more, dream more, and envision what this project might look like.
In 2018, Martin visited us in Gowen, MI. He spent a month with us, visiting people and making contacts. He and I talked about what a trip would look like the following year and what it would look like for the Rural Pastors Project (RPP) to really begin.
Plans were made and in June of 2019 a team traveled back to Kamuli village and held the first training conference for the Rural Pastors Project. Over 125 pastors and leaders from the region attended and are asking for more. The very things they are asking for are the plans and the vision God gave to Martin and me to grow and build with the Rural Pastor Project. Fast forward to today and the Rural Pastors Project is now the Rural Pastors Institute in Uganda and in the USA, the Rural Pastors International.
Part Three — Building the Project
The Rural Pastors International is a 501-3c non-profit organization located in Gowen, Michigan. The RPI Board is made up of people from the Finepearls Church of Uganda and various churches in West Michigan. In the last two years, we have raised over $140,000 and continue to raise the needed funds for the remaining buildings. We have acquired a 3 + acre property near Jinja, Uganda where the first building has been built. Currently, a guest cottage is also being constructed for our Guest Teachers. The first year of pastors graduated in 2023 and the second year is underway. Our goal for future trips is to lead 2-4 trips each year for Bible and ministry conferences. We also want to bring trips that focus on work skills training, bringing in people who have skills in areas such as woodworking, construction, fabrication, mechanics, and agriculture.
We began this journey in January 2020, but because of the world pandemic, it slowed our plans just a bit. In 2022 we had a building built, we had our first graduation, and we had two mission trip team visits.
The need is great for these rural pastors, as the Ugandan government will very shortly be requiring all pastors to have formal training with certification in order to continue to pastor and lead their churches. Churches without qualified and certified leaders will find themselves being shut down and losing their status to operate as churches in Uganda.
Montcalm Community College endorses the Certificates that we award to the pastors who complete our program! This gives our program additional credibility and endorsement.
The need is urgent and we believe God has placed the Rural Pastors Project in this place for such a time as this. Won’t you join us in this investment in the kingdom of God and its growth and His people?
Pastor Zach Nyhuis
Gowen Bible Church