Dr. Rick Rhoads commissioning service

Passing the Presidential Baton

Rhoads family picture

By: Lisa Biegert

Friday evening, April 21, 2023, a celebration was held at Community Fellowship Church in Lancaster, PA, as the sixth president of BCM International, Dr. Marty Windle, passed the baton of leadership to the seventh president, Dr. Rick Rhoads. More than three hundred were in attendance, including regional leadership from Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, global children’s ministry, and more. The evening commemorated all God has done through BCM for the last eighty-seven years while honoring Dr. Windle’s seventeen years of service to God with BCM and anticipating all God will continue to do under Dr. Rhoads’s leadership.

BCM’s fifth president, Dr. Bob Evans, emceed the evening, and numerous individuals from global BCM leadership shared. This included a BCM board member, Jan Smoyer, BCM Africa-Asia director Steve King, and associate missionary Dr. Esther Zimmerman, formerly VP of global children’s ministries and currently chair of church and ministry leadership department at Lancaster Bible College and Capital Seminary (LBC). Other regional leaders offered their welcome to the new president by video.

Rhoads family picture

Dr. Bob Evans told the story of BCM’s origin under leadership of BCM’s first president, Miss Bessie Traber, and how BCM ministry has evolved globally over the past eighty-seven years. Then Dr. Zimmerman and Pastor Kevin Brown shared the heartbeat of BCM: children and churches. After Dr. Marty Windle and others shared the past of BCM, Dr. Rick Rhoads spoke of his own call and vision for the future of BCM.

At six years of age, Dr. Rhoads made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Savior through the ministry of a backyard Bible club at a neighbor’s house. Shortly after this significant decision, his mom was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The following years were marked by physical, emotional, and financial insecurity as the family battled through hospitalizations, chemotherapy, and surgeries. Rick was twelve when his mother received the news she was in remission from her cancer.

Then at seventeen, Dr. Rhoads received an eerily similar diagnosis to that of his mother: terminal bone cancer. Within five days, his right leg had been amputated below the knee, a huge loss for an active teenager. He spent almost a year in the hospital and was given less than two years to live.

Rick recalls now, “I was asked by someone after that prognosis how I was doing. That’s not exactly the question you like to be asked during that time! But I replied, ‘I have incredible peace with God.’ And it was true! I told God it didn’t matter if he gave me one year to live or more. I was determined to use my remaining time fully focused on him. That was thirty-three years ago. I learned a long time ago that my life is His. I count my life as not my own with each day being a gift provided by God.”

Rick and Naomi Rhoads

Over the past thirty-three years, Rick has seen how God has faithfully prepared him every step of the way for each “next season” of life God had in store. In 1997, he married his college sweetheart Naomi. They have two adult children, Grace and Eli, and currently make their home in Lancaster, PA.

During the next decades, Rick and Naomi served in camping ministry, pastoral ministry, Christian higher education, and the global mission of training Christian leaders on five continents. They have also both worked in the health care sector, Rick as lead of an MRI neuroimaging team and researcher for Alzheimer’s Disease medications, Naomi in a Christian chiropractic practice.

Dr. Rhoads also continued his education, earning a Master of Arts from Columbia Biblical Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. In 2005, he joined the faculty of Lancaster Bible College and Capital Seminary and Graduate School. As professor and director of student ministry, he traveled extensively with both students and faculty in LBC’s education abroad and missions outreach. In 2015, he became chair of the church and ministry leadership department.

Rick’s wealth of knowledge and wide variety of ministry service over the last thirty-three years are just a few areas where God was preparing him in advance for the presidency of BCM (see also BCM Commissions New President, BCM World, Winter 2022). He shares: “As I reflect upon these beautiful seasons, I can see God’s grace in using Naomi and me throughout each season as well as transforming us for works yet to come, particularly in BCM International. Among these significant life soul preparation pieces have been a parallel passion for health care and pastoral ministry. Unique to both fields are empathy, compassion, and caring for others in need, all vital qualities for any leader of a global Christian ministry organization.”

So what brought Dr. Rick Rhoads into the BCM global family? Esther Zimmerman’s passionate heart for reaching children was one major catalyst. During a meal together, she pointedly asked him if he had ever considered working with BCM or applying for the presidential position.

His initial response was a definite “no.” But at the installation ceremony, Dr. Rhoads shared how God had been working on his heart in this area long before the opportunity of serving with BCM presented itself. During a trip to Israel while on staff at LBC, Rick heard a Palestinian Christian explaining his strategy for peace by bringing together Israeli and Palestinian youth. The strategy was simple: soccer.

Sharing a soccer ball between children of these two conflicting people groups proved a surprisingly unifying tactic. It didn’t matter if the children were Israeli or Palestinian. They could at least agree on a game of soccer. Bringing children together through a game also allowed them to see each other as teammates and friends, not enemies. The children in turn carried this message home to their families on both sides of the racial/political divide.

“Peace,” summarized this Palestinian believer, “is possible in Israel through the children of the next generation.”

Rick and Naomi Rhoads;
Rick on ministry trip in Uganda
Rick on ministry trip in Uganda

Writing about this encounter in his journal, Dr. Rhoads distinctly remembers wondering repeatedly over the following months what God was doing in his heart. “I just kept going back to this journal entry. I thought then that maybe there was something God was going to do. I just didn’t yet know what it was.”

Following that initial conversation with Esther Zimmerman, Dr. Rhoads found himself approached by three more completely unrelated Christian leaders, each of whom broached this same topic. Rick finally realized God might be showing him the next season of life for Rick and his wife Naomi. He reached out to various global BCM leaders to learn more. As he spoke with these leaders, Dr. Rhoads shares that he could “see how God was radically moving and how passionate these people were about discipling children and multiplying churches across the planet. God is moving!”

Parallel to this, it had become absolutely clear to the BCM international board and leadership, including then-president Dr. Marty Windle and president emeritus Dr. Bob Evans, that Dr. Rick Rhoads was the man of God whom God had chosen to pick up the baton and lead BCM into the next eighty-seven years of ministry, should God tarry. Five months after saying no to that question from Dr. Zimmerman, Rick Rhoads accepted the position as the seventh president of BCM International.

While excited to take on this leadership role, Dr. Rhoads humbly acknowledges that he is standing on the shoulders and reaping the benefits of all those who have gone before. He expresses: “The ministries of BCM would not be where they are today were it not for the grace of God and the faithfulness of the leadership over these past eighty-seven years.”

Dr. Rhoads asks for prayer that he will persevere in this vein of reliance on the Lord and faithfulness to God’s mission as BCM continues to reach children and strengthen the church globally.

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