If anyone feels like swapping childhood stories, Roy Kruse has one that can compete with just about anyone.
The son of British missionary parents, Kruse grew up in the 1950s in the tiny Zambia town of Kawama, two miles from the Congo border, on a mission camp.
No electricity. No running water.
And very little English.
“My language growing up was Bemba,” said Kruse. “All my friends were African children from around the village. I was really one of them.”
Sixty years later, Kruse has returned home.
Zambia, the place where he spent the first 18 years of his life, is hosting a nationwide evangelistic outreach called My Hope, and Kruse was asked by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to serve as the country director.
For Kruse, 61, who makes his home in the Minneapolis area, it was a no-brainer.
“If you are born and raised in Africa, it doesn’t leave you,” Kruse said. “It’s part of your blood. It’s been a real joy to go back to Zambia.”
His life has come full circle this year as he has witnessed his native country turn to God in ways he could only dream of as a child. Over 5,400 churches and 60,000 host Matthews have been trained for the December 1, 2 and 3 broadcast.
“I’m always hesitant to use words like unprescedented too often, but I’m not aware of such a significant outreach throughout the country at one time. “
A Priceless Photo
An elderly woman approached Kruse this summer with a picture wrapped in clear plastic, treasuring it like a child’s first lost tooth.
Kruse had just finished preaching at the Mansa Brethren Christian Church, the church his parents, Ken and Dora Kruse, had attended in the late 1940s.
Many people remembered his family from 60 years ago, including one man who sang at his parents’ wedding in 1948.
It was already a special day for Kruse. But then he saw this picture from the elderly woman and it nearly knocked him over.
The photo was from the mission staff in 1949, including both his parents. But then, when he took a closer look …
Are you kidding?
“I’m sitting on my mother’s lap as a 6-month old,” said Kruse, who quickly took a picture of the photo with his phone. “It blew me away.”
“Her family had worked on the mission,” Kruse said, “and she had treasured this picture all these years.”
Have I Seen You Before?
Another rewarding byproduct of coming back to Zambia was visiting Kawama and the mission camp where he spent the better part of his childhood.
“The old Kawama mission hardly exists,” said Kruse, who stopped by the site during a My Hope training tour earlier this year. “The hospital’s gone. The little government clinic is there, but there’s only one mission house still standing.”
But as he spoke to some of the elders who were there preparing for the next day’s Sunday service, he was surprised to see that some of the same people had remained.
“A couple of them remembered my family,” he said. “And one guy remembered all of us by name. This is 50 years later.
“It was surreal but very rewarding.”
What’s A 6-Year-Old To Do?
The oldest of four children, Kruse’s parents made the difficult decision to send him across Zambia for almost nine months out of the year to a boarding school. They wanted him to have a strong education that they could not provide around the mission camp.
The trip to Sakeji School, near the city of Mwinilungea, is a short plane ride today, but in the mid-to-late 1950s with an underdeveloped road system it was a two- and sometimes three-day trip. The Brethren school would send a truck with a soft topper through the Copperbelt region and he would ride in the back with some schoolmates, stopping overnight in a mountain village town.
From ages 6 to 12, Kruse would come home only twice a year, once for 10 weeks, the other for six.
“It was all I knew,” Kruse said. “That obviously had an impact on my life.
“Later on I realized it was quite a sacrifice for my parents.”
Sakeji, in many respects, shaped Kruse’s foundation in ways that are still a part of his DNA, including a heavy emphasis on Scripture.
“We learned the Bible inside and out, memorizing considerable portions of it,” he said. “We learned a lot as kids and you remember those kinds of things.”
And the boarding school melting pot — with students from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and all over the U.K. — even influences how Kruse talks today.
“Everyone influenced everyone else,” he said. “We would call it the ‘Sakeji accent.’ “
On The Move
Kruse has traveled much throughout his life. Ever since he was awarded a scholarship by the Zambia government to Carlton College in Northfield, Minn., as an 18-year-old, he’s been on the move.
He met Roberta at College and the married couple moved back to Zambia for four years before settling back in Minnesota in 1975 after his father-in-law became very ill and Zambia was in economic turmoil.
“The country was in dire straits,” Kruse said. “It just seemed to be a time to come back.”
In 1983, Kruse began working for BGEA, booking World Wide Pictures in churches before working for the International Team.
Kruse was involved in the 1989 Billy Graham London Crusade, beamed through a satellite live-link to Africa, where he returned to work with a half dozen African churches. Kruse helped mobilize similar satellite Crusade efforts in Asia, Europe and Latin America through the 90’s, culminating with Amsterdam 2000.
“What you would try to do is get each country to prepare as if Billy himself was coming,” Kruse said.
Fancy Meeting You here
In the Amsterdam 2000 aftermath, many conferences took place, including one in 2001 in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. This marked the last time Kruse had seen Mpundu Mutala, who is the national coordinator of My Hope Zambia.
Mutala was someone Kruse had grown up hearing about in church circles as one of the prominent young Christian leaders. He first met Mutala in 1974.
“There was a man in our church discipling young Zambians and he would make references to this Mpundu,” Kruse said. “He knew my parents better than he knew me.”
But the history between the two Christian brothers, born and raised in Zambia, has created a unique bond as they see God grip the heart of this country.
“It’s been really rewarding to work with him,” Kruse said. “He’s one of the most outstanding leaders in Zambia, and all of Africa.”
Likewise Mutala, considers it an honor to work with Kruse.
“Roy is incredible,” Mutala said.
And incredible is precisely the word Kruse would use to describe this opportunity to minister in his homeland.
“To be part of a national outreach like this, to revisit my roots, see old friends and be a part of what’s going on there now,” Kruse said, “it’s been a special year.”