Where do two young men with a lifelong love of Jesus and a calling to spread his message of Good News find the opportunity to fulfill that calling? If you are Jake and Zach Duke, brothers and 2007 Center Grove High School graduates, the answer is an organization called Biglife.
From the Biglife website, it states “Biglife empowers believers worldwide to reach and disciple their own people for Jesus so that disciple-making movements of God can grow and grow all over the world.” It is not a service project or humanitarian aid organization, although such humanitarian efforts often partner with Biglife efforts. Rather, it is an evangelizing effort, bringing people to Christ and creating churches to become part of the larger body of Christ. The belief, says Jake, is “where the Gospel goes, restoration follows.”
From Sports to Discipleship
Biglife started in Iran, pre-9/11, as a sports ministry. After the 9/11 attacks, the ministry moved out of Iran, settling in India and continuing as a sports ministry. In 2003, it became a discipleship ministry. The current focus is raising up local believers across the world to share the Gospel and grow the Church in their own lands. The approach is to take the Gospel to these believers but without taking a Western approach and strategy. Local people know best how to reach their own people.
Since 2003, Biglife has established more than 23,000 churches in India, all started by Indians, not Westerners. The ministry has crossed borders and now has efforts in 121 countries, including in Iran. The brothers indicate Biglife is reaching many people who had been “part of bad regimes,” sharing the Good News of Jesus and bringing peace to those areas.
Zach describes a straightforward process. Biglife identifies indigenous people in a country or region that have already come to know Christ. Biglife sends individuals like the Dukes to train them in sharing the Gospel with others. The trainees commit to a three-month period of post-training work with their Biglife mentors overseeing and mentoring with frequent (often daily) communication by phone, Skype or other remote means, reinforcing the positive behaviors and coaching to correct problems they are encountering. During this period, the mentors look for one thing. “Who are the doers?” says Zach. “Who are the faithful ones that took what they learned and put it into practice?”
A Three-Year Goal
It is this handful, often only one out of 40-50 that Biglife then focuses on to be the church builders. More intense coaching and support follow to ensure the success of the individual’s efforts. “The goal is in three to five years, they are doing everything I would have done if I was there on the ground myself except they’re indigenous,” says Zach. “They know the language. They know the culture.”
The approach has seen success. In the last two years, a Biglife-trained evangelist in the Congo has overseen the start of 31 churches. The aim is that after five years, the churches will have sustainable growth without Zach. Also, the goal is for some of these trained evangelists to become trainers themselves, further leveraging Biglife efforts.
It Starts at Home
While they are global, Biglife is also trying to do the same thing here in the U.S. “We need to be faithful [within] our Bargersville, our Center Grove, our Indianapolis, then go from there,” says Jake. Zach adds, “Why should we go to the nations if we don’t go to our neighbors?”
So how do two young men from suburban, affluent Middle America like Center Grove become involved in this, leading them to travel to far-flung, often dangerous, places? (Yes, Zach was once kidnapped in the Congo.)
Although both brothers have been working with Biglife for three years, their ministry goes back a long time, even to elementary school. The brothers vigorously believe all of this begins in the home, and they attribute their focus on God’s ministry to their parents. “They didn’t just say they loved Christ. They lived it out every day,” observes Jake. Their parents, Mike and Marcia Duke, not only modeled Christianity at home, but they took their sons with them as they went out and ministered to others.
“There is a difference between doing something because it’s the religious thing to do, the right thing to do, and doing it because of love,” says Zach. “When you are motivated by love because the work is already done on the cross, then we aren’t trying to do something because it is a need. We do it because it is a privilege.”
The brothers’ paths to Biglife varied. They have both prayed for and listened to direction from God to lead them in the direction He has set for them. While they will continue to do so, both indicate they hope Biglife is their future. According to Zach, “This team isn’t an organization to me; it’s a family.”
Jake summed up our conversation by describing the meaning of Biglife. In the book, “Unveiled at Last” by Bob Sjogren, there is the following question: “Are you leading a little life in your own little world?” According to Jake and Zach, the question asks if are you living for your kingdom or God’s?
“We are all called to lead a big life,” says Jake. “We are all called to live for God’s Kingdom, not ours.”