Distinguished Alumni: John DeVries
Published by Nathan Bierma
Reverend John DeVries
John De Vries began his mission work in India with an ambitious but unusual goal: make an impact by staying out of the way.
“The goal was not missions as we think of it,” he says. “It’s Indian people reaching Indian people.”
Today, De Vries says God has blessed this vision beyond what he could have imagined.
He states with humble amazement how the organization he founded, Mission India, has grown from one office in a rented house to 70 regional offices on the subcontinent, each with dozens of staffers, all of them natives of India. In 2018, Mission India recorded nearly 3 million commitments to Christ from churches using its materials and helped plant over 11,000 worshipping groups.
De Vries, who stepped down as the organization’s president in 2002 but has remained active as a writer and fundraiser, gives credit to his staff and to God. “I haven’t done anything other than have a vision,” he says.
His vision of minimizing the footprint of white missionaries was ahead of its time. De Vries said it came from reading reams of literature about missions, and from intuition.
“Just think of the difference between your neighbor coming over to talk about religion with you, rather than someone from a different country. There are immediate roadblocks to overcome,” he says. “This idea has become much more accepted today. People have realized that missions can be done best by local members of the nations you want to reach.”
De Vries credits his studies at Calvin Theological Seminary, not for giving him all the knowledge he needed, but for helping to form him as a seeker of wisdom.
“It made me a lifelong student, more than anything else,” says De Vries, who graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1961. “Then when I got out of seminary, I had a desire to self-educate. I continued to read and learn as much as I could about missions.”
India initially seemed an unlikely place for his work to take root. After working there briefly for the World Home Bible League in the early 1970s, De Vries says when he left, he prayed the “Jonah Prayer.” “I said, ‘God, I will serve you anywhere, but please don’t send me there again.’”
As with Jonah, De Vries says, God had bigger plans. Now De Vries speaks both of his love for India and of his disbelief that it is often ignored by the west.
“I’ve fallen in love with India,” he says. “I love the country with my whole heart. It’s a fascinating place. But for being the second largest nation on earth, it’s still one of the last countries people think about.”
De Vries says he is still processing what it means to be named a distinguished alumnus of Calvin Seminary.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he says. “But I don’t deserve it.”
John DeVries’ health declined and he entered hospice care, where he died in October 2020 at age 83. Calvin Seminary awarded Rev. DeVries the Distinguished Alumni Award posthumously during the May 2021, commencement ceremony.
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