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Article adapted from “United in Ministry” by the Charis Fellowship
“If someone could be born into the Charis Fellowship, I was,” says Mike Yoder.
He grew up in northern Indiana, where both his parents attended a Charis Fellowship church and taught as professors at Grace College in Winona Lake. At the time, the Warsaw/Winona Lake area was the unofficial mecca of the Charis Fellowship, and Encompass (known then as Grace Brethren International Missions) was headquartered there. Mike grew up surrounded by the Charis Fellowship, and says, “By the time I was 16 I was quite interested in the idea of cross-cultural missions.”
Though Mike’s family moved to Iowa during his final years of high school, he moved back to Winona Lake to attend Grace College where he double majored in sociology and communications. After his sophomore year, he went to Europe for the summer where he spent the first half on a mission trip and the second half studying language in France. He said, “That was kind of my baptism into cross-cultural missions in Europe. It confirmed that I was interested in that ministry, and that there were real spiritual needs and practical opportunities in Europe.”
During his junior year at Grace, Mike met his future wife, Letitia. She also went on to spend a summer in Europe, the first half on a similar mission trip and the second half in England to study Shakespeare. Mike said, “Both of these trips confirmed for us our desire and willingness to live and serve in Europe.”
After getting married in June 1994, the couple was ready and willing to start their newlywed life abroad, so Mike began meeting with one of his former missions leaders, Kip Cone. The two men prayed about moving their families overseas to do cross-cultural work together. Shortly after, the Yoders and Cones were invited to join Encompass’s team in Germany and moved to Berlin in 1997.
“The Germans couldn’t understand why we believed in Christianity,” Mike said. It hadn’t even been a decade since the Cold War, communist reign, and the demolition of the Berlin Wall, so Germans were skeptical and somewhat opposed to organized religion. Mike added, “As a young, (hopefully) engaging couple with decent education, we were an enigma to them.”
The Yoders helped Encompass’s church-planting efforts and also looked for creative ways to meet people and spiritually engage with them. One way they did this was by meeting with dozens of conversation partners interested in learning English. “We could practice our language skills while talking about spiritual things,” Mike said. “We were able to put words to the intrigue they had about our interest in God, the Bible, and Jesus.” They also held a German-American club to build relationships, an evangelical Bible study on a college campus, and intentionally engaged with their classmates as they took college classes. “We tried any and every way we could to get together with people and discuss our spiritual beliefs. And we saw handfuls of people come to know Christ.”
After living in Germany for ten years and expanding their family to include four young children, the Yoders moved to Chicago so Mike could begin his doctoral studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. While in seminary, he also worked full-time for Encompass where he trained others in international leadership.
The Yoders had planned to return to Europe after four years, but when that wasn’t working out as expected, God opened the door for Mike to serve as lead pastor at Grace Polaris Church in Westerville, Ohio. While the Yoders had more of a heart for international missions, Mike and Letitia stepped out in faith and moved their family to Central Ohio in 2011. Mike said, “We learned a lot through that experience and were so well-received and loved by the church who became our spiritual family.”
After faithfully serving as Grace Polaris’s pastor for over a decade, Mike returned to the missions world in 2023 when he started serving as Encompass’s Executive Director. Thanks to the former leadership of Tom Julien and Dave Guiles, Encompass has helped infuse Charis churches with a heart for missions, and now Mike hopes to continue their legacy. He said, “Our movement is at its best when we rally together to take the Gospel to the nations. It shows us how unimportant our differences are when we focus on the importance of sharing the Gospel.”
As Mike leads Encompass through the coming years, he is praying for refreshed vision and renewed engagement with Charis churches. He is also praying for a new wave of cross-cultural workers willing to go to hard places. “When churches send their people, then their dollars, interests, communications, and prayers follow.”
We can support Mike by praying in the following ways:
Mike said, “What motivated me to take this role, and what excites me about going forward, is my deep love for the Charis Fellowship.” He recognizes that our movement isn’t perfect, but he says, “We have strong commitments to biblical truth, relationship, and missions—and I believe that God has a very strategic role for us to play.”