Disciple of Hope

By Kerry Kind

Dr. Jo Anne Lyon looks back on her years as General Superintendent, and forward to the future of The Wesleyan Church. She reflects on how God has led her throughout her life.

Jo Anne, what would you like to say about progress made by The Wesleyan Church during the past four years?

First, we are bringing a lot more lost people to Jesus. We have rediscovered that the church exists for the people that aren’t there yet. We can even give up some of our favorite old songs when people are coming to Jesus. We have seen thousands of lost and broken lives transformed. And that transforms churches and communities, too. We measure this by the three big rocks: attendance, conversions, and baptisms, and by all measures, God is working!

Second, we are doing things that show we are rediscovering our historic identity. We opposed the injustice of slavery in the 19th century and promoted holiness personally and in society. Now, in this time, we care about needy and suffering people, about immigrants, about racial reconciliation, about refugees, about human trafficking, and about the equality of God’s image in women. The prophet Amos said: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (5:24). Seeking justice alone becomes all political. But righteousness without justice leads to isolation from the world. We are seeing our church find that balance including both justice and righteousness, rooted in the Bible and in our historical identity.

Internationally we are seeing tremendous growth including in leadership. Our daughter churches are taking on great responsibility. The General Conferences in the Philippines and the Caribbean, the Established Regional Conferences in the South Pacific and now Ibero-America are flourishing. And there are exciting new affiliate relationships with the great Korean Evangelical Holiness Church that has rediscovered us as their family, and the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Brazil.

We have rediscovered– church exists for the people that aren’t there yet.

What are some of the remarkable stories in local churches that come to mind?

There are so many, in great, large churches and smaller churches! At 12Stone, I attended their 25th anniversary and there were 11,000 people filling a small stadium to celebrate. But Kevin Myers came with an unexpected message. God had met him with a renewal of his original vision in a way that left him completely broken and unsatisfied again. And he convinced the people that God was not done and they had to move far beyond their comfort zone. So then, this Easter there were 32,000 worshippers there. And it’s just the beginning, because there is no end to the number of lives that need to be transformed.

And I heard from Ashley Jennings who is planting a brand new church in Red Rock, Arizona. She had 96 people on Easter. But listen, 36 people came to the Lord in the four weeks before Easter!

And in Johnson Corners, N.D., you are pretty far from anywhere. Adrian Timmons has preached faithfully there. Recently he led a 64-year-old man to the Lord who had never responded to Christ before. That man died four months later. You know, I celebrate that just as much. Every person is made in the image of God.

Looking forward, what are some of the strengths of The Wesleyan Church that we have to build upon?

We have an army of phenomenal leaders. And these are great leaders who can take us beyond anything we have seen, including ethnic minorities and women. Did you know that 20 percent of our North American Church is now composed of ethnic minorities? And among women who are credentialed ministers, 98 percent are under appointment.

Our church has vision. Great leaders cast great vision. And we are on the precipice of great things. In Joshua 1:3-6, God said, “I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. . . . I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous . . .” And we are really ready to do that.

I have to mention our universities. In our Church, the universities are working hand in glove with the Church. We have such great boards and presidents that ensure their mission and keep us united on that. They give us great pastoral training, but also are discipling our teachers, and medical and business people, and so on. Only two percent of higher education in North America is truly Christ-centered, but we are really right there and the light has not dimmed.

Assuming that we cannot focus on everything at once successfully, what is the one thing that is “mission critical” that we must always give our best leadership to?

The foremost thing by far is being filled with the Holy Spirit. Only through his power can we do anything worthwhile. Going back to John Wesley’s day, people’s lives were transformed, and then culture was transformed. Unjust laws were changed. Righteousness was lifted up. We must be filled with the Holy Spirit and receive his cleansing and power. A day came when I finally gave everything to God and I wanted him more than anything in the world. And the evidence was love. I loved people that I had never loved before. It was miraculous.

To hear an extended interview with Dr. Lyon, click here.

Can you identify the turning points in your life where God dramatically changed your direction?

Glenn Clark, the wonderful author on prayer, said that God is always speaking to us, but we are not always listening. Then sometimes he maybe even yells to get our attention. I have had some of those moments.

When my husband Wayne was pastoring early on, I didn’t even like going to the church. I decided I wasn’t even going to stay in that place. That’s not great for a pastor’s wife.But God put me literally on my face. He showed me I had nothing without him. Through that I was filled by the Holy Spirit. He transformed me. His love poured through me to other people in the church and everywhere. People at the school where I taught immediately saw the change even in my face–the light of Christ.

Then in 1985 in Ethiopia, I went with an ABC news team that was filming a documentary on the great famine. One woman got to the gate of the refugee camp with her last surviving child and dropped dead right in front of me. She had had four children just like I do. I stepped into a field of 2,000 people that were totally silent, because not one had the energy to speak. They were starving to death. God said to me, “It does not have to be this way. There is abundance. Be my hands.” And I began to see the world totally differently.

In Cambodia, I was on a road that was lined with brothels as far as the eye can see, with children for sale in front of all of them, being openly sold. They had maybe five years to live, because of being so used. That breaks God’s heart and he literally broke my heart. I have never gotten over that.

After that I really wanted to work in The Wesleyan Church. I remember the moment in my car when I prayed earnestly to God. Then he opened that door—the Church invited me to start World Hope International. And the whole denomination has responded so wonderfully. It was the perfect fit for me.

Hope is the destination; it’s what is driving you. You can’t have power to love if there’s no hope. You can’t have faith, if there’s no hope. Hope is not some flimsy thing.

Hope is a concept that you embody. Your leadership brings hope. Can you think of some people or occasions that truly modeled hope for you in inspiring ways?

My parents were strong people and strong believers and instilled the belief in me that anything is possible. I wanted to change the world. As a child I wanted to grow up to be a U.S. Senator, and they encouraged that. There were no boundaries.

Catherine Marshall’s books Beyond Ourselves and Something More helped bring hope alive in me and helped me connect hope to vision and to live in that way. I met her once, and her journey of hope became a model for me.

Ron Sider was always a person of hope. His tremendous book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, impacted me so much. And then Ron opened doors for me in the greater evangelical world. I would never have made the connections to those networks. That was when I was in Kansas City administering government urban programs for ten years and learned the government funding ropes. I was so impacted by Evangelicals for Social Action, which he founded.

Mel Dieter was a real mentor. He is one of the great heroes of The Wesleyan Church. He asked me to come teach about church and society at Asbury Seminary, which I did for six years as an adjunct. I had to study far harder than the students and learned so much. He said he asked me, because I had the street experience. It was a catalytic moment in my life, because I had to do the research to connect my practical experience with our biblical theology.

Don Bray and H.C. Wilson were big influences in my life. World Hope would not have happened without them. They were my biggest cheerleaders during that time.

My husband was always a person of vision. He always saw what couldn’t yet be seen, what I couldn’t yet see. His hope helped keep me alive to what could be, both in his ministry and in mine.

There are these theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Faith is the train. Love is the track, the pathway. But hope is the destination; it’s what is driving you. You can’t have power to love if there’s no hope. You can’t have faith, if there’s no hope. Hope is not some flimsy thing. It is substantial; it’s the goal.

Then, I realized how holiness is connected with all of this. Holiness is not being all cloistered in some narrow place with a bunch of rules. It is freedom—it is transformation and changing the world, too. It’s all about the kingdom of God reigning in our lives and everywhere we set our feet.

​Jo Anne Lyon

is concluding eight years as General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church. Previously, she served 12 years as CEO of World Hope International, and has given a lifetime of service in local Wesleyan churches and their communities.

Your ministry is not over, but you have already left a great legacy. How do you want to be remembered?

I hope to be remembered as a person who tried to follow God wherever he led. He opens the door and beckons us to go through it. Sometimes I faltered, but he was patient. Sometimes it seemed too hard. I feel selfish even saying this. But I did walk through the doors that I knew God had opened. He doesn’t always give us easy doors. It was hard, a lot of hard work, and not glamorous. Sometimes I would pull back and God would push me again. Ultimately, obedience and being willing to sacrifice is the key. There are zigs and zags in the journey, but God shows up and gives you the strength. And he gives you the reality of his presence, so you know you are on the right path.