Norwich Gospel adventurer helped reach millions
Gospel adventurer and former Fleet Street journalist, Mike Wiltshire, has helped to reach literally millions of people with the message of Christ thanks to his pioneering work with mission ship charity Operation Mobilisation. Keith Morris reports.
God has been utterly faithful to me in my 50 years as a believer and my life as a Christian has been a huge adventure,” says Mike, who has lived in Norwich for the past decade with his wife of 33 years, Lois.
In 1963, as a young journalist and a church youth leader, Mike met George Verwer, founder of Operation Mobilisation, then a student movement working in 20 countries. It was the start of a 50-year friendship.
In his 20s, Mike, with others, drove 4,000 miles overland to India where the OM team set up a massive publishing programme and saw the distribution of 100 million pieces of Gospel literature in 12 different languages.
But not everyone was happy with Mike’s path. His concerned and loving parents were so upset that they “practically disowned” him and refused to attend his wedding because they felt he was “completely throwing his life away after a public school education”. Later, they realised their fears were groundless and all was forgiven.
After five years in India and Nepal, Mike was sent to Scandinavia with a key mission - to look for a ship that OM could buy “by faith”.
In Norway he found and secured the Umanak, which was renamed Logos (which means ‘Word’ in Greek) by OM and became an iconic ocean-going mission ship.
The ship eventually set sail from London to India with 200 tons of literature and a volunteer staff and crew of 120 young people, comprising many nationalities. In 18 years, the ship visited 108 countries and more than 370,000 people attended conferences on board.
Mike was given the key role of pioneering line-up man, travelling ahead of the Logos and arranging programmes in dozens of ports, before the ship’s arrival.
On one day, 15,000 people queued up at an Indian port to go on board, and everyone received a packet of Christian literature before they left.
The work took Mike to 50 countries across the world and today OM has more than 3,000 workers in 110 nations. It works in every region of the world and “aims to motivate and equip Christians to share God’s love, and to strengthen and plant churches, especially where Christ is least known.”
Eventually, four ships were purchased which, through scripture distribution and meetings, have shared the gospel with a billion people. The largest of the OM ships is Logos Hope (12,500 tons) which was purchased in 2004 and is now visiting ports in Mozambique, South Africa and Namibia. The ship has a volunteer crew and staff of 400 people from 45 different countries.
Looking back, Mike says he is “amazed at the way God used such a group of nobodies.”
While travelling the world, Mike also had the honour of meeting many well-known Christians because, he says: “We all need our heroes and those who inspire us.”
Mike recalls encounters with evangelist Billy Graham, China pioneer missionary Gladys Aylward, and Bible teachers such Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Wimber, as well as Bakht Singh, who planted 400 churches in India.
While working with OM, Mike was also developing a career as a newspaper journalist. “I won my first job as a newspaper reporter after offering to sell papers on a street corner if the editor would just give me an interview! Cheeky, maybe, but I was offered several interviews,” recalls Mike.
“I started on weekly papers at the Kentish Times, moved to evening papers, such as the Lancashire Evening Post, became deputy editor of a group of London regional papers and finally worked with the Financial Times on Fleet Street for more than 20 years.”
After “retiring” in London, Mike and Lois, moved to Norwich some 11 years ago. They have four children and nine grandchildren. Their son, Mark, who was born in India, is now a London pastor. He is also national missions’ leader for 550 churches with Assemblies of God in the UK.
Once in Norwich, Mike showed no signs of slowing down and has been a national director with the FGB, the Christian businessmen’s fellowship, for ten years, and is still involved with the news media, editing two magazines and writing for Good News for Norwich among other titles.
Lois is herself active in the community as a local ‘Dementia Champion’, encouraging the setting up of church-based dementia-friendly communities.
Inspired by the life of Billy Graham, Mike recalls a “crazy prayer moment” when, as a shy young Christian, he nevertheless asked God “to use him to reach millions for Christ – with no idea how that prayer would be answered.”
He had little idea then that one day 100 million people would receive scriptures and Christian literature through the Logos ship ministry alone.
In 2013, at the age of 75, Mike had a complex heart valves operation at Papworth Hospital: “The surgeon later smiled when he told me the outcome was ‘a minor miracle’,” said Mike, who is now a thankful member of the ‘zipper club’.
But true to form, Mike, to the despair of Lois, shows very little sign of slowing down in his life’s work to communicate the Gospel in as many ways as possible.
Today, after a lifetime of faith adventures, Mike likes to quote Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
“God has never let us down,” says Mike “His promises are utterly trustworthy.”
Pictured above are Mike and Lois Wiltshire.