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Sammy Wanyonyi Named 2017 Seminary Alumnus of the Year

Sammy Wanyonyi Named 2017 Seminary Alumnus of the Year

Sammy Wanyonyi S’08, S’14 is the founder and president of SHINE in the World Ministries, a global evangelistic organization that has brought thousands of people to Christ.

By most Western standards, Sammy Wanyonyi S’08, S’14 didn’t grow up with much. He washed and wore the same shirt every day, played soccer with a wadded-up ball of paper, and didn’t have a pair of shoes until he started sixth grade. But even as a child, Wanyonyi’s life was never about the material things—it was about the spiritual things.

Born in a rural village just outside of Kitale, Kenya, Wanyonyi quickly became accustomed to miracles. His parents were subsistence farmers by day and evangelists by night, preaching the Good News, driving out demons, and delivering people into the arms of Christ. Decades later, Wanyonyi is doing the same as founder and president of SHINE in the World Ministries, a global organization that spreads the gospel and trains ministry leaders for evangelism.

“The most energizing part of my work is seeing people come to faith in Jesus,” Wanyonyi says. “I may be exhausted, tired, or underfed, but that moment when you witness people embracing the gospel is so special and so sacred.”

Wanyonyi started preaching when he was 8 years old, after he spontaneously began to pray in perfect English—a skill most Kenyans didn’t acquire until early adulthood. His father took him to open-air markets, where Wanyonyi drew large crowds and told his listeners about the miracles God had worked in his life.

By the time he finished high school, Wanyonyi had committed himself to a career in global ministry. With nothing but $50, the clothes on his back, and a firm belief that God would provide, he boarded a plane bound for the U.S. in pursuit of evangelistic training.

“I was trying to get my education quickly, because I thought, ‘I have to get to the nations! I have to share the gospel!’” Wanyonyi says. He earned an undergraduate degree from a small Christian university in Minnesota and promptly wrote to the Billy Graham Association inquiring about open evangelism positions. The association wrote back and informed him that all positions were filled.

It wasn’t until a year later, while Wanyonyi was praying in his small basement in south Minneapolis, that he realized God wasn’t finished preparing him for ministry. Wanyonyi didn’t have the money to pay for more schooling, but he set up a visit at Bethel Seminary and was eventually allowed to enroll on the conviction that “the Lord would provide.” He earned both a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degree, and—through a combination of scholarships, grants, and generous friends—Wanyonyi graduated without debt.

“I greatly enjoyed my time at Bethel,” Wanyonyi says. “I learned the art of leadership by watching how other leaders were leading, and many of my Bethel relationships continue today. That communal connection opens doors to advance the gospel.”

With the help of a few professors and fellow students, Wanyonyi founded SHINE in the World Ministries during his second year of seminary. It has since taken him across Africa and Asia, where he preaches to thousands at a time and aims to bring peace and healing to communities scarred by conflict. Once, Wanyonyi watched a 12-year-old Burundian girl accept Jesus with tears streaming down her face, and he still carries a picture of her to remind himself of the eternal value of his work.  

“It’s a miracle every time,” Wanyonyi says. “My preaching isn’t always eloquent or good, but when I make a call for those who would like to receive Christ, I remember it’s not dependent on my preaching—it’s the Holy Spirit.”

Recently, Wanyonyi has focused his efforts closer to home. In response to the growing refugee crisis, he launched MERGE Twin Cities, an initiative of SHINE that seeks to mobilize local churches to minister to immigrant communities. First and second generation immigrants account for about one-third of the Twin Cities’ population, with more than 100 countries represented.

“Many of them face anxieties related to their jobs, their children’s education, and their accents,” Wanyonyi says. “So, when you come to them with the assuring message that God cares and can help them navigate this, it becomes an opportunity for them to hear the Good News.”

So far, more than 200 churches have signed on to support MERGE’s mission, and SHINE—which received the 2017 Nonprofit of the Year Award from Voices Magazine—continues to expand its services throughout the globe, serving 3.5 million people in 11 countries. But Wanyonyi doesn’t do it for the accolades—he does it out of humble obedience to God’s calling on his life.  

“I hope, someday, my kids and grandkids say the same of me as people said of David,” Wanyonyi says. “He served the Lord faithfully in his generation, and then he went home.”

Wanyonyi will be honored during Homecoming at the Bethel Seminary Celebration