Lytle Interview

Have you ever wanted to sit down with a missionary and ask them what life was like on the field, hear their stories, and get advice? Now you can! We interviewed a variety of former IM missionaries who served within the first 50 years of IM. Read their stories and stay tuned as we share more former IM missionary interviews in our new series, “Leaving a Legacy: Former IM Missionary Interviews.”

Steve and Judy Lytle, Panama (1976-2000, 2009-2014) and IM home office (2000-2008).

When were you appointed and how long were you on the field?

We were appointed in the spring of 1975 and served with IM until the summer of 2015. We were actually on the field in Panama for just over 29 years from 1976 to 2000 and later in 2009-to 2014. During this time, we also served in the IM home office from 2000 to 2008.

The Lytles

What were some of your responsibilities and roles while on the field?

During our years on the field, we served in church planting and discipleship, pastoral ministry, leadership training, and coordination of efforts between the field council and the national church. We helped to plant the church in Bethania, which was organized in 1985. Later, we served as lead pastor for a number of years. We started a Bible Institute program for local churches, then later directed the Chame Seminary. We worked closely with pastors and national leadership.

Steve Lytle

I helped Steve with the church-planting responsibilities. I started a Bible club in Bethania also. One of the high school girls from the San Vicente Church would come faithfully every Friday to help us. That was a blessing. My Spanish was in the ``pre-school`` stage, so having someone who could communicate well was a lifesaver for me. We saw many children and teens come to Christ through this ministry. Many are committed Christians serving God, not only in the local church of Bethania but in other churches in Panama and in other countries. Children's ministry has been my passion. Besides the Bible clubs, I worked with children's classes on Sunday, VBS, and children's camps. I also was active in the women's ministry. Along with a few other women, we planned the very first national women's retreat for March 1989. Mabel Willey and Dr. Mary Ruth Wisehart were our speakers. Women from all the Free Will Baptist churches attended and voted to form a women's ministry. The yearly retreat and ministry have continued since that date, some 34 years. For the past two years, Covid has forced the retreat to take place virtually, but it has continued. Because it is via Zoom, several of us have joined in from other countries. When we returned to Panama in 2009, our ministry and location were different. We worked with college-aged students in an on-campus Bible institute ministry. Physically, it was extremely difficult, but emotionally and spiritually, it was very rewarding. I wouldn’t trade my time at the Chame Seminary for anything.

Judy Lytle

Tell me about one memory from the field (personal, spiritual, funny, etc.)

One memory was experiencing God's grace and faithfulness during “Operation Just Cause” in December 1989, when U.S. forces invaded Panama to oust Panamanian dictator, Manuel Antonio Noriega. Though very scary, God was with us to provide protection and opportunities to serve Him. Another memory was when we and our church folks in Bethania were able to minister for several months to Cuban refugees who were kept in the country on a U.S. military base after they fled Cuba on rafts. Several came to Christ as a result of that ministry.

Steve Lytle

I have lots of memories, but one that comes to mind is being privileged to be a part of a growing new church. People were coming to Christ and being discipled. It was an exciting time! Their faith was strong. They had a mission heart and were starting mission works in other areas. God was working and He allowed us to work with Him!

Judy Lytle

Tell me about your time serving on the field vs. in the IM home office.

Both ministries were very enjoyable. Serving on the field for nearly 30 years truly defined us, and we will forever be grateful for that time. The eight years spent in the home office were also very gratifying. We were privileged to visit around 20 countries. It was such a blessing to be in the homes of our missionary colleagues to encourage them, strategize and pray with them, and see firsthand the opportunities and challenges they faced.

Steve Lytle

I find that ministry changes from year to year, term to term, location to location. That's okay. Both in Panama and Stateside, I have had fulfilling ministries. When we returned stateside and Steve was working out of the IM office, I had to pray about what I was to be doing for the Kingdom. God opened many doors, both in our local church, at IM, and also traveling with Steve part of the time. Yes, life was different Stateside, and to many people, I was no longer a ``missionary.`` That hit me hard at first, but I had to accept that perception and just continue serving the Lord where He allowed me to. The point is, I didn't stop being me. My role changed, but my love for the Lord and desire to serve Him did not change.

Judy Lytle

What’s one thing you miss about your host country?

Until this day, we miss the delicious Panamanian foods, the fellowship with people in our churches, and people who are as close to us as family, and even more so. We truly enjoyed living in Panama, except maybe for the heat and humidity.

Steve Lytle

I miss the fresh fruits and vegetables. I miss the people and their acceptance of us as foreigners. I miss the calmer, more laid-back lifestyle. I miss the heart-felt expression in worship.

Judy Lytle

My role changed, but my love for the Lord and desire to serve Him did not change. – Judy Lytle

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