The Missionary Heart of Bill Gerig

Bill Gerig g61 on the mission field

by Zebadiah Demorest, Publications and Promotions Coordinator

Bill Gerig g61 has been around Fort Wayne Bible College, Fort Wayne Bible Institute, Summit Christian College, Taylor University Fort Wayne, and now, the Fort Wayne Alumni Center for almost his whole life. His presence, care, and thoughtful, soft-spoken demeanor have been essential to the mission of the college—and the Alumni Center.

Bill’s journey at the college started when he was young. His dad, Jared Gerig g29 was the dean of FWBI from Bill’s second through seventh grade years. As a young boy, Bill would spend Saturdays in the gym, playing basketball with Bill Pannell g51, Gene Ponchot g50, and others—a skill he later utilized at Wheaton College.

Bill Gerig with his dad, Jared Gerig, and the rest of their family at their house on Pasadena Avenue

For his first bachelor’s degree, Bill attended Wheaton College. FWBI didn’t have a pre-med program (Bill was hoping to be a missionary doctor), so it became necessary to attend another college. Plans changed, however, and, after marrying Joyce in 1959, the summer he graduated from Wheaton, he began to realize that he no longer felt the call to the medical field of missions.

​​​​​​​​​​Bill Gerig g61 with his wife, Joyce (Wiggle fs61) Gerig

With the door closing on the medical opportunity, Bill returned to FWBC to pursue a degree in missions. He graduated in 1961 with a second bachelors in missions and applied to the missionary division of the Missionary Church, now called World Partners. After a special one-year immersion program in Detroit, where Bill and Joyce received training on how to feed themselves spiritually while on the mission field and how to work with people from other cultures, they received their assignment. They would be serving in Sierra Leone.

“They needed someone in Sierra Leone,” Bill said. “They needed a lot of people.”

Upon their arrival in February 1962, the Gerigs were greeted with a very different Sierra Leone. The country had just gained its independence from England the year before, in 1961, but still operated as part of the Commonwealth—with their own Parliament and Prime Minister, of course. The Prime Minister when the Gerigs arrived was a good man and a medical doctor. He was Prime Minster for three years before his death.

“Those were good years,” Bill said. “After that, it wasn’t so good.”

The Prime Minister who followed him was crooked (he was the subject of a coup), and his rule took a toll on the country. Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in Africa at the time, Sierra Leone’s people suffered greatly under the corrupt government that failed to help its struggling citizens.

“It was a small country with a lot of resources, but most of it didn’t go to helping the people,” Bill said.

Bill and Joyce started as house parents in a missionary children’s school, the only one in Sierra Leone. The school was open to children from all missions: Wesleyan, United Brethren, Anglican, and Methodist. It made it easy for missionary parents to have a peace of mind that their kids would be well cared for while they carried out their mission work across the country. It also benefited the children, providing them with a set routine and schedule.

​​While at the school, Bill was responsible for the property maintenance and Joyce ran the kitchen, feeding the children every meal. One year, while serving at the mission, the Gerigs were responsible for 55 children—an overwhelming task for two people in their mid-twenties.

“It was a very rich experience, but it wasn’t easy,” Bill said.

After five years of house ministry, the Gerigs moved to a village for a couple years, carrying out evangelism and language study. For the rest of his time in Sierra Leone, Bill served at Sierra Leone Bible College near Freetown, the capital of the country. Bill spent the first part of his time at SLBC teaching, but, after coming home on furlough, he was asked to prepare a theological extension program. The program, which was very popular in Spanish speaking countries, sought to bring theology classes to pastors around the country, i.e. pastors who couldn’t take the time away from their congregation to attend classes at the Bible College.

Four years later, there were 23 centers for theological education across the country and 400-500 students attending classes at these centers. Bill said that the goal of the centers wasn’t so much graduation or getting a degree as it was to help the pastors be more effective in their ministry roles.

Recalling his days with the extension program, Bill said, “I came to visit one of the centers one day and someone said, ‘What have you done to our pastor? He is a much better pastor now.’”

Bill would travel to each center about once a year. Not all the students were pastors, however. The centers were open to anyone who wanted to attend classes to learn more about theology. At the time that Bill was there, there were about 10 courses. Now, with translation work from Phil Logan g67, the series has grown to about 40 books!

In 1977, the Gerigs left Sierra Leone for the final time as missionaries. They still keep up with what is going on in Sierra Leone, though. Before COVID, Bill and Joyce would meet every month with a group of about 20-25 missionaries from the Fort Wayne area. Jan Logan g68 organizes the events and is responsible for sending out email updates about Sierra Leone. And, when Steve Harrigan g80 goes back for his yearly visit or Janet Nickel g74 comes home on furlough, the group gathers to hear their stories.

Bill Gerig at graduation in 1991

Bill Gerig, devoted to his missionary calling and work, as well as to the college itself and then the Alumni Center, embodies the legacy of Fort Wayne Bible College. We are grateful for his faithful service and example. 

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