Nearly 40 years ago at a conference in Mexico City, Bob Reekie came over and introduced himself. I was a young missionary journalist serving in Peru at the time, and Bob had heard about my trial-and-error efforts to equip Christian writers in Latin America.
“Would you be available to meet with me for breakfast tomorrow?” Bob asked.
“Sure,” I said, not really knowing who Bob was, or that he was an expert in Christian publishing and global training of Christian communicators.
The next morning over a leisurely breakfast, Bob Reekie, the expert, mostly asked questions about my work in Peru. And he listened. Two hours passed, and then it was time to head back to the conference.
“Would you be available to meet for breakfast again in a day or two?” Bob asked. I was mystified. Why would Bob want to meet with me again? Why was he taking such an interest in me?
Not one to turn down a breakfast, I agreed. So, two days later, we found ourselves in that same restaurant. This time Bob did most of the talking. He had come prepared with a list of ideas to help improve my fledgling efforts to train writers, drawing from things I’d shared in our previous meeting.
As we chatted, I had the uncomfortable feeling that Bob was considering me more highly than I deserved, treating me as if I actually knew something, rather than as the stumbling beginner that I was.
Later I would learn that this was Bob’s way, not only with me but with many other men and women around the world. He would see a spark of potential in someone and then try to fan it into flame. He had a gift of discernment, spotting potential where perhaps no one else did.
Bob and I kept in touch after those breakfasts in Mexico City. In 1985, he sent me a press release about the launch of Media Associates International (MAI), a new ministry with him as founding President.
Subsequently, he invited me to help at some trainings in Latin America. Then, 10 years after the founding of MAI, Bob and his Board of Directors invited me to serve at the head office near Chicago and, if everything worked out, to succeed Bob as President when he retired.
If I had felt inadequate meeting Bob in those breakfasts in Mexico City, imagine my thoughts about the daunting prospect of succeeding him as President of MAI. It was a bit like being asked to replace Michael Jordan. Plus, you do not want to drop the precious baby that has been handed to you.
But Bob continued to encourage and support me during the transition period. He took me along on training visits to the various world regions. Traveling with Bob, I observed his passion to help local Christians write and publish relevant content for their readers.
Bob always stressed the importance of excellence in writing, editing, and packaging Christian content. Our work as Christians, he said, should be even better than what’s out there in the general market.
He had a particular burden to see the creation of excellent Christian content for oft-neglected audiences, including children and teens, the poor and marginalized, and readers outside the church.
Bob also emphasized the power of fiction to communicate truth: “Didn’t Jesus use parables?” he would ask skeptical nonfiction writers.
Not every single person we train will pan out in the end, Bob admitted, but we should be patient and believing when developing the gifts and abilities of others.
“We have to be willing to stick with the people we believe in,” Bob said. “The Apostle Paul didn’t see anything in John Mark; Barnabas saw everything in John Mark. Barnabas knew Mark had a book in him. If it hadn’t been for Barnabas, we would never have had John Mark writing his gospel. And without Barnabas, the Apostle Paul himself would have remained a small-town preacher off in Tarsus.
“We need to have an undying belief in another person’s ability: to encourage, to challenge, to be patient, and to never lose heart.”
Bob practiced this same patient grace in mentoring me.
Of course, I am just one of the hundreds of men and women around the world who were touched by Bob’s more than 40 years of publishing training ministry.
Many of them sent moving tributes when they learned of his passing. Mentor. Visionary. Pioneer. Encourager. Gentleman. These words surfaced often in their descriptions of Bob. Here are short excerpts from some of these tributes.
“Bob Reekie was the midwife that ushered me into the world of publishing. He guided my crazy rudderless zeal. He shaped my passion. He sent me back to the drawing board countless times. I trusted him. Bob Reekie was wise. He was patient. He understood the unharnessed fire that was raging within my heart as a writer.” – Pearl Griffith, author, Trinidad & Tobago:
“I miss him! His life on earth was abundantly rich and he has so many spiritual children and friends. I have been one of those fortunate recipients of his loving mentoring. He’s dear to my heart and will be remembered not only by me but also by other colleagues who knew him.” – Sook Kit Li, retired from Breakthrough Ministry, Hong Kong/China
“I first met Bob at LittWorld 1998 in England. Immediately, I felt his caring and encouraging heart like that of a father. Bob would always remind me to tell the global publishers, ‘Don’t forget the children. Tell the publishers not to neglect the children. Publish for adults, yes, but the children, they are our future, they should receive God’s Word, too.’” – Ramon Rocha III, former Philippine publisher now serving at MAI HQ
“Bob was a guiding light for many of us here in MAI-Asia, and we have him to thank for getting us started on our Christian publishing journeys, whether as editors, writers, or publishers. His was always a kindly word of wisdom in season, and we will miss him deeply.” – Bernice Lee, Graceworks in Singapore, Chair of MAI-Asia Board of Trustees
“I first knew Bob as a publisher customer long before MAI was conceived. He soon became a very close friend to our young family during his stays in our home and a life-long mentor and dear friend. He shared his heart with me for a new kind of ministry. MAI was birthed and the rest is history as they say! Without Bob’s encouragement and support in getting MAI-Europe started in 1990 it may never have happened.” – Rodney Shepherd, UK, Chair of MAI-Europe
“Bob’s mentoring role in my life and in the ministry of Step Publishers will never be forgotten. Bob spent his life discovering talented writers, editors, publishers, and other media associates in order to train and equip us for God’s service.” – Lawrence Darmani, author and publisher, Ghana
“Bob Reekie’s labor has not been in vain because we are all the fruit of the work he has done. And I can say that even if MAI had been created only for me, it would not have existed in vain, because through the encouragement I received I have been able to reach out to many people through training and publishing.” – Joanna Ilboudo, founder of ACTS Burkina, Burkina Faso
Bob Reekie leaves a legacy not only in terms of the people that he equipped, but also in the abundance of locally authored Christian books and other content around the world that would not exist today had it not been for the training and encouragement that Bob and MAI provided.
These same published words will continue to delight, convict, nurture, entertain, inspire, and draw readers to Christ for years to come.
As the Psalmist said, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.”
Further, as the Apostle John noted, “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Thinking back, I’m still a little surprised that Bob Reekie invited me to breakfast those two times in a row, and I’m even more surprised by where those simple meals would ultimately lead. Most important, I’m thankful to God for Bob’s unassuming example of the power of investing in the life and ministry of others.
This article is adapted from John Maust’s comments at Bob Reekie’s August 6 Memorial Service at the Community Church of Barrington (IL).