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DON & EVEY HECKMAN
Working with Muslims, North Africa Focus (Algeria)
And Southeastern France
Don received a BSME degree in mechanical engineering from Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, IN. Following graduation Don went to Ghana, West Africa as a teacher with the Peace Corps. In Ghana he was brought to Christ through the witness of his African physics and math students. While spending time in prayer in a remote African village, Don felt God’s call to French ministries in a cross-cultural context. He attended Fuller Theological Seminary from 1982 to 1986 to prepare for church planting in missions. He received a M. Div. in 1984 and a Th. M. in 1986. His studies concentrated on people group theory and Muslim church planting under the supervision of Dr. Peter Wagner and Dr. Dudley Woodberry.
Evey, Don’s wife, who is from England, came to the Lord at a Billy Graham outreach in London. After much prayer, she became involved in ministry in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Albania. While in Albania, she was arrested for her faith and condemned to death for sharing the Gospel of John in a then Communist nation. (Read the book on it: Tomorrow You Die.)
Beginning in 1971, Don and Evey served as missionaries in Europe, where they were involved as disciple training center leaders with YWAM. Their work included helping start the Anastasis Mercy Ship Ministry in Greece, literature outreach in Eastern Europe during Communist years, giving leadership to the first Slavic Training Ministry School in Denmark, reaching out in evangelistic ministry in North and West Africa, and in nursing and midwife training.
Don and Evey arrived in France where they have ministered since 1990. From 1990-1997, Don and Evey planted a bilingual French/English church, a Tamil church for Sri Lankans, and two French churches. Since then they helped to plant a church of Muslim Background Believers that was the first of its kind in France.
”I was saved twice by Africans,” explained Don, an animated missionary, animated by a true passion for Muslims. Don is American, originally a Lutheran, brought up culturally in a German American background which strongly impacted his future. Don launched out at 22 years old with the Peace Corps in order to enlarge his vision of the world. Don worked as a professor of math in Ghana from 1969 to 1971. It was his contact with his students where his faith became living and contagious. He discovered a living faith in the person of Jesus Christ through his contact with his students. He committed soon thereafter to Youth With A Mission.
He got to know Evey, also with YWAM, whom he married in 1974. An English nurse, Evey and Don married after 2 years. She went to Afghanistan and Ethiopia in missions. From 1971 to 1973, Evey was a nurse in Lausanne Switzerland, acting as the chef of the nursing floor, doing everything in French.
Evey and Don married in July, 1974 and launched into worldwide missions with Youth With A Mission. They had a troubling experience soon afterwards—something which marked their future vocation with Muslims. Completely lost in the great Sahara Desert, as they led a convoy of 37 people from England to Ghana overland, they were saved by a young Taureg nomad boy. The boy appeared miraculously, it seemed, as he walked around the side of a sand dune. The boy’s parents were despairing at the loss of their son. He came to our rescue after a prayer time. Don and Evey drove the boy to the crossroads indicated by the boy, 8 miles away. There were his parents who were looking everywhere for him. Even more amazing was how Don and Evey, 7 months later, hosted two debriefing sessions in England and in Lausanne, Switzerland. Don met a prayer group in England and another one in Switzerland who asked if they met a young boy in the desert. The prayer groups felt led to pray that the Lord send us, in the desert, a young boy. It was a remarkable sense of urgency that the prayer groups had to pray such a remarkable prayer. They asked, “Was that important?”
In 1982, Don looked for some solid training in church planting. He enrolled in Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA. In 1990, the Heckman family felt called to France. The kids, boy-girl-boy, were 13-10-and 7. They began right away to find ways to plant churches. After a couple of years, and challenges and difficulties in ministry, their enthusiasm returned to church planting, remembering what God did in the middle of the Sahara Desert, an unforgettable mark of God’s faithfulness.
One day, Don once again attended a pastoral retreat in Paris. During the retreat, he noticed that a North African was sitting alone, all by himself. No one talked with him. Don sat next to him. The man was an Algerian, alone in his corner, but a he was a converted Muslim and desired to plant a church specifically for bringing other North Africans to Christ. This man, Amar, was the man that Don worked with for years, planting a church to bring Muslims to Christ. Don knew his vocation was for Muslims to become followers of Jesus. Major cultural changes had to be made to understand and live among this cultural group. Don ministers without arguing, and brings reconciliation, peace and meeting physical needs where possible. It fleshes out the concept of reconciliation with lots of listening to their story telling and trust building.
In 1995, Don and Evey joined Frontiers. By 2005, Don and Evey moved to the southeast of France that is near Switzerland, where no other missionaries are working among Muslims.
Muslims are extremely hospitable. Don doesn’t hesitate to invite himself into their homes. “Can I come in and have a cup of tea with you?” Or, “Can I share in an evening meal with you?” This is impolite within our culture, but it is an honor for them to receive a foreigner. “With passion, with emotion, without fear, it is necessary to dramatize Bible stories with sweeping arm and hand gestures, slightly raising the voice, just like it is done in their culture.” You never want to delay talking to Muslims about God. If your first approach is the weather or something else, they are not convinced that you have a message that is very important.
Don isn’t focusing on building physical churches, neither at bringing Muslims into French churches. The plan is to initiate house groups in order to bring believing former Muslims together who are uprooted and stuck in the western world of France. The goal is to meet the Lord and to love Jesus Christ. Obviously, abused women are of prime interest to us, to my wife and our new launching of such ministry.
What matters is not great theories. Don arrives at a Muslim home, with the TV blasting the whole time. But that doesn’t matter. Don says, “Most Muslims are searching for God, but they get on the wrong path. For Muslims, Jesus is the Messiah who will return and judge the earth. This alone is an open door for a strong discussion. But we do a lot of listening.”
Last November, Don knocked on the door of a Muslim family. Don said, “I am a HANIFI Christian (that is, just like the faith of Abraham who believed in one God.)” The mother in the home was very intrigued. She asked, “Then do you know how to slit the throat of a lamb?” Don was never trained for this at seminary. Thinking of what to say, he said, “No, I don’t know this. But you can surely teach me.” The discussion was off on a good footing. Never have I met a Muslim whom I cannot convince that “Jesus is the Son of God.”