Rick Jett, who just transitioned to the role of executive director emeritus of IDES (International Disaster Emergency Service), wrote about the origins of the organization in a Christian Standard article from exactly 30 years ago.
Jett has a 35-year association with IDES. He served on the organization’s board of trustees for 16 years leading up to his hiring as executive director in 2002. David Stine took over for Jett as executive director Jan. 1. (Click here to read that story.)
Jett’s 1991 article is about how and why Milton B. Bates started IDES. Bates was Jett’s father-in-law. (Jett married Milton and Janet Bates’ youngest daughter, Nancy, in 1980.)
After the article we’ll share some additional information that Jett provided this week.
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IDES Was Started by a Man with a Mission
By Rick Jett
Jan. 13, 1991; p. 4
The camera focused in on a skinny little grandfather who had only a thin blanket to cover his body. The combination of civil war, tidal wave, and cyclone had left this grandfather and thousands like him without food and shelter. As the newscaster reported from Bangladesh in 1972, his closing remarks were, “Can anybody help these people?”
In Marion, Indiana, a man by the name of Milton B. Bates was watching the telecast. His answer to the newscaster was, “Where is the church of Christ? The church is missing the boat. We should be helping these victims of disaster.”
A difficult start—Because the Christian churches/churches of Christ manage their affairs locally, there was no church organization designed to handle disaster relief. As an elder in the local church and by vocation a pattern-maker at Fisher Body, Milton felt he was not well enough known in the brotherhood to begin and gain the support necessary to support such an organization.
Time passed, but the news reports continued to tell about the suffering of thousands of people around the world who had been left homeless and hungry, and without hearing about the love of Jesus Christ.
Milton Bates decided he would have to do something. He wrote three letters to three men he felt could handle the project. All three thought it would be a good idea, but they were too busy with other ministries to begin this kind of work. Milton then sent letters to 37 brotherhood Bible college presidents, asking for their support. He received about the same response as before, “lt’s a good idea. There is a great need, but I am too busy or unable to help at this time.” Being the man he is, Milton wasn’t ready to quit. He wrote one more letter. He addressed it to 160 leaders of our movement. He received nine positive responses to his letter.
On the basis of this encouragement he began to organize and incorporate the organization now known as the International Disaster Emergency Service, better known simply as IDES. With the help of a lawyer, the articles of incorporation were written and approved June 11, 1973. At the 1973 North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis, the nine men who responded to Milton’s letter met and became the board of directors of IDES, with Milton as chairman of the board.
For the next year Milton and his wife, Janet, worked from their kitchen table corresponding with missionaries who were in or near a disaster situation. Working through these missionaries IDES would send funds to help give physical and spiritual aid to those who were victims of disaster.
In August of 1974, the board of directors called Richard Sprague to be full-time manager/evangelist for IDES.
For several years Richard and Milton worked out of their homes to handle the business. The work eventually grew to the place that a permanent office was needed. In 1984 a building was purchased in Kempton, Indiana. The work of IDES now keeps 5 staff members and 15 directors busy raising and channeling funds to our missionaries in these areas of great need.
Helping people—The first major disaster in which IDES ministered to victims was when a hurricane hit Honduras in September 1974. IDES sent a missionary, Bill Dykes, from Yucatan, Mexico, to Honduras with $500.
In February of 1976, a major earthquake hit Guatemala. IDES sent a four-man team of relief workers to San Raymundo, where every house had been destroyed by the earthquake. IDES purchased four concrete block-making machines. Under the supervision of Harland Cary, the village of San Raymundo was rebuilt and a church of Christ established. From this humble beginning, IDES has grown from working in a few countries per year to 26 different countries last year. The working budget was less than $50,000 in 1976. Last year more than $845,000 was given to IDES to help relieve the suffering of thousands of people.
The Christian church/church of Christ brotherhood now has a means of helping victims like that grandfather in Bangladesh. It all came about because of one man’s obedience to his God’s commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, help your neighbor in need, and preach the gospel to the poor.
Milton Bates once said, “Up until the time I started IDES, I just felt that as a Christian I wasn’t doing enough. Being busy isn’t the answer—being busy about the right thing is. My reason for establishing IDES is to carry the gospel along with physically helping disaster victims. We’re trying to evangelize and prove that Jesus Christ cares about these people.
“Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. People are more anxious to accept the gospel when they are in trouble than when things are going all right. Helping people is the business of the church. If the church doesn’t do this, it’s just so much hot air from the pulpit. If we don’t put into practice what we preach, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. We’ve got to care about people.”
Milton B. Bates is a man who cares. He cares because God has changed his heart. Because of his commitment to the Lord, he has dedicated his time, money, and prayers to fulfilling the Great Commission. Milton is a common man with a divine mission. He will be humbly embarrassed when he reads this article, because he is so grateful for God’s wonderful grace, that he feels that he cannot do enough for the One who has done so much for him.
Rick Jett ministers with Marion Church of Christ, Marion, Indiana.
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Four years after they married, Rick and Nancy Jett moved to Marion, Ind., where Rick began ministry with Marion Church of Christ. Nancy’s parents, Norman B. and Janet Bates, lived in Marion. By that time—1984—IDES had been around for more than a decade.
“In 1985, my mother-in-law, Janet, asked me if I would please drive Milton to the IDES quarterly board meetings,” Rick Jett shared via email. “Milton was working second shift at General Motors at the time and had the tendency to fall asleep while driving. Since I was coming to the meetings, the board invited me to be a board member and I began that role in January 1986.” Jett went on to become executive director of IDES in 2002. Nancy Jett has also served the organization as executive assistant.
“I lost my father two weeks after I graduated from Ozark Christian College in 1978,” Jett wrote. “Milton became a father and mentor to me.”
“I believe it was 1993 [after the above article was written], Milton’s health forced him to step down as chairman of the IDES’ board,” Jett wrote. “He became chairman emeritus. He attended a couple meetings, but shortly afterwards his health would not allow him to continue. Milton had Parkinson’s disease. For the last seven years of his life he was bedridden unable to walk or stand. He passed away in August 2007.”
The 1991 article mentioned that IDES’ working budget was $50,000 in 1976, and that in 1990 more than $845,000 was given to IDES.
The organization’s income during 2020 “was over $5 million,” Jett shared this week. “We presently have 12 full-time staff members, not including Nancy and me.”
Some of IDES’s most recent projects have included assisting relief efforts during the California and Oregon wildfires; hurricane relief at Lake Charles, La., and Panama City, Fla.; and flood relief in Myanmar, India, and Michigan.
Said Jett, “We also helped over 70 different missions with COVID-19 relief (food, medicines, etc.) in 2020.”
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—Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard