12 August, 2022

Serving God in the Second Half

by | 1 November, 2021

By Laura McKillip Wood

Amy and Terry Ruff visited a friend soon after arriving in Ghana. During that visit, the Ruffs struck up a conversation with another guest. As they got to know one another, the man told the Ruffs, “You need to meet my friend, Solomon*.” He gave Solomon’s phone number to Amy and Terry, and they called him to set up a meeting. Solomon told the couple where to drive and said he would wait for them by the side of the road.

After driving several hours, the Ruffs repeatedly thought they had reached the rendezvous site, but Solomon wasn’t there; time and again, upon calling him, Solomon told them to drive a little farther. After about 10 hours of driving, they finally spotted him beside the road. Thus began a 12-year partnership. “God brought us together, and as we have persevered, God has blessed us all,” Amy says. Solomon became their friend and partner.

The Beginning

Amy and Terry did not start their careers as cross-cultural workers, although Amy remembers hearing one speak to her high school youth group. The worker said, “There are people in the world who have never heard the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, even once.” Amy was shocked. She grew up in a Christian home and spent most of her free time in church. Her dad served as an elder, and her parents both volunteered as youth sponsors.

“I could not fathom that some people had never heard the good news,” Amy says. “Most of my friends knew Jesus, and those who didn’t have a relationship with him at least had heard the gospel message.” Even though she did not act on the impulse to go to the mission field then, she did not forget that message.

Amy later married Terry, they had children, and she began working as the women’s minister at their church. Eventually, she became missions pastor. In that role, she helped prepare others to go to the field, planned mission trips, created cross-cultural events, and visited ministry partners the church supported. In the process, she and her husband grew more interested in becoming missionaries. Every time they went on a short-term trip, they asked God, “Is this where you want us to go?”

A Decisive Step

In November 2008, Terry asked a mission partner with a sending organization if he knew of a place where “two old people could go and be effective.” The Ruffs were in their 50s and were looking for ways to serve God more in the second half of their lives. At his suggestion, they visited Ghana, and they returned home with a clear understanding God was calling them there. The Ruffs gave their grown children everything they wanted from their house, sold the rest, and moved into the mission house—a one-bedroom efficiency.

“You could vacuum the whole apartment without unplugging the vacuum cleaner,” Amy remembers.

They spent the next year training, preparing to enter the field. By the end of 2009, they had moved to Ghana.

“We prayed that God would give us a group of nationals we could train to be church planters,” Amy recalls. “God gave us one: Solomon.”

Over the next several years, the Ruffs worked with their national church planter on many projects, some more successful than others, and several churches were planted. The Ruffs quickly discovered that when they went out alone to work directly in the community, they did not see success. So, they shifted their focus to a coaching role instead. Whenever planning something new, they asked themselves, “Is it simple?” “Is it sustainable?” and “Is it reproducible?” These three principles helped guide their ministry.

In 2015, the Ruffs learned about the Disciple-Making Movement and participated in DMM training. DMMs are self-sustaining evangelistic movements that teach believers to disciple a friend, who, in turn, disciples another friend, and so on. The movement typically grows quickly, and Christian national leaders in Ghana became passionate about making disciples who make disciples. Amy and Terry spend most of their time teaching and mentoring nationals on how to use Disciple-Making Movement principles to share the gospel. The Ruffs now train people from all over Africa, and their work has multiplied. Since the beginning, the movement the Ruffs helped start has grown to 3,558 simple churches with 16,770 baptized believers and a weekly attendance of 22,530 in Ghana, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Sierre Leone, Guinea, and The Gambia.

Challenges and Celebrations

Amy’s main job in the ministry is tracking groups and their progress and functioning as all-around organizer and logistics coordinator. This is an ideal role for her because of her background in local church ministry. It has not been easy, though. Late one night in 2018, Amy was alone at their apartment in Tamale when she was robbed at knifepoint. She was not physically hurt, but healing from the traumatic event took longer than she liked.

There have been other challenges along the way: Amy learned she had breast cancer early on and underwent a year of treatment and surgeries; the couple has coped with the added stress of living cross-culturally and being so far away from their adult children; and some key leaders have betrayed the Ruffs along the way. But the couple have continued to learn through such issues.

“If there are flaws in your character or sin in your life, they will only get bigger and more apparent on the field,” Amy says.

Most of all, the Ruffs have learned that “when a difficulty, obstacle, hurt, tragedy, or loss comes, God is about to do something big.” Through it all, they have celebrated small steps and big ones. “God is opening new countries to the movement, and we are constantly amazed at his work.”

*Name has been changed.

Laura McKillip Wood

Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now lives in Papillion, Nebraska. She serves as an on-call chaplain at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. She and her husband, Andrew, have three teenagers.

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