A Tribute to Jerry Jonker
On February 25 God called his faithful servant Jerry Jonker home at the age of 98. A longtime volunteer, entrepreneur, and supporter of Back to God Ministries International (BTGMI), Jonker leaves a legacy of building ministry and relationships with ministry leaders, staff, and donors who became his friends.
“Jerry encouraged thinking outside the box on raising resources for ministry,” noted Jack Strong, former BTGMI advancement director, who worked closely with Jonker for many years. “He brought a passion to fund development based on marketing and business practice, but he never, ever forgot that it was about ministry first.”
Jonker’s work with BTGMI began around 1969 when Dr. Joel Nederhood, former director of what was then called the Back to God Hour, approached him with a challenge. A new above-budget opportunity had risen for expanding broadcast ministry from the island of Bonaire. Jonker and fellow Back to God board member Martin Ozinga, Jr., took up the challenge and quickly raised the needed funds.
As Nederhood wrote in 2009, “Jerry put his hand to the plow and never looked back.”
Jonker and an expanding group of businesspeople initially raised more than $4 million for additional outreach. They shared BTGMI’s vision with thousands of people who became generous partners of the ministry.
Jonker served as the unofficial leader of this volunteer group for 22 years until he “retired,” and yet he continued to energetically promote the ministry and connect with donors throughout the rest of his life.
Unique Gifts Make for Unique Experiences
Jonker often told stories of receiving unique noncash donations that were sold to benefit the ministry, ranging from a mink coat to a classic 1966 Chevy convertible.
Among the many stories Jonker shared, one of his favorites was about a valuable ring a donor gave to BTGMI. Jonker learned about a potential buyer, who told him he loved to flaunt fancy jewelry at a bar he frequented.
Jonker didn’t feel right about getting money for ministry in this way. But the man insisted, so Jonker made a proposition. “I’ll sell you the ring only if you agree to listen to the radio program produced by our ministry, find a local church, and seek out Christ as your Savior.”
The man wanted the ring so badly that he agreed, and Jonker sold him the ring for $25,000.
Three years later, Jonker received a phone call informing him that the buyer was in the hospital, near death, and wanted to see him. Jonker visited the man and heard a beautiful testimony. “I want you to know,” the man told him, “that I listened to your broadcast and became a Christian. I joined a local church, and I sang in the choir. I know where I’m going now.”
Both Jonker and the person who donated the ring thanked God for working in the man’s heart through this gift. “We know that the money for ministry did exactly what it was supposed to do,” Jonker said.
A Valuable Lesson
Jonker recalled another story, about a time he visited a successful donor in Canada. Jonker met the man in his elaborately decorated office. As Jonker was leaving that office, a clerk pulled him aside and suggested he also visit the builder’s brother.
Finding that the brother lived in a ramshackle house, Jonker at first planned to drive right past. But, prompted by the Holy Spirit, Jonker turned around and knocked on the door. He didn’t expect much, but he asked the brother for a donation to the ministry. Jonker was told to come back in an hour, which he did.
With tears running down his face, the second brother handed Jonker a check for $25,000. The man thanked Jonker for asking.
“They all go to my brother, who can afford to give,” he said. “Nobody ever asks me.” Jonker admitted learning a valuable lesson that day.
A Joyful Servant
In a 2001 letter to his children and grandchildren, Jonker wrote, “The work with Back to God Hour has been very enjoyable. We are still finding it a great blessing to be used for the coming of the kingdom. Many people have asked me when I am going to retire and enjoy life. I respond by telling them that I don’t know how I could enjoy life more than what I am involved with right now. I hope I can continue it as long as I live, or until Jesus comes.”
God came this week to call Jerry Jonker home, ending his ministry here. We can only imagine the joy Jerry is experiencing meeting other saints in heaven who, in part, came to know Jesus through the work God gave him to do on earth.
BTGMI director Kurt Selles commented, “I am profoundly grateful to the Lord for all the ways he has used Jerry’s deep commitment and contagious enthusiasm to enable this ministry to reach more people with the gospel.”
Jonker will be deeply missed by BTGMI staff and friends, his two sons and daughters-in-law—James and Janice, and Robert and Nancy—and his six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Delia, in November 2017.
Funeral services will be 2:00 p.m. Saturday, March 2, 2019 at Bethany Christian Reformed Church, 11 E. 32nd St. Holland, MI with Pastor Dan Walcott officiating. Burial will be in Pilgrim Home Cemetery. Visitation will be 6-8 p.m. Friday, March 1, at Langeland-Sterenberg Funeral Home, 315 E. 16th St. Holland. Memorial contributions may be given to Back to God Ministries International and Hospice of Holland.