Going where God tells them
By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA PALMS -- First and foremost Jim Eilers is a farmer.
Like the four generations before him, he worked the earth raising corn, hogs and soy beans on 700 acres near Mineral, Ill..
Then, about five years ago, he says he got a call -- got the call -- from God.
It was time to stop harvesting soy and start harvesting souls.
So in 1998, Eilers (accompanied by his wife, son and two daughters) moved from the farm that had supported them and entered into the world of evangelism, setting up the base for their international ministry in a Tampa Palms home they purchased sight-unseen.
Their mission, says the family who has been traveling the globe since May 1999, is to preach Christianity to those in foreign countries.
"America is saturated with preachers," Eilers said. "I've made it my goal to go where other preachers have never been."
The family returned in February from a 10-day crusade to India, where they preached to crowds that exceeded 30,000 on some nights, Eilers said.
Scattered ceramics, maps and a slew of camera equipment stored in a front office tell visitors to their home in Tampa Palms' Treemont section of travels to Africa, India and Honduras.
Photographs and videotapes document hours-long sermons in packed parks, pastures and steamy cities such as Chingola, Zambia, or Cuddalore, India.
"Some of the places we go aren't even on the map," said Eilers, 44. No matter. "The safest place in the world to be is right where God tells you to be."
Eilers' International Harvest Ministries is essentially made up of six people: Jim Eilers, his wife Robin, 43, son Nicholas, 22, and Nicholas' wife, Adena.
Daughters Rachel, 18 -- a Wharton High School graduate who hopes to follow in her father's footsteps- and Jaclyn, who is 11 and home-schooled, round out the ministry. The family plans a return trip to Africa in May.
"We love doing this with our kids," said Robin Eilers, who leads women's conferences on the trips. "I think they have seen what it's done for us and they want to be a part of it."
Establishing their nonprofit ministry has not been without frustrations. Contributions for the $30,000 crusades come from friends, a few businesses and the Eilerses' own pockets.
The "language barrier is always a hurdle because you have to find someone to interpret," said Jim Eilers. Setting up the ground crews, lights, platforms and other details can involve months of planning.
"A lot of people we know think we're pretty out there," Robin Eilers said. But "it's easy to stay in your comfort zone. If you don't ever take a leap of faith, you're never going to see what God can do for you."
-- You can reach Melia Bowie at 269-5312 or at Bowie@sptimes.com.
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