Swimmin' in the ministry: Wanyonyi brings his message to Grace church

WORTHINGTON -- Although his ministry is based in the Twin Cities area, Sammy Wanyonyi is no stranger to southwest Minnesota. "My ministry started in southwest Minnesota, in the communities of Minneota, Cottonwood, Marshall, Clarkfield -- all thos...

WORTHINGTON -- Although his ministry is based in the Twin Cities area, Sammy Wanyonyi is no stranger to southwest Minnesota.

"My ministry started in southwest Minnesota, in the communities of Minneota, Cottonwood, Marshall, Clarkfield -- all those sites," he said. "Back in 1998, I did vacation Bible school for kids in those little towns, and it picked up from there. It's been growing, and now it's international."

Wanyonyi will bring that ministry -- SWIM, Sammy Wanyonyi International Ministries -- to Worthington Sunday as a guest speaker during the 10:15 a.m. service at Grace Community Church, 2011 Nobles St.

Now 35 years old, the seeds of ministry were planted for Wanyonyi at a much younger age. The son of rural Kenyan evangelists, he felt a call to evangelism at age 8, when he preached his first sermon, five minutes long, to a high school audience. After his schooling in Kenya, he worked as an airline catering station manager with Air France. He'd never heard anything about Minnesota until he came across an advertisement for a Christian college, Bethany College of Missions in Bloomington.

"I came to Minnesota in 1998, January 1998. I didn't know anybody," he said. "Specifically, I was coming because I had this sense of call in my life for mission work. As I was praying about it, I felt a sense of direction to come to Minnesota."


Wanyonyi graduated from Bethany in 2001 and worked for various churches. In 2004, he enrolled at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul and will graduate in May. He also very recently became engaged -- another southwest Minnesota connection, as his fiancée, Suzanne Sunderman, is a native of Windom. Wanyonyi sent out the following e-mail to supporters of his ministry:

"On Sunday April 20th at 5:55 p.m., I asked my best friend, 29-year-old Miss Suzanne Sunderman, if she will marry me. To the glory of God and to my great delight, she said without hesitation, "YES, I WILL MARRY YOU!" A few moments later, we celebrated our engagement with 40 of our family, friends and colleagues at the Forepaughs restaurant in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota's state capital. Our wedding will be later this summer on August 9th here in Minneapolis.

"Suzanne grew up in the little prairie town of Windom, in southwest Minnesota. She graduated from Mankato State University as an English major. She has since worked on the campus of the University of Minnesota as a missionary to students with Maranatha, a house church, where she heads the women's outreach ministry.

"I give glory and honor to the Lord Jesus Christ for His faithfulness as we launch a fresh phase of ministry together with Suzanne. Not only are her beauty and personality captivating, she brings with her a fresh perspective on life, a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in ministry and great clarity to the issues that surround our present generation. ..."

Currently on the staff of Westwood Community Church in Excelsior-Chanhassen, Wanyonyi has somehow found time, amidst his work and school obligations, to expand his own ministry globally. SWIM is affiliated with the Next Generation Alliance of the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association and the Proclamation Evangelism Network of the Billy Graham Center, and some travel opportunities have surfaced through those organizations, as well as Wanyonyi's own contacts.

"We've been to Rwanda, Congo, India, Botswana, Mali, Kenya, of course, and this summer I'll be in Canada, and there's Pakistan coming up," he detailed.

As the ministry has grown, Wanyonyi has developed a SWIM Team -- partners who have brought their own talents to the ministry effort.

"For active evangelistic ministry, it's mainly me, but I recruit team members every now and then," he explained. "Recently in Rwanda, we had a national leadership conference, and I invited a Cargill executive, Dan Dye, who is one of our board members. He came as part of the ministry team. ... I keep recruiting people, surround myself with people with different gifts, so that when we're having a major conference, they can bring different perspectives to the team."


Wanyonyi feels particularly called to bring a message that gives hope to people in uncertain times, and he quotes a Bible verse from the Book of Luke, Chapter 4, to further explain his ministry: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

"I believe this mission of Christ is the same mission that He has called us to accomplish in this time and generation. This is a broken generation. ... This message of hope is one that our generation needs to hear. People who come from broken homes need to hear that God loves them. When we have upheaval around the world, like with the tsunami in Southeast Asia, genocide, war zones like in the Congo, is the message of Christ relevant? Right here in Minnesota, with the bridge collapse, is the message of Christ relevant? Part of my message is to help address some of these issues and concerns and present the power of Jesus, the message of Christ as being the answer to our time and generation."

Along with some basic information about his ministry and ministry opportunities around the world, that's what Wanyonyi plans to talk about Sunday.

"I'll mainly be sharing a message of revival and hope for this present generation. ... My hope is to first encourage believers in their walk with Christ, to realize that this message of Christ is truth, and they should continue to hold on to that truth, and secondly, to challenge them to live a mission in their life. ...

"I want to invite those who don't have a relationship with Jesus to develop one and have a chance to pray with people, those who need a touch from God in some specific way. I am looking forward to bringing that message to them as well as updating them on what's going on with us around the world."

Following the 10:15 a.m. worship service at Grace Community Church, there will be a potluck dinner to allow people more time to visit with Wanyonyi and ask questions about his ministry.

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