It’s all about the teacher
David Catchpoole and Warren Nunn chat with Spanish-language ‘creation missionaries’ Bob and Frances Relyea
With qualifications to master’s level in mathematics, science and education from the State University of New York, Robert (Bob) Relyea has taught in high schools in Australia, a Middle School in the USA, the Catholic University of Arequipa, Peru, and the New Tribes Mission [now known as Ethnos360] School in Bolivia. He and his wife Frances served as missionaries in Peru for 20 years, during which time they co-founded several organisations dedicated to teaching Creation Science and Christian Education to the Andean community of South America.
When a young mother sat down with her pre-schooler son several decades ago and read him the first three chapters of Genesis, she couldn’t have known that incident would lead her son to becoming a creation missionary.
Those precious moments in the family living room are etched into Bob Relyea’s mind. “I was absolutely fascinated by it, asking her several questions,” Bob recalls. “This made me a believer in biblical creation for my whole life; it never departed from me.”
Bob sees it as first-hand experience of the general wisdom of Proverbs 22:6:
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
The beginning years
Originally from the US, Bob Relyea was in Peru with the Peace Corps in the 1960s when he met and then married Frances, the daughter of English missionaries, Norman and Enid Hadfield. Even then, he was spreading the creation message but admits he did not have the ‘big picture’.
“In 1969, a few months before Frances and I got married, a missionary friend of ours was living on the southern Peruvian coast, in the town of Mollendo. We spent the whole week going through the town giving out tracts and inviting people to an evening, at which I gave a simple, basic creationist message. Little did I know at the time that in the Lord’s providence, I would return to Peru in 1998, and creation would become my major ministry there.”
It wasn’t until Bob and Frances moved to Australia several years later that they started to connect with biblical creationists. When he read Creation magazine for the first time, Bob was hooked. He purchased all back issues from the very first one, because he saw they were essential in forming a proper Christian biblical worldview. He said it gave him much-needed tools to be able to defend the Bible successfully through science:
“The resources were crucial. I started to be in contact with present-day creationists back in 1979/80 when I attended Light Educational Ministries seminars in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. It was during these seminars that I heard Dr Carl Wieland [founder of Creation magazine and now-retired Managing Director of Creation Ministries International] speak on creation topics. I started to read all the creationist material that I could get my hands on, and at one stage owned a copy of every Ex Nihilo magazine [now called Creation] back to the beginning . My exposure to, and interest in, biblical creation increased over the years as I read, ministered, attended seminars, and taught in Christian schools. I had a reputation in my last school in Australia (Toongabbie Christian School) as being ‘Mr Creationist’, as my lessons had a solid creationist/biblical foundation.”
Bob and Frances are acutely aware of the challenges to their ministry from saturation teaching of evolution and the supposed ‘fact’ of millions of years of time:
“A lot of people do not want to listen to a Gospel message today because they think that ‘science’ has proved the Bible to be wrong and do not want to take it any further. They will, however, listen to a message on dinosaurs or the geological evidence for Noah’s Flood, where you can show that the evidence for creation is superior to that for evolution. From there they start to become interested in the rest of the biblical message, and many find Christ as their Saviour. So, the creationist message is not only important, but absolutely essential to the proclamation of the Gospel in this day and age.”
And Bob and Frances also see the creation message of Genesis to be critical for family life:
“To be good parents, we are going to have to provide adequate, scripturally based answers for our children’s questions. Genesis is the only book in the Bible that gives us answers for such things as where man came from; the beginning of the nations, of different languages, of marriage, of sin, of suffering and death; and even such things as why we wear clothes.”
In Australia, Bob taught mathematics and science in government and Christian schools for about 25 years. When the last of their five children left home in 1994, Bob and Frances began considering what direction to take with ministry. After much prayer and seeking the Lord for wisdom, they returned to Peru. They settled initially in the city where they were married—Arequipa.
“It seemed clear that we should resume our ministry (in Christian education and creation/science) there. So, in February 1998, after 27 years’ absence, we arrived in Peru again and began our ministry. With the Lord’s help, we quickly regained competence in the Spanish language, which opened many doors of service in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Central America and also in Hispanic churches in Florida, in the US.”
Bob and Frances are very much a team and have been humbled by the way in which the Lord has moved in the hearts of young people. Bob recalls one incident before he gave his presentation ‘Life: By design or by chance?’:
“One girl had apparently prayed at home that morning, ‘Lord, if you are real, show yourself to me today’. Then when I gave my presentation, she was convinced of the reality of God through that message.”
Frances uses animals to expose children to the truths of God’s Word in visits to elementary schools. All of her talks have a biblical application. (See box below for how Australian animals have been particularly useful in spreading the message.)
Bob was at one time convinced that a well-polished Christian curriculum was the answer to presenting a viable Christian worldview. That is no longer the case:
“Through working with teachers in Australia and Peru over the years, I have come to believe instead that one must first ensure that the teachers are trained in the ways of God, and possess a viable biblical worldview.”
We would basically agree. It is in fact the reason that CMI has not publicly pushed for ‘teaching creation in schools’, as so much would depend upon the teacher and the worldview foundation within which that teacher chooses to interpret the evidence.1 In fact, as Bob would say, in that sense, it’s pretty much all about the teacher.2
Using koalas and kangaroos to teach the Bible to children
Frances says, “We were at Arequipa [Peru’s second most populous city], and I was teaching Year 3 primary school class. A little girl had a koala backpack. I asked her where she got it from, because I was so surprised to see it. Someone had given it to her as a gift. Then in God’s providence I thought, why not use Australian animals as methods of teaching young children biblical principles (especially Romans 1:20)? So on our next trip back to Australia, we bought 12 stuffed toy Australian animals. Then we sat down and found a little picture for each one that kids could colour in, and we looked up characteristics of each animal, like kangaroos; how big they were, how far they could jump. The animal articles in Creation magazine were useful to us in that context.”1 Bob says, “You can’t imagine how much this magazine has shaped and helped our ministry over the years. It’s given us some direction as to how to go about doing it with the stuffed toy Aussie animals.”2Frances keeps a record of which animal she’s presented at each school, so at repeat visits she presents a different animal.
After having influenced thousands of students and teachers for 17 years with the creation message, partly by making many CMI creation resources available in Spanish,3 Bob and Frances transferred their base back to Australia in late 2014. During their last year on the mission field, they instructed a group of 20 young people in their church in creation. Some of these young people subsequently received a diploma in biblical creation, formed a group called CREADOS (Spanish for “CREATED”) and are now ministering in churches and summer Bible Schools by means of a variety of CMI creation materials and related activities, demonstrating once more the importance of the teacher! In this we see the multiplication of the ministry according to 2 Timothy 2:2, and we are all encouraged that these young people are carrying on with the task of proclaiming the Gospel message through God’s brilliantly designed universe.
References and notes
- E.g., Snelling, A., The bear that isn’t, Creation 11(4):16–20, 1989. Also: Driver, R., Kangaroos: God’s amazing craftsmanship, Creation 20(3):28–31, 1998.
- Creation magazine has now done a ‘swag’ of feature articles on animals, Australian and otherwise—and the list continues to grow (e.g. Statham, D., Stunning and stealthy—the amazing electric eel, Creation 36(1):28–31, January 2014; Weston, P., The platypus. Still more questions than answers for evolutionists, Creation 24(2):40–43, March 2002; and Wieland, C., ‘Lost world’ animals—found! Creation 19(1):10–13, December 1996.
- As of December, 2015, 44 different CMI resources have been translated and printed in Spanish. See lemperu.com. See also creation.com/spanish for a list of creation articles and book chapters translated into Spanish (72 at time of writing).
References and notes
- See ‘The teaching of creation in schools’. Return to text.
- Indeed, although we receive many requests to speak to students in Christian schools, and grant many of these, it is much more productive to have a teachers training seminar. That way, the teachers will be better equipped to teach creation all year round. Return to text.