Nevin Williams


Retired Missionary to the American Indian Field
“We Saw God Working in the Midst”
By Rachel Elwood, Staff Writer
December 2014

God used a need for glasses to redirect Nevin Williams’ life.

Nevin was headed toward a career in law enforcement or state game warden as a freshman in college, but rules at the time did not allow people who needed glasses to be in those programs. He changed courses and began training as a high school speech teacher.

Raised on a farm near Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Nevin attended church faithfully with his family. However, he did not understand his need for a Savior until the age of 17. Even before being saved, he felt called to be a pastor. “But I got to thinking, what do you think about having to preach every week? I pushed the feeling aside.”

When Nevin was in college, the Lord began to impress on him that he was supposed to be in the ministry. He completed his degree in psychology at the University of Iowa and went on to Garrett Theological Seminary (Illinois). During seminary, he took on a “two-point charge” pastorate at two rural Iowa churches. He met Dick Keim, a former WGM missionary to Burundi who was pastoring close by, and invited him to his church to speak about that country. Nevin later invited Dick to also speak at a local Lutheran church’s men’s meeting. “I was sitting there watching the slides and heard an audible, inner voice saying, ‘You must go and be a part of these people.’ Long story short, we said ‘All right, Lord,’ and were accepted by WGM.”

After eight months of French language study in Brussels, Belgium, Nevin and Marcia—with daughter, Andrea, and son, Dean—arrived in Burundi in 1969 to serve in church planting, evangelism, and pastoral training. For a time, they were located in the Kumoso Valley, a spiritually dark area where witchcraft and traditional religion were openly practiced. One of the highlights of Nevin’s 14 years in Burundi was witnessing dozens of people delivered from demonic possession and a number of churches established in the Kumoso Valley.

“Up to the time that we got to Burundi, the accounts in Scripture about healing and freedom from demon possession were simply true stories. Once I saw what God can do in deliverance and healing and saw several really miraculous answers to prayer, I began to understand the tremendous ways God can work.”

In 1979, many missionaries were expelled by the government. After the expulsions, Nevin was asked to serve as the field director, and, despite the difficulties, new churches were established in new areas. “Being field director during those days was a very stressful time, but we saw God working in the midst.”

By 1981, it was no longer possible for the Williams family to remain in Burundi. They returned to the U.S., and Nevin became a missionary evangelist with WGM, based in Cedar Rapids. He traveled around the country, speaking at revival meetings, missionary conventions, Bible conferences, camps, and churches. At meetings where he would be speaking for a week, Nevin always insisted on dedicating one night to missions and preaching a missions message.

“I got to meet so many of God’s wonderful people,” he shared. He was able to return to Africa three times to the Kenya and Tanzania fields for camp meetings, revivals, pastors’ retreats, and missionary staff retreats. “Every time I got off the plane, I felt like I had come home again.” He also served as chaplain to the Cedar Rapids Police Department.

In 1991, Nevin began to feel God leading him back to missionary service. Although first hoping to return to his beloved Africa, medical concerns forced him to choose a stateside mission field. The WGM administration offered him the role of missionary pastor on the American Indian Field, and Nevin, along with his second wife, Sherri, began ministering to the missionaries and volunteers. Nevin also had the privilege of preaching in meetings on the Navajo and Tohono O’odham reservations.

Within a few years, Nevin was asked to serve as the field director, a role he initially resisted, having faced significant difficulties and stress while in that role in Burundi. During his time as the AIF field director, he oversaw the closing of Southwest Indian School, a hard but necessary event. “It was a difficult time, but it was proved over the long run that it was the right thing to do. A lot of the ministry that takes place in Peoria, Arizona, [at Southwest Indian Ministries Center] is possible because of what was done over the years at SIS.”

Health issues necessitated Nevin stepping out of the field director’s position, and Nevin and Sherri spent a year serving on the Tohono O’odham reservation. Nevin enjoyed the laidback lifestyle of the reservation, where the culture had some similarities to Africa. They retired from active missionary service in 2001and moved back to Iowa. He returned to serve as a police chaplain for a time, and now teaches an adult Sunday School class at their church. Nevin and Sherri are also in charge of the greeter and follow-up ministry.

“There’s just something about having been a missionary that keeps you active in ministry!” Nevin laughed.