An Almost-brief History Up to the Present
Christian Outreach Church began as a direct result of prophetic words, visions and dreams from a variety of Christians. Three leaders came together with the same need: a place to house their ministries. Bob Heil, an ex-Lutheran pastor, longed for a school to train leaders and send them out. Linn Haitz, a long-time missionary, wanted to house a missions organization and train missionaries. Ron Sutton, a youth pastor, sought a refuge center for the outcast and drug addicts from St. Louis. Through many hours of discussion, prayer and searching, the three located and obtained the land where the church is housed and the vision began.
Previously, Bob had been asked to leave his pulpit since he had been newly baptized in the Spirit. When Linn visited him, Bob suffered from a severe, chronic back problem caused by a crushed disk. Linn prayed and Bob was instantly and completely healed! Both men were convinced that signs and wonders were to accompany preaching, and that the New Testament definitely spoke of an experience of an infilling with the Holy Spirit. These truths were as yet unheard of in most traditional churches. Bob excitedly began holding meetings in his home for people who wanted to learn more about these biblical principles. That’s how he met up with Ron, who was one of Bob’s first students. Ron shared his vision to evangelize and disciple the ex-drug addicts from St. Louis and the three knew they had a common goal: find a place to house each of these important ministries. The home group quickly evolved into a full-time teaching ministry named Praise the Lord Fellowship. (PTLF) Letitia, Bob's wife, served alongside him, and they began to write, publish, and mail a newsletter, eventually to many thousands of people who requested it.
Meanwhile, Linn faithfully continued his missionary work. To provide much-needed financial help, Bob helped Linn establish the Bible and Literacy League. This was the platform for Linn’s vision to visit and evangelize out-of-the-way places not frequented by the majority of missionaries.
Several prophetic words and visions finalized their decision to buy a tract of land that once housed a Catholic girls’ camp and before that a tuberculosis center. The new name became Christian Outreach Center (COC).
Once on the property, Ron Sutton brought his youth to be housed, fed and discipled. Since the Center had 36 small cabins and a couple of bunkhouses, as well as a dining hall, it perfectly suited all of the needs for his group. Soon almost 50 young people had taken over the campus, believing in God to provide all their needs from daily meals, to blankets and clothes. They attended the summer camps held by Bob and Linn, cooked their own meals and learned to “live out the Word” together. As the group grew in numbers, they sought the Lord for their own property. Victory Farm was the result and it flourished for several years under the direction of Ron Sutton and Randy Starkey, two of the first graduates of the newly-formed Christian Outreach School of Ministries (COSM).
Christian Outreach School of Ministries
Bob and Linn both felt that a school would be needed to train missionaries quickly in order to fill the great need worldwide for preachers of the Gospel. The Charismatic Mission School was founded. Within one year the name was changed to Christian Outreach School of Ministries, to reflect the obvious need for training of local leaders for the stateside church in addition to those called to the mission field. Courses were added that would help students graduate with skills in preaching, teaching, apostolic, and prophetic work both here and abroad.
A Christian Community and Christian Outreach Church
The students attending the training came from all over the nation – and even some from other countries – bringing their families with them. As they purchased lands and homes near the school, it became apparent very quickly that there was a need for a congregation to be established which practiced the same things the students were learning in their classes. A church was formed and its first pastor was Roger Kuhn. Others who were called as pastors over the years included Roger Schlies, Charles Schism, Ralph Harnagel, George Heil, LeRoy Petersen and Nick Ittzes.
Family Bible Camp
In the early days of the charismatic renewal, people sought places that allowed them to experience Spirit-filled worship, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of like-minded people. Out of that need was birthed the Family Bible Camp.
As hosts, COC invited many well-known speakers, teachers, and worship teams to its land. The congregation members served meals, cleaned cabins, prayed with campers, and ministered in a myriad of ways.
Camp offered a well-rounded, daily program of teaching, activities, and evening services held under a big tent. Hundreds came to these meetings and many experienced healing miracles, deeply refreshed relationships, and tremendous encouragement. Many received callings to serve as missionaries, pastors, and teachers.
In time, the renewal developed charismatic churches around the nation. Over time, the deeply-felt need for such a summer camp experience waned. Lacking funding to upgrade the facilities and with attendance sinking, the decision was made to bid farewell to the camp program.
Nevertheless, the prophetic promises about the "Center," which were demonstrated so richly at the camps, still continue. COC is to be a light set on a hill, with its beams going out all over the world. It is to be a haven in the storm for torn and broken people. And Dick Mills said that it would minister to “kinky people.”
Among the many speakers of the camp-meetings was Nick Ittzes. Nick had been brought into the renewal through the ministry of Rodney Lensch, who was also associated with COC in its early days. Bob and the other leaders asked Nick to join the ministry here. In time, Nick moved from Columbus, Ohio, to become part of the staff at COC. He taught extensively in COSM and conducted seminars, emphasizing the message of the Kingdom... that healing was part of the atonement. Eventually, Bob named him co-director of the Center, as well as director of development, in which post he ultimately raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the work.
Pastoral Leadership Seminars
Countless pastors who were coming into the renewal of the Spirit sought out Bob for advice and teaching. They had questions about everything from charismatic worship to baptism to the second coming of Christ. To fill that need, Bob began to conduct Pastoral Leadership Seminars not only at COC but also at remote locations. Pastors received great refreshment and vision for their ministries.
Dave Martin, a COSM graduate, was asked to join the Pastoral Leadership Seminar program to administer it at a professional level. The seminars were strengthened by Dave's ability to reach out to attendees, and with Dave's administrative skills and his eye for tracking a multitude of details. Eventually, Dave also taught in the School of Ministries as well as serving as its administrator for a season.
Christian Outreach Day School
In 1977 Dave and Joan Lorenz, at Bob's invitation, started a school for children from grades K through 6. It expanded to grade twelve by 1983. The first high-school graduation was held in 1984.
Later, the school name was shortened to Christian Outreach School (COS). Our desire is to graduate young people with more than just learning. They need a firmly-biblical worldview and the fire of the Holy Spirit upon them as well. COS has been known not only for its partnership with parents, but for its excellent graduates, and the tremendous loyalty of its staff that has allowed it to stay open in spite of great financial hardship.
October 31, 1988, an arsonist destroyed the Fellowship Hall, which housed both COSM and COS. It was a well-worn, but beloved meeting place. Rebuilding began almost immediately. After all was finished, the screened-in, outdoor chapel had become a fully enclosed, heated and air-conditioned worship center. An addition housed small offices, a nursery and a cry room. An attractive plaza joined the chapel to the new school, complete with several classrooms, a kitchen and bathrooms. By God’s grace and with Administrator Paul Schwandt’s financial acumen, the building was finished debt-free.
Worship Life of the Congregation
In the earliest days of COC, Randy Hartwig, a COSM student, led the worship at the fledgling church. Bob kept praying that the Lord would provide someone who was called to that ministry.
When Dave Lorenz arrived on the scene, everyone knew he was God's answer. Dave was not only a fine musician, but also had a heart dedicated to worship. He set in place many of the fundamentals of the congregation's worship ministry, and developed a team to lead worship. He also raised up excellent choirs and ensembles in our school. In 1984 Dave felt compelled to devote his full-time energy to COS. Dave turned over the worship ministry to Tom Kraeuter and the worship life of the church prospered under his leadership. Later, Mary (Leino) Mahder, with her husband Phil, led the worship team.
In the fall of 2008, Dan Kennedy was appointed to succeed Mary. Dan brought great musical talent to the team, and he is also a prayer-warrior. He is powerfully anointed by the Holy Spirit to encourage the congregation to pursue and manifest gifts of the Spirit. Dan has a vision to broaden the worship life of the church, incorporating music out of a wide range of traditions. One of his goals is to add more instrumental musicians, dancers, banners and other art forms to the team. We believe that worship leading is a prophetic function, and as such carries the "reward of the prophet" when it is received with faith and honor (Matthew 10:41).
The worship team consistently demonstrates our philosophy of ministry by including age-groups from youth to seniors. Here you will find oldsters enjoying the thrill of outstanding rock drumming and youngsters learning to appreciate the classical hymns of the church.
Sounds of Sonshine
Another outreach of our worship was Sounds of Sonshine, a children’s group led by the talented songwriter, teacher, and children's playwright, Ginny Griesse. She and her husband Bob traveled extensively with their group as "Christian Troubadours," bringing the Gospel ministry to churches throughout the midwest.
The impact of this ministry continues to this day. (More info at http://soundsofsonshine.com/)
Major Staff Changes
Bob had been asking Nick Ittzes repeatedly to assume the Senior Pastor's office and Directorship of the Center. Finally, after much prayer and confirmation, Nick assumed the leadership of the Center in 1989 and was strongly committed to the values established by Bob such as a careful, biblical approach to theology using sound hermeneutical principles.
Bob Heil Goes on to Glory
After Bob turned leadership of COC over to Nick, Bob and Letitia moved to Columbus, Ohio, where Bob continued to develop courses and contacts for the International Leadership Training Institute (ILTI).
It was during this time that Bob contracted cancer and passed on to glory in 1994. Bob’s son Douglas with his wife Yai have continued to work diligently so that today ILTI serves in over seventy nations in more than a dozen languages.
In summer of 2009 the chapel was dedicated to become the Robert W. Heil Memorial Chapel, to remind us of Bob's vision, courage, and tremendous personal sacrifices that allowed the Lord to raise up PTLF, COC, and all its allied ministries. We are here today because of his vision, selfless generosity, and courage.
Nick suffered a stroke in 2010. Two years later, health issues removed him from the pulpit and he is now resting at home, still involved with the vision and goals, but no longer able to be an active part. He appointed seven elders who have taken over the preaching and teaching and who guide the congregation.
Where to... now?
God has already written our future history, but we seek Him daily to be able to follow Him more closely. As the Gaithers used to sing, "We do not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future." May we always bring honor to His name, and hold forth the incomparable Gospel of Him Who died for us and rose again!