Last week, Kalevi Lehtinen, one of Europe’s leading evangelists, passed away after a fall while jogging near his home in southern Germany.
The son of a Finnish Olympic 5000 metre champion, Kalevi kept up his life-long habit of running right to the finish. Knocked unconscious by his fall, he was taken to Freiburg Hospital where he died on Sunday, July 17, from brain hemorrhaging. Kalevi had celebrated his 75th birthday last January.
The former director of Agape Europe was a ‘grandfather’ of Hope for Europe. In the mid-1980’s, Kalevi invited Floyd McClung and myself as YWAM leaders to meet with him and his fellow-countryman Markku Happonen in the Agape headquarters in Kandern, in the Black Forest, seeking to foster a climate of partnership among sister organisations.
A few years later, after Stuart McAllister of Operation Mobilisation initiated further meetings among leaders of European movements, Kalevi urged participants of the first European Round Table in 1991 to respond together to the new opportunities and challenges following the collapse of communism. That Round Table was hosted by the Agape centre in Lettenbuck, near Kandern.
Kalevi was preaching what he was already practising. After 11 years as the European director of what was then called Campus Crusade for Christ, he had returned in the late ‘80s to evangelistic campaign work, focused on the Soviet Union. With Markku at his side, Kalevi set up Mission Europe, to share the gospel with the Communist world.
Perestroika opened up new possibilities for travel and ministry even before the final break-up of the Soviet Union. Kalevi and Markku were ready when the doors swung wide open, and began to hold the first large-scale evangelistic events in stadiums in St Petersburg and other major cities with thousands eagerly responding.
Kalevi took multi-national teams down the Volga River by ship on Mission Volga, stopping at cities along the way for evangelistic outreaches and training of believers. They were the first outsiders seen in some places since the 1917 revolution. A similar mission followed in the Ural Mountains, Europe’s eastern border with Siberia.
The Finn’s involvement with Campus Crusade began when he heard Bill Bright, the movement’s founder, speak in at the Billy Graham sponsored Berlin Congress for World Evangelism in 1966. Bright’s vision of reaching the world for Christ resonated with his own dreams. He then became the first European staff member of Campus Crusade (later Agape Europe). His efforts helped the already-existing People’s Bible Society of Finland become the Finnish branch of Campus Crusade.
Under his leadership, Campus was started in many European countries and grew into one of the largest mission movements in Europe, sponsoring widespread distribution and viewing of the Jesus film.
Early in the 1990‘s, as I with Stuart McAllister and a handful of other leaders began to meet regularly in an informal Coalition for the Evangelisation of Europe, Kalevi was one of few evangelical leaders who inspired and encouraged us with his continent-wide vision for cooperation.
The loss of his first wife Eine in 1996, followed by major heart surgery, did not sidetrack this dogged long-distance runner from pressing on towards his goal.
Often described as ‘Finland’s Billy Graham’, he continued to preach throughout his home country, operating from his base in Germany, drawing thousands to hear the gospel.
With his new wife Leena at his side, Kalevi continued into the new century inspiring countless younger evangelists and leaders as mentor and friend. Several times in recent years he attended the annual EEA General Assembly specifically to be with the youth forum.
In 2007, during the general assembly held on Evia Island in Greece, Kalevi was presented a HOPE Award for his outstanding life-long contribution to the spread of the Good News of hope in Europe.
Still a popular speaker in youth conferences, sharing hope and vision among younger leaders, he was to be a keynote speaker at Mission-Net at the end of this year. Next month, he was to address a festival in Estonia, where he had first preached 20 years ago as Estonia was opening to the West.
To those of us of the baby-boom generation approaching the age of retirement, Kalevi will continue to be an inspiration to finish strongly.
Till next week,