Editor’s Note: Over the course of his life, Jay was a good friend and brother to many. Upon hearing of his passing, Rev. Timothy Keller wrote a tribute in his honor.
In 1977 our little church in Virginia had its first ever mission conference. We took pledges and raised what for us was an enormous amount – $22,000. We called down to our Presbyterian Church in America’s Mission to the World agency and said, “We need more missionaries to support!” They told us about Jay and Maureen Kyle. At the time Jay was running a program he had established called SIMA (Servants in Missions Abroad) which sent out short-term missionaries—very innovative at the time). Jay and Maureen visited the church, Jay spoke, and everyone loved them. (We gave them the princely sum of $1,200 a year). It was also the beginning of a long friendship between the Kyles and Kathy and I.
Jay and I stayed in contact after we left Virginia and moved to Philadelphia. I remember he came and stayed with us when he was considering a job change. We spent long hours talking it through. A few years later, after we had begun Redeemer, Terry Gyger was laying the foundation for the “Redeemer Church Planting Center” which later became City to City. Terry needed a couple of pioneers—missionaries who were not going to plant churches themselves, but would have the cross-cultural and relational skills to go to other countries and there recognize giftedness, attract and recruit future church planters, help them creatively to start effective churches in global cities that few were reaching, and then supervise, coach, love, and direct them to grow as Christians and ministers. These pioneers were to do this without a shred of paternalism or American-type superiority, and they also had to be self-starters and work with very little in the way of resources. When Terry said, “What would you think of calling Jay Kyle to do this?” I was 200% supportive. I knew he could do it.
Jay worked in Asia and Latin America (two places he had lived) while his co-pioneer Al Barth took Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. The remarkable global network of City to City, which has produced hundreds of new urban churches around the world, grew from the personal mission work of Jay and Al. Their accomplishment is astonishing, and largely unsung. If you ask me for one founder of City to City the answer has to be Terry Gyger. Yet Terry’s modus operandi was to hire the extremely capable and then “set them loose” without tightly controlling them. And that is why there is a sense in which Jay and Al could be said to be CtC founders, too. It would not exist today without their work.
Jay was famous for his relational skills. He had a supernatural gift of encouragement, of which everyone in my family at one time or another was a recipient. This week, one of my sons said that Jay was the kindest and most affirming man he’d ever met. True indeed. Jay also had simply remarkable cross-cultural skills. He was himself a “missionary kid” and had lived in different societies and so he was completely comfortable in all diverse cultural settings and able to build friendships with all sorts of people. Our family traveled with him globally many times and he was always the knowledgeable guide. He knew the geography, the demography, the culture, the key people. He seemed prepared for everything no matter where we were. He was a true“world citizen.”
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Jay was also the hardest worker you will ever meet. He was conscientious, long-suffering, and hard laboring to a fault. He was not always wise in pacing himself. But his passion was for the global church, for the Great Commission, for the Kingdom of God. That was what excited and delighted him. He loved thinking about and planning for opening new places for kingdom work, for seeing the church built up in new ways. He loved innovation. Brainstorming with Jay was always exhilarating.
We will sorely miss his vision, voice, love, and laugh—and that’s putting it far too mildly. When Sarah Edwards heard about the passing of her husband Jonathan, she wrote to her daughter and said she “adored God’s goodness that we had him so long,” and added, “O what a legacy your father leaves.” That’s how I feel about Jay Kyle today. I’m so glad we had him so long. I so wish we had him longer, but the Lord he knoweth. And oh my, what a legacy he leaves!
Timothy Keller is a pastor, theologian, and apologist. He is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.