They were two all-American kids growing up in the 1960’s. She was a little girl with a big heart to reach the unreached. He was a Michigan kid with a knack for radio broadcasting. Their journey translated into 35 years of faithful TEAM ministry and serves as encouragement of God’s faithfulness.
“God has a real sense of humor”
Steve grew up in a Christian home with parents who loved the Lord. As a teenager, Steve says, “I wasn’t as close to the Lord as I should have been. I accepted Christ as Savior, but I didn’t have any idea what it was to have Christ as Lord.”
At age 16, Steve took a job at the local radio station which required him to work on Sundays. He didn’t want to attend church anyway, so he thought this was a great way to get out of going. “But God has a real sense of humor,” says Steve, because he was assigned to go to various churches and broadcast their services!
After high school, Steve visited friends in Colorado at a place called Lost Valley Ranch. The owners and staff were Christians who often shared the Gospel with guests on the ranch. “During that week, God really got a hold of my heart. I saw Christian young people living out their faith, loving the Lord…it really made a big impression on my life.”
Steve studied broadcasting in college and worked at the ranch for a few years. He then enrolled in Columbia Bible College (now called Columbia Biblical Seminary) in South Carolina. “The idea was that I would go back to the ranch and be in charge of discipleship among the staff,” remembers Steve. “But God had another plan.” That plan would involve a calling to international missions….and a certain curly-haired brunette named Cindy.
Not Your Average 10-Year-Old
Cindy was born in the small town of Wellsville, New York. She was three years old when Jim Elliot and four other missionaries were martyred while ministering to the Huaorani people of Ecuador. Though Cindy’s parents were new believers, they were so impacted by this story that they raised their daughter with a passion for missions.
When Cindy was ten years old, she read in Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.” In that moment, Cindy knew she was destined for missions herself. “I said, ‘Lord, please use my feet to bring the Gospel to people,” she recalls. “I would tell people that I wanted to be a ‘missionary nurse pioneer martyr.’ That was my goal in life!”
The Lord continued to show His faithfulness to Cindy and her family even amidst tragedy. When Cindy was 16, a car accident took the life of her father and severely injured her brother. God sustained the family financially and spiritually, and Cindy continued her studies, going to nursing school and then Columbia Biblical Seminary.
“If a guy has that much attention, he doesn’t need mine.”
In Cindy’s second year at Columbia, Steve arrived on the scene. “I remember the day he came to campus in his cowboy boots with his guitar slung over his shoulder…He looked like Robert Redford,” Cindy says, grinning. “He was the talk of the campus. And my idea was, if a guy has that much attention, he doesn’t need mine.”
But over time, Cindy saw that Steve was devoted to prayer and to God’s Word. “One of my prayers had been that God would give me a husband that loved the Lord as enthusiastically as my dad had,” Cindy says. And she saw that in Steve. When they got engaged several months later, Steve quoted the whole book of Galatians to Cindy as an engagement gift!
The couple began to consider where the Lord might use them. Both had a strong calling to missions, but different ideas of what that might look like. “I wanted to be a pioneer and go where not very many people had gone,” Cindy says. But Steve felt a calling to radio ministry in Italy – a much less primitive destination! The two married and Steve worked in radio in North Carolina and Colorado while they sought the Lord’s guidance for their future.
By 1983, the calling was clear and the Thompsons set off for Italy. Still, Cindy wondered how God could use her there. She recalls how the Lord quickly taught her an important lesson. “One of the first men we met wore a bracelet to keep evil spirits away. Even though we went to a very civilized country, they still lived in darkness and were waiting to know Jesus as their personal Savior.”
Radio Waves and Breaking Bread
And so began a labor of love for the Thompsons for the next 35 years. The Thompsons and their team established an FM radio station that covered two Italian cities. As people connected through the radio, they began meeting in person, establishing two small churches and developing discipleship relationships. Steve, Cindy and their two daughters often invited people to their home for a meal. “For several years running, we had over 1,700 people per year at our table,” says Cindy.
“It’s a big table,” quips Steve.
Looking back, Steve and Cindy remember that the journey was often difficult. “It takes time to endure through trials. The ministry of the radio station was exciting, but it was not easy. We had opposition along the way in various forms…but it was a great time of sowing. God allowed us to reap the benefit of that in the churches that were planted.” The Thompsons went on to work with TEAM colleagues to start and grow three other churches in Bologna, Mestre-Venice, and Casalecchio di Reno.
Those churches are now in large part led by Italian nationals who continue the work of reaching others with Gospel. Steve and Cindy retired and returned to the States in 2018, but they continue to disciple Italian believers through Zoom meetings as well as participating in a TEAM retiree cohort which meets for fellowship and encouragement.
Encouragement for the Future of Missions
The role of western missionaries in the global Church is changing, and the Thompsons agree it’s in a good way. “Now it’s time to hand over the reins and to really help [national churches] be the sending agencies into other nations and be passing on those skills to them,” says Cindy. “It isn’t focused in North America anymore. [We need] to be open to that and be part of that…in the areas where we can facilitate and help that multiply.”
When it comes to discerning your missions calling, Steve remembers encouragement he received from Bob Foster, owner of Lost Valley Ranch. “[Bob] said to me, ‘why do something that others can and will do when you can do something that others can’t or won’t do?’”
When many missionaries burn out after a few years, how did the Thompsons thrive in ministry for so long? Cindy sums it up this way. “We bathed everything in prayer because we realized that we couldn’t do it on our own. We walked with spiritual giants in our life – the churches that supported us and the people who came alongside us. That has been a super privilege.”