Today is Steve Lytle’s birthday. He is 70 years old. It is an important day for us here at Rambling Ever On as three of our writers are his sons. And the rest of the staff view Steve as a spiritual father and mentor.
Stephen Burgin Lytle was born on June 14, 1950 in the mountains of Western North Carolina. He was saved at a young age and answered the call to preach a few years later. He attended Free Will Baptist Bible College (Welch College) and there, he met his wife, Judy, and received his training to become a missionary.
Here, there, and everywhere…
Steve and Judy served in various churches and states prior to starting their international ministry. They worked in Swannanoa, North Carolina and in Michigan at Southgate Free Will Baptist Church. They were officially approved as Missionaries in June of 1975.
Steve and Judy moved to Costa Rica in 1976 to attend language school. Finally, they arrived in Panama, their long-term ministry location, in August of 1977. There, they served until 1999, ministering in various roles and capacities.
Steve was asked to become the Director of Field Operations for Free Will Baptist International Missions in 1999 and served in that position until 2008. Steve and Judy returned to Panama in 2009 to direct the newly created Free Will Baptist Seminary of Panama. They worked there for the next five and a half years until retiring from field ministry and moving to Nashville. Steve and Judy now serve at Cofer’s Chapel in Senior care as well as the Hispanic Ministry. He also writes frequently for this website.
Those are the facts. The basics. Those objective facts tell us a lot about Steve Lytle – his work, his service, his faithfulness to his calling – but they also miss many important details about who Steve is as a man, a father, and a believer. We hope our tributes will fill in the gaps and give you a better idea who he is and why he is so deserving of our honor.
A few years ago, my family and I traveled to Alabama to speak in a few churches during their annual mission conference. Steve was also attending that year, and it turned out that we even were staying in the same hotel!
As is typical for a mission conference, we had services in the morning and in the evening on Sunday. After the morning service and lunch, I was completely exhausted and went back to the hotel for a nap. When I woke up from the nap, I had a stiff, dull pain in my back, and I could hardly turn my head without searing pain. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, but we didn’t have much time left before the service, and I didn’t want to leave the evening service in a lurch. So, we went, and I preached, probably looking like Frankenstein’s monster as I had to turn my whole body anytime I wanted to look around.
Afterward, we came back to the hotel and I finally found a position that allowed me to fall asleep. The next thing I knew, I woke up in the middle of the night with intense pain shooting through my neck and into my chest. It hurt to even breathe, and I was terrified. I woke Kate up and asked her what to do…our daughter Audrey was just 1 at the time and needed the sleep before our long car ride back the next day. We decided to ask Steve if he could give me a ride to the ER.
A late night ER trip.
So, off I went to his room and knocked on his door. Steve answered it, and looked exactly as if I had woken him up from a deep sleep. He changed clothes, and off we went to the hospital. He stayed in the waiting room while I was being checked out, and after some tests it turned out to be just a strained muscle that was right next to my spinal column, causing radiating pain. I got a shot and a prescription and that was that. Steve actually forgot his hat in the waiting room and had to drive back later that morning to get it!
The thing is…he never once complained about helping us out in that situation, and I will never forget his generosity. Steve Lytle is kind, wise, and compassionate. The sort of man we need much more of in the world today, and the sort of man well worthy of a tribute.
I met Steve sometime in college after his son David started dating my sister Bethany. I’ve always lived in a different town than Steve and we haven’t spent much time together. However, even a 30 minute conversation every once in awhile is enough to know what kind of person he is. One of the things I most appreciate about him is that he looks at you and listens really well. Every time he sees me he gives me a hug and asks how I’m doing first. In this day and age that feels like a big deal. Steve genuinely cares about other people. That is easy to see.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen him the most the last 5 years when we’ve had a death in the family. I’m thankful that he was there during those times. Yes he grieved and he isn’t afraid to show true emotion. However, I think we were all glad to have his steady presence in the room. Actually, if I could choose one word to describe the Steve I know, I would say “steadfast”. I’m positive many other people have stories of what Steve means to them but to me personally, his legacy is his 3 sons. They are all some of the best men I know. That is a direct result of having Steve Lytle as their father. I’m thankful for his life and what he’s passed down through his children and grandchildren.
There are so many reasons why I am thankful for my father. The godly example he set for his children, his dedication to the cause of Christ around the world, and the kindness and respect he showed to everyone he came in contact with are just a few that come to mind. I want to focus on how he showed his love to my brothers and me.
My dad was not (and is not) afraid to say “I love you” to his kids. He told us often, but he didn’t just tell us he loved us he showed us as well. He showed his love in how much time he spent with us. Despite a busy schedule that included time commitments multiple nights every week he still found time to take us to play basketball or tennis. He found the time to sit down and watch a tv show or movie, although to be completely honest he was usually reading and memorizing his Bible while the rest of us were watching tv! He definitely made the time to sit down with his sons and watch a basketball, football, or baseball game whenever possible.
What I remember most fondly…
What I remember most fondly is all the time he spent reading to us. I am sure he read us children’s picture books when we were very young, but that is not what I am referring to. As we got older my Dad continued to read to us. C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, and too many Agatha Christie murder mysteries to even remember. Sometimes one of us would fall asleep and he would have to reread something he had already read the night before, but he kept plugging away until we finished the book. Every once in a while he would ask us if we were getting too old to sit and listen to him read to us and while I know at some point he stopped I don’t ever remember saying “no”. Happy 70th Birthday Dad! I love you!
I’m in my late 30s. Men in their late 30s often find themselves turning into their dads. We make jokes about this sort of thing and it even shows up in TV commercials.
Last week I took my kids to the park to play basketball. My 10 year old and 8 year old shot hoops with me and we even played a pick up game with some guys in their early 20s. We had great fun and Isaac (my 10 year old) hit 3 consecutive three pointers to put the other team away. As we walked to the car, it felt like deja vu. A trip to the community basketball court, a pickup game with strangers followed by a conversation reminiscing the highlights of the game, the sweat rolling down our faces. It was a weekly occurrence for most of my childhood. The difference was that this time I was my dad and my boys were me. (Except I don’t think I’ve ever hit 3 consecutive three pointers.)
I spend most of my time teaching history and Bible, studying history and Bible, and interacting with my family. The other day while my kids were watching a movie, I sat in the living room with a book on my lap. This scene paralleled nearly every movie night in my home as a child. My dad watched with us while reading something of greater importance than the movie.
After the movie, I read a few chapters of Holes to my kids. Reading great books before bed–yet another way I am becoming my dad.
For me to say “I’m becoming my dad” would be hubris. While many signs point in that direction, I feel that it would be extremely arrogant to claim to the title. He has sacrificially served the global body of Christ for half a century. He has taught countless lessons on scripture and preached countless sermons. And, he modeled deep and perpetual study of Scripture and truth. Most importantly, and I do mean most importantly, he played basketball with his kids and he read us books before bed.
I’ve written a number of tributes for Rambling Ever On over the years. This is the easiest and the most challenging I’ve had to write. It is easy because it’s about my dad. It’s challenging because I have no idea how to capture what my dad means to me in so few words.
My dad is my hero. I respect him more than any man I know, and it’s not even close. My brothers did a good job of describing many of the characteristics that make my dad so wonderful, and I echo their thoughts completely. But, to avoid redundancy, I will do my best to get to the heart of who my father is, by focusing less on his actions and more on his motivation.
Stephen Lytle is a gentle, meek, and loving man. I once saw a meme on Facebook that said something to the affect of “Not all dangerous men are good, but all good men are dangerous.” I know my dad would fiercely protect anyone who needed it, but describing him as dangerous seems absurd and illogical to me. In an era that devalues humility and meekness, my dad is an outcast. An outsider. His first thought is love. And his second and third.
My father is a Barnabas – an encourager. If you have been around my father and have interacted with him at all, it’s likely he has encouraged you in some small way. It is one of his greatest gifts. It is not one of mine but I am striving to be more like him. I know how desperately I have needed his encouragement throughout my life. I know the power of a kind and loving word. My dad has always been ready, willing, and able to provide that word.
A man after God’s own heart.
My dad is a man after God’s own heart. I have zero doubt those words would have been written about him if his life had been documented in the pages of the Bible. He is completely devoted and in love with his Savior. It is an example that is both inspiring and humbling, due to my own occasional lack of zeal. Yet, I press on because I can see the path my father has walked and I know at my very core that it is worth it. Proclaiming the Gospel and building the Kingdom of God has been his life’s work. He has poured his life out for the sake of the cross and it is a sweet perfume for the feet of Jesus.
So, on his birthday, I want to say thank you: Thank you, Dad, for loving me, for encouraging me, and for always modeling a life of service, devotion, and faith. I love you.
Now it is your turn. We know that Steve’s life has been a powerful example to many people. Please, let us know in the comment section what Steve means to you.