A life of ministry spanning the globe

ONCE A MEMBER of the men’s basketball team’s “Big Guns of ’51,” NORMAN “BUD” BYLSMA ’51 died May 12, 2021, at the age of 93.

Born in Lynden, Washington, Bylsma turned down a basketball scholarship from the University of Washington to attend Simpson Bible College, where, as a sophomore, he led its new basketball team in an upset over the Seattle Pacific Falcons. Soon afterward, Bylsma accepted a full basketball scholarship from Seattle Pacific College. After graduating, Bylsma married Patti Barber, whom he had met at Simpson.

Bylsma spent 30 years at Young Life, a Christian ministry to teens, where he had a reputation for developing leaders, including those who became YL presidents in the U.S. and Canada.

In 1981, Bylsma retired from YL and became the executive director of the Christian nonprofit HEED in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which included more than 50 foreign staff from a dozen countries. HEED built hospitals, flood-control systems, and health-education systems. Bylsma determined Western agencies were doing “welfare,” and not developing local talent, so he worked to replace all foreign staff with native Bengalis and nationalize the board.

Within seven years, all foreign staff were gone; today, HEED’s national staff continues to serve the needs of the poor across Bangladesh.

Bylsma and his wife returned to the U.S. where he worked at Seattle’s Bethany Presbyterian Church, developing urban ministries. He created the Northwest Leadership Foundation, and he worked with Black leaders to create the Coalition for Community Renewal.

After the couple moved to Portland, Bylsma advised organizations and helped to create several nonprofits. He was the catalyst for creating an urban studies major at Warner Pacific University. Over the years, Bylsma served on more than a dozen boards. At age 71, he went to Albania to help resettle nearly 1 million refugees from Yugoslavia. He and Patti also made trips to Cuba to teach local leaders, and they visited other countries on short-term missions. He retired from ministry at age 85, returning to the Seattle area.

Bylsma is survived by Patti, his wife of 70 years; four children; seven grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and a sister.

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