Westmont Magazine An Unexpected Life
Bob Lonac ’67 had no intention of attending college when he became a Christian his senior year in high school. “But my Young Life leader, Bob Runyon ’55, convinced me I needed a Christian education and helped me get into Westmont,” he says. “I had never been to church in my life, and it was quite a shock to be around a bunch of conservative kids, PKs and MKs. It took me four years to get used to it, but Westmont gave me great biblical and philosophical underpinnings.”
Bob didn’t plan to join Young Life staff either, but that’s what he did after graduating. “I had a holy calling from God: I wanted to stay out of the Vietnam War,” he says. “But my first day with Young Life, I realized I was exactly where I was supposed to be.” He worked full time while also earning a master’s degree in youth ministry through Young Life’s Institute of Youth Ministries, associated with Fuller Theological Seminary.
Over 33 years, Bob held 10 different positions with Young Life. “I loved it,” he says. “I never felt I had a job.” Beginning as an area director, he ended up supervising programs in a third of the world. “I’m a developer and a starter,” he says. “I never did anything at Young Life for more than five years.”
Eventually, Bob sensed God leading him away from Young Life. “I had done this all my life,” he says. “It was time for something else, so I just quit. My wife, Kathleen, and I sat on the couch and prayed every morning for three months.
“A miraculous opportunity opened to work for Gary Haugen at International Justice Mission as executive vice president and COO,” Bob says. “Gary is a true prophet and visionary; I was the operations guy. IJM does one simple, profound thing: rescue victims of oppression.” Under his direction, the budget grew from $2 million to $15 million, and overseas sites increased from two to 16.
Bob expected to remain at IJM until he retired. When a search team from Crista Ministries contacted him about being the CEO, he said he wasn’t interested. He had never even heard of them. But the Seattle-based ministry persisted — and Bob and Kathleen had children and grandchildren in Seattle. After a thorough process, he agreed to head the organization. “You find God’s will by being ruthlessly honest,” he says. “You have to ask yourself: What do you like to do? What do you do well? Do others think you are doing the right thing?”
For the first time, Bob is the boss, managing a budget of $170 million, 2,000 staff and nine distinct ministries, including schools, a senior care community, radio stations, an employment agency, and camps and conference centers. The Web site, www.crista.org, describes Crista’s vision and programs. “I’m challenged to bring cohesiveness and a central mission to these ministries,” he says.
In all his positions, Bob has explored what it means for an organization to be Christian. “Too many people have been deeply disappointed at such places,” he says. “The most difficult thing is having open conversations that are trusting, loving and truthful. Do people love each other? Do they tell the truth? Do they seek guidance from the scriptures? Do they trust God? God is totally good, and those who trust him will end up in the right place.”
Bob and his wife, Kathleen, have four sons and seven grandchildren, including Ryan Lonac ’05, who majored in art and works as a graphic artist. “I love talking to my kids about life,” he says. “I just love being with people.”