Being the CEO and General Director of Source of Light Ministries International is quite literally in Ron Barnes’ blood.
“I was born in Madison while my father served in Vietnam,” Barnes said. “My mother moved to Madison to have me where my grandparents lived and where my grandfather served as the CEO for Source of Light Ministries. After living all around the world as an ‘army brat’ and then with my own family as missionaries in Central and Eastern Europe with a different ministry, at 42 [years old] I became the CEO of SLM.”
Many people in Georgia’s Lake Country pass the SLM headquarters, which is located just off Eatonton Road on Mission Road, and don’t even know what the ministry does. According to the SLM website, the ministry’s vision is “to reach people of the world through Christ-centered and time-tested materials, which will result in evangelism, discipleship and church planting.”
According to Barnes’ bio on the SLM website, previous SLM director Dr. Bill Shade reminded the board that he had passed the age limit to be in the director’s chair. In 1988, Barnes had “dedicated his life to fulltime service at Camp of the Nations,” a ministry founded by none of than Dr. Shade.
After serving as a youth pastor, marrying his wife Brenda and having their son Ronnie, the family joined ABWE. The couple then had their daughters Tory and Sophia. Barnes was ordained into the ministry in 1998. The SLM website states, “From time to time during Ron’s extensive career with ABWE, Dr. Shade met with him in an informal setting and would discuss the need for someone with experience and ability to lead the rapidly expanding ministry of Source of Light Ministries International.”
While those informal conversations took place years before Dr. Shade announced his departure, when the SLM search committee began its work, Dr. Shade again mentioned Barnes as a man who met all the qualifications. Barnes officially took over as CEO on Jan. 1, 2013.
“In my job I wear many hats,” Barnes said. “I am the face of the organization in speaking to churches and conferences here in the U.S. as well as around the world.”
Barnes said in “normal circumstances” he is usually gone two weeks of every month.
“I also oversee our 37 branches in providing logistical support, administration and training as well as oversee the distribution of financial and printed resources. We operate a publication house that prints in our distribution center in Madison as well as locations around the globe.”
Barnes’ job is done with “a wonderful staff of missionaries and volunteers.”
Barnes said to date he has been to 90 countries. Outside of the 37 branches he also visits potential partnering countries, and current partnering countries where SLM does not yet have a missionary. Barnes said if he had to pick a top destination it would be India.
“It is pretty intense. A famous movie line put it well, ‘India is an assault on the senses,’” Barnes said. “It truly is, which doesn’t make it an ideal place for everyone, but I toughly enjoy every visit.”
Barnes said his favorite part of his job is ministering to people’s needs.
“To have a platform to speak is nice, but my favorite is the one-on-one or small group discipleship, mentoring and training opportunities that I get to be able to influence people’s lives for the Gospel and their encouragement, strengthening and growth,” Barnes said. “My training and experience is that of a pastor and shepherd, and that is what I see my chief role being at SLM. I just get to do it in other countries as well, that part I love.”
Barnes said trying to pick a favorite memory from working at SLM would be impossible. However, one of his most memorable trips was speaking to a crowd of 50,000 in a refugee camp in Africa. Barnes recalls that 12 different languages were spoken so his message had to be translated 12 times.
“As I finished, a corrupt police officer arrested me and those I was with and we were under house (hotel) arrest until we saw a judge who apologetically released us and as a way to reconcile introduced me to the head of the country’s immigration camps,” Barnes said. “As he came to understand our mission of sharing the hope of the Gospel and ministering to people’s physical and spiritual needs, granted SLM carte blanche access to all of the country’s camps making us one of two NGOs with that level of access. It was a difficult situation in the beginning that God used for His glory and I got to see it from the front line.”
As most would assume, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Barnes’ ability to travel. The conferences and meeting he was scheduled to be overseas for are now virtual. Despite not being able to physically be in other countries, Barnes has spoken at conferences in Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Spain and Argentina is the last few weeks.
“This has been an incredibly productive season here at SLM where we have been upgrading systems of communication, reporting and accounting that will improve and simplify much of what we do,” Barnes said. “Slowing down my time on the road kept me in the office more to dedicate time to the office and will leave us in a much more productive season when we emerge from the COVID crisis.”
When Barnes is not jet setting across the globe, he enjoys spending time with his family. They enjoy playing games, fishing and kayaking. Barnes likes to study, tinker on computers and check things off his wife’s honey-do list. His favorite thing about living in Madison is the ponds and lakes, tight knit community and serving them through SLM and their home church, Fusion Church of Madison.
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