The Work of Loving God
President and CEO Dr. Michael T. Cooper shares his vision for the next chapter of IN USA’s transformational global outreach.
In 1991, Michael, then a 25-year-old self-described idealist, pioneered the first church planting movement of the Evangelical Free Church in southern Romania.
He arrived in Romania shortly after the revolution of 1989, a bloody national uprising that overturned Nicolae Ceausescu’s decades of brutal dictatorial rule.
At the time, the nation’s state-sponsored orphanages housed thousands of severely neglected babies and children. Michael witnessed the horror firsthand: babies lying in their own waste, tethered to cribs, some reaching through iron bars while others lay motionless, stone-faced.
“It was my first real experience with utter poverty and despair,” Michael recalls. “I remember telling myself, ‘I’ll never go back to one of those.’ Emotionally, I just couldn’t handle it.”
So Michael rallied church volunteers to minister to the neglected children, believing for a time that he had fulfilled his Christian duty.
Over the next decade, Michael served in Romania with the Evangelical Free Church Mission, leading a staff of 30 missionaries and training hundreds of short-term mission participants. His team planted seven churches in seven cities and recruited seven U.S.-based adoptive churches.
In 1993, three years into his service to Romania, Michael married Loré Kaylor Cooper. The two met in 1986 as college students while leading a missions team to Poland. Today, the family has expanded to include Michaela (20), Zachary (18), and Christopher (16).
The Coopers left Romania for the United States in 1999. Michael earned a master’s degree in missions and leadership development from Columbia (South Carolina) Biblical Seminary and School of Missions in 2000 and, in 2004, he completed a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.
During these years, Michael remained active in ministry, training church planters in Moldova and Russia, participating as an academic consultant in the assessment of European cultural engagement, and serving as the Latin America missional consultant for Colorado-based Christian Associates International.
From 2002-2012, Michael assumed teaching and leadership responsibilities at Trinity International University, serving as associate professor of religion and contemporary culture and directing the Master of Arts in Cultural Engagement program and the School of Biblical and Religious Studies.
Over the years, as Michael’s ministry and educational experiences grew, he spent many hours reflecting on his visit to the Romanian orphanage in 1991 and on the paralysis he had felt in the face of such poverty and suffering. The words of Jesus in Matthew, Chapter 25, began to take on new meaning:
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…. Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:35, 40, ESV).
“Earlier in my ministry, I was very focused on the strategic completion of mission objectives,” says Michael. “But while this is important, I began to realize that if I weren’t also caring for the ‘least of these,’ I wasn’t caring about what Jesus cares about. I began to see that it’s not about implementing some grand strategy, but about loving people.”
As Michael studied the life and writings of Paul, he came to appreciate the apostle’s love for the many people within his orbit and his model of transformational leadership. He drew upon Paul’s example as he explored his own gifts and passions for team building, teaching, and mentoring.
In 2010, Michael founded the Timothy Center for Sustainable Transformation, a non-profit network of Christian social innovators dedicated to catalyzing business-as-missions objectives.
The center supports 360-degree business ventures to help the world’s impoverished, estranged, and imprisoned engage in sustainable Christ-centered social transformation. Through the Timothy Center, Michael developed projects to help lift people out of economic and spiritual poverty in Haiti, Uruguay, and Romania.
Since joining International Needs (IN) USA as executive vice president in August 2016 and preparing to transition into the role of president and CEO in January 2017, Michael has been deeply encouraged by the work of IN USA and by the profound level of engagement and commitment of its supporters.
His vision for IN USA’s future includes building on its strengths as a self-governing and self-propagating organization to also become self-financing by exploring more opportunities for social entrepreneurship and business-as-missions. A more self-sustaining model would ultimately allow IN to achieve an even greater global reach.
In July 2016, Michael was invited to preach at a church in Craiova, Romania, that he helped
found 25 years ago. The text for the sermon—1 Cor. 2:6-15—was a passage that Michael had read many times. But on this occasion, he found new meaning in verse 9: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (ESV).
The words helped confirm for Michael that his many years of experience in church planting, education, and economic development are now reaching fruition as he prepares for his new role with IN USA.
“God is always orchestrating things,” says Michael. “We will see them, hear them, and know them when the time is right.”
But in the midst of God’ orchestration, seen and unseen, he adds, our first priority is to do the work of loving God.
“Although at times we might be disappointed about failed plans, our first priority is to love God. Although our strategies do not always meet our expectations, our first priority is to love God. God is at work. He has things prepared. My vision for IN USA is that, more and more, we would excel at the work of loving God.”