In the spring of 1957, Darrel and Betty Burch, new missionaries with the American Sunday School Union, were placed in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. Their assignment was to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the rural areas west of Helena, from the Canadian border south to Idaho. Darrel soon realized that covering 62,000 square miles was too much for one person, so he began writing his friends from Bible school days for assistance.
Don & Ferris Rust and Gale & Elsie Fister were working in a lumber camp at Port McNeil on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. They logged during the day and spent evenings and weekends reaching lumberjacks for Christ. Both families felt led of God to relocate for gospel ministry in Montana.
The Rusts moved to Stevensville in July of ‘57; Gale and Elsie followed a month later. All three families started driving the highways of western Montana, knocking on doors and holding youth groups, Bible studies, Sunday Schools and small church services. Gale and Don held secular jobs and ministered evenings and weekends. Some of their early preaching points were Haugan and DeBorgia, Saltese, St. Regis, Frenchtown, Lolo and Camas Prairie. With some round trips being well over two hundred miles, Gale and Don each held services in eight different communities on a two-week cycle. The Burch’s left the field in the spring of ‘62, and Sam and Marjorie Gupton replaced them as the area's American Sunday School Union missionaries. Sam was an effective visitation and recruitment worker, and soon had many more areas to serve and more lay workers involved.
Sam enlisted Frank and Betty Jackson in Helena in August of ‘62, and the Jacksons started reaching out to Garrison, Gold Creek, Helmville and Lincoln. Services were still being held in the above-mentioned locations west of Missoula, plus DeSmet, Trout Creek, White Pine, Alberton, Tarkio, Plains and other places which escape memory, as exact records were not kept.
In ‘68, Gupton was given to understand that, due to the shortage of income from this area, he would be moved by the American Sunday School Union to another field. The workers, churches, and friends of the local communities expressed disappointment at this prospect, and decided before God that this field was ready to harvest. God used this time of crisis to further His work in western Montana, as on February 21, 1969, the Articles of Incorporation of the Rocky Mountain Bible Mission became official. Gale Fister was president, Wallace Tucker was vice-president, Robert Lukey was secretary and Frank Jackson was treasurer. Gupton was the only full-time missionary, and a giant step of faith was taken as the new mission trusted God for $500 a month for the Gupton’s support.
By ‘73 it became obvious that the Mission needed an organizational structure. Mission responsibilities were shared by laymen, but the pressures of their own jobs as well as their ministries didn’t allow for coordinating as well as necessary. The need for a full-time director because evident. In April of ‘74, after much soul-searching, Jackson resigned his position as an engineer with Mountain Bell to become the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Bible Mission.
The Mission's immediate goal was to enlist more workers and locate them in communities with the greatest need. Bible college students were recruited each summer and were sent to many different communities to hold Vacation Bible Schools in the month of June, and then to counsel at camp during July. In ‘77, Martha Friddle and Amy Purviance joined as the first full-time children's workers, underscoring the importance of that unique outreach, which opened a number of communities to the gospel and church planting.
Through the years the Lord added churches to the Mission. Some were planted and grown from scratch, others joined the Mission out of a desire to belong to a parent organization for resources and support.
The Mission also branched out in several other vital ministry directions. In ‘80 RMBM began sponsoring a radio translator for KMBI, a Moody Bible Institute affiliated FM station from Spokane, Washington, which provided Christian radio to the Missoula area through mid-2000.
In ‘86 Indian outreach began on the Flathead Reservation through the Ravalli and Hot Springs churches, and from these efforts a very effective Native American children's ministry was developed. The venture, called ‘Pathwalkers’ had been used by the Lord in six western states by the summer of 1999.
Near Troy in the northwestern corner of Montana, Elohim Bible Camp in ‘91 became Elohim Camp and Retreat Center, a permanent, year-round facility developed under the Mission umbrella.
Nearer Missoula in the Clearwater Junction area, Camp Utmost has been used for kids' Bible camps since ‘58. In ‘96 forty acres were purchased and building began on "new" Camp Utmost, a few miles from the original site. Utmost now provides year-round facilities for church, camps and group events.
The fall of ‘95 saw the Mission adopt a three-year program for training rural pastors and church leaders called Bible Training Center. The BTC has been so well received that additional campuses were added at the Camp Elohim and Retreat Center and at Plummer Church, Plummer ID. Combined with a comprehensive pastoral internship program, the Mission actively trains our own workers for pastoral and other leadership ministries in rural areas. An annual Rocky Mountain Shepherds' Conference provides encouragement and technical help to those engaged in uniquely rural gospel ministry.
The Rocky Mountain Bible Mission has over sixty workers serving among nineteen churches, two camps, children’s outreach, and main office in Missoula. An executive board, comprised of three Mission church laymen, three pastors and the executive director, oversee the Mission.
New prospects for outreach are ever presenting themselves, challenging the Mission continually with exciting possibilities for the gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Lord provides resources and laborers, RMBM will continue to carry the good news of the cross to those for whom Christ died in the "little places" of the Rocky Mountain West.