Timothy John Okken died December 3, 2020 at Banner Desert Hospital, after a deadly battle with Covid-19. He was a pastor, missionary, entrepreneur, builder, handy-man, businessman, administrator and international mission consultant. But his main focuses in life were his love for the Lord and his love for his family, and he displayed this devotion through his love-language: acts of service.

Tim was born in 1953, in a small rural hospital in eastern Congo, to pioneer Baptist missionaries, Paul and Nellie Okken. Tim grew up with his older sister, Barbara, and 2 brothers, David and Steve, along the shores of Lake Kivu, in the Belgian Congo, where he avidly enjoyed playing marbles, climbing trees, swimming, fishing and hunting.
Tim described his childhood as “perfect.”
Tim accepted Jesus as his Savior when he was 5 years old, after a session of asking his mother many questions about God, life and the Bible. Later, he was baptized by his dad in Lake Kivu.
Tim attended Hannah Hunter Cole Memorial School at Rwanguba, Congo for his primary education. But during the turbulent 60’s of Congo’s civil war, the missionaries had to evacuate their homes and flee Congo several times, so some years the school was held in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
The tribe of people with whom the Okkens had been ministering also fled the violence in Congo and settled across the border in Rwanda. The Christians begged Paul to come help them plant churches among their people. So in 1967, the Okkens started church planting in Gisenyi, opening the field of Rwanda for the Conservative Baptist mission. The Okkens had a new home and Tim and his siblings started new adventures.
Tim went to Rift Valley Academy in Kenya for his high school education, where he enjoyed participating in soccer, rugby, softball, hunting---oh, and his academic classes too. Tim had wonderful memories of his years at RVA and spoke of them fondly and often through the years.
After graduation, Tim lived with Me / his sister Barbara in Chicago and worked at a gas station. He then moved to Phoenix, where he attended Southwestern Baptist College, earning his BA in Biblical Studies, emphasis on Missions. While at Southwestern, Tim became best friends with Jan and they were married in 1977.
Paul and Nellie were due to retire from mission service in Rwanda. But before they retired, they wanted to complete the planned construction of churches and schools in the outlying rural areas. Paul asked the newlyweds if they would come out to Rwanda to help. Tim and Jan arrived in Gisenyi in 1978 and worked assisting Paul and Nellie for a year.
They returned to live in north Phoenix, where Tim started Southwest Vent Cleaning, a company which cleaned the ventilation systems in restaurant kitchens. Their first two children, Tina and John, were born in Phoenix. Tim and Jan were active members of Cactus Baptist Church, teaching Sunday School and on the Missions Committee. They later moved to Mesa, Arizona, and became very involved with Trinity Baptist Church.
After several years, they felt the Lord calling them to serve Him as evangelistic missionaries. They moved to California and enrolled in graduate studies at Biola University. During those years, they learned a lot about God’s love, grace and mercy, both in the classroom setting and as they worked in a small church, building friendships in their culturally diverse community.
They both earned their Masters Degrees in Intercultural Studies and graduated together. Tim went beyond his MA, completing all the classroom requirements for his doctorate. By then he felt restless with taking classes. He was passionate about spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and yearned to return to Africa. After praying and considering various locations and cultures, Rwanda was still on his heart.
In July 1988, Tim and Jan were appointed as career missionaries under Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society (now known as WorldVenture), to be involved in a ministry of church planting and evangelism in the country of Rwanda. Trinity Baptist commissioned them and served as their home church.
The little family arrived in Kigali in August 1990. Tim was thrilled to be “home,” in a culture where he felt so familiar and comfortable, as he greeted old friends, intensified relationships with men whom he had known as a youth and now who were pastors and civic leaders. Tim was told to “set aside” his Swahili language fluency; he and Jan started studying Kinyarwanda, the indigenous language.
3AM on Oct 1, they woke to the sound of gunfire and shrapnel from mortars hitting their tin roof. They ran in to grab the children out of their beds and secured themselves in an inner-walled room. Setting tables on their side as barriers against bullets, making sure his family was safe, Tim then set out to check on the neighbors. He found one young lady running terrified out in the yard, not knowing where to go. He got her to safety.
Civil war had erupted in Rwanda. The Rwandan government ordered everyone to stay home for several weeks. Tim had purchased food supplies just a few days before, but the neighboring families were not as fortunate. So Tim set up food & water delivery, by cutting holes in the fences to help the neighboring families.
The war continued but the battles were pushed back away from the capital city. Thousands of people were displaced by the fighting and the government set up refugee camps outside of Kigali, with families living in crude tents of plastic tarps. The Okkens bought food, blankets & supplies, which they distributed to people in the camps. Tim’s red truck and quiet smile became a very familiar sight in the camps and the people sought Tim out when they had other needs of medicine or supplies.
In 1993, Tim and Jan were expecting their 3rd child. Jan’s parents came out to Rwanda and the whole group went to Kenya for the birth of Joshua Paul.
After returning to Rwanda, Tim and Jan’s dad Elmer were headed home in the truck, when thieves, attempting a car-jacking, opened fire with AK-47s and sprayed the truck with bullets. One bullet decimated Tim’s right hand and bullet fragments hit Elmer’s legs. Tim was able to hit the gas hard and they escaped. Using a belt as a tourniquet around Tim’s arm and Elmer handling the gear shift as Tim steered the truck, they managed to get home.
What followed next was a series of miracles, God’s protection and merciful love in events that make a mockery of the phrase “it just so happened…” There’s no such thing as coincidence where God is concerned.
The phones had been down all week, but now suddenly were working. Jan called a Belgian OB doctor she’d met—not knowing this doctor’s husband was a surgeon. Jan drove Tim and Elmer to the doctor’s house, who drove them an hour out of town to his medical clinic where he performed 6 hours of surgery on Tim, of “preliminary patch-work.” Not yet awake post-surgery, Tim & Elmer had to spend the night there at the clinic in the only building that had a night nurse on duty—in the maternity ward—with no electricity and a drop-toilet outhouse 30 feet out the back door. The doctors had to drive Jan back home at high speed before the strict curfew.
God provided and 3 days later the whole family were on a plane, flying to Arizona. A doctor friend arranged for top orthopedic surgeons to be waiting at a Phoenix hospital. Looking at the x-rays, the surgeons were amazed at the wonderful job that had been done in that preliminary surgery, “using such crude tools” which had saved the muscles and tendons in Tim’s arm.
2 years and 13 surgeries later, the doctors rebuilt Tim’s hand, giving him 85% function. At one point, the surgeon told Tim, “I don’t know who you are praying to, but keep it up because I can’t believe how well this has gone—no infections, no rejection of the transplants, and such healing!” We know it was the Lord God who healed and restored Tim’s hand!
Tim returned to Rwanda between surgeries, to help the Rwandese Christians in any way they needed. After talking to the frightened people who were being driven from their homes due to the fighting, Tim went to Goma, Congo, rented an empty Bible school facility and began filling it with blankets, food, water, medicine, and supplies. In July, when the mass exodus of 800,000 dispersed people fled into Goma, Tim was able to help get hundreds of innocent people to safety.
Walking through an area that had been heavily hit with bullets and mortars, among the piles of dead civilians, Tim found a small toddler who was still alive. He’d been protected by the bodies of his family. Tim took the little boy back to his room at a guesthouse. Tim cared for the little boy, whom he’d nicknamed Moses. After a few months, another missionary couple decided to start an orphanage, to care for the many abandoned children, so they took over caring for little Moses. Tim returned to his own family 3 months later, but the devastation, suffering and mass civilian deaths left him traumatized and shaken for a long time.
In 1995 the Okken family moved to Mombasa, Kenya in East Africa to minister as church-planters among the Duruma people of the South Coastal area. Tim started working with the small number of Duruma pastors, encouraging them to work together in prayer, asking God to show them how they can impact their people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He helped them to start Bible studies, encouraged small group evangelism, organized pastors conferences and training, and traveled to the small rural churches and preaching points to show the Jesus Film in the Duruma language. This was done by stretching a white sheet between two trees and Tim setting the projector on the top of his vehicle. This enabled people on both sides of the sheet to watch the movie. There was always singing before the movie and a pastor gave an evangelistic talk afterwards. Tim was excited as the Gospel began to take root among the Duruma people. The Pastors Association grew in number and in capability, becoming confident in using their God-given spiritual gifts. Tim always said that his time with the pastors were his favorite hours. He felt proud to work alongside such faithful men of God.
When John graduated and was ready to follow Tina to the States for college, Tim and Jan decided it was best to go help their children adjust to the strange new culture of the United States. They returned to Arizona in 2002, but Tim returned to Mombasa for 3 to 4 months every year through 2019. During these months, he supervised new rural church construction, helped with water projects in the villages, poured cement floors, reroofed churches, delivered wheel chairs made from bicycles, organized pastors’ conferences and did numerous odd jobs for his missionary colleagues,….. whatever was needed.
In Arizona, Tim and Jan opened retail stores in Old Town Scottsdale: Africa By Design (selling handmade items from Africa), Gallery On The Avenue (art, ceramics and photographic art from Southwest artists) and finally The Sassy Lizard (Arizona souvenir items). Tim really enjoyed the interaction and conversations with customers, with his store manager Karla, as well as with the neighboring store owners. He liked to help people out where ever he could. They closed their last store in May, 2019, but Tim made many trips back over to 1st Avenue – “just to see how the guys are doing…”
Tim enjoyed fellowship and ministering at Trinity Church. He served on the World Outreach Team and helped missionaries get needed parts and supplies. In March of 2020, Tim started making a 34 mile round trip every Friday out to House of Refuge, where his son Joshua was working at food distribution to needy families. Tim loaded his truck with 60 boxes and brought them to Trinity for distribution to needy families in east Mesa. This continued for 9 months, until November when Tim got sick with Covid.
After completely renovating homes and helping to sell them for 2 extended family members, Tim’s interest in buying and flipping houses grew. Working with Tina as their realtor, Tim and Jan bought, gutted, renovated and sold several houses. During the last year, Tim helped with the renovation of 3 houses for family members as well as his last gift of love to Jan, the remodel of the bedrooms and bathrooms in their own home.
Tim dearly loved his family, each and every one. God gave special blessings as Tim was able to spend happy days with each of his siblings that summer, talking one-on-one, asking them how they were doing and asking how he could help them. Tim commented many times that this time together was especially wonderful.
The Okken-Smiddy family love being together and they love to laugh. Tim was able to have special, meaningful times with each one of his children this year, showing how much he loved them. Tim took special delight in his grandson, Caleb. Caleb’s name for his grandpa—“Pop”--came from their making popcorn together. Tim enjoyed spending time with Caleb—from reading stories to running cars on a track to splashing in the pool. He was especially pleased with Caleb’s tender heart toward Jesus and his love of worship music.
Tim is enjoying Heaven and the Presence of our Lord with his father, mother and niece, Roxy.
A story that our mother, Nellie enjoyed telling Jan about little Tim: Nellie was a nurse and ran a rural dispensary and maternity facility that Paul had built. One day 5 year old Tim walked in and sat near her desk where she was working.
“Hi Timmie. What have you been doing today?” she asked.
”I’ve been huntin’ birds with my slingshot.”
Distracted, she casually asked, “Oh, did you get anything?”
“Yes,” he said in his typically stoic manner, “I killed two birds. But they weren’t enough for our dinner so I gave them to my friend.”
Nellie knew that Tim’s hunting tool was a crude slingshot made from a forked branch and bound strips of inner-tube rubber, made by one of the village neighbors. The idea that this little boy actually hit a bird was quite ridiculous, let alone hitting and killing two! “Now Timmie, we have talked about how God views lying. The Lord wants you to always tell the truth and not exaggerate.
The little boy nodded seriously, and she sent him out to play.
The next day, a similar conversation occurred, but this time the little boy claimed to have killed 3 birds. Again, Nellie stressed the importance of telling the truth versus imaginative play.
A few days later Nellie was in the dispensary, putting fresh sheets on a bed. Tim walked up to his mom and stood watching her. Nellie started the now familiar conversation.
 “Hi Timmie. What have you been doing today?” she asked.
”I’ve been huntin’ birds with my slingshot.”
A little wary, she asked, “Oh, did you get anything?”
“Yup, ‘bout 10 this time.”
In full motherly discipline mode and feeling like she needed to nip this story-telling habit in the bud, Nellie said, “Tim John, do you remember what I said about Lying?!”
“Yes, Mommie, I remember.” Then he started reaching into the many pockets of his overalls and began pulling out little dead birds and laying them out on top of the clean sheet on the bed. 1, 2, 3, 4…10 birds were carefully laid out in front of his mom.
 Then he looked up and very earnestly asked, “Is that enough for dinner?”
Years later, as she was telling Jan this story, Nellie was laughing hard at the memory. Then she took Jan’s hand and said, “Jan, I learned then that Tim always says what he means and means what he says.” --And she was right.
Covid-19 did not take Tim. It made him sick and put him in the hospital, yes. But Tim went ahead of us to Heaven only when our Savior decided Tim’s time of helping people here on earth was done, took him by the hand and said “Karibu! Come on Home, my good and faithful servant.”