- January 31, 2023
Moody Bible Institute professor Bob Gustafson (second from left) visited Steve and Lois Dresselhaus (right) and observed their ministry in Baja California in September 2022 in preparation for taking a group of Moody students to Baja for a mission trip over spring break in March of 2023.
By Nancy Huffine
“My name is Esteban. I'm a Cuban Communist. And I don't believe in God.”
Most of us don’t have many business-day conversations which begin on that note. But for Steve and Lois Dresselhaus, it’s not at all unusual.
The couple grew up on the mission field—Lois in Japan and Steve in Venezuela. Steve’s interest in studying at Moody Bible Institute began in 1975 when his father organized the Moody concert band’s tour of Venezuela. In fact, an empty seat on the tour bus led to Steve’s brief stint as an “honorary band member.”
“In one of the concerts,” he recalls, “they had a song called ‘The Walls of Jericho,’ and towards the end of the song, the walls of Jericho come crashing down. Everybody was making noise on their instruments, and I got to bang on the timpani!”
On campus during the 1976–77 school year, Steve’s favorite classes included Old Testament Synthesis. Ironically it was taught by Al Classen, a pastor who would later lead the church that would sponsor Lois and Steve’s first years on the mission field.
A match made in marriage and ministry
Steve and Lois have been connected to TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) since they were children. “We are both TEAM MKs (missionary kids),” Steve says.
“We actually met at the TEAM home office in Carol Stream (Illinois),” Lois recalls. “I had been working there after college. His dad was asked to return to the home office to work in an administrative role. So I met the family, and then one day his sisters brought their brother by who was on vacation and introduced him to me. And after that,” Lois says with a laugh, “it was all downhill from there!”
Steve and Lois started dating in January of 1983 and were soon engaged. But Steve wanted to fulfill a commitment he had made to serve as a missionary in Baja, Mexico. After nearly a year in Baja, Steve returned to the US, and the two were married.
The Dresselhauses traveled to Venezuela to serve with TEAM during their first year of marriage. When they finished their first term in Venezuela, they were asked to consider taking over as field leaders in Baja.
“We moved to Baja in 1992 and served in La Paz, Baja, for 17 years,” Steve continues, “and then TEAM asked me to be one of its senior directors. We moved to Wheaton (Illinois), and for the next seven years I served as the senior director for TEAM´s work in the Americas—from Canada to Chile—and also as senior director for countries in southern Africa. One of my roles as senior director was to create TEAM´s creation care ministry outreach.”
Birth of Reconciliamar
This new role aligned closely with Steve and Lois’ passion for the gospel and the ocean. “Ocean-related ministry has always been part of our work, even in Venezuela where I would scuba dive with friends and would use those times to talk about Jesus,” Steve says.
In 2017 when Steve and Lois returned to Baja, they bundled their love of the sea and of creation together with their passion for sharing the gospel. The result was Reconciliamar.
“Reconciliamar is a made-up word,” Steve says. “It’s a play on three Spanish words: reconciliation, love, and ocean: reconciliación, amar, and mar.”
Located on the Baja Peninsula in LaPaz, Mexico, Steve and Lois use kayaking and diving adventures at sea to transform lives. “My main ministry in life is reconciliation,” Steve explains. “That's what I do, what lights my fire.”
Thanks to the generosity of donors and their connection with TEAM, Steve and Lois offer their kayaking trips at no charge, but they intentionally limit their clientele to area residents as well as LaPaz business travelers and educators.
“We don't want to take business away from local outfitters,” Lois explains, “of which there are a number. Really the goal is to help local people appreciate what they have so that they want to protect it.”
To date, the oldest Reconciliamar kayak adventurer was 80 years old, and the youngest was just seven months—a baby who sat safely on the lap of his mother while Steve walked the kayak along the shoreline in shallow water.
Sharing the beauty of creation
While the sea and scenery are beautiful and inspiring, kayaking on the Sea of Cortez isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
“We partially gear up. We put on the tank and the buoyancy compensator, which is the thing that looks like a vest,” Lois says. “We use open kayaks so we can put the equipment in the back. We kayak out to where we want to scuba dive, drop an anchor, and finish putting the gear on. We jump in, scuba dive, clamber back onto the kayak, pull the gear off, paddle back to shore, take everything back to the truck, and get home exhausted!”
Since Steve and Lois’ kayak excursions are free of charge, they’re able to share the beauty of creation with residents whose lives are in desperate need of beauty, including residents of a local shelter for abused children.
“We took those kids out and spent a day with them and some of the shelter’s staff in a shallow beach area. The kids loved it,” Steve recalls. “They’d come out of some horrible backgrounds. And it was interesting because they had no way to get there, so the police brought them. We had pictures of all the kids climbing in and out of the police trucks.”
Reconciliamar reaches into schools, too, and is even hosting a spring break mission trip in March organized by Communications Professor Robert Gustafson and comprised of students from Moody Bible Institute.
“We do get invited into two high schools and a couple of Christian and private schools,” Steve says. “We teach environmentalism but from a spiritual standpoint. When we're in public schools we can't preach, and we can't talk about Jesus. But I am allowed to say that all the problems that we're facing in the environment aren't the government's fault. They're our fault because of laziness or greed or whatever. I want people to understand that the environmental problems we face are based on human sin.”
Lois adds, “This is often something that Steve talks about, like in a school setting where he can't really be upfront with the gospel. He says that there are already good laws in place for the environment, but they're not being followed. It’s being taught in the schools—take care of the environment, don't litter—all of these things. But it's not really having an effect. What's missing is the spiritual component. And that's what Steve was just saying, you know, it's the heart.”
Patio church and natural evangelism
Along with their passion for kayaking, scuba diving, and creation care, Steve and Lois also host a church in the front yard of their home.
“We have a patio, really, and not a yard,” Lois says. “We don't have grass, so we call the church ‘The Patio.’ We had 60-plus people there with us (for Christmas service). I counted 44 of them that had been to sea with us.”
Steve adds, “And then the Thursday night group is a Bible study group, and many of the people in that group we also met at sea.”
Both Steve and Lois are committed to letting their at-sea conversations happen naturally. “We never pre-plan the conversation,” Steve says. “We don't want to have an ulterior motive. I think we Christians often confuse evangelism with winning the debate. We take classes to teach us how to argue, and I don't see Jesus doing that. And so Reconciliamar just allows us to spend time with people.”
Yes,” he continues, “we want people to come to Christ, but we don't want to trap them into it. It’s an honest conversation. We do take advantage of (spiritual conversations) when the moments come.” But, Steve adds, “Christ will do the part that we can’t.”
Sharing their faith with atheists
It isn’t unusual for visiting faculty and professors from the university in LaPaz to hear about Reconciliamar and call to book an excursion.
“Very often, the people we dive with are well educated,” Steve says. “They tend to be biologists, scientists. Most are probably atheists. If you'd ask them directly if they believed in God, they’d say, ‘No.’ But they're fascinated to find Christians that care about the environment as much as they do.”
Steve remembers a particular excursion with one participant. “(As we paddled out) I introduced myself and said, ‘My name is Steve. I’m from the United States. And I’m the pastor of a Christian church.’ He replied and said, ‘My name is Esteban. I’m a Cuban communist. And I don’t believe in God.’”
“Esteban had been part of Doctors Without Borders in Rwanda during the genocide. And he asked me, ‘How can you believe in a God that will permit the genocide of Rwanda?’ He was just aghast at the evil that he saw.”
Steve talked with Esteban about the power of choices and that God allows people to choose Him and pursue righteousness or to reject Him and choose evil.
“To me,” Steve continued, “that (power of choice) is evidence of God's love.’ Then Esteban paddled off. Later he paddled back and said, ‘We usually choose wrong, don’t we?’”
For Steve and Lois, their love for Christ gives them a unique advantage in their dedication to creation care and concern for the environment: hope.
“Most of the scientists I dive with or hang out with . . . (caring for creation) is a lost cause,” Steve says. “Everything's negative. But when Christ talks about the reconciliation of all things in Colossians, He's talking about the world He created.
“So, yes. We're concerned about the environment. We do beach cleanups, we do reef cleanups—all these things alongside our friends. But we believe that someday Christ is going to come back, and He’s going to fix everything back to what it used to be. Reconciliation!”
Leaving a legacy
When Steve thinks about the reasons he and Lois started Reconciliamar, two things come to mind. “One was to make sure we were doing everything legally (as an organization) so that we could be totally public about what we were doing.”
“The other reason is more of a philosophical one,” he continues. “Someday I will be old and gray and probably retired. I don´t want to be remembered as a missionary or a pastor, although that is not bad. I want the local people to remember me as the diver-kayaker who started Reconciliamar and who was always talking about Jesus, helping people, and being active in churches. I want my life to be replicable by anyone.”