It was an offer Bud Bylsma could not refuse.
In 1948, Truman was in the White House and Bud played basketball for Seattle’s Simpson Bible
Institute (now California’s Simpson University). Bud started the team, and in its second season the
Knights played the Seattle Pacific College Falcons and lost. Their third year, they again played the
Falcons and won. That’s when the offer was made. “Come be a Falcon,” Bud was told by the Falcons
coach, “and your last two years of college will be tuition-free.”
The deal was struck. Bud spent his junior and senior years at Seattle Pacific and became a member
of the Falcons’ legendary “Big Guns of ’51” basketball team. His ball-handling skills and no-look passes
amazed even his fellow players.
Academically, he was less certain. He switched majors three times — from history to philosophy,
and finally, in his senior year, to physiology. And after graduation? He thought of taking a job overseas;
maybe in medical missions.
But someone else had attended one of
his Falcon basketball games, a local Young
Life staff member. He invited Bud to a
meeting of the Queen Anne High School
Young Life club. Bud saw a hundred kids
crowded into someone’s living room,
drawn there by the desire to socialize and
explore the Christian faith. “I was blown
away,” he says.
Once graduated from SPC, Bud
was invited by that same Young Life
staffer to join him in Pennsylvania at
Young Life Philadelphia. It was the
beginning of a 30-year career with the
youth organization that included regional
directorships in Southern California, the
Great Lakes, and the Northwest.
A second influential person had
attended Simpson when he was a student.
Patti Barber became his wife and partner
in ministry of 63 years and counting. She says she
liked Bud’s ability to take command of a
situation. “His sense of humor could get
him through anything. He saw the big
picture and arranged for the people to get
“Patti was beautiful, charming, and a
sharp thinker,” Bud counters. “She became
an expert’s expert in English as a Second Language and made five trips to China,
and to three other countries as well, to
teach university professors how to teach
After Young Life, Bud told Patti,
“We’ve got 10–20 good years left. Let’s get
an education in the Third World.” World
Concern contacted Bud and asked him
to go to Bangladesh to head up HEED
(Health, Education and Economic
Development), a relief and development
consortium of 10 agencies, with more
than 200 Muslims on staff. Bud replaced
all foreign staff with native Bengalis in
what is thought to be one of the largest
turnovers in the history of Christian missions. Patti started an English school, one
of the most highly regarded in the country,
and has twice been asked to return and start
“A guiding question was always ‘How
can we help the under-class own their own
future?’” says Bud.
By 1989, following a number of other
opportunities for service, they were back in
the States. Bud founded Seattle’s Northwest
Leadership Foundation to encourage,
strengthen, and develop leadership for the
spiritual and social renewal of the city. The
size of the challenge sometimes had him
asking, “What have I gotten myself into?
Where do I start?” So he began by visiting
more than 70 of Seattle’s urban pastors and
ministries to see what was being done and
what needed doing. That led to 15 years of
cooperation with many of them – including
Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, and
Promise Keepers —
forging a variety of
successful hands-on, problem-solving innercity
initiatives. The initiatives included:
tutoring, justice, affordable housing, urban
evangelism, youth ministries, job training,
economic renewal, and the establishment of
minority student scholarships. SPU President
Philip Eaton served on his board.
For seven years, Bud’s NLF
office was on the SPU campus,
where he collaborated in the
early efforts at greater ethnic
diversity among the University’s
students, faculty, and staff.
The Bylsmas have been as
thoughtful and spirited about
their charitable giving. In his
work with nonprofits, Bud raised
millions of dollars for others, but
never himself drew a pension.
The couple lived frugally, their
lives revolving around the work.
“I never took a job where I knew
the compensation going in,”
Bud says. “It was for the fun of
helping others succeed.”
That approach, and the fact
that the Bylsma children have
done well in their own careers
and are financially self-sufficient,
led to another big life question.
How could Bud and Patti invest
in the future of their favorite
charities such as SPU and provide themselves
with a guaranteed income for life?
Bud says one answer is charitable gift
annuities. “We don’t need the tax break, so we
gave the funds to our children who do. They
in turn established charitable gift annuities by
giving the funds as a charitable donation in
our name, received the tax deduction, and the
principle after we’re gone will go to SPU and
the other charities we support.”
A satisfying life deserves a satisfying
finish, secure in the knowledge that their
objectives will be carried on by the institutions and associations that have so fulfilled Bud’s
and Patti’s busy lives.