Duke Heller is a long-time member of Grace Polaris Church, a Charis Fellowship congregation in Westerville, Ohio (Mike Yoder, lead pastor). He has dedicated much of his life to sharing the Gospel and teaching other believers how to do the same.
He first came to know the Lord as his personal Savior at church under the teaching of Jim Custer, now senior pastor emeritus. In the Spring of 1972, Duke was out for a jog and passed by what was then Grace Brethren Church in Worthington, Ohio. When he saw that the parking lot was packed, he decided they should visit the church to see what it was like.
The first time Duke visited the church he was struck by what then Senior Pastor Jim Custer said. “I remember Pastor Jim saying, ‘if you have a teenage daughter and she were to be killed in an automobile accident, do you know 100 percent for sure where she would go?’ and I couldn’t answer that question.”
Duke had believed he was a Christian his whole life, but he couldn’t remember ever making the decision to follow Christ. “Pastor Jim went on to say, ‘If you can’t answer that for your daughter, there’s a good chance you can’t answer it for yourself’ and I knew he was right,” Duke said.
Duke had never attended a church that offered a salvation invitation like that. Pastor Jim called forward those who wanted to commit their lives to Christ, and Duke responded. He talked with Associate Pastor Frank Gardner who explained Duke needed to repent of his sin and ask Jesus to be the Lord of his life. From that moment on, not only was Duke committed to Christ, but he was committed to telling others about him.
God had begun working in Duke’s life to prepare him for that encounter two months prior. One of his patients asked him if he was a Christian and when he made that decision. Duke responded that he’d been a Christian all his life and told the man all the areas he volunteers his time.
“I didn’t ask what you did,” the man responded, “I asked if you could point to the exact moment you accepted Christ in your life.” The question plagued Duke for several weeks. “That man put me in a box…and I don’t like to be put in a box. I had to find out the answer to what he really was asking me.”
Duke has built an entire ministry on asking people that same question. He has shared the Gospel with thousands, asking them to pinpoint the moment they accepted Christ in their hearts. When asked what advice he would give to others about sharing the Gospel, he said: “You ask everybody – doesn’t make any difference who it is – when somebody says ‘I’m a Christian,’ you ask them, ‘Can you point to the exact time when you accepted Christ?’ and if they can’t, you share the Gospel with them.”
Duke and his wife Wanda left Grace Polaris Church in 2010 to help Grace Fellowship (Keith Minier, lead pastor) start a campus in nearby Upper Arlington. The senior pastor at the time was Dave Bogue and together they ran Finish Line Ministry. Dave and Duke would travel to churches around the country and teach believers how to share Christ with others. After five years of training elders and starting men’s groups, Duke and Wanda returned to Grace Polaris Church.
Duke is a retired dentist who specialized in implant dentistry. He was a pioneer in the industry and was elected as president of the 4,500 member implant group. During his nearly 40-year career, he trained and taught 2,500 dentists, traveling throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.
In the early 90s, Duke recognized the stress dentists were facing with a high rate of suicide, heart attack, and divorce. One of his own dentistry partners committed suicide. Duke started a yearly dentist retreat at Seneca Lake in eastern Ohio as a way to offer support and hope. Duke heard testimonies from three dentists that had planned to commit suicide but changed their mind after finding Jesus at the retreat. Duke has worked with pastors Jim Custer and Rick Nuzum on the retreat and it has opened up to all men, not just dentists.
Duke has a great passion for telling others about Jesus. He has written a book about how to share your faith titled How to Start a Kingdom Conversation, and he has a ministry called May I Share where he offers training and resources to believers. He has a personal goal to share his faith with one person each day, although COVID-19 had made that more challenging than it used to be. Duke loves to strike up conversations with people in parking lots, checkout lines, and park benches. “I like to take every opportunity to share Jesus,” he said.
One way Duke would do this was by taking people out to breakfast or lunch. Not only would he minister to the person he was dining with, but he would always make a point to minister to their server as well. “We are about to bless the food, can we pray for you?” he would say at the beginning of their meal. While paying the bill, he would follow up with the server and ask if they knew the exact moment they accepted Christ, and if the answer was no he would share the Gospel with them.
Some of the benefactors of Duke’s restaurant discipleship are young men enrolled in the residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation program at Refuge Ministries. He enjoys one-on-one connections with the young men and looks for ways to help them succeed in their program and find faith in Christ. He also helps lead a Bible study once a week for 30 men who are currently studying the book of James.
Another ministry Duke is actively involved in is Letters from Dad. The ministry is based on the book by Greg Vaughn and teaches men the importance of writing letters of blessing to their wives, children, and grandchildren. Duke has presented this concept at more than 30 churches. He writes letters to his kids and grandkids each year telling them how much he appreciates them.
“God’s got me so busy,” he said. Duke still attends Grace Polaris Church, where he served as an elder for more than 30 years, but his wife of 60 years passed away two years ago. He is thankful he is able to pour his free time into ministering to others.
Send Duke an encouraging note here.