February 24, 2014 by
Categories: Articles | Testimonies
Shirley Kamenar is part of Sovereign Grace Church Toronto, Ontario. Just like every conversion story, Shirley's story highlights the mercy of God in seeking saving her when she was hopeless. Be encouraged as you hear from Shirley about what the Savior has done in her life.
My story is one that points to the Shepherd who eagerly pursues even one lost sheep. Prior to my salvation, God was at work to lead and direct me to himself. Growing up in a family that had some religious background (Presbyterian and Catholic) but were not churchgoers, God began my salvation journey by bringing people and circumstances into my life to make me aware of the things of God.
My grandmother spoke to me of God's love and demonstrated faith in Jesus even through a lifetime of hardship. At an invitation from the Presbyterian church where my parents were married and had me christened, my parents happily sent me to Sunday School. At age ten, I remember learning about the gospel and having several opportunities to give my life to Jesus. I felt drawn to follow Christ but chose to wait, despite a growing awareness of God through my preteen years.
After holding back from following Christ, I spent the next ten years living a worldly life, sinning without remorse and never thinking about God. However, fun times, good friends, and loving parents were still not enough to fill the emptiness I felt. By the time I was 18, my fruitless search for happiness and a broken relationship had taken a toll when I attempted suicide. No one could have guessed how hopeless I felt. My parents were crushed and confused by my desperation, and they tried so hard to help me.
Where human help could not reach, however, God was at work. When I left home for university, I moved into a nurses’ residence, unaware that it was in the heart of Toronto's homosexual community. In that environment, God began to open my eyes to sin—my own and the sin around me. My observations and growing discontent with relationships and material things led me to question the purpose of life. I felt lost in the world without knowing why, and I craved the happiness in life that so many others seemed to enjoy.
After finishing college, God graciously intervened by pursuing me once again. I was invited to share a house with three Christian girls from the residence. They were different from any girls I knew. Besides their genuine care for others and their sweet dispositions, it was mostly the assurance they had of God's love and acceptance that convinced me that they had what I was missing. They gave me a Bible, invited me to church, and within a few short months, I eagerly put my trust in Christ.
How different everything has been since then! My search for happiness and contentment in the things of this world is now satisfied by a loving relationship with Jesus Christ. My desire for acceptance has been met with the promise that I am a child of God as it says in John 1:12. Insecurity and anxiety were replaced with the surety that I am in the “shelter of the Most High and in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). I was delivered from my self-destructive ways and was made new (Colossians 1:13–14).
I am ashamed of my sinful past, but it serves as a helpful reminder of where I've come from and of the power of the cleansing blood of Jesus. To this day (thirty years this month), God is my helper. He graciously continues to show me areas of sin in my life and enables me to change. My weakness is often still to fret and worry and even assume the worst, but the many promises of God remind me that he is sovereign and has taken care of the most important thing.
I am thankful for the many kindnesses of God, which include my husband Steve, our seven children, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, two grandsons, and our church. God has provided much help and direction through our pastor, Tim Kerr, and his wife Joanne, who have faithfully and tenderly cared for our souls over the years. Their constant example of extending grace has led me to a deeper understanding of the message of the gospel. God has “given me a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet [do] not slip” (Psalm 38:6), but I do long for the day when I will finally see my Saviour face to face.
February 4, 2014 by
Categories: Articles | Testimonies
We love sharing stories from folks in Sovereign Grace churches who have been saved by the power of the gospel. Tyler Petresky is part of Metro Life Church in Casselberry, Florida. Hear from Tyler about God's grace in saving him:
I am a student of 18 years from Milton, Florida. I grew up there my entire life and was raised attending a Baptist church in the area. Every Sunday, my parents would wake up my sister and I, and we would have breakfast together and ride to church to attend the service for that week. After years of this repetition, I was eventually “saved” at the age of six and baptized.
The years following were fairly normal as I attended elementary school. Near the end of elementary school, my mother told my sister and I that she wanted to get a divorce from my father. I didn’t fully realize what that meant, but it ended up happening. After four years and a lot of confusion and subterfuge, my parents finally finished their divorce and my sister and I got trapped in the endless cycle of parental custody. Stay with mom and go see dad every Wednesday for four hours and then every other weekend. It was around this time that my mom got remarried to my now-stepdad and we gained two new step-siblings.
When high school rolled around, the world started to get to me. During my freshman year in high school, I was exposed to a collection of experiences that began to influence me and the way that I acted. All of my new friends expressed every emotion, positive and negative, with curses and swears. I saw girls walking around pregnant and heard guys bragging about the sex that they had the night before. I ran into people who talked about the parties they attended and how wasted they got prior to passing out from inebriation. All in all, this year was a total culture shock that led into the rest of high school.
I became the people I observed. The fallen world took me down with it and had me in a headlock. It was extraordinarily fun for me to curse. It was extremely enjoyable to make inappropriate jokes and laugh at the pain of others. It was perfectly justifiable to use other peoples’ flaws to cover up my own. I judged the lame and less fortunate with a harshness that would curl the lips of a self-righteous miser. Later, in my junior year, I had my eyes on a girl and soon became sexually immoral. Only by the grace of God did I not lose my virginity. I had a ton of fun during these years, but I now regret to say that I did it all as a proclaimed Christian.
After I graduated from high school, I received a scholarship to attend the University of Central Florida. God had a new plan for my life, and I had no idea what train I was about to board. A local pastor and very good friend of mine suggested that I attend Metro Life Church when I went to Orlando for college. I decided to take his advice and attend because I knew that my life wasn’t exactly the best in the world. I just didn’t have many convictions and didn’t realize how bad off I actually was.
About halfway through the drive down to Orlando, I received a call from a number that I didn’t recognize. When I answered it, I was greeted by Pastor Aron Osborne from Metro Life Church. He personally invited me to attend the church the next Sunday, and I graciously accepted.
After arriving at my apartment and waiting for Sunday to come around, I drove 20 minutes to this church building in Casselberry, Florida to attend a service. I entered the building and was greeted by so many people, including the pastor, and people made an effort to introduce themselves to me because they hadn’t seen me before. It was the most friendly environment I had ever experienced. During the service, one of the other pastors, Aaron Law, introduced me to a guy in the crowd that I could sit with. I got to know this boy and the people sitting with him, and they invited me to the luncheon that the church was holding after the service. It was a luncheon for young adults and young couples, and I decided that I’d go.
After the phenomenal service, I made my way to the room where the luncheon was being held and found that my new friends’ table was completely full. I was pretty bummed, so I quietly walked by and found a seat at an empty table. I can say to this day that I am so very thankful that God filled up that table, or else I might very well still be lost.
A few minutes passed before my table began to fill up. When it did, I made some new friends rather quickly, but a specific girl came in, sat two seats down from me, and introduced herself as Alana. After making casual table conversation, a rather tall guy walked up to the table and sat in between Alana and me. He was Alana’s fiancé, and he introduced himself as Benjamin. He was very energetic and recognized me immediately, not as an old friend, but as a new face. To my surprise, Ben asked me if I knew anyone and if I would like to get together sometime for some coffee. This was a new experience for me, but his energetic, friendly approach and his outright intentionality had me put my number in his phone.
Approximately ten days later, I was losing hope that he would ever text me, but he finally did, and I excitedly set aside a day to meet at a local Starbucks at 6pm. After sitting down with Ben with a Venti Java Chip Frappuccino, we talked about where I had come from, why I chose the university I was at, etc. He was extremely intentional, and somehow he slipped the gospel into our meeting and shared it with me, and I knew right then and there that something was off in my life. For the next few weeks, we got together two to three times a week, and he mentored me on things about the Bible, Christ, and Christian living. After all this time, I had someone to show me what it was like to live for God. Those first few weeks of college were life-changing.
At about this time, Metro Life Church was putting on a worship night for young adults to come and just worship for three hours. I excitedly attended that and had the time of my life. We worshipped and worshipped for hours and near the end, the staff played a sermon jam of one of Matt Chandler’s sermons. This short five-minute clip of godly truth pushed me over the edge that night. The presence of God was in that chapel that night, and I broke down in tears with grief for the life that I lived and ultimate conviction of the atrocity of my sins. However, more than that, I cried with tears of joy that God would save me. That was the night that I truly gave my life to the Lord, for better or for worse.
God engineered my life through his divine plan and saved me from an eternity of death, and provided me with the free gift of righteousness. I am worth nothing in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of Jesus, I am worth everything, and that is what he gave to save me from death. He worked and spoke to me through the people in my life and the events that unfolded to adopt me into his righteous family, so that I now call him Abba. “To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:20).
I may be nothing special, but praise the Lord I’ve been made special for nothing.
December 19, 2013 by
Categories: Articles | Testimonies
From time to time we like to highlight God's wonderful work taking place in one of our local churches. What follows is the wonderful salvation story of Martia Hayes. Martia Hayes is a member of Grace Community Church in Ashburn, VA and appreciates cultural diversity, being hospitable, and is best known for her motto: "As long as your heart beats...dance to the Glory of God."
I grew up with a vague understanding of God. My grandmother often discussed the Lord when I was around her and always listened to Christian music. However, I thought she had to these things because she was…well…old. The most my family spoke of the Lord was during meals when we individually recited “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food. Bow our heads, we all give thanks; Give us, Lord, our daily bread. Amen.” From this prayer, the only thing I knew about God was that He was great and good. God, to me, was simply a “something” out there in the universe that existed. I attended church infrequently because I was taught, “Tia, church is in your heart. It’s not a building.” I was also taught that I had an individual relationship with God, and that it didn’t matter if I attend church.
As a result, I just focused on being a “good person.” On the outside, I appeared happy. I was going to school, studying, making good grades, and working. I prided myself on being independent, strong, and overcoming many of the challenges faced with growing up in Washington, DC and Prince George County, MD. God became a compliment to my accomplishments. However, on the inside, I was deeply troubled.
Since my early twenties, I lived with this emptiness that eventually led to me having suicidal thoughts. I was doing everything right, yet I was left broken, lonely, and rejected. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy with myself. I was accomplished. I was focused and driven. I avoided drugs and crime. I didn’t get pregnant. Yet, I continued to feel this intense emptiness. In fact, in 2007, I wrote these words in my journal “I am 24 years old and I don’t know who I really am or what I’m supposed to be. I’m doing all in life that I’m supposed to do: school, independence, etc. But yet I still find emptiness.”
I looked to various things to fill that emptiness. I began to adopt a life that consisted of partying, drinking, and sexual impurity. My image often conformed to what was trending in the world and yet, I was never satisfied. By age 28 I was dying spiritually and physically, after my last rejection from a guy I was dating, and being fed up with unanswered questions that were torturing me for years. At the beginning of January 2012 I was researching ways to die.
I noticed my suicidal thoughts over the years increasingly grew to the point where this time felt different. This time, I took things too far. I walked in my bathroom and opened my medicine cabinet to see what pills I had. Disappointed by the selection, I went on the internet and put these words in the search engine: “best methods to commit suicide.” Till this day, I cannot recall what that search brought up. I can only recall having an interruption of sanity. I decided to call the police and explain to them that I was alone and scared, and I had no family to reach out to, and I didn’t know what to do. I asked for help because I felt tempted to kill myself. The dispatcher that took my call sat in silence for a minute before he said in a nonchalant tone, “What do you want us to do?”
I informed him that I wasn’t sure, but I just felt scared, and maybe the department could direct me to someone. The officer again repeated, with the same tone, “So, what do you want us to do?” Immediately I started to feel foolish and rejected. I remember apologizing extensively for wasting their time with this nonsense and hung the phone up. I instinctively got up to follow through with suicide.
Before anything happened, I recall feeling my phone vibrate. I was smiling because I saw a little ambulance with sirens running across my screen. I even chuckled a little because I didn’t know what was happening. I finally realized that it was someone calling me. When I answered the phone it was the dispatcher that I had hung up on.
His voice was shivering, and I heard nervousness as he apologized to me and begged me to stay on the phone with him. In less than five minutes, I heard police officers knocking down my door. They began searching my place and found the pills that I had pulled out of my medicine cabinet. They immediately called the ambulance to take me to the hospital. Once at the hospital, when I tried to leave, the doctors informed me that for my safety, if I left I would be arrested. From the hospital, I was committed to a psychiatric hospital. I was strapped to a stretcher and had tubes running from my body.
While riding to the psychiatric hospital in the ambulance, I experienced a moment of shame. I realized, no matter how much of a good person I was, it didn’t matter in that moment. All my accomplishments, independence, drive, money etc., couldn’t help me in that moment of shame. I was emotionally and physically numb. I lifted my eyes, and without any doing of my own strength, I found myself saying to God, “I can’t do this anymore. Please help me. My ways are killing me.”
For the first time, God became my refuge. He was no longer a compliment to my accomplishments. In that moment, I let go of everything to finally embrace Him. I can’t really explain in words what happened after I embraced the Lord, but I had this “feeling” to fight and live. Although I wasn’t sure how to live life, I was certain I did not want to die. For weeks, I constantly asked for help and protection. Night after night, when the sun set, I cried and asked for protection. I looked up, not sure if He was listening, but I sought Him daily.
On February 3, 2012, after weeks of seeking His help, I was suddenly overcome with sorrow as my own strength was failing. I started to struggle again with thoughts of suicide to help ease my pain. That night, I wrote the following words in my journal “God, I am scared!! It’s Friday and I am alone. Please give me strength. Protect me. I am so scared.” The following day, I woke up. I don’t even remember falling asleep. I was overcome with joy because I rested and I survived that night.
I wanted to know more about God and ways to seek Him, so I bought a Bible and researched local churches in my area. Grace Community Church popped up immediately on my search engine. I spent at least four hours on the website, viewing pictures, reading about the pastors, and the Gospel. However, what particularly stood out to me was the section on “care groups.” While reading about the different care groups, I came across the single’s group and I read “singleness is a gift.” Care groups were described as an opportunity for members to care for each other while sharing God’s word. This particularly stood out to me because although I was beginning to rely on God, I felt I needed people to help me stay connected to Him. As I was reading about the different care groups, I begin to understand seasons of life. I never viewed my season of singleness as a gift. I always viewed singleness as the result of not being desirable or good enough. I was baffled by the idea that I was given a gift that will allow me to serve God without distractions.
From that point, I wanted to know more. The next day, on February 5, 2012 I went to Grace Community Church. I wore red pants, my hair was barely done, no makeup, and I was scared. These may be minor details for most people, but that Sunday morning, I wanted to simply go to Church. I grew up where great emphasis was placed on your “Sunday’s Best” attire. I didn’t want to focus on my looks and didn’t care how I appealed to others. To some degree, I was hoping my appearance would keep people from approaching me. I was scared because I was a black girl in a predominately white church. I wasn’t sure how I would be treated.
I remember sitting in the back near the door, feeling ugly and not wanting to talk to anyone. A handful of the members greeted me and made sure I was not alone that day. Although I wanted to resist, Catherine, a member of the church, gathered my belongings and guided me to sit with her and her husband JB. I was then invited to lunch, and later to a Super Bowl party. For the first time, I felt fulfilled. What fulfilled me was seeing love as explained in 1Corinthians 13. What fulfilled me was hearing folks constantly talk about their love for God and sharing His word so casually in conversations.
I was so happy that day that I cried and prayed to God that I would have more days like my first day at church. I even called my mother, crying as I explained to her that there was “something” among these group of people and I wanted it.
I started attending Catherine and JB’s care group. On my first visit, I shared with JB and Catherine that something was happening to me and that it felt good. I was starting to connect to the Bible and I felt full of hope and peace. JB asked me if I knew what the gospel was. I was ashamed by my answer of, “No”, but JB explained to me that it meant Good News. There was a problem in this world that separated us from God. In order to save us, God sent Jesus to bear all our sins. He died for sinners on the cross to save us, and now we are forgiven and have new life. I cried and cried as he was sharing that Christ suffered to give me hope and eternal life. Before I left, JB encouraged me to learn about Jesus by reading the first four books in the New Testament.
Every day I read, cried, and prayed for forgiveness. I couldn’t stop reading this story about Jesus and what He had endured to bring people to God. Finally, I knew who God was. God began to move with love within me. I was being transformed to His image through the reading of His word. The Lord started occupying first place in my heart the more I was learning about Him. The intense emptiness I was experiencing was going away with each day I was following Christ and reading the word of God. God was filling me with His love and faithfulness. He was filling the holes in my heart, cleansing me, and making me more like Him. I was starting to understand that people and things can never satisfy me. I started to understand that my accomplishments in this world meant nothing to God. After reading about David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 16:7, God taught me that what’s most important to God is the heart.
I was hungry and thirsty for righteousness. I wanted to be taught His design for everything my heart desired. I started learning God’s design for womanhood, manhood, marriage, the church, children, money, sex etc. I was baptized on August 5, 2012. Later, on December 9, 2012 I became a member of Grace Community Church. I am now 30 years old, living life for Christ. The intense emptiness that I was feeling is now occupied by His mercy, grace, and Word. I live for His glory. God is no longer this “something” that exists in the universe. God is something that exists and lives in me. I no longer view church as something in my heart. I am now the church, which represents belonging to the body of Christ, living to spread the Good News to others.
December 14, 2012 by
Categories: Church planting | Testimonies
What God promises, he provides!
It is God’s promise to call out a people for himself through the planting of local churches, and what God promises, God provides!
Dreams and goals
For several years, the pastors of Grace Bible Church in Northeast Philadelphia have been dreaming and praying about planting more churches in Philadelphia. At Grace it has been our hope to plant churches which stand in strong relationship to one another with our eyes fixed on a common mission: to plant churches across the Philadelphia area, and beyond, for the glory of God.
Strategizing locally and extra-locally
It has been a joy to plan and strategize on a local level, but also, it has been extremely beneficial to receive counsel and care on an extra-local level from the Church Planting Group. Mark Prater has led with exceptional wisdom and care while individuals such as Kenny Lynch, Eric Simmons, and C.B. Eder have, on several occasions, given of their time to invest in me and other aspiring planters.
They have helped me understand the unique challenges of transitioning a core group from an existing church to begin a new church. They have helped me understand the necessity of keeping the plant simple. They willingly bared their souls and have helped me understand the unique temptations that can accompany church planting. And they have helped me understand that church plants can find ways to sacrifice for the good of other church plants. What a joy it has been to learn from those who love Jesus and sacrificially invest themselves into others for the health of new local churches.
What do we intend to do?
It is our hope as we plant Grace Bible Church of Wissinoming to embody the same mission that we have learned and lived at Grace Bible Church of Northeast Philadelphia. It is our aim to display the glory of God by celebrating, proclaiming, and living the gospel as a community of believers by the power of the Spirit.
We hope to embrace this mission by embodying it uniquely in a neighborhood context. It is our vision to see our neighborhood and beyond renewed by the Spirit through the gospel for the glory of God. Practically, this means that it is our deep desire to see the addicted set free because they are in Christ, to see the abused at peace because they are with Christ, to see the thieves satisfied because they have received endless riches in Christ, to see marriages reconciled because they have first been reconciled to God, to see those overwhelmed with same sex attraction overwhelmed by the grace of God so that they embrace God’s intentions instead of their own feelings…and the list goes on. Our desire is to see the broken healed!
What has God been doing?
As my family and I returned from the Pastors College to Philadelphia, God has made it clear that the neighborhood of Wissinoming is the place for the planting of his church. He has brought about unique relationships with neighborhood leaders. He has stirred up a rousing interest from believers and unbelievers alike. He has begun calling out a people for himself, including two individuals we have already had the privilege of baptizing. And most recently he has provided us with an 85-year-old building…for ONE dollar! What church plant begins with a building?! God is at work to build his church for his glory in Wissinoming and there is no other explanation to it—what God promises, God provides!
Dan Birkholz is a church planting resident at Grace Bible Church in Northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, preparing to plant a church in Wissinoming in the coming year. He is a 2012 graduate of the Pastors College. Dan is married to Jodi and they have two children, Trinity and Judson.
November 12, 2012 by
Categories: Articles | Testimonies
In the providence of God, full of irony and purpose, I was muted.
At a doctors appointment in late August, my Otolaryngologist (I still cannot pronounce this word) delivered the news: either I remain silent for at least six weeks to rest and heal my vocal cords, or surgery would be required for removing the nodule forming on my right cord. So on Sunday, August 24, I began life without the use of my voice.
My experience of silence came with difficulty. My dear, dear wife Brenda sought to make things as comfortable for me as possible. We communicated the best that we could, and drew closer through the trial. My children did their best to understand that daddy can't talk (my poor two year old couldn't get it as he kept pointing up at me saying, "daddy talk!"). As a pastor at church gatherings it was very strange to enter into a room with people and to be unable to express anything easily. In several “conversations” (more one-sided, for sure), I felt frustrated, knowing that the other person was feeling a bit awkward having to keep talking while I did my best to nod, smile and interact. By the end of each day, after innumerable interactions, I was exhausted.
As a worship leader, songwriter, and musician, the loss of my voice certainly silenced the making of music, which I love so much. Without a voice, there's no melody. Through those four weeks of silence (total of six weeks of no singing), it was quite a challenge to refuse my impulses to make music. As a worshipper, however, I must actually say that things were clarified as a result of silence.
With my silencing came grace. The Lord came to me in the middle of the trial and ministered truth and his presence to my soul. This, like any trial, had the profound, sweetening result of building character and then fostering hope and joy in my communion with God. And where God is, no voice or human abilities are really that necessary as silence and stillness before him are very appropriate. During worship times or prayer, the reality of my weakness and inability never once interrupted the fact that Jesus Christ is within me by his Spirit, and that the Spirit was interceding for me and communing with me where my voice and abilities failed. My silence became sweet, only in that Jesus drew me near. My worship of Christ during my silence became one of mouthing the words that I would love to have sung, but in my weakness the Spirit helped and moved me to rejoice in spite of my condition.
All this to say, with this trial, the Lord Jesus more than matched my challenge with his tender mercy towards me. It wasn't much of a trial compared to what I've seen dear saints suffer through, but the principle remains the same: Christ draws us upward and closer through even the worst that we can face. Because Jesus Christ is as glorious and all-satisfying as he is, he really does sweeten whatever bitter waters that come our way.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Doug Plank is a pastor at Crossway Church located in Millersville, Pennsylvania, where he oversees worship, singles, and young adults. Doug and his wife, Brenda, have four children. You can listen to some of Doug's songs here.
November 1, 2012 by
Categories: Articles | Resources | Testimonies
I’ve noticed something interesting in watching footage of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Decks, boardwalks, and peers up and down the coast have been ripped off in the storm but the pilings remain as they were, untouched by the waves. A sturdy piling, properly prepared, and pressed deep into the sand can last a lifetime. Deck boards will come and go as will rails, wearing in the sun, salt, and surf. Even support joists are ripped off in a storm, but you can rebuild on pilings.
Our lives are meant to stand like those pilings. Fathers and mothers are called to weather the storm. I’ve watched as newscasters are drawn to those folks who, after living through the onslaught, are ready to rebuild. Though their homes were destroyed or flooded to the point of no repair, yet they are standing firm, like the pilings still sticking up out of the ocean.
As pastors, most of us are called to be pilings. The kind of leaders who stand strong behind the scenes, men who remain undaunted by the waves of trial and the winds which in difficult times strip the decking from over us. Pilings are not afraid to see a new deck built once again upon their shoulders. Pilings remain, glad to continue their service.
Sure, now and again a piling is replaced, after decades of faithful use, but no one drives a piling down they expect to fail. As a pastor in Sovereign Grace now in my twenty-fifth year of service, I want to be a strong piling. Sure, were getting a new deck, but you will find me in the same place tomorrow that I was five, ten, and twenty years ago.
After three cancelled flights, three of us pastors and our wives drove from northeastern Pennsylvania south to Charlotte North Carolina to pick up a flight, just to be at this years Pastors Conference. Many more like us rescheduled and took later flights to catch as much of the conference as they could – we had to – we are pilings.
So while we’ve seen, through the past year, the waves carry away much of our decking and rails, as pilings we trust God’s sovereignty and know that he works all things together for our good. Once the decking is rebuilt and the railings back in place, a whole new generation will be served and thank God for the deck beneath their feet. Few of them will realize it is all supported buy those faithful, willing to go unnoticed pilings – the ordinary pastors – those faithfully serving day in and day out which hold it all up. There is a profound joy in serving as one of those supports.
Marty Machowski leads the children's and youth ministries at Covenant Fellowship Church and is the author of The Gospel Story Bible, Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God, and Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family To God. He received a Bachelor of Science in industrial design from the Philadelphia College of Art. Marty resides in West Chester, PA, with his wife, Lois, and their six children.
A year ago, I wouldn't have been able to imagine all that God had in store for our little church plant. We were just trying to get our bearings from our recent move leaving friends and church family in Charlotte, NC to moving to the “Lowcountry” (the eastern part of South Carolina that is flat, swampy, and to me…beautiful.)
In the Spring/Summer of 2011 my family (along with 9 other adults) moved to Summerville, SC to plant Sovereign Grace Church of the Lowcountry. During that first Summer, I was going through training with many “missional” church planters and we talked about really “owning” the “lostness” in our area. I wondered what that looked like. What does that mean for my church plant and what does that look like for me, personally? Jim Hawkins (our other pastor) and I began praying about how we would reach out to the community with the love of Jesus Christ.
In July 2011, I approached Sangaree Middle School’s administration about coming alongside them. We wanted to be in the community and we had heard from many books and other church planters that if you know the schools, you know the community. We were welcomed warmly and we began slowly partnering with Sangaree Middle. We helped the teachers set up their classrooms, we did Family Movie Nights with them, we watched the students during lunch at times so the teachers could have a break, and we simply sought to build relationships. The teachers began loving Sovereign Grace Church and many in our church loved serving in the school.
On Sunday, March 11, 2012 our partnership turned into a kinship. I received a text from one of the teachers at Sangaree Middle telling me that the Security Officer at the school had committed suicide the previous evening. Later that day, I talked to Mrs. Day, the principal at Sangaree Middle and she asked me to come to the school on Monday morning as she was going to inform the staff what had happened. She told the teachers that I would be around the school that day if anyone needed to talk. I talked with many tearful faculty members, but I had one teacher who particularly sought me out. Her name is Cassy, a young single woman in her mid 30’s…and I will never forget my first interaction with her.
“I don’t know much about this Jesus thing,” said Cassy, as I entered her classroom. I had never met Cassy, but she had asked to speak with me. She said, “Can we talk?” I said “Sure.” For the next 45 to 50 minutes Cassy asked me question after question about God, Christianity, and death. She cried a lot. I came to find out that Cassy had been an atheist, but had recently been thinking that there was a God, but she had more questions than answers. As she asked questions about the afterlife, I assumed she was asking because her friend had just committed suicide. I told her that if he had turned from his sin and trusted Jesus as his Savior, Jesus saved him and her friend had a hope for eternal life with Jesus. However, if he had not, I could not give her hope for where he was now. She then looked up at me and through her tears she said, “I have stage IV breast cancer.” I was speechless. Cassy was not just asking about eternal life because of the suicide. She was staring death in the face and trying to figure out where she was going. She has an incurable form of breast cancer. And as a women in her mid-30s her cancer has bluntly forced questions into her mind that many try to avoid.
The next day, I came back to check on Cassy and we had another good discussion and I was able to talk with her more about Jesus substitutionary death and resurrection. My wife, Kristin, invited Cassy to a ladies conference (hosted by local like-minded church) that upcoming weekend and Cassy was willing to go. Our ladies surrounded her with love and the speaker (Ann Voskamp) spoke to Cassy about Jesus. The Lord used this conference to open her eyes and heart to the truth of God’s hand in the midst of hardship.
Over the next few weeks, Cassy would send many emails to Kristin and me. And we would have lots of conversations. Many times she would ask a question and I would think that my Biblical response would push her away. I remember telling Kristin, “Okay, I’m going to point her to what Scripture says, but I don’t think she is going to like it.” I even felt the temptation to make things more palatable for Cassy, but by God’s kindness, I never sought to do that…and Cassy kept coming back with more questions and more intrigue.
Then came April 16, 2012. We invited Cassy over for dinner and enjoyed getting to know her better. She explained her various religious experiences and background, but continued her deep philosophical questions. It was funny watching my four daughters interact with Cassy and seek to ask her questions as well. Cassy would describe a type of meditation that she did and my girls would start asking, “what is that like?” or “Why did you do that?”
Later in the evening, when the children were in bed, I asked Cassy what was keeping her from trusting Jesus as her Savior. She said, “Control, I like being in control of my life.” About ten minutes later, in the middle of more conversing, Cassy announced, “I’m ready!” I said, “What, you’re ready… really?” Kristin’s jaw hit the floor and we made sure that Cassy did not feel any pressure from us to “make a decision.” Cassy said that she wanted Jesus as her Savior. So, she prayed…and I’ll never forget the first words of her prayer: “Jesus, thank you for hounding me.” She understood that Jesus had been pursuing her. We had often talked about how God is the “hound of heaven.”
A few months later, Cassy stood up in front of Sovereign Grace Church of the Lowcountry and shared her testimony. The next day, we baptized Cassy at the beach.
Disciples Making Disciples
Cassy e-mailed me last week telling me that her mom had read her testimony on her blog and wanted to know more about Jesus. Cassy is encouraging her to read the Bible and now Cassy, the former atheist, shares about her Savior, Jesus Christ!
The Story Continues
Our relationship with Sangaree Middle School has continued and our church actually began meeting in their facility on August 5, 2012. We were not anticipating using this school, but their administration warmly welcomed us and now we will continue to partner with them as we seek to be a blessing to the community and our church will seek to be a witness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
As a guy who has never planted a church before, I’ve learned a host of lessons throughout my interactions with Sangaree Middle School and Cassy. First, I learned that the gospel goes forward through friendships. I’ve become good friends with many teachers and administrators at the school. They know that I (and our church) love them and I frequently get email prayer requests from them.
I also learned that it is God’s favor that paves the way for a church plant. Jim and I could not make any of this happen. In fact, we usually just watched doors open up and conversations start that we neither initiated nor anticipated. Jesus says that HE will build his church…and I’ve found that it is one thing to believe this and another to watch it unfold.
On a practical level, I learned that Middle Schools are a great place to reach the community. Many people enjoy serving in Elementary schools with those cute Kindergartners and funny 3rd graders. Many people also like serving in High Schools with their athletic programs and nice facilities. However, not many people like serving in Middle Schools. If you are like me, you didn’t even enjoy your middle school years. Pimples, voice cracking, social awkwardness, school dances…I’m getting nervous just thinking about it. I hated middle school…but this is precisely the reason these teachers and administrators (and parents) could use the support of a loving church who comes alongside them. A church who prays for them, cries with them, and when it is legally allowable…shares the Gospel with them.
Lastly, I learned that our doctrine of sin is linked to our evangelistic friendships. Because of the Fall, people are going to suffer, sin is going to happen, and people are going to need hope. They will go to their friends for counsel and comfort. Over the last year, I’ve learned to have true friends who are nonbelievers. They know I’m a pastor and they know I love Jesus, but they also know that I am there for them and that I am only a phone call (or text) away at any time.
I’d like to conclude by thanking Sovereign Grace Ministries and Crossway Community Church (Charlotte, NC). Our church plant does not exist without your financial and relational support. We are blessed to be a part of Sovereign Grace Ministries and thankful for your investment in us! I know that this story is one of many in Sovereign Grace and I hope it was encouragement about our amazing God who pursues sinners and can use schools, suicides, and cancer to bring about his unstoppable plan.