In world missions, pastor says, 'Don't despise small beginnings'
HERNDON, Va. (BP) -- Pastor James Graham of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church and his wife Gloria were heading home one May Sunday when they heard on the radio the latest news of more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls.
Pulling into the driveway of the couple's home in Herndon, Va., Graham received a call from longtime friend James Dixon Jr., pastor of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Ft. Washington, Md.
"He said, 'Man I think we need to go to Nigeria.' So he said it first. And I said, 'Man, flesh and blood did not reveal that to you.' And so that's how we got to Nigeria," Graham told Baptist Press. "While the Southern Baptist Convention was taking place in Baltimore, he and I were in northern Nigeria."
The two African American pastors have taken joint mission trips for nearly 20 years, teaching their congregations the importance of simultaneously ministering locally and internationally. Joined in Nigeria by Lincoln Brownell Jr., former president of Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary and current leader of Go Ye Ministries in Liberia, they met with 300 Nigerian Christian pastors and prayerwalked Abuja, Chibok and other northern communities.
"It was very encouraging to them," Dixon said. "They galvanized those people just that fast. We didn't have time to make any plans. When the Lord put it on our hearts we left; we got on a plane and left and went there."
Islamic extremists Boko Haram kidnapped the schoolgirls in April and has led subsequent attacks on Christians and moderate Muslims, according to news reports.
"We knew it was risky going over there, but we just felt that we needed to go," Dixon said. "Believe me, their lives in that northern area are in jeopardy, especially Christians over there. But they're determined to stand together and protect themselves, and protect their faith."
Graham, called to pastor Mount Pleasant in 1995, shared about his personal desire to help fulfill the Great Commission.
"I believe that God would have us to reach the uttermost," said Graham, who took a church team to Haiti just two months after he began his pastorate. "And the people here have just embraced that, ever since I've been here."
Throughout the years, Mount Pleasant Baptist has formed many partnerships in missions around the globe. Two of those partners have included the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. In addition to ministry partners in the United States, Nigeria and Haiti, the church has partnerships in Kenya, Benin, Ghana, South Africa and Liberia.
Within Mount Pleasant Baptist's diverse membership of 2,800 are African Americans, Anglo Americans and first-, second- and third-generation immigrants from about 25 countries, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Panama, Antigua, Kyrgyzstan, Guyana, Haiti, France, Chad, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Italy, India, Kenya, Montserrat, Trinidad, Congo, Jamaica, the Ivory Coast and Eritrea, according to the church's website.
"I think our church is what it is primarily because of two things; we serve a great God and we got great people," Graham said. "That's it."
Mount Pleasant makes inroads in countries by forming partnerships with and training indigenous missionaries there. One of the church's longstanding partnerships includes churches in Kenya. What started out 15 years ago as an evangelistic outreach to help build churches has grown to include constructing water wells in west Kenya, feeding Sudanese refugees, supporting orphanages for refugees in Juga, and efforts to serve the Pokot peoples near the Ugandan border. Mount Pleasant takes a missionary team to Kenya once a year, Graham said.
Graham participated in a significant prayer crusade in Kenya during the 2007 Kenyan political crisis. While on vacation, he saw a news report of the turmoil there. Moments later, he received a call from Dixon.
"When I heard the voice of the Lord say you've got to go to Kenya, I remember having this conversation," he said. "… James Dixon calls and says, 'Man, what you up to?' I said, 'Man, I'm down here on the beach … and the Lord just told me [I've] got to go to Kenya.' And he said, 'Well, who [is] going with you?' I said this is not a church thing; the Lord just told me I got to go. He said, 'Well I'm going.'"
Brownell, who had experienced 30 years of Liberia's civil unrest, also called and offered to help in Kenya. Graham contacted ministry partner Moses Wang'ombe, bishop of Great Commission Churches in Kenya.
"I want you to get as many pastors and bishops from as many different tribal groups as you can," Graham recalled telling Wang'ombe. "Set up prayer points in different areas, and we're just going to come … and we're just going to pray.
"That's what we did," he said. "We met with pastors and encouraged them and went out to Nakuru and some other places where a lot of the stuff had taken place, and we prayed. We got an opportunity to go in and pray over the area where they were holding the negotiations."
As the three were preparing to leave Kenya, Graham expressed disappointment that the crisis continued.
"I said, 'Lord, You done sent me here; nothing has happened.' As soon as we said that, a guy came running around saying they signed the peace agreement. It's those types of things that get us into countries to partner. … We develop indigenous partners and develop trust and relationships and from there we do things."
In Liberia, Mount Pleasant has partnered with Brownell's Go Ye Ministries to donate water wells, distribute food, and establish leadership institutes. Mount Pleasant recruited an indigenous church planting couple in Liberia, brought them to Herndon for training, housed them, provided a stipend and insurance, and recommissioned them back to Liberia to plant churches there. The church continues to send the coupl a stipend.
Mount Pleasant partnered with the Baptist General Association of Virginia, other churches and private donors to ship to Liberia about 250,000 slightly used textbooks from Virginia public schools. The books supplied 300 schools, Graham said.
Church members actively participate in missions, with teams of 8-10 people participating in three or four outreaches a year, Graham said.
"We have a lot of people exposed to missions; not as many as I'd like to see, of course. I would like to see far more. I would like to see us be able to post more young couples like we've done with the young couple in Liberia," he said. "But you know we're faced with resource challenges just like every other church, so we try to manage the resources that we do have very tightly, and just follow the lead of God."
Mount Pleasant has funded missions using church and individual resources, incorporating cultural education into outreaches.
"The thing that we've seen work the best is the philosophy of, 'If you get there, then we take care of your needs while you're there.' Of course, that too became very costly. We dropped back from that, but I think that we're probably going to reinstitute that, because it helps us to mobilize people."
For the most part, he said, members pay their own way, but the church will cover all expenses of team leaders. Churches should not let finances deter them, he said.
"I just think to whom much is given, much is required," he said. "As God blesses you, you go ahead and bless others, and don't despise small beginnings. Start. You can start with one person."
Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).