Unconditional Love Brings an Atheist to Christ
Arkansas Baptists are making a difference in one of America’s most unchurched areas through their service and the financial support of the Cooperative Program
Kim Menon was a staunch, outspoken atheist. As a child, her parents brought her to church, but no one could satisfy her with the answers she sought. “I thought believers just weren’t intelligent enough,” Kim says.
Now as a kindergarten teacher in Seattle, Wash., education is a central part of Kim’s life. She takes her job seriously, striving to get involved in her students’ lives and get to know their parents. She believes that’s how students best learn and grow. But Kim had no idea how this path would lead her straight into the arms of Jesus.
Three years ago, Andy Brown moved from Camden, Ark., to Seattle to start planting churches through the Southern Baptist Convention. Andy’s ministry is supported by the Cooperative Program, a unified plan for investing in missions which is funded by the tithes and offerings of Southern Baptists. “Together we are able to hit places like Seattle because it’s so expensive to live there,” says Larry Bailey, missions pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., a sponsor church for Andy’s mission.
Andy’s son was registered for kindergarten at the local school and placed in Kim’s class. The school seemed to be in good shape, but the grounds needed landscaping and care. “A lot of the ministry we do is community service,” Andy says. “A constant presence in the community is the best way to reach people, so we kind of adopted the school.”
In Seattle, it is illegal to talk about religion on school campuses. So when Andy talked to the principal about his desire to help the school with community service, she was hesitant. Andy agreed to work with no mention of his religious beliefs. Everyone knew he was the pastor of The Landing Church, but there would be no pressure from Andy whatsoever while he was on campus. He was there only to serve. Many of the teachers were curious why he would do all that work with nothing in return, so it piqued their interest. “He could answer my questions when asked,” Kim says, “but that was it.”
A Need for Help
“We have a small church, and most of the new believers are still not comfortable being bold with their faith in an area where it is still taboo,” Andy says. “So we have to have a lot of outside help to have a constant presence in the community.” For example, the church does almost all the landscaping for the school. In addition, they also do some painting, and cater seven or eight times a year for the teachers and other special events.
That’s why missions trips from sponsor churches like Central Baptist in Jonesboro are so important. Also essential is the support they receive through local churches giving to missions through the Cooperative Program (CP). The dollars given by the members of Arkansas Southern Baptist churches do more than just keep the electric bill paid, the investment touches lives like Kim’s in Seattle.
Larry Bailey was involved in one of those missions trips as a volunteer in Kim’s class. He asked to make copies, grade papers, help with projects—anything to be of service to her. “She was very suspicious,” Larry says. “She said, ‘I don’t get it. You fly all the way from Arkansas to Seattle to make copies for me. Why?’” He simply explained, “Because we want to love you and show you that God loves you, too.” As they worked, Kim sat in the back of the classroom and watched with tears streaming down her face.
“I had never met anyone who did things like that without wanting something in return,” Kim says. “I thought Christians were predators who didn’t really care about who I was. They just wanted me to say a prayer and then not give a care about me.”
The Power of Persistent Love
For two-and-a-half years the Brown family continued to minister to the school and to Kim, among others. They invited Kim to birthday parties, neighborhood get-togethers, and holiday events. They never hid their faith. Quite the contrary—they continually invited her to church. It even became a joke, with Kim saying it would never happen. But as time went on, they all became very good friends, and Kim fell in love with this family.
At the same time, Kim’s marriage was falling apart, and she wanted to save it. She knew the Browns were pro-marriage, so she came to them for help. Kim felt hurt, unloved, and rejected by her own husband, but the Browns showed her that they would love her no matter what. It made her wonder if there was something to all this talk about Jesus.
“I loved them at this point, and I didn’t want to come to church and get their hopes up and then disappoint them,” Kim says. So she began to learn about God on her own. If she heard them mention a Christian book that they really liked, she would secretly buy the book and read it herself.
Then Kim’s mother became very ill after a series of heart attacks. In spite of her fragile health, she was scheduled for heart surgery. Kim needed a miracle, so she did the only thing left to do: she called Andy and asked him to pray for her mother.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Andy says. But what surprised him even more was what he heard come out of his own mouth: “God will heal your mother.”
Andy panicked. What if God didn’t heal her mother? What if this pushed her even further from God? So he did what he knew he should do—start praying. He called everyone in the church, emailed, and posted on Facebook. He had every believer he knew praying for Kim’s mother. “Prayer and fasting is first and foremost on Andy’s mind,” Larry says. “Like the saints of old—he’s patterned his life after them.”
Everyone waited with expectation as Kim’s mother underwent the surgeon’s knife. But when the doctors opened her up, they could find nothing wrong with her.
Kim was relieved, but also frustrated and angry. She wanted an explanation, but none of the doctors could tell her how her mother could be healed. She called a friend, an atheistic cardiac nurse, and her only response was, “Sometimes we don’t have the knowledge yet.”
Kim called Andy, and when she questioned him, he simply said, “What do you think about it?” Kim searched her heart, and she knew Who healed her mother: God.
A Softened Heart
It wasn’t long until Kim was ready for the “God talk.” She was alone listening to Christian music, and a song came on the radio that spoke to her. “I am not alone,” she says, “Even though my husband leaves me and goes away, God will never leave me.” She called the church, and Andy wasn’t available, so she spoke with a woman there. “I feel something different inside me,” Kim began to explain. At the end of the conversation, the woman led her in a salvation prayer over the phone.
Kim brought 19 of her unsaved friends to her baptism, and she is now the part-time children’s minister at The Landing Church. “My life has changed immeasurably,” Kim says. “I used to omit the words ‘under God’ from the pledge of allegiance. I was for gay rights, and now I have a different definition of marriage—God’s definition. I didn’t even know what a Gospel tract was three years ago, and now I’m handing them out.”
The Browns continue to help Kim grow in her faith, and help her reach others. “Tell the people in Arkansas ‘Thank you’ and that they are changing lives,” Kim says. “There’s a teacher next door to me, and she’s been burned by believers. They need to come volunteer in her class. They can give their time and their prayers.” And they can also give financially.
The Costs of Ministry
“We need a lot more support,” Andy says. What the ministry is currently receiving in support just isn’t enough to cover all of their expenses. “We have to raise a lot of money on our own because the cost of living is 45 to 50 percent higher than it is in other parts of the country.”
With a growing ministry, the costs are also growing. The Pacific Northwestern United States is 96 percent unchurched, and the few churches that do exist make little or no effort to reach people in their communities. In addition to Andy’s church plant and his efforts to reach people through the school, he has also started a homeless ministry called SALT, which supplies food, clothing, and personal health supplies, as well as biblical teaching. Through Andy’s efforts, since March 2014, 48 people have come to Christ.
“Without the CP, Southern Baptist missionaries wouldn’t have the base to operate,” Larry says. “Together we can target strategic areas and accomplish a lot.” Imagine what men of prayer like Andy could do in the mission field if every family in Arkansas began simply to tithe each month to their local church? How much would they give to see more people like Kim find eternal life?
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