When does a story really begin?
In so many ways, this story begins in 1988. That may sound really strange to you, but consider this sequence of events...
- In 1988, Barry and Sonia Burnett came to Yuma to pastor a mission church that our church sponsored. They told us when they came that their heart was in international missions. After a few years in Yuma, they departed to serve as missionaries in the Dominican Republic.
- In 2002, with the Burnetts back in Yuma working as regional missionaries, Barry led our first trip to the Dominican Republic, where we established a long-term missions partnership with Primera Iglesia Bautista, Puerto Plata.
- In about 2010, I was contacted by Fausto Martinez, who began his relationship with Jesus through Primera Iglesia Bautista, Puerto Plata. He had met his wife Debbie through a missions project she did down there and they were now serving a mission organization in New York City. That ministry also runs an orphanage across the border from Yuma, in San Luis, Mexico.
- In late 2013, Fausto and Debbie Martinez moved to San Luis to work in the orphanage, helping cement our friendship with them. They stayed a few months, then moved back to NYC.
- In June, 2014, a Stone Ridge Church mission team was traveling home from Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Upon arrival at JFK airport, we were told that bad weather had interrupted flights on the US East Coast and our flight back to Phoenix was cancelled. We were further told the airline wasn’t required to help us find lodging for our two-day layover. “Besides,” they said, “all the hotels near the airport are booked up!”
What do you do when you have a team of over twenty people stuck in NYC and no place to stay? After our team prayed, thanking God for the interruption, I remembered our connection with Fausto and Debbie. I messaged them on Facebook and asked if the ministry where they serve, New York School of Urban Ministry, might have a place for our team to stay. Well, Bethlehem may have had “no room at the inn” for Mary and Joseph, but NYSUM had plenty of room for us!
We spent two nights in Queens, grateful for the comfort, the peace and the hospitality of this ministry which trains and deploys teams from all over the US to minister to the needs of the sprawling metropolis. Before we left to return to JFK and our flight home, I told a friend, “I think God is up to something. This would be a great place for a youth ministry to come on a mission trip. It would stretch and grow them in ways we can’t imagine.”
Fast forward to Sunday, September 27, 2015. A team of 24 young people (they started with a goal of 15) is preparing to depart for NYC and NYSUM on December 17. A packed house at Stone Ridge enjoyed a wonderful dinner, followed by a night of music and dance and laughter, reminiscent of a big city show.
And, in so many ways, it started back in 1988...
…but that’s not the purpose of this post. The show put on by SRC kids was just a sharply focused picture of a simple truth: God designed us to help each other grow. For the past five weeks, NYC-bound young people have helped each other grow. They wrote, they practiced, they filmed, they edited, they prayed, they sang and they danced together. They did all this because something much deeper, more life-changing is going on among them. These kids are discovering that God has rich purposes for their lives. They are taking off their masks. They are opening up about their vulnerabilities. They are reaching out to their friends to talk about how much God loves them, too.
Helping each other grow; that’s what they are doing. It started when Barry and Sonia Burnett showed up to help our church grow in missions. It continued when Primera Iglesia Bautista, Puerto Plata helped us understand the importance of planting new churches that could reach people with God’s love. It continued when Stone Ridge sent teams of builders and healers and pray-ers and communicators to help the work in the Dominican.
Then, unbeknownst to us, it was going on in the heart of Fausto Martinez down in the DR. And God had been doing it in Debbie’s heart since she was a little girl growing up in a pastor’s home in the Pittsburgh area. Fausto and Debbie came to help people grow in San Luis. In turn they helped us grow. Then, by God’s grace, all this led to NYSUM, who helped us grow to see the vast needs of their city and the possibility that our teens might do something there.
Now, Stone Ridge teens are helping each other grow as followers of Jesus. They are also helping their friends grow to know and receive God’s love for themselves. And, in December, we will all grow as they go to the broken to declare and demonstrate God’s love to them.
Can you tell how excited I am to talk with you about Helping Each Other Grow? That’s the topic this weekend as Stone Ridge Church continues 40 Days of Community. I can’t wait to grow with you at one of our services! Do you have a friend to invite…one who can help you grow? Encourage them to join you! I hope you can make it, but if you can’t, please catch the podcast.