We serve a God of second chances. God is gracious to give our church a second chance.
I arrived in 2015 when Cross Connect — a young church plant — was struggling. With God’s grace and new direction, we re-planted, and today we are a growing body of believers.
This is not to say we are without challenges. Specifically, we struggle when it comes to international missions. Sometimes we sell ourselves short: We lack confidence and that bleeds over into how we take the gospel to the entire planet. We know we have the calling from God to make disciples — yet somehow we allow our circumstances to excuse us from fully engaging in an Acts 1:8 culture.
One excuse comes from structural issues. As a growing church we lack logistical might. Other justifications for orbiting the international missions scene without landing come from our own insecurities and low self-esteem. We fear failing those in our community by presenting great ideas that we can’t implement.
Still other reasons come from our fallen, human nature of pride. As a local church we have not yet arrived in our efforts to make a difference around the world. After all, we are a portable church — renting a facility and laboriously setting up and tearing down each Sunday. But once we became a real church with a real building, we could do more things then that we cannot do now.
None of these excuses are from God’s perspective. And we needed some hope to get out of this pattern of thinking.
Insight from the Dominican Republic
In 2017 I traveled to the Dominican Republic with a group of pastors. One day I was admiring the lush vegetation — noticing the topography, soil and climate of the beautiful country.
At the time I happened to be in conversation with a wonderful, Dominican woman named Margarita. Her child attended the Compassion International child development center, and that’s what made our paths cross.
Margarita was telling me how they get their food from far away — from the north end of the island. I asked her a simple question: Could the locals create some kind of community garden to grow some of their own food so they wouldn’t have to travel so far?
“No,” she said quite firmly. “We get our food from up north.”
I said, “I understand that, but could the situation be changed?” I reasoned.
In the end, I realized that Margarita had been without hope for so long that she was blind to new possibilities. She simply could not wrap her mind around other options. She needed help and support to gain a different perspective.
In that moment I clearly saw the profound parallels between Margarita and Cross Connect Church. Were there things that we could do in global missions that we could not see? Were we stuck in a pattern of thinking to the point that we lacked the ability to consider possibilities beyond our challenges?
The previous voice of excuses began to be drowned out by a new reality. As a church leadership team, we started a conversation with a staff member at Compassion International. God used Compassion to unlock hope and to see things that we didn’t even realize were there.
This staff member said, “Let’s talk about what’s realistic for your church, and let’s do it.” Then, over time, together we unpacked Compassion’s toolbox — experiences, ideas and resources that makes missions doable for a church our size.
My upbringing can, at times, cause skepticism. But for all the questions I could think of, Compassion had answers. There is transparency in Compassion’s work, and a sense of affirmation as we talked about Cross Connect Church. No matter what stage of the game our church was in, there was an opportunity for engagement. The ability to live out our God-calling seemed refreshingly possible.
Momentum Toward Growth
Without hesitation, I see a direct correlation between our sacrificial love in partnership with Compassion and our church’s momentum toward growth.
We have targeted our global missions effort to one specific church in Lomé, Togo: Englise Baptiste Shalom d’Akodessewa. This church hosts a Compassion child development center where neighborhood children receive enrichment for physical, socio-emotional and spiritual growth.
Most adults in this section of Lomé are unemployed. For those who are able to work as street vendors, market traders or taxi drivers, they earn the equivalent of $40 per month. Additionally, fifty percent of the children who attend this child development center do not attend school mostly because they lack economic resources. The families and individuals at Cross Connect Church are honored to sponsor children from this child development center and to make a difference in their lives.
A Map of Hope
Here at home in Ashland, Ohio, Compassion not only helps our church family be on God’s mission, but also helps us stay on mission. In fact, we’ve created a world map that shows a connection between the sponsors in our church and their sponsored children. It’s not unusual to see congregants stop and pray for the children as they pass the map. Whether or not each church member has the financial means to sponsor a child, we all share our church’s mission in Togo.
We are so grateful that God helped our church overcome challenges and excuses. Now that we realize the relationships we are developing in Togo are so significant to the life of Cross Connect Church we’ve added a phrase in our mission statement that reflects our commitment: We bring grace, mercy, compassion and the truth of Jesus into a broken culture.
It’s a mission we are 100 percent behind — without excuses.