A lot can happen in a year. This time last year we were dreaming and praying with our church family at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Enterprise, Alabama, preparing for probably the most frightening move of our lives. Cheryl and I spent a lot of time praying for God to give us faith to step out on this journey of church planting in Yakima. One of our “hyper-spiritual” prayers went something like this: “God give us a house, health insurance, and an income.” It seemed like a reasonable and practical request, but at the time, knowing that our move was immanent, we didn’t know how He would answer it. Wow. By the end of the month we had a forwarding address. Shortly after the first of the year we began to see the first pledges of support come in from our faithful partners and realized that for the time being God was meeting our financial needs. As the dust cleared following our move, we had found a solution for health insurance. Through the entire transition to Yakima, God proved himself faithful to supply every need when we needed it. At the same time, we rejoice that he has done so through you, our partners in the Gospel.
This year we have learned firsthand what so many church planting books and experts have warned—that church planting is an emotional and spiritual roller-coaster. One week, you experience a high attendance in worship and feel a surge of momentum. The next week, you wonder if you and the sound guy will be the only ones to start the gathering. One moment, you are exhilarated by a spiritual encounter with a neighbor you’ve been praying for. An hour later you read a blog about the top ten mistakes you’re making in your church plant. Church planting is for the resilient—we’ve already had families gather with us for a few months and then move on to another church. The potential for discouragement has been great, yet through it all we have seen the hand of God at work.
It’s not all doom and gloom in Washington. God is taking The River Church to some amazing places. Our discipleship process can be summed up by four words: grow, connect, worship, and bless. We help others grow as followers of Jesus, connect to others in real community, worship God authentically, and bless our city and our world. When we got to Yakima I wondered how we would actually be able to bless our world in a personal way through our upstart church plant. God’s ways are not our ways, however, and by his grace we will be sending out our first short-term missionary to Kenya in February! We are overjoyed at the way God has allowed us to be a sending church in such a short time.
In addition to Kenya, we are praying about several other opportunities to bless our world in 2015. The first is a partnership with an Unreached, Unengaged People Group in East Asia. God has moved the churches of the Northwest Baptist Convention to formalize a partnership with our International Mission Board missionaries in East Asia. Through this partnership our church has learned about ways we can adopt a UUPG and begin sending individuals and teams to share Jesus where he has never been heard before!
Of course, there are many people who need Jesus here in the cities of the United States. The pastor of our partner church in Yakima is moving in January to plant a church in Tucson, Arizona. The River Church is praying about how we can turn the generosity of others into generosity for others. How fantastic would it be to provide support to a new church plant within the first years of our own new work!
Beyond these sending and partnering actions, God is working on several fronts in Yakima. We are seeing new families connect with The River Church through our Worship Gatherings, Missional Communities, and Discipleship Groups. I know of at least four (or is it five?) individuals who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus but are regularly hearing the Gospel in a MC or DG. It’s only a matter of time before we celebrate another transformed life! We’re also seeing God work through a new Spanish-language church in Yakima. We’ve met with the new bilingual church planter and are excited about the possibilities of working directly with him to reach people in our city that we could not.
Thank you for praying faithfully for us. Thank you for giving generously. It is no exaggeration to say that this coming year is crucial for us as a church plant. Church planting in the Northwest is a marathon, not a sprint. As we look forward to 2015 we will need the support of our partners in even greater ways. Please consider how you will support us through prayer, giving, going, and advocating. However you choose to partner with us, be sure to let us know by sending us a letter, email, or contact through our web page. We are praying and thanking God for you constantly. May God richly bless you with more of his grace and provision.
Grace and peace,
Michael and Cheryl