“I used to think the ‘mission field’ was a place far away, but it’s often closer to your church than you realize. It could be down a street you’ve never traveled or around a corner you’ve never seen. We found our mission quite unintentionally.” – Dan Olsen, Missions Director of Cornerstone Baptist Church
Cornerstone is a small but growing church in Fredericksburg, VA. It is an Acts 1:8 church seeking to reach its Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth with the Gospel. Through Disaster Relief, English as a Second Language (ESL), and orality training opportunities with the SBC of Virginia, their love for the peoples of the world has grown. Of 150 people in the congregation, 40% have been on short-term mission trips through Cornerstone Baptist Church. While the Lord has expanded their reach to places like El Salvador (where they have a missions partnership), He is also using them to reach 13 people groups just miles from the church doors.
Dan Olson: “I was driving my wife (a teacher in the local elementary school) to her student’s home to deliver an assignment when we turned a corner into a tucked-away neighborhood in South Stafford, VA, just a few miles from our church. We knew the area by reputation but had never visited. In a moment, we had crossed a line from our comfortable suburban world into a small, densely populated neighborhood with visible signs of need. This community had a high percentage of families living below the poverty level. There was a large population of immigrants and refugees from Asia, Central America, and Africa. We felt like strangers in a world we didn’t know, but the fear and awkwardness were accompanied by an immediate burden and stirring we both felt in our hearts.
“In the following weeks, our family visited the neighborhood as often as we could. Because most of the children recognized my wife from school, we were immediately welcomed by the neighborhood kids and their parents. We didn’t realize then how much God would use my wife’s position to open doors and break down barriers. As our visits continued, we researched and prayed about how we could get our church involved in ministering to this troubled neighborhood. We learned that over the past several years, many area churches had tried to reach the community. Some tried busing children to church or Vacation Bible School. Others held one-time evangelistic events in the local park. But those efforts weren’t reaching the adults. We felt that the key to reaching the neighborhood was to establish a permanent presence inside the neighborhood from which we could build lasting relationships with the adults. We knew this approach would take a long-term commitment, but we were prepared for the long haul.
“We learned early on that when God gives you a burden, He will not leave you to do it all yourself. He will bring others alongside you with the same burden. When we shared with our congregation our desire to establish a presence in the neighborhood, many stepped forward to help.
“We decided to start a ‘Party in the Park’ with snacks, games, crafts, and Bible stories every Wednesday evening in the summer.
To kick it off, we held a three-day Vacation Bible School in the park. It was a huge success. We had more than 40 kids (and even some parents) attend. On the last day, we told the kids we would see them every Wednesday evening in the park for the rest of the summer. We thought we were off to a great start. We had no idea our plans would come to a screeching halt.
Chris Brown, senior pastor of Cornerstone, testifies, “When we first began reaching out to our local community, I would have never imagined the impact it would have on our entire church. It began with just a few people going out on a Wednesday evening during the summer to repair children’s bicycles. We developed friendships with the children and their families through this ministry. There was an excitement within each person who served, as they came back and were able to tell their stories of the opportunities they had to share the love of Jesus Christ through their words and actions. More and more people began to join in this outreach each week.”
“The day after the VBS in the park, our church received an angry phone call from the leaders of the community homeowners’ association. We were told that the park was private property and we did not obtain the approvals we needed from the community leaders. “As much as we tried to apologize for the oversight, we were told in no uncertain terms that we were not welcome in the neighborhood. It was a crushing blow. Our last words to the kids at VBS were that we would see them every Wednesday and now, like the churches before us, we, too, had vanished from the neighborhood. It was especially troubling to think of the kids who, at such a young age had already experienced so much disappointment from adults who didn’t keep their word. We prayed that God would open the door again, but the community leaders would not yield.
“I began studying the book of Acts to see how the early church dealt with such failures. What I learned was astonishing. God often called the early missionaries to cities where they were ultimately rejected, beaten, or imprisoned. ‘Why would God call His faithful to failure?’ I asked. I learned that God seeks our obedience, not our success. Success or failure in mission work is for Him to decide. We are to stay focused on doing His will, regardless of the outcome.
THE DOOR OPENS
“We continued to pray through the summer and into the fall that God would open a way back into the neighborhood. In mid-December, God reopened the door in a mighty way. Some Christian brothers contacted our church to ask if we knew of any families in need that Christmas. They explained that each year, a group of families join together to prepare 40 stockings for children but had not found anyone in need this year. Recognizing that God was giving us another way into the community, we asked if it were possible to prepare 10 times that amount of stockings.
“We called the same community leaders who had expelled us from the neighborhood the previous summer and asked if they would allow us to deliver Christmas stockings to every home in the neighborhood. Despite their previous rejections, this time they accepted our offer. Over the next three days, our church scrambled to prepare 400 Christmas stockings. On Christmas Eve, church members went door to door throughout the neighborhood and were welcomed at every house. Some newly arrived Muslim refugees from the Middle East were so excited to receive their first Christmas gifts, they took photos of the delivery team to share with their families back home. The neighborhood leaders were so touched by our generosity, they gave us total neighborhood access from that point forward!
PARTY IN THE PARK!
“With full access to the neighborhood once again, we jumped full force into our plan to use the park as our community contact zone. Over the next few summers, God blessed the Party in the Park Wednesday evenings. We built relationships with neighborhood adults and children through a variety of activities, such as bike repair, arts and crafts, food distribution, and Bible stories in English and Spanish. God continued to add ministry partners. We connected with Christians who lived in the neighborhood and worked hand in hand with area churches that wanted to help. Slowly, one person at a time, we began to see lives change. But we were still limited in what we could do at the park. Every fall, as the weather changed and the days grew shorter, we would say goodbye until the following spring. We began praying that God would provide a way to work in the community year round.
GO DO GOD’S WORK!
“The idea of renting a home in the neighborhood had been discussed, but all of the houses were individually owned and rental prices were abnormally high. We would have to find a house for free. We began praying for a miracle. Right across the street from the park was a vacant house. It was in the ideal location, but the house was in very poor condition. After mobilizing our church to pray, we set up a meeting with the owner to see the house. The place was in shambles. Carpet, floors, plumbing, and appliances were all in need of replacement. Knowing we were from a church and expecting we would ask to rent the home at a reduced rate, the owner asked us to make an offer. ‘We have nothing to offer,’ I replied. Then the owner asked an interesting question: ‘What did God tell you to ask for?’ I prayed silently as I began to explain how we felt God was leading: ‘God told us to ask for a deal so outrageous that no good businessman would accept it—so we would know that it is a miracle of God.’ The owner was quiet for a moment as I prayed silently, waiting for his response. ‘Well, I guess I’m not a very good businessman.’ He handed me the keys and said, ‘Go do God’s work.’
“The housing unit by the park, or Hub, as it became known, was now the new center point for our work in the community. Church members and neighbors converged on the Hub to make repairs. With no budget for the work, donations poured in to cover expenses. Within weeks, the home was in sufficient condition to start an English language Bible study. In the months that followed, a Spanish Bible study, after-school tutoring, English language classes, and a garden ministry were added. The Hub also served as the base for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter outreach events, as well as a free community yard sale and health clinic.
THE MINISTRY CONTINUES
“God’s miraculous provision of the Hub had a profound impact. Even the Muslim English students who meet at the Hub weekly have heard the story of how God provided a place to do His work. In the year since the Hub opened, we have had the joy of watching neighborhood residents changed by Christ. But in truth, mission work is about people, not a place. It has now been seven years since that first drive into the neighborhood, but the plan for how to reach the community has stayed the same: Christians obedient to God’s calling, establishing a long-term presence in the neighborhood from which to show love, build relationships, and proclaim the Gospel. It can happen in a house, it can happen in a park, but it is unlikely to happen within the walls of a church. Christians must be willing to get out of the church building and into the world, however God leads.
“God’s faithfulness to use His obedient people at Cornerstone Baptist Church on His mission has brought many other open doors for missions, from local youth football teams to a burden to support mission efforts in Kenya, Africa.”
Pastor Chris exclaims, “One of the most exciting aspects of these mission outreaches is the fact that we are not a large church! I believe the Lord has used us as a small church in order that He alone will get the glory for all that has been done. We agree with the psalmist when he said, ‘The Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy!’” (Psalm 126:3)
Subscribe to the Proclaimer for Free
Not yet receiving the Proclaimer? The print version of the magazine mails three times a year, and there is no cost to readers. Why not sign up now?