Twenty Years of His Grace, Faithfulness and Surprises
By Charles Kelley
PHILOMATH, Oregon – Even though it feels like a lifetime ago, I remember it like yesterday. It was Sunday, Sept. 24, 1994, and I was pastor of First Baptist Church of Corvallis. It was my custom to get up before dawn on Sunday mornings and go to Lyon’s Restaurant on 9th Street for a power breakfast and a couple of hours of concentrated time making sure my morning message was done and my heart was right. I had done this for years.
I was preaching a series on Hebrews 11, the great litany of faithful men and women of God: “By faith, Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going . . . By faith, Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharoah’s daughter . . . By faith, the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land . . . By faith, the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days.”
That morning, more clearly than ever before, the faith of these men and women astounded me. They were weak, needy people, unable to do the things God asked of them, and yet they heard His word and obeyed, trusting God to do what they couldn’t do in ways they couldn’t do them. As I continued to read through my notes, the phrases I had written to describe faith and obedience seemed to jump out at me: seeking God’s will first and counting the cost afterward; saying ‘yes’ to God even if others don’t understand, agree, or come along.
Suddenly I sat bolt upright. There, in the middle of Lyon’s Restaurant, with the muted sounds of coffee cups and the smell of maple syrup in the background, God had whispered to me. Listening in faith, I began to write, and within 20 minutes I had written a vision statement for a new kind of international Christian mission, one that would focus on exposing, training, and equipping churches and other organizations in North America to minister with their counterparts in Latvia and beyond for further outreach, and leadership development. The key would be partnerships, and my calling would be that of the bridge builder between the West and the East. Immediately I understood, without a doubt that I needed to resign my pastorate and devote myself to this new model that God had given me.
Suffused with a joy that I could hardly contain, I jumped up from my table and raced to the pay phone near the restrooms. “Nancy, I have something really important to tell you. It’s time for me to resign, start a new ministry, and help other churches build bridges. And the Lord is going to provide! I’m certain of it!”
Nancy, still dripping wet from helping Scotty on his paper route, barely hesitated. “Yes, that’s it, honey. Let’s do it!”
Bridge Builders International was born that morning. From then on I would be a builder of bridges.
Countless bridges have been built these past 20 years. Much water has gone under them. Many bridges have changed, waterways have moved and partnerships have expanded. But one thing remains certain:
There are no limits to God’s capacity to surprise us with His plan.