A few weeks ago, Charles (our Exec. Pastor) and I went to Branson, Missouri. I was blown away! I never could have dreamed we’d have a Gateway Campus in Branson. What Branson demonstrates is what God can do through a few people who follow the Leader.
Bryan and Amy Stallings had only been married four years and had enough on their plate already—two careers, six kids from two divorces, negotiating a Brady Bunch lifestyle—when God prompted them to do something. They had volunteered a few years earlier to serve Thanksgiving dinner for Branson’s working poor. As Thanksgiving approached and they couldn’t find the ministry that organized the dinner, Bryan felt a prompting. You serve the dinner. It was that distinct Holy Spirit nudging he had begun to recognize since starting to follow Christ five years earlier.
Bryan and his family responded and catered a turkey dinner that fifty people attended, but they didn’t expect the ambush of their hearts as they personally encountered the plight of the working poor. The overwhelming gratitude people showed them, mixed with the painful stories of families scraping by to feed their kids, caught them by surprise. These people lived un-noticed by society, living in run-down motels to find seasonal work in the Branson entertainment industry.
After that Thanksgiving, Bryan and Amy decided they had to do more. The family made sack lunches for those fifty families and delivered them that week to the motels. The next few weeks, over and over they’d hear, “Thank you so much! You know, the family in room 224 could sure use this right now too.” Soon they found themselves making 150 sack lunches a week as word spread. Bryan and Amy began to recruit others to join them. By year-end, their new Jesus Was Homeless ministry had multiplied that first sack lunch like the fish and loaves into 11,000 lunches delivered with love by many volunteers.
The more Bryan and Amy got to know the working poor, the more they saw regular, struggling people, many of whom had real interest in God but felt like churches would only judge them. Bryan read No Perfect People Allowed and got a vision for meeting spiritual as well as physical needs. They started an “investigative” spiritual discussion at the motel, and soon people overflowed into the hallway.
They started watching our Internet Campus and realized our Sunday service could create “come as you are” learning space for the people they served. The back room of a local Denny’s soon became breakfast and Gateway’s Sunday service piped in on a large screen TV for more than forty people who showed up each month with growing spiritual interest.
By year two, their volunteer base grew to seventy volunteers serving 20,000 meals a year! One volunteer, Scott, loaned his bicycle to a homeless motel patron so he could ride to a job interview. The bike got passed around to several people before returning to the owner. Realizing that bike had been ridden fifty miles, God prompted Scott to meet this need for transportation. Bryan and Amy got churches to donate used bicycles; soon thirty bikes had been donated and were circulating among the motel workers, providing much needed transportation.
This year, God provided a building, rent free, in which they could bring the Network of volunteers who weekly made meals into one “kitchen,” the bicycle ministry into a space they call “the garage,” and provide a “living room” like space to launch a weekly Sunday gathering for people exploring faith—a spiritual home for the homeless!
It was such a privilege this Sunday to drive vans around to motels to pick up people for church. Close to 100 people filled the room (of the 800 they serve), and I heard countless stories of life change. Bryan and Amy are seeing God do something they never dreamed he would do through them—they’re seeing the church raised up out of a forgotten culture of working poor. All it took was one step of faith, following the Leader. What might God want to do through you that you cannot even imagine? Are you willing to step out in faith and follow the Leader?