Candle flames flickered across the walls of the small church, lighting up the faces of the few who had gathered for Christmas Eve. On this night, the candles were more than tradition.
A fierce winter storm the day before had bombarded the small town in Maine with snow and ice, leaving the entire community without power. By Christmas Eve, there was still no way to contact church members to cancel church or find out if they were coming. So, Village Missionaries Tom and Amy Gardner decided to show up and see who else came.
None of the other people holding candlesticks were even church members. One was a man who lived off the grid on the edge of town. The others were a local family, suffering from an abusive household. None were religious, and they didn't even know the words to the Christmas carols Tom and Amy sang. But on this silent night, with no power or heat, they warmed themselves with the joy of each other's company and the love showed them by these two missionaries.
Knowing and Being Known
Raised in rural New Jersey, Tom grew up in a small church and always had a desire to pastor a rural church. Amy was raised in suburban Wisconsin and wanted to be a missionary. So, with a vision of reaching people with the gospel and developing spiritually-vital churches, Village Missions was the perfect fit.
Getting to know people and being known by them has been one of Tom and Amy’s highlights of ministry during their seven years. From impromptu birthday parties to open house Friday nights at the parsonage, the Gardners are serious about building close relationships with the people in their church.
It’s that same heart that drives them out into their community as well – a community largely closed off to the gospel.
New Hampshire consistently ranks in the bottom third of states for religious involvement. Folks in Middleton, NH, aren’t necessarily hostile toward Christianity. They just are uninterested.
“One time, Tom was doing some marital counseling, asking them why they came to him. They said they wanted to do a recommitment. They talked a lot about God and how they pray every day. So, Tom asked what they thought about Jesus, and they said they'd never given him a second thought. And that’s not uncommon,” said Amy.
Still, Tom and Amy have found many ways to proclaim the gospel message wherever they find an open door.
That is one unique aspect of Village Missions. Missionaries are able, and encouraged, to use their hobbies to share the gospel. From Tom’s nature class and Amy’s gardening class, kids are hearing and seeing the gospel lived by Tom and Amy. The Gardners are even known around town as the house with the big chicken coop!
One of the most influential ministries has been an after-school program called “Shine the Light.”
“Shine the Light has a large number of kids from broken homes. Most parents don’t send them to learn about God or morality. They just think, ‘Great! This is free babysitting. I don't have to think about my kids.’ But we'll take it. Hopefully we can make a difference in their lives,” said Amy.
One Church. One Life.
With a lack of Christianity comes a lack of hope for many in the Middleton area. Heavy opioid misuse and homelessness remain real problems, and without God, these people have nowhere to turn.
With so much hopelessness, how can one small-town church make any difference, especially when people refuse to come to church?
Just ask Gary.
An avid logger and woodsman, Gary was nearly killed by a falling tree. He lost one hand and full use of his arm for over a year. Gary was not a Christian, but he knew a member of the church. So, with plenty of free time, Gary decided to try out the church one Sunday morning. Experiencing the love of Jesus through the care and support of everyone in the church, it wasn’t long before Gary gave his life to the Lord.
“In rural areas, there are generally families that have been there for generations,” said Amy. “So, when you affect one life, all the people that know him are seeing that the church helped him.”
Helping one man come to know Jesus became a testimony for an entire community. Imagine how doing that same thing in over 200 communities across the United States and Canada is impacting North America!
From gardening and nature classes to coaching, music lessons, or visiting people in hospitals, Village Missionaries have been reaching the lost in rural communities for 70 years.
It’s not always easy. People aren’t always receptive to the gospel. And it’s difficult to see the pain of hopelessness that people in these unremembered places face every day. But like Christmas candles on a cold, December night, Village Missionaries are spreading the gospel light in the dark and unremembered places of North America.
Today, you have the chance to make a difference in a community like Middleton. With your generous gift today, you can help missionaries like Tom and Amy continue serving areas that desperately need the gospel. Not only that, you’ll be helping send new Village Missionaries to churches without a pastor!
This month, nine Village Missionary couples will be attending our Spring Candidate School. Will you give a generous gift today to help send them to a rural church in need?