How God Uses Faithful, SGA Partner Churches for the Sake of the Gospel
Executive Assistant to SGA President Bob Provost
Recently, I visited Barre Evangelical Free Church (BEFC) in Vermont, a long-term SGA partner church. The congregation was greatly encouraged by participating in a live video interview with one of the missionary pastors they’ve sponsored in Belarus for many years. But I was even more encouraged by the outpouring of love from the congregation, and the testimony shared by Pastor Neal Laybourne.
BEFC had humble beginnings. Pastor Neal spent two years doing evangelism in this spiritually hardened part of the country, before founding the church with two families in 1981. They shared rented space with a karate club, and Pastor Neal had to be bi-vocational for the first eight years. In human eyes, they were few in number, with little resources, ministering in a hard, cold, and spiritually oppressed area.
But the Lord had impressed upon them a principle that would enable this small church to have a worldwide impact. Pastor Neal expresses it this way . . . The story of how the Lord multiplied the 5 loaves and two fish, given by a small boy, teaches us that when we see great needs and have no resources to meet them, God wants us to give our pathetically insignificant—yet sacrificial—gifts anyway.
The BEFC congregation began applying that principle to missions, and God began doing miracle after miracle.
In 1989—even though they had only 90 people—they sent 27 to start a new church, and in the next five years helped to start two others—and God blessed their sacrifice by granting them growth. They are now the largest evangelical church in the area.
When believers in Belarus shared an urgent need for socks, the Lord unexpectedly provided bags of brand new socks that were being thrown away by a manufacturer due to a defect on the last stitch. Volunteers from the congregation began sorting them and fixing the stitches. Soon the volume overwhelmed them, so they recruited elderly women in eight nursing homes to help. But the expense of shipping the socks to the nursing homes and then to SGA was prohibitive. So they asked their local shipping office to send 12 large boxes for free—and they agreed! Over the next 6 years, this office shipped 1,500 boxes absolutely free of charge!
Though desperately in need of their own facilities, BEFC decided to devote 90% of their building fund to missions . . . and then God responded by blessing them with an abandoned downtown building they purchased for the symbolic amount of $1.38!
When their partner church in Belarus was given a free piece of land with the condition that they begin construction within nine months, BEFC didn’t know what to do, as the congregation was “tapped out” from recent, generous giving. So they raided every part of the church budget, asking every ministry leader to sacrifice something. But the $2,200 they were able to cobble together was still far short of the need. So they did what they could, writing letters to everyone they knew—and a $5,000 check came from a church in Cincinnati, enabling the construction in Belarus to proceed on schedule. Pastor Neal summarized, “Our gifts were pathetically insignificant—yet sacrificial. And God multiplied them.”
But the most amazing way God multiplied the sacrificial giving of this church came in 1996. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, good shoes—especially warm winter shoes—were either unavailable or unaffordable. After hearing of this widespread need, BEFC sprung into action, collecting shoes from their congregation and friends. But they only had a few pairs.
Rather than conclude they had “done all they could,” they began asking local shoe stores to donate shoes. The stores all said “no,” but referred them to their suppliers. So a member of the church, Jean Dufresne, started calling them one by one. They all said “no”, except for one. They asked, “How many pairs do you need?” Not wanting to ask for too much, but stepping out on faith, Jean answered, “50-100 pairs.” They immediately said “no.” Jean was brokenhearted, thinking she had asked for too many. But then they said, “We can only donate if you can use several thousand pairs and provide us with guarantees they’ll stay off the black market.” Jean referred them to SGA, and soon thereafter 3,094 pairs of exceptionally high-quality winter shoes were donated, followed a few months later by 279 more…then 1,251 more…then 1,354 more…then 2,164 more…then 1,419 more…1,630 more…then 1,642…then 814 more…and then 1,409 more!
Then in 1999, SGA received a huge surprise. The company was retiring an entire line of products, and wanted to donate everything they had left over on Dec. 31. The amount? More than 45,000 pairs! SGA’s Soles for Souls ministry was born, and these shoes enabled missionaries, pastors, and church members to trudge through snowy streets all over the former Soviet Union, taking the good news of the Gospel wherever they went. How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news (Isaiah 52:7)!
All of this began with—as Pastor Neal puts it—“pathetically insignificant—but sacrificial gifts.” The Lord took their five loaves and two fish, and multiplied them. The total wholesale value of the 64,066 boots and shoes donated over the five years of the Soles for Souls project was more than all the money for any purpose that had come into BEFC for the first 30 years of its existence! Pastor Neal’s conclusion? “Belarus taught our church that God does miracles!”