Let’s just say it. Starting ministries is not easy. But the Bible says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 4:10 NLT). In this story, we recognize the beauty of small beginnings.
By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
ABINGDON, Md.—Lisa Mele leads the South Asian Fellowship and Activity Center in partnership with Maple View Baptist Church, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and with the North American Mission Board. She’s also the wife of Craig Mele, pastor of Maple View Baptist Church, with a congregation of about 40 people reaching the world for Jesus.
The South Asian Fellowship is simple, it’s small, but God is opening amazing doors. Maple View Baptist Church has rallied around the fellowship and the church’s goal is to birth a South Asian church in the Abingdon area.
Lisa’s passion began 20 years ago, before she and Craig were married. They both attended Bel Forest Baptist Church, and Lisa was searching for God’s will.
“It was like a physical weight over me. I was shouting on the inside, ‘God, what do you want me to do? Where do you want me to go?’ When I went home that night, I turned the radio on to a station I don’t normally listen to, and it was about a need for missionaries in India.”
The next day, while she was working in an office, listening to music, Lisa received amazing confirmation that God was indeed speaking to her.
“The dial moved to a Christian radio station and it was a rebroadcast of what I heard the night before,” she said. She wasn’t sure what that ministry would look like. Was God calling her to go to India?
Shortly after that, a man from a local detention center called Lisa’s office by accident, but he and Lisa talked. The man was from India and wanted Lisa to check on his family. Their name was Singh. The family lived near Lisa’s office. She visited with them and brought them to Bel Forest where the church helped with their needs.
“Pastor William Rivers (pastor of Bel Forest Baptist Church) and his wife, Betty Faye, were always very supportive of my burden for India and they were extremely missions-minded,” Mele said.
Twenty years went by and in that time, Craig and Lisa married and Craig started pastoring Maple View.
The desire to start a ministry to reach South Asians still burned in Lisa’s heart. She shared that burden when she and Craig met with BCM/D’s then planned giving consultant Conrad Burch, and his wife Doris for dinner. Conrad tossed one of Robert Kim’s business cards on the table and told Lisa “that’s the man you need to talk to.” Kim is a BCM/D Asian church planting missionary. Lisa shared her vision with Kim and he became her coach. Kim referred Lisa to North American Mission Board Missionary Aslam Masih for more support. Masih encouraged the Meles to begin having regular fellowships.
“God has done amazing things, working through Conrad, Robert and Aslam,” Lisa said.
Masih has been very supportive, coaching Lisa, coming to help lead the tours to a Sikh temple, in partnership with Grace Place Church in Dundalk, and at a local mosque.
Amazingly, at the Mosque, John Gauger, pastor of First Baptist Church, Perryville, who is very involved in ministering to Muslims, shared the Gospel with the Iman through a question and answer time.
“It was unbelievable. It was so natural. It was in the process of dialogue. It wasn’t like someone was preaching,” Lisa said.
Masih invited Lisa and Troy McDaniel, pastor of Grace Place Church, to share their testimonies and participate in a South Asian Ministry NAMB conference in Georgia, where they heard the stories from Hindus and Muslims who were miraculously transformed through the Holy Spirit working in amazing ways, from dreams to Christians sharing friendship in intentional everyday relationships.
“Aslam has provides credibility,” Mele said. Masih is Pakistani, and is a natural bridge to the local South Asian people groups, opening doors that are sometimes difficult to crack open.
The Meles followed Masih’s advice and began hosting fellowships, inviting local South Asian families through mass mailings using a criss-cross directory and targeting families with Indian last names. They had visions of filling their fellowship hall with Indian families seeking support and spiritual guidance, but that didn’t happen.
A few Christian Indian families attended, but mostly the fellowships drew Christians from other churches that had a similar passion. It wasn’t what they envisioned, but it was how God was directing the ministry.
“We were developing a core group,” Lisa said.
Now, rather than having fellowships, the group operates on a more one-on-one and Bible study format.
One of the most effective ministries has been a Bible study at a local Dunkin Donuts where Lisa and a friend, Mona, have built relationships with the restaurant staff.
“We just kept showing up, asking about their families and getting to know them. God would have them sit down and talk to us. Now, they invite us to their house for food, teach us to cook, and invite us to Hindu festivals in the area. We’re the only non-South Asians there. We even became friends with a Mosque president.”
Lisa began to intentionally work as an assistant teaching English as a Second Language Class at a local community college.
At first, Lisa was disappointed. There were no students from South Asia, but soon, a student from Bangladesh and one from the Indian state of Gujarat registered, and God allowed Lisa an immediate connection.
“Once again, we just had to wait on His timing,” she said.
Now the ministry has changed. Instead of sending out invitations to a fellowship, the Meles send brochures offering spiritual counseling, Bible studies and scripture in Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, or any other South Asian language.
Lisa believes this is just the beginning. She knows God is going to move in a big way in this ministry and she’s patiently waiting for Him to make the next move.
“We have met some fascinating people from this part of our world. The Lord has seen fit to allow us to build bridges and to share the Gospel with people of other faiths. Maple View is a church of about 40 members, but the Lord has put us in contact with over ten times that number of those in the South Asian community. We pray they come to Christ.”