By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
PERRYVILLE, Md.—Instead of Gideon, it could have been John Gauger. And instead of 300 warriors, it could have been 130 members of First Church in Perryville.
But, as Gauger is quick to point out, the decisions made were simply obedience to God in each situation and the amazing results are certainly not a credit to his own labor or even of his Perryville church family.
“They are a tribute to an amazing God, which is obvious by the size of the results related to the size of the church laboring,” he said.
Their secret to success? Obeying God. The method God used? Partnerships.
“We can learn so much from listening to other church leaders,” Gauger said, explaining that over the years, he and his church members have partnered with other churches to climb mountains to visit small villages in Mexico, jeeped deep into the villages of West Africa, and have volunteered in their own community, all to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“It’s just what churches should be doing,” he added. “You can always do more things together.”
First Church, Perryville, was introduced to the partnership concept in 1989 when a small church in the South offered to come help build their new church building. Because the foundation wasn’t quite ready for them, the First Church, Perryville, members did the construction themselves.
In the process, the 10- to 15-member teams gained valuable construction skills that they put to use in helping other churches retrofit or build their buildings.
Then, starting in 1991, the church wanted “to expand beyond the hammers” and to be more intentional about sharing Jesus with others. They partnered in Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware-sponsored trips to Latvia, Moldova and Mexico.
In Mexico, Gauger, partnering with a team from Faith Southern Church, in Elkton, Md., matched up with a Mexican pastor, Daniel Martinez Alvarez, “who had a grand vision.”
“No one wanted to work with him because his vision was too big,” Gauger explained. “This was a man who deserved to be supported by a larger church who could keep up with him, a church who could catch the tiger and hold on to his tail and do whatever they could!”
Alvarez dreamed of planting churches all alongside a 100-mile road that had no biblical works in place. He operated on the principle, “If a man becomes a Christian, we will train him in the area so that he can pastor there,” rather than send him to another city to train and serve.
“I remember thinking, ‘We’ve got to go and learn from them,’” Gauger said. So he and his teams took the long van rides, walked through dusty streets, forged the river and climbed the mountain sides.
The church continued this partnership for the next five years, building a solid relationship with Alvarez, and seeing more than six Mexican churches planted.
“There is such a synergy that happens in partnership,” Gauger shared. “Many people ask, shouldn’t we just send money? But God will grant a larger ministry if we work together. It will cause more excitement in your church and my church.”
Gauger shared Alvarez’s heart: The Mexican people will come and see why the Americans are there. Otherwise, they wouldn’t come. “It attracts attention,” Alvarez had told Gauger.
Gauger noted that the effort also inspired his congregation to do more locally. Prior to their Mexican partnership, First Church, Perryville, members hadn’t gone door-to-door to share about Jesus. But afterwards, they realized that “if we can do this in Mexico, we can do it here.”
“Now, we always have about 30 people when we go door-to-door.” he said.
Over time, the mission leaders of First Church, Perryville, felt God tugging on their hearts to go to West Africa. Dan Sheffield, director of missions for the Susquehanna Association, arranged a vision tour to Guinea, but Gauger was unable to go. Later, Sheffield invited him to go on another vision trip to West Africa.
Only later did he learned who else would be on the trip—Jerry Rankin, the president of the International Mission Board!
“When Jerry takes a mission trip, every missionary and leader has to report,” Gauger said excitedly. It turned out that Gauger was able to “learn from the absolute best.”
He witnessed the filming of that year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering promotional video. And, he learned about the 500,000 herders who were an unengaged, unreached people group in West Africa.
Returning home, the pastor knew it was time to start a new partnership, but what about his existing partnership with his Mexican pastor and friend?
To Gauger’s amazement, Alvarez warmly received the news.
“You must go and we will be your partners,” Alvarez encouraged. “We will pray for you and we will support you!” Gauger did not want to drain precious pesos from their Mexican partners.
Even though Alvarez was building training centers and would delay construction by supporting an American church, he insisted, “Please, you must not deny me the blessing that God gives to those who give.”
“When we go to Africa, we tell the semi-nomadic villagers about their partners, a church in Mexico and a small church in Perryville, Md.,” Gauger said, noting that First Church, Perryville, has already made a dozen trips to the region.
In addition to partnering internationally, First Church, Perryville, partnered with nearby Pleasant View Baptist Church, Port Deposit, to say “WE CARE” to their respective towns through free dental and medical screenings, community service projects, and block parties. The church has also for years sent members on disaster relief projects related to Hurricane Katrina, and has partnered in Embrace Baltimore and various associational efforts.
“No one is positioned better than Southern Baptists to partner together because we are a denomination that was formed to work together cooperatively,” Gauger concluded. “Anybody that doesn’t participate in partnership ministry is missing out on the growth that God wants to give through working together.”
Gauger is willing to take pastors alongside him on future trips to Africa. If you are interested, contact him at [email protected], (410) 642-6865.