SEATTLE (BP) — Kim Menon was an avowed atheist. As a child, her parents took her to church but no one could satisfy her with the answers she sought.
“I thought believers just weren’t intelligent enough,” Menon said.
Now a kindergarten teacher in Seattle, education is a central part of Menon’s life. Striving to get involved in her students’ lives and to know their parents, she believes that’s how students best learn and grow. But Menon had no idea this path would lead her into a Christian commitment.
Three years ago, Andy Brown moved from Camden, Ark., to Seattle to plant churches, aided by Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program missions and ministry outreach funded through their tithes and offerings.
Larry Bailey, missions pastor at Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro, Ark., a sponsor church for Brown’s mission, noted, “Together we are able to [impact] places like Seattle because it’s so expensive to live there.”
Brown, after arriving in Seattle, registered his son for kindergarten at the local school, where he was placed in Menon’s class. The school building seemed to be in good shape but Brown noticed that the grounds needed landscaping and care.
“A lot of the ministry we do is community service,” Brown said. “A constant presence in the community is the best way to reach people, so we kind of adopted the school.”
When Brown talked to the principal about his desire to help the school, she was hesitant. Brown agreed to work with no mention of his religious beliefs. Everyone knew he was the pastor of The Landing Church but there would be no pressure from Brown while he was on campus. He was there only to serve. Many teachers were curious why he would do all that work with nothing in return, so it piqued their interest.
“He could answer my questions when asked,” Menon said, “but that was it.”
Brown noted that in a small church like The Landing in Seattle’s secular environment, “most of the new believers are still not comfortable being bold with their faith.”
“So we have to have a lot of outside help to have a constant presence in the community” since The Landing does almost all the landscaping at the school along with some painting and catering several times a year for the teachers and other special events.
That’s why mission trips from sponsor churches like Central Baptist are important. Also essential is the support of local churches giving to missions through the Cooperative Program. CP gifts do more than just keep the utility bills paid; the investment touches lives like Menon’s.
Bailey was involved in one of those mission trips as a volunteer in Menon’s class, making copies, grading papers, helping with projects — anything to be of service.
“She was very suspicious,” Bailey said.
“She said, ‘I don’t get it. You fly all the way from Arkansas to Seattle to make copies for me. Why?'”
He simply explained, “Because we want to love you and show you that God loves you too.”
As they worked, Menon sat in the back of the classroom and watched with tears streaming down her face.
“I had never met anyone who did things like that without wanting something in return,” Menon said. “I thought Christians were predators who didn’t really care about who I was. They just wanted me to say a prayer and then not give a care about me.”
For more than two years, the Brown family continued to minister to the school and to Menon, among others. They invited her to birthday parties, neighborhood get-togethers and holiday events. They never hid their faith; quite the contrary — they continually invited her to church. It even became a joke, with Menon saying it would never happen. But as time went on, they all became friends, and she fell in love with this family.
At the same time, Menon’s marriage was falling apart, and she wanted to save it. She knew the Browns were pro-marriage and came to them for help. Menon felt hurt, unloved and rejected by her husband, but the Browns showed her that they would love her no matter what.
It made Menon wonder if there was something to all the talk about Jesus. “I loved them at this point,” she said, yet “I didn’t want to come to church and get their hopes up and then disappoint them.”
So she began to learn about God on her own. If she heard them mention a Christian book, she would secretly buy the book and read it.
Then Menon’s mother became very ill after a series of heart attacks. In spite of her fragile health, she was scheduled for heart surgery. Menon needed a miracle, so she did the only thing left to do: She called Brown and asked him to pray for her mother.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” Brown said.
What surprised him even more was what he heard come out of his own mouth: “God will heal your mother.”
Brown panicked. What if God didn’t heal her mother? What if this pushed her even farther from God? Yet he did what he knew he should do — he started praying. He called everyone in the church, emailed and posted on Facebook so that every believer he knew praying for Menon’s mother.
“Prayer and fasting are first and foremost on Brown’s mind,” Bailey said. “Like the saints of old — he’s patterned his life after them.”
Everyone waited with expectation as Menon’s mother underwent surgery. But when the doctors opened her up, they could find nothing wrong with her.
Menon was relieved, but also frustrated and angry. She wanted an explanation, but none of the doctors could tell her how her mother had been healed. She called a friend, an atheistic cardiac nurse, and her only response was, “Sometimes we don’t have the knowledge yet.”
She called Brown, and when she questioned him, he simply said, “What do you think about it?”
Menon searched her heart, and she knew who healed her mother: God.
Ready to believe
It wasn’t long until Menon was ready for the “God talk.” She was alone, listening to Christian music, and a song came on the radio that spoke to her.
“I am not alone,” she said. “Even though my husband leaves me, God will never leave me.”
She called the church, and Brown wasn’t available, so she spoke with a woman there.
“I feel something different inside me,” Menon began to explain. During the conversation, the woman led her in a salvation prayer over the phone.
Menon brought 19 of her unsaved friends to her baptism, and she is now the part-time children’s minister at The Landing Church.
“My life has changed immeasurably,” she said. “I used to omit the words ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance. I was for gay rights, and now I have a different definition of marriage — God’s definition. I didn’t even know what a Gospel tract was three years ago, and now I’m handing them out.”
The Browns continue to help Menon grow in her faith and help her reach others.
“Tell the people in Arkansas, ‘Thank you,’ and that they are changing lives,” she said.
“There’s a teacher next door to me, and she’s been burned by believers. They need to come volunteer in her class. They can give their time and prayers.”
And they can also give financially. “We need a lot more support,” Brown said. What the ministry is currently receiving in support isn’t enough to cover the expenses.
“We have to raise a lot of money on our own because the cost of living is 45 to 50 percent higher than in other parts of the country,” Brown said.
And with a growing ministry, the costs are also growing. The Pacific Northwest is 96 percent unchurched, and many of the traditional churches that do exist make little or no effort to reach people in their communities.
In addition to Brown’s church plant and his efforts to reach people through the school, he has started a homeless ministry called SALT, which supplies food, clothing, personal health supplies and biblical teaching.
Through Brown’s efforts, 48 people have come to Christ since March 2014.
“Without the CP, Southern Baptist missionaries wouldn’t have the base to operate,” Brown said. “Together we can target strategic areas and accomplish a lot,” seeing Southern Baptists’ gifts help people like Kim Menon find eternal life.