GAHANNA, Ohio – Wally Contreras had a passion for missions before he became a pastor in January 2020. Having previously served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, he lived overseas for six years in Europe and Central Asia – cross-cultural experiences that helped shape his love for the nations.
After he became pastor of First Baptist Church of Gahanna, Ohio, and wanting to see his church’s commitment to international missions grow, Contreras prayed that God would lead them toward that goal and specifically to a missionary family the church could connect with on a personal level.
In March 2020, IMB staff asked how they could pray for him. Contreras requested: “Pray that God would send us missionaries and raise up missionaries from this congregation. I want us to have a strong connection to the field.”
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Contreras spent the next several months focusing on the pandemic response and leading the congregation through it. All the while, he continued to pray over his church’s role in missions.
In early fall 2020, Contreras was contacted by a local crisis pregnancy center about bringing baby bottle coin collection containers to his church. He was glad to invite his church members to participate in the fundraiser. When the representative called to confirm the drop-off, Contreras agreed to meet Christal at the church. What he didn’t know is that Christal was from a different agency, asking for the same participation from his church.
Christal delivered the baby bottles and while at the church asked Contreras if their church had an established missionary connection. Her son and daughter-in-law had been appointed by the IMB and were visiting churches to invite them to partner in the work.
Where were they going? Central Asia. In fact, they would be serving just a few hours from where Contreras had lived. He knew this was God’s answer to his prayers.
The next day he received a phone call from the crisis pregnancy center which had originally called, and it was only then he realized the mix-up. Contreras laughed as he thought about the baby bottle deliveries.
“It was through my own mistake,” he said. “The Lord wanted to make sure that I couldn’t take any credit for this. By my own error, the Lord brought us the missionaries we were praying for.”
Contreras apologized to the first woman who called from the center, explaining they now had plenty of baby bottles, but he knew God used that mistake.
He soon met with George and Judy Jameson* and eagerly shared his own experiences in Central Asia. He was also excited about the partnership with these new IMB workers.
“The Lord was calling me back to a people group that I’d already met,” Contreras, adding that he soon told the church with confidence: “The Lord is calling us to partner with a ministry in Central Asia.”
Immediately the church made plans to intentionally pray for the Jamesons and the unreached in their country of service. The church also increased their regular international missions budget in addition to increasing their giving through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
“We’ll gain by losing,” Contreras continues to remind his church. “The Lord has given us this opportunity and I don’t know how else to respond.”
But for Contreras, the giving and praying isn’t enough.
“When we just send money,” he said, “we’re outsourcing our responsibilities to the gospel.”
He’s spending the next season getting his church excited about going—praying that his love for Central Asia will be contagious.
“Get your passports ready because I’m dragging y’all to go visit these people,” he tells his church members. “We need to be ready to have full skin in the game.”
When Contreras talks about the possibilities of bringing a team to join the work in Central Asia, his face lights up and he can’t help but look back at the ways God answered his prayer. “Send us missionaries” was his simple prayer.
The Jamesons urged FBC Gahanna to seek local connections with Central Asians, as they learn about the people and culture. It didn’t take many prayers before God began to show them how their international mission partnership would begin at home. They’ve even discovered a local business owner from the exact country where the Jamesons serve.
“FBC Gahanna is a prime example of the fact that Southern Baptist congregations everywhere are willing and able to have an increased personal connection to the field,” George Jameson said. “There are churches out there waiting to be invited into more intimate engagement with the work that they are already a part of through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program. The Lord is already making those connections and doing it by the wisdom of His providence and for His glory among the nations!”
Jameson says that the partnership with FBC Gahanna is “exactly the kind of partner congregation you pray for.” He is encouraged by the church’s willingness to learn and pray, but also by its commitment to increased giving and their desire to join the work in Central Asia in person when the opportunity arises.
“Coming and seeing what the place is like, meeting the people, getting firsthand experience of what is going on here has the potential to take their knowledge, connection and prayers to a new level,” Jameson said.
For Contreras and the church, prayers are being answered, the journey has started, and the future is bright. He expresses excitement about seeing God move in this way and has no plans to back away from their commitment.
“We’re full steam ahead,” he said.
If you or your church is ready to make a missionary connection, email [email protected]. Through the Church Connections strategy, IMB missionaries are hoping to connect with every Southern Baptist church.