RANCHO SAHUARITA, Ariz. (BP)–“I hate your God,” Danny McDermott screamed at his pregnant wife Danielle.
A 6-foot-tall, 220-pound “man’s man,” Danny was crying uncontrollably, pounding on the hood of his car and vomiting at the same time with his big heart shattered. He and Danielle had just been told by her physician that the baby girl she was carrying had a severe brain deformity, and the infant would never survive birth. Even if she did, she couldn’t live long so the pregnancy should be terminated immediately.
Danny was an avowed atheist and proud of it. He thought church people were strange. He had attended church once, on Mother’s Day.
But even before the devastating news about his unborn daughter, God was working on Danny. God also was preparing to use local church plant pastor Ben Barfield to reach him.
Seven years before, Barfield stepped out on faith and left a good job as a youth pastor at another Arizona church to start a new congregation called Common Ground Church in Rancho Sahuarita, a community of young families about 10 miles from Tucson. Recently featured on ABC’s “Nightline,” Rancho Sahuarita is an upper-middle-class development of 4,000 homes.
“We moved out here and decided to start a church that really fit the culture of the community,” Barfield said. “At the time, it was scary.”
The Barfields, supported by the North American Mission Board, started inviting neighbors to a Bible study in their home, beginning with only six people.
“I’m all about relationships,” Barfield said. “I spent time in the park across the street from my house meeting people. I was a crossing guard at school and later a school monitor. I coached basketball. Basically, I just spent time hanging out with people and making relationships.”
One of those relationships was with Danielle McDermott.
Danielle, dragging along her reluctant atheist husband, started attending the Barfields’ Bible study.
“I kind of got nagged a few times to come to church at Ben’s house,” Danny recounted. The two hit it off because of their mutual love of hunting and sports.
During one Bible study, Barfield asked McDermott, “What would it take for you to believe?” Danny replied, “You know, I’d like to see a miracle. I didn’t get to see any of those miracles in the Bible. Show me a miracle.”
“Ben was always open and honest if I had any questions,” McDermott said. “He was never pushy, just kind of always there.”
A few months later, Danielle became pregnant and the couple learned of their baby girl’s tragic condition. Normally, expecting a child is a happy time. But the months of Danielle’s pregnancy were long and bleak. Medical bills stacked up, and church and neighborhood friends held yard sales to help with the McDermotts’ medical expenses. And Barfield’s Bible study group kept in touch with them.
Understandably, Danny the atheist was still challenging God, asking how God could “give us a baby and take it away before I even get to see or hold it.”
“The church got involved,” McDermott said. “And I remember telling Danielle, ‘What are these people doing? Why are they doing this?’ It was just amazing to me that there were people so kind. They were just doing it to be there for us.”
Six months later, God delivered two miracles to the McDermott household. Little Bobbi McDermott was born alive and her once-atheist father was born again, thanks in part to Barfield’s church planting efforts.
“When Bobbi was born, she survived a couple of days and we got to come home,” McDermott said. “I remember Ben walking up to me and saying, ‘So … have you seen any miracles?’”
Bobbi ended up living 18 months. Now McDermott has gone from being an atheist to sharing his faith among his fellow construction workers in the booming Rancho Sahuarita community, which is slated to grow by another 11,000 homes.
The Bible study group at Barfield’s house blossomed to 40 people who formed Common Ground Church.
“It’s a just a huge, crazy-growing community,” Barfield said. “There’s no way one church plant can do it all. We’ve had a few more church plants to move in here.”
Barfield said 93 percent of people in the Tucson area are unchurched, so many more churches are needed.
“I think it’s important to plant churches because first there are all kinds of different people who like different things, in all shapes and sizes. Second, church plants really do a good job — probably a better job than existing churches — of reaching lost people,” he said.
Barfield believes it’s important for successful church planters to love their communities.
“I love the people here. You have to love the people who are your neighbors, the people you see at the park, the kids your kids to go school with. You have to love the kids and parents you coach with.
“I feel I’m where God wants me to be,” Barfield said. “For the first time in my life, I feel like this is what I was made for. And God’s doing some things I never would have expected.”
Danielle McDermott treasures the day she met Barfield.
“Common Ground Church has carried us,” she said, “literally carried us through everything.”
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. To view a video featuring Danny McDermott and NAMB missionary Ben Barfield, visit www.namb.net and click on the video gallery.