MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (BP)–You’ve seen it displayed on car bumpers, printed on posters and worn as jewelry. The Ichthys, or Christian fish, has long been a symbol for Christian communities. For one congregation in Kentucky, the symbol has become a special reminder of answered prayer.
Jonathan Hendrickson, associate pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Middlesboro, said the congregation has always been “missions-minded.” They pray for missionaries on a weekly basis and give every year to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
But during the Christmas season last year, Hendrickson wanted to find a way for the congregation to connect with missionaries on the field.
“I got the material from the International Mission Board and was thumbing through it, looked, and saw that you could do a teleconference [with a missionary],” Hendrickson said. “I thought, ‘Wow! That might be really interesting.’
“The part that appealed to me was that you’d be speaking to someone who is right there on the field at the time that you’re talking to them. To me, it was a unique opportunity, a unique experience,” Hendrickson said.
Little did he realize just how “unique” the experience would be.
He contacted Barbara Smith at the IMB to request a teleconference with a missionary who could speak to his congregation on a Sunday in December. When Smith asked if there was a specific region his church was interested in, Hendrickson immediately thought back to a personal interest two years ago.
“When I first came to the church, I had been surfing the Web and ran across this website that someone had put together,” Hendrickson recalled. “A couple of missionaries who were in West Africa had college groups coming in. They were witnessing and ministering to people in these fishing villages in [Senegal] West Africa…. And from just that website, I read everything and followed every link that website had about West Africa.”
Hendrickson asked Smith if the church could speak to someone serving in West African fishing villages. A couple of days passed, and Smith returned the call to set up a teleconference with Cal and Patty McIntire, Southern Baptist missionaries in Senegal serving among the Lebou people.
On hearing this news, Hendrickson remembered the missions website and realized that God had brought everything full circle.
“The website I had run across [two years prior] was Cal and Patty’s ministry,” Hendrickson said. “So as the day drew near for us to conduct our call, I knew God was doing something special.”
Hendrickson and the McIntires talked several times prior to the scheduled teleconference to make sure everything was in order.
“The call went wonderfully,” Hendrickson said. “I asked Cal what we could pray for as far as his family and his work, and he said, ‘I have a challenge for your church.’”
McIntire told the church how the livelihood of the villages in Senegal is based on fish. He recently had been to witness in the small village of Kayar, where the men had been going out day after day, only to find there were no fish.
“He told one of the leaders there he was going to ask his fellow Christians to pray God would send fish to Kayar, and Cal went on to say he looked forward to coming back and hearing them say, ‘Your God sent us fish,’” Hendrickson recounted.
The Southside congregation agreed to the challenge and committed to pray for “fish for Kayar.” The teleconference concluded, but God’s work was just beginning.
Hendrickson started drawing a small Ichthys fish on the top of his left hand in order to remember the prayer request. Several of the youth he worked with began asking about the symbol.
“The next thing I know, [they] began drawing fish on their hands and telling everybody,” Hendrickson said. “And there’re several pastors in the area, and we’re praying, and they’re praying…. About a month went by, and we hadn’t stopped.”
After Christmas, Hendrickson e-mailed the McIntires to follow up. Cal responded with the answer to prayer that the Southside congregation had hoped for.
“Cal sent me pictures that brought tears to my eyes. Boats were on the shore [with] enormous piles of fish, more than I had ever dreamed of seeing!” Hendrickson said. “He went on to tell us how God had opened hearts and how he had several opportunities to share with the people as a result. It was amazing.”
This month, Southside Baptist Church has scheduled another teleconference with the McIntires during the church’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering emphasis. Hendrickson said the church looks forward to yet another “challenge of prayer.”
Through these conference calls, Hendrickson added, the church is able to come back to the same family year after year and develop a friendship and partnership. He said he hopes the friendship leads to the church volunteering to work alongside the McIntires sometime in the future.
For more information on how a church can set up a teleconference with a missionary on the field, call the IMB’s church services team at 1-800-999-3113.