HOUSTON (BP)–Medical student John Robert Kamguru Githinji grew up in Kenya where poverty and conflict stirred his parents to consider where to send him for a better life.
They decided on a one-way ticket from Nairobi to Dallas.
“I was sent to find the American dream,” Githinji said.
He eventually found his way to Houston and to a man named Ben Hays, who was in the process of relocating and launching a new church.
“My friends told me about Ben,” Githinji said. But, he recalled, “Every church I’ve been to, especially back home, I never felt comfortable. I felt like I would have to sit in the pew in a certain way. Sit up right. It was kind of awkward.”
As Ben Hays and his wife Kelly served in local churches, “missions” had been a recurring thought, yet they “never knew the ‘where’ or the ‘when,'” Hays said.
Then their son Landon was born.
“He was this robust 10-pound, 10-ounce baby boy. Looked like the picture of health,” Hays said. “But on the second day of his life, we discovered that Landon was born with a pediatric liver disease.”
Like Githinji’s parents, the Hayses were confronted with the question of how to give their boy a better life through medical care.
“We said we don’t care where we go,” Hays said. “We just want to be seen. We want our son to be well.”
God sent them to the medical metropolis of the Texas Medical Center in Houston as “two extremely terrified young parents going through a really hard time dealing with this illness with our son,” Hays said.
Landon’s multiple surgeries and procedures made the hospital a second home but it also opened the Hayses’ eyes to the mission work to be done in the Houston medical community.
“God said a couple of things to us through that,” Hays said. “That I’d never belong long-term on the international mission field. And that you don’t have to go to the international mission field. You have one right here in front of you.”
While praying for Landon’s health, Hays began praying for the doctors, nurses, technicians and students he passed while walking the medical center’s campus. He soon realized God was calling him to plant a church. The Hayses were appointed as church planter missionaries by the North American Mission Board in 2008.
Ben and Kelly Hays’ son is doing well now and so is The Church in the Center, which launched in September and meets on the 8th floor at the Hilton Houston Plaza in the Texas Medical Center.
“We felt the need to put the church right in the heart of where the people are,” Hays said. “The chances of the very busy doctor, resident, intern or med student who doesn’t have a car making his way to a suburban church is very unlikely.”
The Church in the Center reaches people from all groups and walks of life. From California to places such as India, China and Africa, the medical center staff is an international community and mission field.
“Some grew up in church but have a huge spiritual vacuum. Others have never been exposed to the Gospel,” Hays said. “There’s a need that cries out for a church that is contextualized for this community.”
For people like John Githinji, The Church in the Center is just what the doctor ordered — the great physician, that is.
“I lit up. Like I was like, ‘Wow. This is it.’ I just knew. It was like one of those moments where God and the Hallelujah choirs [were] all behind you. And I knew that’s where I would be.”
Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Hays and other missionary and chaplain ministries through NAMB and its state partners, visit www.namb.net and click on the “Missionary Focus” gallery.