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South African couple follows God’s call to Connecticut

EDITOR’S NOTE: Southern Baptist churches are engaged in the annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 4-11, in conjunction with the 2012 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. With a goal of $70 million, AAEO gifts help pay the salaries and ministry support for missionaries serving in North America with the SBC’s North American Mission Board. For more information, visit www.anniearmstrong.com.

NORWICH, Conn. (BP) — Few people understand doing whatever it takes to reach people for Christ better than Shaun Pillay.

Born and raised in South Africa, he and his wife Deshni arrived in the United States in 2007 as newlyweds. Having sold their possessions to finance their move, they brought only a Bible, their wedding album, two pieces of luggage and a resolve to follow God’s call wherever it led them.

“It was a jump, a crazy leap,” Pillay says. “Everything was so different here, but Jesus remained the same and He saw us through. Every morning when we woke up, we knew that this is where God wanted us to be.”

Shaun and Deshni Pillay are among five North American Mission Board missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 4-11 and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. AAEO gifts help fund Pillay and other missionaries serving in behalf of Southern Baptists in North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year’s offering theme is “Whatever It Takes.”

Pillay was called to missions at a missions conference in Birmingham, England. “I remember one speaker saying, ‘We need you to come to Europe and America. Our churches are dying,'” Pillay recounts. He was surprised when he heard of the need for missionaries in the United States. Even more surprising was the fact that he knew God was calling him to be one of them.

“I never thought of it, to be honest,” Pillay says. “We hear of all that God is doing in Africa and other places like that, but it’s sad to see what’s going on in places like Europe and America with regards to church. When I heard about the need, I just felt God telling me, ‘Shaun, you go.’ And I said, ‘Yes, Lord, I will go wherever You send.'”

God sent Pillay and his wife to the small town of Norwich, Conn., a far cry from the home they’d known in South Africa. With a population of 40,000, the city is full of history and diversity. Once marked by money and influence, it is now equally marked by economic struggle, homelessness and drug use.

“We looked at the homeless population, the drug problems in Norwich and just knew there needed to be a light in the city,” Pillay says. “We had compassion as Jesus did, looking on the multitudes and seeing them just waiting like sheep without a shepherd.”

Since their arrival, the Pillays have sought to lead and love the people of Norwich just as Christ does. They started Cornerstone International Church to give the community a place to gather and grow in Christ.

David Holland arrived at Cornerstone International Church as a carpet cleaner, hired to help spruce up the building before the church’s launch on Easter 2007. Notoriously known as a drug dealer and in trouble with the law in Norwich, Holland was worn and searching when he arrived at Cornerstone that day. Never one to pass up an opportunity to build relationships, Pillay stayed with Holland as he worked and spent the afternoon talking and sharing with him, ultimately inviting him to Cornerstone’s launch that Sunday.

“David was in the congregation that Easter Sunday when we launched our church,” Pillay says. “As we were wrapping up, he came forward and accepted Jesus Christ. It was a huge moment in his life and the life of our church.”

Just last year Holland became the first deacon at Cornerstone International Church and is working alongside Pillay to reach Norwich for Christ.

“God put Shaun right there in my life,” Holland says, “and he’s seen me through so much. He’s a good man, a man of God. And everybody I introduce him to just falls in love with him and his passion for the people and the city of Norwich.”

Holland’s transformation not only has been a testimony to the power of God but also Pillay’s influence in Norwich. Weeks after Holland’s salvation, the two ran into a group of policemen who knew Holland as the drug dealer and troublemaker he was before he had turned to Christ. They hadn’t seen him in months and Holland took the opportunity to explain his absence from the legal system as the direct result of his newfound faith in Christ.

“The men were obviously moved,” Pillay says. “They said, ‘I wish all the drug dealers in the city would come to know your Jesus if this is the result.’ They knew for sure that David was a changed man.”

For Pillay, this exchange was just a small step in changing not just one life, but also the city of Norwich as well. Though the work is slow, he recognizes that every conversation, every seed planted is a victory in the name of Christ.

The Pillays have set up “proclamation points” around the city — locations where they can share the Gospel and study the Bible with Norwich residents. Shaun’s most recent Bible study meets in a local barbershop owned by a former drug dealer.

“Whatever it takes to reach these people, whether it’s leaving our homeland or going to a place where we don’t know anybody. Whatever it takes to share the love of Jesus Christ,” Pillay says, “that is what we’re here to do.”
Sara Shelton is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Shaun Pillay and other Week of Prayer missionaries, visit www.anniearmstrong.com

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  • Sara Shelton