WEST PAWLET, Vt. (BP)–They say the night is always darkest just before dawn. It certainly was a dark night for Tad and Annice Perry and others of the small remnant at the United Church of West Pawlet, Vt., when they made the difficult decision to close the doors.
“I just hated to see the church close,” Annice Perry said. “It was very hard to deal with emotionally. I just wanted to keep it going somehow, but we didn’t see any hope, so we just started praying about it.”
Nearly 1,000 miles away in Rutherfordton, N.C., dawn was breaking in the heart of a young pastor named Lyandon Warren. “It wasn’t an ah-ha moment,” he said. “God developed the desire in my heart to plant a church in West Pawlet over time.”
Members from Piney Isle Baptist Church, where Warren was serving as an associate pastor, had been to West Pawlet on a couple of mission trips.
“When we came back the second year, we could really see that God was at work in the town,” Warren said. “There was more enthusiasm about Vacation Bible School. People were asking questions, they were very curious about all the activity going on at the church.”
The old church stood vacant for two years, but new life began to emerge when the Perrys met Terry Dorsett, director of missions for the Green Mountain Baptist Association, and the decision was made to turn the church over to the association for revitalization.
“I didn’t want to see the church turned into an antique store,” Tad Perry said. “So I asked Terry what would happen if this didn’t work. He said, ‘I don’t know, we’ve never had a church revitalization fail.’ So that was a real encouragement to us and prompted us to pray even more.”
A few months later, Dorsett spoke in a chapel service Warren attended. “He laid out the case for ministering in Vermont,” Warren recalled. “At the end of his message he asked the question, ‘What would keep you from serving in Vermont?’ and I couldn’t come up with a compelling answer. I knew then if God wanted me and my family there we should go.”
God confirmed the call in Kim Warren’s heart as well, and the couple pulled up their western North Carolina roots and moved away from family, friends and a strong church community to what surveys show is the least spiritual state in the United States. The Warrens came to Vermont as North American Mission Board missionaries, with Lyandon working bivocationally in dairy farming.
“The culture is a little bit different here,” Warren said. “Things are smaller and slower, so we started out by just trying to get to know people. We began a program for kids called Bible Buddies and a weekly Bible study for adults. Word began to get out that God was doing something here, and we started to see lots of new faces.”
One of those new faces was Steven Baker, a father of three, whose children attended Bible Buddies.
“I got off work about the time Bible Buddies started on Wednesdays, so I would stop by on my way home to check on the kids,” Baker said. “Pastor Warren was there on Wednesday nights, too, so it gave us an opportunity to have some good conversations. Pastor Warren built a wonderful relationship with us, and we were really anticipating the church opening.”
Mettowee Valley Church held its first service on May 6, 2007. It was scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m., and at 10:25 only six people were present.
“I didn’t think anyone was coming,” Warren said. “Within five minutes, 35 people showed up and God did some amazing things in that service.”
Several people came to know Christ, including Steven Baker and his wife. “The Lord moved on both our hearts and we gave it all to Him,” Baker said. “We were a functional family before, but now we’re functionally set up to serve the Lord.”
Since that first service, the church has continued to grow.
“The Lord has done things beyond our wildest dreams,” Annice Perry marveled. “I thought if we got 20 people we’d be doing good, and now it’s 50 to 80 or more!”
“Some people may say, ‘Why invest resources in a town of only 600 people?'” Warren said. “But Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost and nine out of 10 people in Vermont don’t know Christ.
“At Mettowee Valley Church we’re passionate about getting out into the community and sharing that Jesus saves. I think that’s really what God’s looking for.”
Jami Becher is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Lyandon Warren and other missionaries like him, visit the video gallery at www.namb.net.