SBC Life Articles

Fishing For Men

It's a long way — both geographically and culturally — from the mountains of East Tennessee to the rolling hills and red-sand beaches of Prince Edward Island.

But it is to this eastern Canadian province that Joe and Linda Ledford are called to touch lives with the gospel — whether through organizing a local church Sunday School, working with children and youth, or coordinating volunteers, and ultimately church-planting.

They didn't plan it this way, having left family, friends, and cherished careers three years ago to follow God's call on faith. But theirs has become a contagious commitment — prompting a renewed enthusiasm for Great Commission ministry at their new church home, Community Baptist Church in Charlottetown.

"They gave up security and everything this world had to offer for Christ," said Chad MacKenzie, a local lobster fisherman who has made a commitment to Christian ministry in part because of his relationship with the Ledfords. "That gives them complete credibility in my eyes.

"They've been a tremendous example and mentor to me, and their humility is second to none," he added. "Their actions do all the talking."

The Ledfords are among the missionaries featured during the 2002 Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 3-10.

Their path to full-time missions service followed a familiar pattern, growing from active church membership to increasing responsibility within and outside church walls. They previously had spent most of their lives in Elizabethton, Tenn., where Joe was the local bureau chief for the Johnson City Press and Linda a self-employed hairdresser.

With no children of their own, the Ledfords found themselves heavily involved a few years ago in leading backyard Bible clubs and other children's ministries in the depressed areas of their community.

They eventually decided to make their commitment official by appointment as "tentmaker" volunteers through the North American Mission Board's Mission Service Corps (MSC) strategy — earning a living through their professions while serving bi-vocationally through their local association.

"I think we just grew up with missions, and then we became missionaries in our hometown," said Linda. "When we look back now and see, at the time it was happening to us we didn't see it as parts of a whole. But now we can say, 'Oh yes, I can see how that was preparing me for this now.'"

The move to Canada was prompted by just one of many "coincidences" of timing that have come to characterize their ministry. One Saturday morning in early 1999, Joe attended the opening session of a study on the Henry and Tom Blackaby book The Man God Uses, which included a video in which the narrator said, "God is looking for men who will stand in the gap."

"That just kind of jumped out at me," Joe said, and he began to feel burdened about where God would have him serve.

He went home to find a letter from the Tennessee Baptist Convention notifying him that Wallace Jorden, the pastor at Community Baptist Church in Charlottetown, had requested that they come to Canada for an eight-month assignment. They had visited the area during a short-term missions trip more than two years earlier — before they became MSC missionaries — and their skills and commitment had made an impression.

"We really hadn't had any contact with the church," Joe said. "It came as a total surprise to us."

They went through a period of questioning all that would be involved in leaving their home, their jobs, and their entire lifestyle to go to Canada. But through a continued series of confirming circumstances they became absolutely convinced that the call was from God. The only question then became one of obedience.

"It was scary to think about leaving your family, home, business, and your whole culture and go somewhere else, but it was more frightening not to go," said Joe.

On Prince Edward Island — the idyllic setting for the fictional Anne of Green Gables — their ministry has been multifaceted. Their original assignment of children's ministry quickly grew to include youth ministry and Sunday School leadership. And that was only their immediate responsibilities. Their continued presence even during the winter — when tourists disappear and the rest of the province virtually shuts down — gave them opportunities to share why they remained.

"They seem to be fascinated with the way we talk," said Joe, joking about how their accents have become one of their favorite conversation starters. "Linda found herself yesterday trying to communicate with a girl from Beijing. I had to laugh about that, a hillbilly trying to give the gospel to a girl from China."

The Ledfords also brought a brand of personal discipleship and ministry commitment that is somewhat unusual in most churches on the island. Church membership is valued in the local culture, but participation — including evangelism or discipleship — is not particularly emphasized after an individual reaches age fourteen.

It was in this environment that Linda began a Bible study for ladies that has since seen several women begin new relationships with Christ and become discipled — prompting them to branch out into new areas of service.

"I sit there, and I am just like them," Linda said, noting how her role as a layperson who loves Jesus has helped her gain the women's confidence. "I'm just a simple, plain person that was a hairdresser who loves the Lord, taught kids, and played with them."

Even her hairdressing skills are used as a ministry. She builds relationships with individuals by offering free haircuts to both children and adults.

But it is through their expertise in children's ministry that the Ledfords have found themselves leading what has become a major venture into church planting.

A few months after their arrival they were asked to consider leading a mission effort the church had been trying to start in the east-coast fishing town of Montague.

"When we first went into the community our hearts just kind of jumped," said Joe, "because we recognized all of the signs of children — one-parent families, low-income families, multi-family housing. That's what we had been doing in Tennessee."

With the help of a group of volunteers from Community they threw a huge Valentine's Day party in 2000. When they returned for the first Bible club meeting they were disappointed to find no one there, but they eventually rounded up one child who received a personal performance of their puppet show. Then a few others joined her the next week. Then some adults started coming, and Joe started teaching an adult Bible study.

"It was God's way of getting us ready," Linda said of the slow start. "If we'd had sixty, I don't know if we could have handled them. That first experience let the volunteers see how the different parts of the meeting would go."

By the end of last year, attendance at King's Way Mission was holding steady at about ten adults and twenty-five children — but the early results have been more in the changing lives than in numbers.

One of three adults who accepted Christ last year was Roxanne, a woman who had begun attending with her children early on and eventually became more and more interested in what was being taught herself.

During an event for ladies focused on making homemade mayonnaise, Roxanne began asking the pointed questions that indicated she was close to a decision. They eventually got around to making the mayonnaise, but not before Roxanne prayed to receive Christ.

"Those are the kind of amazing things that have happened to the people of Montague," said Joe.

He also noted another one of the providential circumstances that seem to indwell their ministry. A large downtown building valued at $150,000 was recently donated to the mission — ensuring a base for continued ministry for years to come.

"It's going to open up new opportunities to meet people and build relationships," Joe said.

Within a few months of beginning King's Way plans began for another church-planting effort in Summerside, a town on the opposite side of the Island. Jorden, Community Baptist's pastor, asked Joe to go with him and another church leader to consider the possibilities for starting a church at Slemon Park, an abandoned Air Force base that has become a residential community.

On the drive over, Joe spoke about how to spot the signs of children in a community — such as bicycles and toys — that would help them identify the need for children's ministry that could again be a basis for building a church.

"We couldn't see the children's indicators for all the children running around," Joe said. "They were everywhere!"

The men stopped and prayed that God would open doors to the management of the community to allow them an entry. He did, through the son of the tenant's council president who just happened to engage them in a conversation that day.

The effort began with a large block party in the summer of 2000, where volunteers saw an immediate response from the community as soon as they arrived. Even hard rain did not deter the tenants, who all pitched in to move the equipment indoors. An offer of free family photos gave them an opportunity to visit families later.

The rest of the venture had similar fingerprints of divine intervention, and Park Way Mission now meets in a centrally located storefront — made available at a favorable lease arrangement because the church handled extensive cleanup and repairs themselves.

"There is no way we could have conceived and put these things together," Linda said. "It's clear God was at work, not just in the lives of the people of Slemon Park, but in our lives."

The Ledfords' original eight months ended long ago, of course, but they now say they plan to stay until God leads otherwise. Meanwhile, an emphasis throughout their ministry has been on discipling and training others to continue in their absence.

They have lived in a succession of small apartments on the island made available through the church, and they put their own home in Tennessee on the market last year. The couple admits they sometimes miss the comforts of home — the spacious house, Joe's well-equipped workshop, and the large network of family and friends. But they also have learned to experience a joy they say can only come from knowing with certainty they are where God wants them.

"I never understood what people meant when they said 'I was called to do this' until I experienced it firsthand," Joe said. "At the same time God gave us the call He gave us the peace to do what He asked us to do. And I have experienced in that an intense joy, and I think Linda would say the same thing.

"God gives us the things day by day to do the things He needs us to do. And He gives us the equipment to do it."

    About the Author

  • James Dotson