In our transition to Emmanuel Baptist of Newington, CT, many, many people tried to warn me that New Englanders have cold and unresponsive hearts toward the gospel. It seemed that nearly everybody had the same impression of New England— “It can’t be done there…” But I had a hard time believing that God was uprooting me from 22 years of wonderful ministry at Lancaster only to move me to a place where there was no harvest. In fact, over and over God was saying to my spirit— “There’s a harvest in New England and I want you there to be a part of it…”
And so by faith we came, almost expecting the negative voices to be right, but also believing by faith what God was saying to us. The week I candidated in late June, I expected to meet abrasive, cold people in any outreach attempt. I was extremely delighted to discover the opposite. In fact, in the last four months I have been keeping count of all the cold hearts I have met. Would you believe, up to today, I have met a grand total of exactly ONE—read that again—ONE unkind New Englander. I’m overwhelmed at how open people are here to the gospel. I’ve had more “What must I do to be saved” moments in the past four months than in my previous 35 years of Christian living. It’s been amazing to see.
This brings me to the Fernandez family—pictured with me and Dana above. I want to share this story with you, in hopes that it will encourage your faith.
My second Saturday night in Newtington—while I was still candidating—I was sitting alone in my room, wishing I had a visitor coming to church the next day. It had been a busy week of appointments and meetings. And I was sort of complaining to God that I hadn’t committed any guests to come to church. And so He said, “It’s still only 8pm—go to McDonald’s and find someone.” So that’s what I did. I grabbed my computer, and went to McD’s to work on my messages, answer emails, and look for someone I could invite to church.
An hour or so later, Freddy and Carmen were sitting a couple of booths away from me with their children—Sasha, Freddy Jr., and Sicily. The Holy Spirit seemed to say, “That’s the family I want you to speak to.” And you know how the argument goes. I reasoned that I was a stranger. I rationalized that this is New England and they are probably cold and hard. I fought off feelings of embarrassment, etc., etc. Finally, God gave the courage for me to walk over to their table and speak with them.
“Hey, can I talk with you guys for a moment.”
“Sure,” Freddy said, “Sit down…” I was speechless for a brief moment. Did this cold, hard New Englander actually just invite me to sit down? Then the Holy Spirit said—Just go with it—so I sat down and began to explain that I was preaching nearby the next morning and would be honored if they would bring their family to hear me preach.
That’s when I really got blown away. Freddy seriously responded, “Sure, we’ll come…” Again, I was speechless. The Holy Spirit said again—Keep going with it, this is what I do!
From that point we shared about ten or fifteen minutes of conversation—talking about Connecticut, California, our families, and the religious confusion that many people have. At one point Freddy said, “I have a lot of questions about this stuff.”
And I said, “Well, Freddy, that’s why God is bringing me to Connecticut. And if you will come to my church, I will help you have the answers from the Bible.”
A few moments later, I said goodbye, wondering if the Fernandez’s would really show up Sunday. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I left, Carmen looked at Freddy and said, “It’s like God sent him to us…” (Whoa!)
Well, the next day Freddy had to work, but Carmen and all the kids came to church as promised. And since that last week of June, they have only missed ONE Sunday at Emmanuel.
A week or so later, on one of my weekend trips to CT, we had lunch together, and both Freddy and Carmen heard the gospel and confirmed that they had both trusted Christ previously in their lives. They were saved but never rooted and grounded in God’s grace and in a growing relationship with Jesus.
And here’s the best part. The photo above was taken Tuesday night this week, when the Fernandez’s came to our home for pizza. We talked about everything from the charismatic movement to baptism and church membership. After we ate, God gave us a moment to share the gospel message with the kids—Sasha, Freddy Jr., and Sicily—and all three of them chose to trust Jesus as Saviour. And now the whole family is praying about being baptized soon. It was an awesome time!
As they were about to leave the house, Freddy looked at me and said, “I wonder how many people in all these churches around here have ever been invited to dinner at their pastor’s house?”
That struck me! I felt honored to have this family in our home and spend time sharing the love of Christ with them. To us, that’s just real, biblical, Christian hospitality and ministry. I couldn’t help but think of the irony—”While lots of pastors think New Englanders are closed to the gospel, lots of New Englanders think that pastors are closed to sharing it!”
There are people in our path who are looking for hope, waiting for truth, and ready for salvation, and all we have to do is get in their way. Some are not open—that’s always been the case in every age and in every region of the world. But many are, if we will speak.
God is good—and we praise Him for the harvest He has prepared in New England. The Fernandez’s are just one of many families we have met in Connecticut who are hungry for the truth. It’s becoming an almost daily occurrence!
It’s a wonderful blessing to see God at work. And it’s good to know, that even when it’s dark or cold—we can still go to McDonald’s and invite someone to church. This could really be a fattening outreach program!
One final thought—if we believe that people’s hearts are cold, they may as well be. If we believe that some are open, they will be!