Almost 90 years ago, a small group of Christians began pursuing the message of holiness and love they’d heard about from tent meeting revival. It led them to plant a Pilgrim Holiness church in North Branch, Michigan, located in the eastern part of the state. This group of faithful people believed the message of Jesus could transform their community.
Today, those early believers would be in awe to hear the stories of God’s work in their rural town. Their story has become our story.
Our church, now North Branch Wesleyan Church, is situated on a beautiful piece of property one mile west of the “Village of North Branch.” Just one mile. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is. People would refer to us as “that church up on the hill” or tell me, “You’re the pastor up at Wesleyan.” It was as though others saw us as somehow removed and disconnected.
We knew we needed to bridge the expanse that separated us from our community.
If I could, I’d introduce you to another group of believers. I’d tell you about Marty, Teri, Greg, Chris, Dave, Julie, Jan, Tom, Alton, Dorothy, Brenda and others. These people not only were deeply tied to our church history and heritage, but some literally helped build our church with their own hands. Simultaneously, they sensed the importance of reaching over that one–mile expanse into town. As we prayed, we confessed sin and asked for blessing and for God to help us branch out to our community.
When it came to ministering in the community, we soon narrowed in on the 2,300 students (along with their families) connected to our local school system.
Over the past several years, we’ve experienced the unfolding of God’s favor and influence in our community. We’ve watched doors to our public school open to us in some remarkable ways.
- We lead monthly, virtue-based assemblies in the elementary school.
- Volunteers serve as mentors to at-risk elementary students.
- We’ve joined with others in neighboring churches to mentor middle–school students.
- Our NextGen Pastor has gained access to lunchrooms in each school, allowing for conversations and connection time with students.
- Along with other churches, we send volunteers to pray in every school in our county by invitation from each school district superintendent.
- I personally connect each week with our local superintendent for prayer in his office. This gentleman is a fellow believer and my friend.
- My wife gathers with third–grade teachers on Monday mornings to lead them in prayer in preparation for their week to come.
For now, with the additional protocols and shutdowns associated with COVID-19, many of these partnerships have been put on hold. But we are ready to jump in again as soon as we are able.
However, even COVID has not stopped God’s work in and through us! God is creatively at work in our community. Only “essential personnel” are allowed in school buildings now. Amazingly, our MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) Steering Team comprises most of the elementary school Parent-Teacher Club (PTC). As the PTC members are “essential,” these moms have been closely serving our elementary teachers and staff since the beginning of school in August.
God has positioned me next to our varsity football coach each Friday night during the game. With athletic events in Michigan being limited in their fan capacity and me having a son playing varsity football, the coach was generous to give me an official “sideline role” allowing me a place right next to him. For every offensive play, I help with play calling. Our interactions on the field have extended well beyond the games, even to the point of him worshipping with us along with several players on the team.
Student ministries at our church, although sometimes interrupted, have not stopped. At a recent youth ministry gathering, five students put their faith in Jesus (three are members of that varsity football team).
Most Friday mornings, a small cluster gathers at church to continue asking God for his favor, to prepare us for the days to come and to give us courage to reach deeper into our community. We pray by name for young people who are leading their classmates, for coaches, teachers and administrators. We pray for business people and we pray for families.
We don’t want to keep Jesus to ourselves. Our passion is to pass faith along to the next generation: “So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children” (Psalm 78:6).
I believe future followers of Jesus in our small town will one day proclaim, “If they could see now what is happening here, they’d be amazed!”
Rev. Peter Damaska is senior pastor at North Branch Wesleyan Church in North Branch, Michigan.