Risk-Takers





We asked our readers to nominate someone they know in ministry who is an innovative risk-taker. Here are the stories of three 'regular-Joe' pastors who inspire us to live on the wild side of ministry outreach.
Driving through Trey Hancock's neighborhood in Dearborn, Michigan, hurtles me down memory lane, evoking childhood visits to relatives in a nearby suburb of Detroit. Broad-shouldered elm trees and houses of red and brown brick line quiet avenues in soldier-like efficiency. Americana comes to life, with an era of stay-at-home moms and working-class dads.

But appearances can be deceiving. Hancock and his family are one of a handful of white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants in a neighborhood of Arabs, most of Lebanese descent. A couple of miles away, Warren Avenue cuts through the heart of the city's business district, where names such as Pharaoh's Café, Al-Ameer Restaurant and Saad Brothers Supermarket dot the landscape. Even McDonald's serves halal, meaning "lawful," Chicken McNuggets that adhere to Muslim dietary codes.

So how does a Southerner who started college as an Auburn University football player wind up living as a missionary to the largest concentration of Arabic people outside the Middle East? Hancock says just as God sent him a supernatural visitation of the Holy Spirit, He called him to this mission field.

"Sometimes you have to have a tough hide," the Alabama native says of his 15-plus years here as an Assemblies of God (AG) missionary. "There's an actual spirit in Islam that will scare people to death, especially anybody who comes to minister to Muslims."

But where others have left, Hancock has remained. Dearborn Assembly of God is even looking into purchasing a building in the heart of the predominately Arabic business district, after several years of Sunday-night services in Hancock's home. The church's leadership team includes his wife, Becky, another couple appointed as national AG missionaries and two single men. Hancock's love for Muslims is clearly evident.

The stirring in his heart for this people group awakened nearly 17 years ago, when he was an associate pastor at Jimmy Swaggart's Family Worship Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. An Iranian man named Shura responded to an altar call. But later, in the counseling room, he admitted not understanding much of Swaggart's message.

After carefully explaining the gospel, Hancock prayed with the man. The Iranian kept his eyes open the whole time, but after saying, "In Jesus name," he grabbed the pastor's hands in a viselike grip. Tears streamed down his face.

"I think back on it now, and it's an awesome thing," Hancock says. "This man had been in a religion and a culture all his life that says you can't know God. You can't relate to Him. He's aloof.

"Shura's sensing the reality of the living God, and he's having a burst of emotion. He's looking around and it's like he's coming alive. I'm talking to him, and he's not paying attention. It's like he's being born."

After this, Hancock started grabbing all the foreign-sounding names from the ministry's stack of response cards. Saying the Lord "broke my heart" for Muslims, in less than a year he had resigned, assuming God wanted him to head overseas.

Instead, in the summer of 1987, he wound up in a two-week training session in Dearborn learning about this field of ministry from an ex-Muslim convert. Two months later, he, Becky and their two young daughters moved to Dearborn, backed only by a pair of $100-a-month church pledges.

"He didn't know much about ministry to Muslims [in Baton Rouge] but was eager to learn," says John Koski, who joined the Hancocks' team four years ago. "He has an outgoing personality, so it's easy for him to adapt quickly."

While he and other observers label Hancock an effective minister, outreach to Muslims is a slow, arduous task. The AG team has only registered 15 to 20 converts since 1987--and some later returned to their old lifestyle. But the one-time faculty member at Swaggart's Bible college has never heard his old friend griping about the situation.

"When he faces frustrations, he doesn't complain a lot publicly," Koski says. "He's usually able to keep going and find something humorous in the whole situation."

A former Muslim imam who goes by the assumed name of Mark A. Gabriel because of dangers from angry countrymen also gives the Hancocks high marks for their faithfulness.

"For Trey and Becky to put their children in [heavily Arabic] schools isn't easy," says Gabriel, who was at one time professor of Islamic history at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. Gabriel, author of the book Islam and Terrorism (Charisma House), is a frequent visitor to Dearborn.

"Finances are hard, and the church [at large] doesn't understand what is going on there," he told Ministries Today, "although after Sept. 11 they understand it's our duty to reach out to these people.

"I've watched Trey deal with Muslims with kindness, love and gentleness. He understands a lot about the language and culture because he lives among them."

A native of Alabama, Hancock grew up a few miles outside of Birmingham, where racial prejudice was as common as magnolia blossoms. So were Sunday services at the Methodist church his family attended, although his mind dwelled more on sports and girls than sermons. That changed after his father took him to see cross-carrying evangelist Arthur Blessitt.

After a struggle with the devil, who whispered: "What are you doing? You're going to embarrass yourself," he overcame reluctance and walked down the aisle. Still, he soon got embarrassed in the form of a rebuke from an old friend when he tried to tell him about Christ. Stung, he decided to stay quiet about his faith and quit reading his Bible.

Two years later, en route to his girlfriend's house, he heard whispers bouncing around his old Plymouth Duster: "Come back. Come back. Jesus loves you." After struggling and expressing his fear, he finally yielded, saying, "Lord, it's been so long since I have felt You."

Suddenly, it seemed as if the top of his car vanished, opening him to the heavens. The Holy Spirit overwhelmed him.

I started crying, laughing, screaming and praying," Hancock recalls. "The presence of God was so heavy in that car. Jesus was so real; it was like you sitting here. Then an awesome fear hit me. I knew enough of Scripture to know that if you saw God you'd die. [So] I shut one eye. I thought I'd look over and see Him."

He didn't speak in tongues that night, but soon experienced an unknown language as he prayed. The Bible came alive, as did his awareness of a personal relationship with God. Since none of these traits were normally emphasized in his church, he accepted them as God's direct call.

He didn't necessarily see himself behind a pulpit. As the son of a contractor, he had learned carpentry and other skills, a talent that helped support his family the first four years they lived in Dearborn.

"I didn't understand the church world, where the pastor's salary is taken care of by the church and denominations and all that stuff," Hancock recalls. "It was life. I had to have a skill, but I had to tell people about Jesus because that's real.

"I knew when I was filled with the Spirit that I had to minister. It was a given. Why else would He shock me into reality? I found out later He fills you with the Spirit to be able to witness and touch people's lives."

But before he could become a minister, God had to dissolve the lingering seed of prejudice instilled by his surroundings.

It happened the first day African Americans were bused into his high school. It was a situation fraught with tension in a city famous for turning police dogs loose on 1960s Freedom Riders. As he watched the group of black students, who were obviously scared by hostile crowds, a thought floated through his mind: Why can't you love them?

Shrugging, I don't know, the question unnerved the soft-spoken student.

"That one question rattled me because my ethnocentric point of view was being hacked on by the Almighty," he says. "I remember in high school I led this black kid to the Lord and got a lot of flack. But the Lord started dealing with me. He broke down a lot of prejudices and preconceived ideas about the way the world was. That's probably one of the reasons I'm here."

PASTOR TO PASTOR

Regardless of any church's particular setting, Hancock doesn't believe in segmenting ministry from the rest of life. He blames divisions between work, leisure and other activities on the assembly line popularized by Dearborn's legendary automaker, Henry Ford.

"Sunday is for God, Saturday is for Michelob, and you work like a dog during the week. Everything's compartmentalized. [But] Muslims don't compartmentalize their lives. Religion is not just practiced on Friday, called joumaa, which is their big day of worship. Everything is a big whole. In reality, that's how life is supposed to be."

Still, he struggled to adapt to Arabic culture when his family first settled in south Dearborn, home to Ford's River Rouge Plant where numerous Arabs found employment after World War II.

Previously governing his life by a Day-Timer, he found himself enduring steady conflict. Non-Arabic people expected him to be on time. Muslims dropped in for casual, two-hour chats. Six months later, he stuffed his watch in a drawer.

"I just took flak from the [non-Arabic] side for a while and took myself out of that rigid time mold," Hancock says. "You've got to make changes like that...You've got to learn to function in that culture."

That includes adopting a stance of humility. Take, for example, the habit of crossing one's legs during conversation and exposing the sole of one shoe. Most Americans would think nothing of it. To an Arab it's like pulling down your pants and "mooning" him in public.

Some people scoff at that, says Hancock, but he sees it as a reminder that if your actions offend another person, you have shut the door on any attempts to share the gospel.

"We need to make the adjustment. Attitude is a big factor. If you come to people like you're a hotshot, they'll pick that up real quick. You can lock yourself out real fast. This is not about us. It's about people we need to minister to."

In addition to accepting cultural differences, Hancock's experience offers insights on other topics of interest to pastors contemplating working among "tough" groups:

Crossing racial and ethnic boundaries. Hancock says this calls for a willingness to experience discomfort. That means not just learning about different cultures but stepping into them.

"You've got to reach past [your comfort zone] and touch people. If you don't, they'll stay foreign to you your whole life. And you're going to miss a world of opportunity for the Lord to teach you. That's not fun. That's called [having] regrets at the end of your life."

Reaching into the community. Hancock coaches the wrestling team at a local high school, runs a spring wrestling program sponsored by the city recreation department, and leads a midweek boys program that includes hiking, camping and other activities.

His involvement with area youth led to an invitation last year from organizers of a Muslim-sponsored youth football league to speak at its fund-raising banquet. He drew parallels between the stand taken by civil rights legend Rosa Parks and encouraging youth, stimulating wild applause.

"It's a door that's this wide open," the effusive speaker says, spreading his hands more than a yard apart. "If you'll just do stuff with people and be a light, you won't believe the stuff you can do in the community."

Living among those you hope to evangelize. There is no better way, Hancock says, referring to people who question his choice of residence. It's true that if a conflict provoked heated relations between America and the Middle East, he couldn't simply leave his neighborhood. But if his house gets bombed and his car gets burned, he shrugs, that just means his house got bombed and his car got burned.

"It's life. It happens at times. People say, 'You don't have to put yourself in that situation.' No, you don't, but you sure waste a lot of time and energy if you don't live right there. It's hard to minister to them. People know when you're part of them."

Not defining success by traditional church standards. Results-oriented Americans would question spending so much time for so few converts. That frustrates Hancock. He points to the difficulties of persuading Muslims to profess Christ, when they could face harsh reprisals from family and friends.

"Are you going to tell him, 'Well, just accept the Lord, but you have to confess it now...and you need to tell your family first?' What is going to happen to that kid? If he does that, he's going to get shot. Or, he'll say, 'Forget you.' If he says, 'Forget you,' what's that going to do to all his cousins? What's that going to do to your effectiveness?"

Instead, those ministering in such environments have to go as far as others will allow them to, he says. In his eyes, the traditional approach of discipleship after someone accepts Christ is backward. Hancock says when you meet someone and pour your life into them, that is discipleship.

"Then, when they become a believer, there won't be all this falling away and other stuff that happens. They will have watched you, and when they finally say yes to Jesus, they'll know what they're doing."

Making sacrifices. Hancock admits to occasional doubts about the cost to his family of settling in unfamiliar territory. His son, Paul, born three years after they moved to Michigan, has always been one of only two or three non-Arabic students in his classes at school. Sometimes, on visits to his hometown in Alabama, Paul has made comments such as, "It would be nice to live here." Sometimes Hancock thinks, Lord, have I sacrificed my kids for this?

"But then I go: 'No, Paul is light-years ahead of even Becky and me as far as relating to people across cultural barriers. He's done really well."

Then there is the financial sacrifice, exemplified by the family living without medical insurance. That used to especially bother Becky, but she says the Lord has always provided for their needs. Monetarily, the Hancocks could have a much larger bank account had Hancock chosen to build houses and preach on the side. But he doesn't consider that much of a sacrifice compared to Christ's death on the cross and patience with him despite his mistakes.

Besides, he will never forget the drive around Dearborn in 1987, when he sensed God's call to move there. Praying, he complained he didn't have a job, dark skin, Arabic language skills or insurance.

"All of a sudden I hear [legendary AG missionary] Charles Greenaway's voice going in my head: 'Pentecostal power is for Pentecostal situations. And if you don't ever place yourself in the situation where only God can deliver you, you'll never see that power.' I said, 'OK.'

"I was still scared spitless, but I had enough sense to know that if the Lord's going to call you, He's going to take care of you."

That is a truth that should propel every pastor's ministry.


Ken Walker is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky, and a frequent contributor to Charisma and Ministries Today magazines.
Taking Jesus to the Extreme

California's high Sierra town of Mammoth Lakes is a mecca of extreme sports and extreme teens. And Dave Nelson is reaching them with an extreme faith.

When Dave Nelson, 47, answered the call a few years ago to start a youth outreach in California's high Sierras, he had been a hardworking associate pastor in Crowley Lake, California, for 17 years who supplemented his ministry pay by working as a real-estate property manager. But boredom had crept into his pastoral duties and try as he might, he couldn't shake it.

God whispered an unexpected solution to him. Start a new church for young people in nearby Mammoth Lakes, a resort hamlet that occupies the base of Mammoth Mountain--a site as revered by snowboarders and skiers as the Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore is by surfers. From November to March the Mammoth Lakes population of 5,000 surges to about 40,000 as young people come from all over the world for a winter of extreme sports and good times.

Launching out in obedience, Nelson opened The Lighthouse--a three-story, strip-plaza sanctuary neighbored by a sports shop, pizzeria and an ice cream parlor. Several members of the United States Ski and Snowboard Association belong to the church, including Nelson's own son--Chris, 23--and Tommy Czeschin, a member of the 2002 U.S. Olympic snowboarding team, among others.

The Lighthouse has become a beacon for kids who want to serve Jesus in a primary ministry role. About 350 teens and 20-somethings are empowered to do it all--lead the worship, teach, preach, direct intercession and Bible studies, evangelize, birth ministries, and seize lots of opportunities for God.

"We're raising up kids to minister," Nelson explains. "We believe that if we put them on the front lines that because of the need they will look for more input. They are being thrust into teaching, worship and outreach to the mountain community."

Nelson kicked off The Lighthouse as a cross between a coffeehouse and Internet café. Kids would wander in thinking it was a restaurant. They'd hang out, log on and use e-mail to stay in touch. Subsequently, a food outreach for transient young people was started, and a meal a week initially drew in about 50 kids. The number swelled to more than 300.

The Lighthouse soon had a grass roots reputation with the local youth masses and became a gathering point. Services regularly run more than 300 people even though the building seats only 100.

In addition to Sunday and Wednesday evening services, there is prayer and music on Tuesdays, a barbecue and prayer on Thursdays, and a "house of prayer" with music playing in the background from 6 p.m. till 8 p.m. five days a week.

Nelson says the current youth generation is looking for a faith they can call their own. In general they are not finding it in churches with older and more established memberships.

"The spiritual reality they have tasted is lacking. For many of them, their parents became Christians during the Jesus Movement and went from 'I love Jesus' to 'I love my BMW.' For the kids, it's hard to connect with the deep reality of what they've been taught. They want to surrender all. The key is giving them permission to do what they've heard."

Nelson says the move to Mammoth Lakes and the ensuing ministry effort "was really hard to do" but that it has been made easier by having his family with him--his wife, son and daughter--who have helped him to better understand the ways that young people want to live out their faith.

For pastors who want to see young people touched by Christ, but feel disconnected from the generation, he has one word of advice: listen.

"Leaders must relax and listen. We must stop looking at things just with our paradigms. Examine what is opinion vs. truth. Ask yourself: 'Can I relax and let things not look so good? What can I not let go of?'

"Kids need access and a sense of possession. It won't happen if they think it's someone else's church. They love testimonies. They love to hear of someone in process."

Like Nelson was when he came to Mammoth Lakes.
Jimmy Stewart


The Devil Buster

Kim Daniels means business when it comes to delivering people from the enemy's clutches. The devil knows it's not safe to play in her neighborhood.

Anyone needing deliverance ministry in the Jacksonville, Florida, area need look no further than the local yellow pages. That's where pastors Kim and Ardell Daniels have a dollar-bill-size ad for their church, Spoken Word Ministries, with the words "We cast out devils" emblazoned across the bottom.

The idea came while the couple was participating in a spiritual warfare conference at which theologian C. Peter Wagner challenged deliverance ministers to get radical. "Somebody needs to put an ad in the phone book that says, 'We cast out devils,'" he told them. And that's what the Daniels did, spending $5,500 annually.

"Bold" and "radical" are adjectives Daniels is used to hearing. Once an Olympic track hopeful-turned-crack addict, Daniels experienced the power of God to change her own life. Upon accepting Christ in 1987, she began to experience demonic encounters. And after she received deliverance herself, demons began manifesting when she prayed for people.

It was a baptism by fire into deliverance ministry, which has become her hallmark. Spoken Word Ministries was birthed out of a center for drug-addicted women that reached out to the hardest of the hard-core.

But when the season for this type of ministry ended, another quickly began. Two days after she closed the door of the center, she was handed the keys to a 20,000-square-foot church owned by the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee). She knew this was God's way of telling her it was time to start a church.

But the neighborhood where the church sat was as run-down as the building. Cars were stolen every day. Crack houses were on most corners. And drug dealers were shot down in front of the church almost regularly.

Yet before she had a clue she'd pastor in this community, Daniels says the Lord had instructed her one night to circle the neighborhood seven times. On the seventh lap she was to roll her windows down and shout the victory. Today, she says the crime has toned down.

"Anytime a drug dealer will...set up house, I go tell them, 'Hey fellas, there's two rules in this neighborhood. No. 1, you sell drugs, you get busted. No. 2, you see that church corner right there? You come out and stand on that church corner, you drop dead.' That's what I tell them. And they did start dropping dead."

Through drug deals gone bad and police busts, Daniels says the neighborhood developed a godly fear. "I told them this is no play-play church. We're real up in here. Jesus loves you first of all, but if you come down here with your stuff and stand up on that corner [there will be consequences]...That's God's corner down there."

In what she sees as nothing short of miraculous, the 200-member church has more "regular people" than "special cases." She seeks God for daily direction and believes she has an anointing to take risks. "I guess you could call it the lepers anointing, that anointing where you don't have anything to lose."

So what challenges a demon buster, as Daniels is affectionately known? It's not witches or warlocks, werewolves or vampires, haunted houses or crime-ridden streets. It's the little foxes--insecurity, jealousy--and "holding on to the genuineness of my faith and maintaining my first love."

Daniels knows every church is not called to this type of ministry, but she says all Christians must be radical. "We need a radical relationship with God," she says, "and when we have [that]...it will catapult us into what we're called to do. You can have a Joyce Meyer ministry, but you gotta have a radical relationship."
Adrienne S. Gaines

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