Five Moments We've Been Reminded of God's Faithfulness in the First Five Years of C2 Church
If we ever write the story of Christ Centered Church, it will be a story of God’s faithfulness. While we know He has been with us for every inch of the journey, there have been many moments when He has made His presence and faithfulness especially apparent. In honor of our fifth birthday, here are five of those moments.
Moment #1: When God put a rainbow in the sky
Early on the morning of May 28, 2013, I put our minivan in reverse and backed out of the driveway of a home in Warrior, Alabama where we had been living for the past few months after selling our house. My wife Lindsay was in the passenger seat, our 2-month-old, Sawyer, was strapped into his car seat, and the rest of the van was full of miscellaneous items that would not fit into the moving truck. The other kids, Jackson and Meredith, were staying with grandparents for two weeks and would arrive in Miami after we were settled. A few minutes earlier, a moving van driven by two very kind friends pulled out of the driveway and started the 13 hour drive south to Miami. As we backed out, we ran into a brick wall and dented our back bumper. Lindsay and I just shrugged our shoulders and laughed. That was just another bump in the road on our journey to move our family to Miami and plant Christ Centered Church.
“Apparently, Satan does not want us in Miami!” That was my conclusion after finding and losing 5 rental homes (two of which we had contracts for), and facing many other relational, spiritual, and physical challenges. “But you know what,” I said, “he can’t keep us out of that city!” Then I added, “And it has to be easier to find a place to live once we are actually there.” So we backed up again, this time avoiding the brick wall, and we headed south. We had so many questions and there were so many unknowns. We were leaving all of our friends and family behind, and we only had enough money to survive for about two months despite spending the last 7 months raising support. What we did have, however, was worth much more than houses and cars and financial support; we had a clear call from God to move to Miami and plant Christ Centered Church. We could do that or be disobedient to God. Those were our only options, so we drove south.
As we crossed the Alabama state line, everything seemed so final. Although we were really excited about making Miami our home, everything that looked, sounded, and even smelt like security was north, and each southern mile put us a little farther from all of that. It was a very emotional moment, and just as Lindsay began to cry over the weight of it all, we saw it—an east to west, full color, ground to ground rainbow. And as if it wasn't enough to just put one in the sky, the Lord positioned that rainbow so that we drove right under it. It was not a promise of “success” for Christ Centered Church, but it was a promise of God’s presence and faithfulness.
Moment #2: When God put us at FIU Biscayne Bay
For almost a year before moving, I had been travelling to Miami as often as possible to pray over the city, meet people, and look for a place for Christ Centered Church to meet. Initially, we had focused on two communities, Miramar and Homestead, and after narrowing down to Miramar, we knocked on the door of every possible venue. It felt like no one was home! Whenever we could get someone to meet with us, they would either tell us no or make it really clear that they didn’t actually want a church to meet there. We would be tolerated but not wanted, and that’s not what we were looking for.
After moving, we started driving all over the city looking for places for Christ Centered Church to meet, but the only place we found was right in the heart of South Beach, and several people told us that was possibly the worst location to start a church. We were getting desperate. In just two weeks, we would welcome the first of two mission teams who were willing to help us meet people, but would we need them to help us meet people from Miramar, Homestead, Hollywood, Miami Beach, or somewhere else? We did not want to waste the time and resources of those teams. And then we saw a sign, “Florida International University Biscayne Bay Campus.” We didn’t even know FIU had a campus in the northern part of the county, and it was miles from any other place we had looked before. We turned down the road and drove up to the information booth. “Do you have any space that groups can use for meetings?” I asked. I was ready for the young lady to turn us away when she surprised me with the name and office number of someone we could speak to.
We parked the van, leaving our three children (including a screaming 2-month-old) with our first intern, Heather Odom, and walked into the Wolfe University Center. We found the events office, and as we set across from the director of that office, I reluctantly told him that we were planning to start a church (it was at this point in the conversation with other venues that the conversation would turn awkward). “What kind of church?” He asked. Figuring there’s no good reason anyone would ask that question, I tried to be as vague as possible, “We’re a Jesus church.” He pressed, “But what denomination?” Uh oh. This must be really bad. “Baptist,” I said, still trying to stay as vague as possible. ”Oh. What kind of Baptist?” he asked.
Please understand, it’s not that I’m ashamed of being a Southern Baptist, but we were desperate for a venue, and I didn’t know whether this man had a positive or negative view of the SBC. After all, we’ve got more than a few crazy uncles in the SBC family, and like all denominations, we’ve had our share of black eyes. It was apparent, however, that this man was one of the few people in Miami who knew there were more kinds of churches out there than just Catholic or Christian (that is generally the way people refer to churches in Miami). This guy knew about Baptist churches, and he even knew there are different types of Baptists. So I told him, “We are a Southern Baptist Church,” and I waited for the conversation to grow cold. It didn’t. “I love Southern Baptist Churches,” he said, “I’m from the Dominican Republic, and it was a Southern Baptist missionary who reached my grandmother. I go to the Anglican Church, but my family wouldn’t be a Christian family if it weren’t for Southern Baptists.” From that moment, I knew we had found our home. God was faithful and He had gone before us—generations before us—to prepare a place for Christ Centered Church to meet.
Moment #3: When God put our family in a house, twice
Renting a house was not easy. When we arrived in Miami, we had two nights reserved at a hotel, three days until the moving truck had to be returned, one week until our first intern was scheduled to arrive, two weeks before my parents would drive our children to Miami, and nowhere to stay after night two. We had been working with a real estate agent, and she was as persistent and hard working as possible; the rental market is very competitive, and we were looking for a 3+ bedroom with some kind of extra space for storage and interns for $1800 per month or less. In other words, we were looking for a unicorn. The agent’s hard work paid off, and she found the perfect place—the only problem is that everyone else wanted the place too. “I’ve found your house,” she said over the phone, “but the owners don’t know it yet.” Then she described the plan, “You’re going to show up tomorrow to meet the owners at an open house, and you’re going to put on that southern charm, that baby is going to smile, and the owners are going to fall in love with your family and rent this house to you.” And that’s exactly how it happened. As we talked with the owners, three other couples were touring the house, but the baby and the southern charm did their trick, and the house was ours. We couldn’t believe it! The Lord had given us a place to call home.
Eighteen months later, we found ourselves in an interesting situation. While living in our rental home, we began looking for a home to buy in the city of North Miami, where Christ Centered Church is located. After finding a house in short-sale and spending six months trying to buy it, the deal fell through, and we ended up homeless. Our landlords from the previous home were as gracious as possible, but they had already rented the home out to another family, so we had to leave. One of our other staff families, Joey and Brooke Wood, opened their home to us, and we lived in the floor of their living room while all of our belongings went to storage. There were 5 Allens, 3 Woods, 2 interns, and my mother, who had come into town to help us with the move that didn’t happen (that makes 11 if you’re counting), all living in a two bedroom house.
For ten long days, we didn’t know where we would call home, and we assumed we had lost the $2,000 we had invested in the process of trying to buy the short sale house. Then our real estate agent, who had been doing all he could to make this happen, had a great idea. Why not just rent the house we were trying to buy? The worst that could happen is that the bank would sell it to someone else and we would have to move out but at least we would have a place to live. So we rented the house and moved in. And three days after moving in, the bank reconsidered the deal, and we bought the house one week later.
Just as we were moving into the house, we received a call from Al Fernandez with the Florida Baptist Convention. Al told us about a mission team from Indiana who had been stranded in Miami on their way to Cuba. The Cuban government had revoked their visas, and the mission team needed something to do. “We can put them to work on some mission projects,” I told Al. “No,” Al said, “They want to help you. Didn’t you just move into a new house?” Thirteen men and women from the Northeastern Indiana Baptist Association came to our new house for the next two days and helped us clean, paint, and unpack all of our boxes.
Buying a home in Miami is more challenging than I could ever have imagined, but God’s faithfulness was so evident in the process. We love our house, and because of the rising cost of housing, there’s no way we could afford to buy the same house now. Every time I put my hand on the doorknob to enter, I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness.
Moment #4: When God put a spaceship in our driveway
November and December of 2017 were the most difficult months we have ever faced in Miami—maybe in our married lives. We had merged with another church, Christ Fellowship, to become their North Miami campus, but what began as a great step towards what we dreamed of accomplishing in Miami quickly turned into a nightmare. Although our two churches have the same mission and follow a similar strategy, the cultures of the churches clashed. After a few months, we knew it wasn’t a good fit, and they knew it wasn’t a good fit; but neither of us knew what to do about it.
As we walked through that season, we questioned just about everything surrounding our call to Miami and our future in the city. We wondered if God was through with us here, but that just didn’t seem to make sense. Why would God take us out of a city that needs the gospel so badly when we wanted to stay and had found a way to carve out a life and ministry here? Maybe we had missed God’s will concerning the merger and now He had forgotten us.
After Christmas, with all of this on our minds, we took a much-needed vacation to the mountains of North Georgia. On January 1st with so many of our questions still unanswered, we loaded up early in the morning to head home. Thirty minutes into our drive, another car lost control, swerved into our lane, and we crashed into that car going over 60 mph. By God’s grace, everyone in both vehicles was alright, but our family van was totaled. It had been almost 9 years since we had a car payment, and now we were faced with the task of finding a car for our family with the few thousand dollars we received from the insurance claims.
About two weeks before our early morning accident, I got a phone call from a friend that seemed a little strange. He wanted to know if all of our cars were in good shape, and I told him that both of our vehicles were in good working order, and even better, they were both paid for. “Well, I’m asking because my wife and I really feel strongly that we should buy your family a car. We felt like there might be a need in your family for a car,” he said. Two weeks later, when my friend saw the pictures of our January 1st accident on social media, he called me back. “How about that car?” he asked with smile in his voice. I was much more open to the conversation than I had been two weeks earlier. “We’ve been looking at vans like our old one with a few less miles on them, and I think we’ve found something that might work,” I told him. “Forget all of that,” my friend said, “I’ve found the car I want to buy your family. I just need to know what color you want.” A few days later, that man pulled into our driveway and handed us the keys to a brand-new spaceship— that’s what I call it because, well, let’s just say it wasn’t like any of the vans we had been looking at!
That car is more than just a car. It’s a reminder to our entire family that God was with us even through that dark and difficult time. God did what God does in a way that displayed His faithfulness.
Moment #5: When God put a message in a dream
In March of 2018, we came to an agreement with Christ Fellowship to transform the North Miami campus back into Christ Centered Church. While we were excited about the change and knew it was the right step, we took on the entire weight of leadership for the church. Because of events surrounding the merger and un-merger, as we came to call it, we lost our entire staff and virtually all of our leadership team. We had to rebuild, and we were starting from scratch—except there were still 200 people showing up each week for worship gatherings. We had to, restart our financial systems, raise support, buy new equipment, buy new signs, find new leaders, reboot our website, and plan and execute services with about ten days’ notice. By Easter weekend less than one month later, we were exhausted. On Good Friday, with all the pressure of the upcoming Easter services and all the emotional and physical energy we had invested in propping Christ Centered Church back up on its feet, Lindsay and I stood in our kitchen and talked about how discouraged we were. I said it first, but she confirmed right away that she felt the same thing. We were low.
Being an introvert, I know how to put on a good face for a crowd because it’s something I have to do often. That doesn’t mean I walk around depressed or discouraged all the time. I very rarely feel that way—but even when I’m not discouraged, I have to make an intentional effort to exert energy in a crowd, or I’ll end up making the people around me feel like I don’t care about them. So when Easter Sunday came, I was in pastor mode, and although at that point I felt really discouraged, I doubt anyone other than Lindsay could have picked up on my discouragement.
After our first service, a young couple came to the Next Steps area and asked to speak with me. “Pastor, I have something I have to tell you,” the young lady said. “I felt like I needed to tell you last week, but I didn’t because I really don’t know you. We’ve only been coming for the past few weeks, and I have no idea what you do when you’re not here on Sundays. So, I didn’t say anything to you last week, but this morning I had a dream, and I knew I had to tell you what is on my heart. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” she continued, “but I know the Lord wants me to tell you this, ‘The Lord sees all that you are doing, and He is pleased. And He wants you to know that; and He wants me to tell you not to get discouraged.’” As I listened to the young lady, my eyes filled with tears. I quickly found Lindsay and asked the young lady to tell her what she had just told me. Tears streamed down Lindsay’s face as she listened to the reminder of God’s faithfulness. The Lord had not forgotten us. He did know. He did see. He is faithful.
I’m not sure what it says about our faith that God sends us so many reminders that He is with us, but I know what it says about God—He is faithful. On our worst day, in our worst moments, God is faithful.
How has God shown His faithfulness in your life over the past five years?