“Why Vermont?” I still get the question any time I tell someone where we moved to plant a church. They sound almost as surprised as we were when God called us here.
I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta and hadn’t lived in a rural area or a small town a day in my life. On top of that, my wife and I always wanted to take the Gospel to new frontiers and make Jesus known to a people who’d never heard the good news before. We assumed that desire God had placed in our hearts would lead to a life of missionary service overseas.
But instead of the call to un-Christian areas leading us overseas, or to a big city, God made it clear that we were to move to small town New England.
Why? Because in addition to great skiing, beautiful scenery and quaint bed and breakfasts, Vermont was also the least religious state in the nation. When we came here, only 2% of the population even attended an evangelical church.
Since moving here in February 2014, we have seen God move in incredible ways, and the surprises have continued. After three years of planting in small town New England, here’s what we’ve learned:
1. Our town was in greater need than we thought it was.
We didn’t expect to be able to feel the spiritual oppression when we prayer walked the streets of our town. I didn’t expect for our pagan neighbors to call on the spirits of their dead ancestors when we were at their house to comfort them in the loss of their child. We frequently hear sirens traveling our small streets for yet another heroin overdose by a lost soul in desperate search of hope. Our town desperately needs Jesus, and most haven’t heard His Gospel in truth in their lives.
2. The field really is RIPE for harvest.
Jesus promised us that the harvest is plentiful (Jn. 4:35), but looking back I don’t think I was truly believing Him to rescue people like He has. I was looking at the hardness of the soil, not looking to Him. But over and over again we meet people in whom God is already at work.
Just yesterday I was hosting a seeker study in which three guys were present who had never been in a church building before in their life. Some said they’d not given much previous thought to God. By the end of our study of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, a couple of the guys were saying “I want to ‘come home’ and start a relationship with God, but what does that look like?” Here they were, just waiting for someone to come tell them of God’s rescue for them in Jesus. God is at work in small town New England, and He is looking for faith that believes Him to do what He’s promised in these ripe fields. Please pray for laborers to join us in the work God is doing here.
Seeing Gospel fruit grow in small town England can be slow, tough work. Sometimes so slow that the temptation is to look at the size or maturity of the churches we shepherd and question our sufficiency as Gospel ministers. We’re even tempted to look at how to grow “our church.” But we’ve been reminded again and again that our sufficiency comes from the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 3:6), and that Jesus will build His church as we’re faithful to proclaim Him through His Word in the power of His Spirit (Matt. 16:18). As we do so from pulpits, in parks, around kitchen tables and wherever He leads us, His Kingdom will spread as disciples and churches are multiplied to the glory of His name throughout New England.
Please join us in praying for faithfulness for those called to live as missionaries to small town New England, and that God would use His Gospel faithfully proclaimed to raise people to life in Christ.
Ben Whittinghill is lead pastor of Rivertown Church, a church plant in Brattleboro, Vt.