Christians interested in ministering in a third world country can have that experience, but a former Kentucky Baptist pastor says it’s not necessary to leave the United States to do it.
Richard Collins, who pastored Piner Baptist Church in northern Kentucky for 14 years, is now pastoring a church in southeastern Utah where ministry opportunities are similar to what one might find elsewhere in the world.
“The need here is so great,” he said. “I ministered in Africa for years, but the poverty and mindset in this area resembles a third world country.” That’s because of a massive 27,000-square-mile Navajo reservation — which mirrors characteristics of what one would find in an African nation.
Alcoholism, health issues and poverty are rampant on the reservation. Collins notes that COVID-19 has “devastated them — ministry has changed to become humanitarian aid.”
It was more than a decade ago that God began to burden his heart for ministry to Native Americans.
Collins served in Kentucky churches from 1991 to 2007. He was a youth pastor at Fairlane Baptist Church in Campbell County for two years, then in September 1993 was called as pastor of Piner Baptist in Kenton County. “The Lord richly blessed the ministry there and we experienced phenomenal growth — from 30 to more than 350 regular attenders. From 1993 until February 2007 when I resigned, we had the incredible blessing of seeing many people come to Christ for salvation.”
When he resigned, Collins and his wife Michelle had two daughters in college. “We were not sure where God was leading us, but were sure that God had called us out,” Collins said.
A friend he led to Christ a couple of years earlier was partial owner of a construction company that built interstate bridges, and Collins worked as a laborer on a bridge crew. After six months praying for God’s direction, he was led to start a ministry geared to helping churches fulfill the Great Commission. A non-profit Great Commission Fellowship Ministries (GCFM) was formed, and Collins preached church revivals and community evangelistic events, all preceded by meeting with local pastors, prayer walks and door-to-door evangelism. “In some places we experienced great success — many people came to Christ and experienced the wonder of the new birth.
In July 2008 he was still preaching evangelistic meetings, but “God began to put southeastern Utah on my heart. I began to pray and ask the Lord what He desired of me. After about two months of prayer, a friend mentioned the director of missions from his association who had resigned and moved to Utah to take a similar position. Collins contacted him and explained what God was doing in his heart. An invitation to preach in some Utah churches followed.
Six months later he preached in churches from Roosevelt, Utah, to Montezuma Creek, Utah, on the Navajo Reservation.
“I was instantly moved by the plight of the brethren on the reservation. So I made plans to return and preach in some of the other churches in Utah and Arizona. This began a new direction in GCFM — we changed our model of ministry and began preaching, teaching and discipling in Navajo churches. We also began to bring in mission teams to assist us with VBS for the Native children. This ministry brought Michelle and me a new joy in the Lord — we knew God was up to something. From 2009-2013, we traveled back-and-forth from our home in Kentucky and worked with the Native churches.
In 2012, they started a gift-box ministry for Native children. “Churches, individuals and Christian-owed companies in Kentucky and Ohio would pack boxes. Michelle and I would bring them and go door-to-door and deliver the boxes and pray for the children and their families. This has been a tremendous ministry which continues to this day. Even this year in the midst of the virus, it has opened many doors and given us an opportunity for personal ministry.”
In 2013, First Baptist Church in Monticello, Utah, contacted him and asked if he would consider moving there to pastor the church.
“To be totally honest, I had no desire to step back into that position. But they were in need and it would put us much closer to the work we had been doing for a few years.”
In February 2014, Richard and Michelle met with the church and were told that as its pastor, the reservation ministry would continue. In May, 2014, they sold the house they had built to retire in, left family members in Kentucky and moved in June to Monticello, Utah.
“For over six years we have been serving in the church while at the same time continuing the ministry on the Navajo Reservation. Each summer in the month of July we bring in teams to help us with VBS. People from the age of 10 to 77 have experienced the culture of the Native people and had opportunity to share the love of Jesus with the children.
Several church members “have caught the vision for the native community and serve with us on a regular basis,” Collins noted. “It has been a good fit for us and for them. With all the changes the virus has brought, we are planning to start new types of ministries this year that we are sure will give us new opportunities to share the love and the hope of the glorious gospel.
“Our journey has had its high and lows, but we keep looking to Jesus as we join Him in HIs work — knowing that it’s not all about the destination, but also the journey.”
Richard Collins can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.