PORTLAND – Baking bread has become an excellent way for Kelsey and Vergil Brown to connect with neighbors and church members. Kelsey developed the skill during the 2020 pandemic lockdown and has continued sharing loaves of bread to build relationships while she and her husband Vergil, a church planting missionary with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), get to know people and introduce them to Jesus.
“We’ve been counting how many loaves of bread she’s given away,” said Vergil. “She just passed 300. These go out to the whole neighborhood and to church members. Everyone knows about Kelsey’s bread.”
For missionaries with children, planting a church involves the entire family given the sacrifices each member makes, and that’s been no different for the Browns as they plant Redemption Church in one of the most unchurched cities in North America.
Vergil and his wife moved to the city roughly 16 years ago to begin seminary. They planted a church in Gresham, a suburb east of Portland, where Vergil pastored for about a decade before the Lord began stirring his heart for something new, which they discerned meant planting a new church in northeast Portland.
“So, we moved our family into the city almost three years ago to begin work on planting this new church,” Vergil said. “Our former church, Gresham Bible Church, partnered with Hinson Baptist Church to send us out and start Redemption Church.”
“Our whole family came to Portland. Our whole family’s planting this church,” Kelsey said. “I prefer to do more behind the scenes things for support. Even my two little girls take their job seriously. They help with cleanup, and they help me greet sometimes, so it is definitely a family affair.”
Seeing their kids buy into the missionary effort has been a blessing to Vergil and Kelsey.
“I’m really happy to see my kids involved in the life and ministry of our church,” said Vergil. “They’re inviting their friends to church. They’re being hospitable with new people walking in who have kids. So, our kids are like little ambassadors.”
Portland is known as one of the most religiously unaffiliated metro areas in the U.S. An estimated 42 percent of people choose not to identify with any particular religious tradition, but Vergil quickly learned that did not mean residents are closed off to learning about Christianity.
“Portlanders are really open to the gospel,” said Vergil. “Our experience after moving into the city almost three years ago is that people are open and curious about God, open to having discussions about Jesus and spiritual conversations.”
Baking and sharing bread helped the family build bridges to have more of those conversations.
“I started bringing bread every Sunday, just looking for people to give it to, and then also started giving it to our neighbors,” said Kelsey. “When new people move into our neighborhood, we’ll bring them a loaf of bread with our information.”
The phrase expressive individualism captures the culture of Portland. People are expected to find whatever works best for them and live that out. That helps residents be open, welcoming and curious about others’ beliefs, Kelsey said, but that attitude also makes it difficult for them to recognize the need to look outside themselves toward the hope of the gospel.
“We’re hoping to be a light in our community, show people what community really looks like, to show people what God’s love looks like, to show them what salvation and forgiveness and mercy look like,” said Kelsey.
“So, I hope that our church can be a community where people can find a home, can find healing and hear the truth about their sin and their need for a Savior.”
The Browns look around their community and the rest of the city of Portland and see a need for more faithful, gospel-proclaiming churches, and they hope to be a launching pad for sending out more people to make disciples, which will spawn new congregations.
“We really pray and hope that the young people who are with us in this church, and some of the adults too, would be inspired by the work that God is doing to plant Redemption Church,” Vergil said, “and that the Lord would use that in their life down the road to see some of them as church planters or missionaries. We want to see this thing multiply.”
As people around North America pray for the Brown family and for Redemption Church, Vergil cited courage to share the gospel as a top priority.
“We ask that you’d be praying for boldness, that we would be bold in bearing witness of Jesus Christ,” he said. “That we’d be faithful to that call, faithful stewards of the opportunity and the time that we have to see this new church established.”
The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® provides half of NAMB’s annual budget, and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the field. The offering is used on the field for training, support and care for missionaries, like the Browns, and for evangelism resources.
Published March 6, 2023