The student ministry of Friendship Baptist Church had been involved in numerous mission trips since the late 1980’s when our Student Minister Doug Chappelle led teams to Mexico for several consecutive years. In the early 1990’s we focused more on home missions, with trips to several States, and even by working in South Mobile County which is our little corner of the world.
However, after a time of prayer, we felt the need to expose our students to international missions. In 1993 and 1994 we had a few folks go with Evangelist Johnny Tucker and his organization, IMA, to the Philippines and that only increased our desire to be personally involved in international missions going. Those trips were a blessing but it did not seem feasible to get parents to allow their teens to take such a long trip.
We contacted Evangelist Danny Lafferty as we knew that he did much mission work in Guatemala through his organization, DLEA. DLEA owned a house in Pastores, Guatemala, and Danny led teams several times each year. So, in April of 1999, we boarded a Continental flight in New Orleans, Louisiana, and headed south with thirty something students and chaperones. That week proved to be a life changing week for many of us individually and for the Friendship family collectively. We can never say “thank you” enough to Danny Lafferty for allowing us to be involved in that initial trip. Looking back, that was the birth of GRACE Ministries, but little did we know what God had in store for us.
As our students and chaperones came home with changed lives, it peaked the interest in several other members of the Friendship family. We had folks join Danny for the September and November trips in 1999 and that would continue through 2000 and lasted until July of 2001.
We met Paul Leytham who lived in Guatemala with his wife, Cristy, in the city of Chimaltenango. Paul was originally from Theodore, Alabama which is only fifteen miles or so from our church. His brother, Glenn Leytham, worked in a local funeral home and became a dear friend to our pastor. Glenn is the one who introduced us to the idea of finding and meeting his brother, Paul. Glenn passed away very unexpectedly in February of 2000 and our pastor was asked to take part in his funeral service. Obviously, Paul attended that service and that is where our pastor first met him.
Paul & Cristy owned a coffee plantation in Chimaltenango, but they lived in the city. Beginning in the Summer of 2000, our teams would take one afternoon and go to Paul’s plantation to enjoy the view overlooking the Chimaltenango Valley, to eat blackberries, and to enjoy Cristy’s blackberry drink. That field trip was a “must” for each of our teams!
The day before we were to return home from our July of 2001, trip we went to Paul & Cristy’s place. As the team members loaded into the vans to head back to Pastores, Paul mentioned to me that if our church ever decided to purchase land in Guatemala that he and Cristy would be willing to sell a piece of the mountain. The pastor told him “thanks” but “no thanks” and off we went.
On the flight home the following day, the pastor felt God was trying to tell him that the time had come to branch out from DLEA. He initially resisted the idea, but decided to run it by a couple of men that evening following a meeting at the church. They were very favorable in their initial response. Those three men prayed for eight days and then met with a group of about twelve men to discuss the possibilities. Immediately, one of the men spoke up and said God had already told him that we were to make this move, and that he was to provide the funds for the initial piece of property. It was unanimously decided to ask the church family to bless this decision and, as that meeting was about to begin, another man said God had told him to pay for a second piece of adjoining land. So, the Friendship family unanimously approved purchasing 3.4 +/- acres of land that night and GRACE Ministries branched out, not in a parting from DLEA, but in a partnership.
The land was purchased, a contractor was hired, and construction began on the L.G. Camp, Jr. mission house in November of 2001. That construction was finished in mid July of 2002 and our first team used the mission house just a few days later.
Also in July of 2002, construction began on another building which would house two apartments, a garage, and a storage room. That building would be known as the Kenneth B. Ford, Sr. house, and the construction was finished in June of 2003.
Our latest building project is under construction and it is the Jennie Blaukamp Ministry Center. The expected completion date is June of 2013. This will be a place initially used to feed the children of Guatemala, with an eye on education in the very near future, and health care in the long term.
The Lord provided us with the opportunity to purchase approximately seven more acres of land which adjoins our original 3.4 acres. So, we now have slightly more than ten acres of land to use as a base for ministry.
It was decided in the early going that we would allow other churches and ministries to use the mission house as a base from which to do ministry. We have seen teams from Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as from Canada and Guatemala, use the mission house.
Teams are involved in hosting Backyard Bible Clubs, doing medical clinics, working alongside children’s homes, working with the seminary in Chimaltenango, building houses, distributing food and clothes, working in the local dump, et cetera.
Early on we realized this was a lot bigger than Friendship Baptist Church. It is a God thing! Both of our buildings were built debt free. The ministry center building is being built debt free. All of the land has been purchased debt free. Only God! He has also brought so many folks into our lives to partner with us to make a difference in the lives of the Guatemala people. Our ultimate goal is to make an eternal difference in their lives by introducing them to Jesus and by making disciples! So, we simply say “to God be the glory, great things He has done!”