Sometimes accepting God’s call to missions means being willing to pack up your family and head back home. At least that was the case for Katie Upton Wood.
Katie and her husband, Brandton, along with their three daughters, Corley Hannah, Rose and Callann, relocated from Georgia to Maine a few years ago to help reach New England with the hope of Christ.
The visible fruit of their missions calling is Hope Church, a growing congregation launched in 2017 in Brunswick, Maine.
‘Preparing her heart’
Amid the ups and downs of planting a new church in coastal Maine, anyone “would have to be crazy to do what we do unless you are called to do it,” Brandton said.
He quickly added that long before he and Katie met, “God was laying a foundation” that would “prepare her heart for what we’re doing today.”
Katie credits much of that foundation to her childhood years actively involved in Southern Baptist missions organizations.
“If it hadn’t been for GAs [Girls in Action] and Acteens and Mission Friends, I don’t think that I would have the mindset that I do and the heart for other people that God has given me,” she said.
As a Mission Friend and GA, she remembers “reading the stories and praying for these missionaries and seeing their pictures. It wasn’t just somebody that you hear of in a different country. These were people who had names and they had a face and a story, and they really literally moved their whole entire family to go tell people about Jesus.”
Those early lessons stayed with Katie throughout high school and college. She studied sports medicine in college and planned to become an orthopedic surgeon, but in her heart, she knew she “needed to be doing something else.”
She ended up attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, to prepare for missions ministry.
That’s where the New England native met her future husband, a fellow seminary student who grew up on a peanut farm in rural Georgia.
“We really didn’t have very much in common,” Katie said, “but I just saw his heart for Jesus and how much he loved people and how that passion for the gospel burned in him.”
After they married, they moved to Florida where Brandton served as youth pastor for a large congregation near Orlando.
While they had “just the perfect, quintessential life” with a great ministry position, a house and their first baby, Katie said, “I just had this stirring that this is not where we were supposed to be. … I knew we needed to be back in New England.”
They contacted the Baptist Convention of New England and were invited to visit the region and explore ministry opportunities.
After they flew in and were driving from New Hampshire to Vermont, Katie recalled driving past beautiful calendar-type scenes of little white churches in pristine, snow-covered settings. Upon closer inspection, they realized many of the church buildings were now bars or dollar stores or tourist stops.
Her heart sank she said, and she immediately thought, “I have to do something about this.”
When the opportunity came to plant a church in Maine, they had grown to a family of five. All three daughters said yes to the idea of moving from Georgia to New England and making the transition from “shrimp and grits to lobster chowder,” Katie said. “We came up here, and it has been a doozy of a ride.”
After starting a Bible study in their home, their core group gradually grew large enough to launch Hope Church a little more than two years ago.
The church now averages about 125 people in attendance, with active children’s and youth ministries and several home-based small groups. As those doors have opened, “God is bringing adults to faith in Him,” Brandton said.
“The church is growing. It’s exciting to see what He’s doing,” said Brandton, citing recent baptisms of people ranging in age from their 20s and 30s to their 70s and 80s.
‘Why we’re here’
Brandton said it could be easy to become satisfied with the church’s size and current makeup. But that’s not what the Woods want to happen.
“We don’t want to become comfortable. We want to always be thinking about the next person and how we reach them,” Brandton said.
For Katie, helping meet those pressing spiritual needs meant coming back home to New England. “It’s what we were meant to do,” she concluded. “It’s why we’re here.”