By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
Brent Thompson can’t explain it, other than he felt God drawing him toward the West.
“I grew up here in Heflin, but I was gone 18 years and served two churches in Georgia,” said Thompson, who came back to his hometown as pastor of Heflin Baptist Church in 2016. “The latter part of that time in Georgia was about the time the North American Mission Board put out the study on the 32 Send Cities, and for a year I prayed over those cities.”
The Send Cities — 32 of North America’s highest populated areas with the greatest need for the gospel — included Salt Lake City, the place Thompson’s heart kept gravitating toward.
A burden for the lost
And he wasn’t alone.
Derek Duvall, a youth pastor in Tennessee, felt God draw him there in a similar way.
“When my wife and I were on our honeymoon, we met an LDS (Mormon) couple from Salt Lake City,” he said. “One night we stayed up until 5 in the morning talking, and it stirred a desire in us to learn more about what they believed. It just began to give us a burden for those who are lost in the LDS religion.”
Sharing the dream
Duvall had “never had any desire to be a lead pastor,” but he felt God leading his family there to plant a church. Now he leads Awaken City Church in Herriman, Utah.
That’s where his path crossed Thompson’s.
Thompson, feeling drawn to Salt Lake City, reached out to the Send coordinator there and began to work toward the idea of a partnership while he was still in Georgia. By the time he got to Heflin, he was ready to put feet to the burden God had placed on his heart.
“I began to share the dream with these guys here, and they embraced it immediately,” Thompson said.
He took a vision team out to Utah to pray for God’s direction, and they felt God drawing them to Herriman, an area south of Salt Lake City that’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. — and one of the least reached. After that, Heflin Baptist linked up with Duvall and began to take teams and send finances to support the ministry of Awaken City Church, which is investing time and resources to reach young families with the gospel.
Before COVID-19, Heflin Baptist had planned to send its fifth team to Utah this summer.
“We had 24 people signed up to go and help with a kids’ camp,” Thompson said. “It didn’t happen, which is heartbreaking, but we are still committed.”
Blessings all around
They’ve hosted the Duvall family at Heflin Baptist, along with a former LDS couple who shared their story of how the gospel changed their lives.
Heflin Baptist also has envelopes in the backs of the pews specifically for giving to Awaken City Church.
Duvall said Heflin’s support has been a blessing to his church.
“Pastor Brent has just been a great friend and partner in this whole process,” he said. “It’s been great to meet the people at Heflin Baptist and get to know them better and have them get behind the vision of what’s going on.”
Thompson said the blessing has been all theirs.
“A lot of people in small rural towns don’t think they can be a part of something like that, but you can,” he said of the Send Cities effort. “It’s really been a God thing. I just hope we can encourage churches of all sizes to get involved. It will capture your heart when you see God taking the dollars you send and people you send and transforming lives.”