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Small town churches doing big things

Mission K-Valley: Sharing Christ
with those next door

By Isaac Olivarez

Kittitas, Wash., isn’t on most maps. But ask members of New Life Assembly’s Extreme Ministries youth group and they’ll tell you one thing: People need to know Jesus here as much as they do anywhere else in the world. Which is why they have committed to going on missions trips in their own hometown.

“Before we started going on foreign missions trips we decided to start by ministering to and serving our own community,” says Youth Pastor Kyle Hopkins, 23, who has led the group for four years. He has used Christ’s call to both local and worldwide outreach in Acts 1:8 as the compass for the ministry.

The missions “trip” — known as Mission K-Valley — has served many purposes, including helping New Life A/G become part of the fabric of Kittitas, an agricultural town of 1,050 people located two hours east of Seattle. The rock and sagebrush hills that surround Kittitas bear little resemblance to the lush green wooded landscape of Seattle and Puget Sound. New Life A/G is situated among the town’s two bars, post office, grocery store, hardware store, feed store and Laundromat.

Every August citizens know Mission K-Valley is around the corner. Sixteen students signed up for the first Mission K-Valley in 2002. This year 28 students have made the commitment to the project themed “Empowered.”

“New Life A/G is concerned about the community and they show it,” says Brenda McPherson, who owns Kittitas Hardware on the quarter-mile-long Main Street. “When they do it for nothing and out of the goodness of their heart and their motives are pure, it’s a positive thing for the community.”

Students raise money for food and supplies and move into the church for one week. Some live within walking distance of the church, but they may as well be 3,000 miles away because their itinerary is set as if they were an ocean away from home.

Each day begins with breakfast and devotions before going out into the community to spread the gospel.

The group is split into teams and leaders identify several homes in the community in need of landscaping and cleanup. Then it’s the annual trip to the Mountain View Meadows nursing home to hand out flowers, visit and pray with residents. Earlier in the week the team went street witnessing and volunteered at Union Gospel Mission in nearby Yakima, a 30-minute drive south on Interstate 82.

“It makes me feel good to know I’m helping people and God is touching them through me,” says 18-year-old Matt Laukala, a Kittitas High School senior who has attended all three Mission K-Valleys.

Mission K-Valley team members echo Laukala’s feelings. They are also representative of the way Mission K-Valley is transforming this small-town youth ministry into a group of students eager to initiate conversations about Christ, invite friends and strangers to church and start Bible clubs at school. Since Hopkins started leading the youth group, it has grown from nine students to 60.

Hopkins and Senior Pastor James Stephens believe that students who give of themselves do more than show Christ’s love to the Kittitas Valley; they enrich their own lives and learn to become overcomers in Christ, no matter their circumstances or how long they’ve been Christians.

“Some of these students don’t even understand the full impact of salvation on their life and now they’re already doing missions work,” says Stephens. “They come out of [Mission K-Valley] knowing more about who they are in Christ.”

Whether new Christians or long-time attendees, the eager teens function as a family.

Mike Lovely, 17, heard about New Life A/G at school and visited in January after turning down several invitations. He stayed, and soon accepted Christ as Savior. This is his first Mission K-Valley.

“I just showed up one night because I had a lot of questions and I wanted some answers,” Lovely says. “Asking Jesus to come into my life was a relief. I felt happier.” Now Lovely says he is setting aside part of his summer to tell others in his community about his newfound faith.

“There’s a verse in the Bible that says to spread the good news to the world, but stay where you are first,” says the new Christian, referencing the same concept from Acts 1:8 that motivates his youth pastor. “If you can’t get your neighbors to believe in Christ, what about people who don’t even speak your language?”

Indeed the Mission K-Valley team is on a mission. They work tirelessly in temperatures that soar to more than 100 degrees during the day. To those who think the team is crazy for offering free labor, the payoff, says Hopkins, is residents now know what the church is about.

Kathy Bilyeu, a Kittitas resident, offers Hopkins money for her freshly mowed lawn and clipped hedges. Hopkins refuses to accept the money, but invites her and her children to church.

“It says a lot about their church,” says Bilyeu, 40. “I have been stressed out [recently] because I have so much to do and I am relaxed today. What they are doing is incredible.”

The highlight of the week and each year is the Kids Fair. Last year 103 children attended Kids Fair and 29 accepted Christ as Savior.

When the fair starts at Kittitas Community Park, children are already in line for free cotton candy, hot dogs and juice. Parents bring younger children in strollers while older children dash from cars or nearby streets throughout the park. Many have their faces painted and wear five-color bracelets that team members use to present the gospel as they make the bracelet for each child. This year’s attractions include two inflatable games at one end of the park and — a Kids Fair staple — Polaroid pictures with Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber of Veggie Tales. More than 120 children roam the park despite 100-degree temperatures here for the second consecutive day.

“Kids need to be exposed to positive influences,” says Lisa Tott of nearby Ellensburg, who brought her two children to the fair for the first time.

Kids Fair is more than just fun and games. Midway through the fair Pastor Hopkins’ wife, Rachel, gives a kid-friendly gospel presentation and an invitation to church. The splashing of water balloons and devouring of hot dogs stops briefly and more than 20 children raise their hands indicating they want to accept Christ as Savior. Filled-out information cards will allow the church to follow up with the children later.

“This is what it’s about,” says Pastor Hopkins.

The Acts 1:8 model seems to fit this group of teens well. Nine members of the group recently returned from their first missions trip to San Quintin, Mexico. But this group doesn’t take trips abroad for granted. They’ve been studying the fundamentals of missions in their own backyard.

“We want to show Kittitas that God cares for them and that we didn’t just come to their house to work,” says Hannah Konvalin, 15, who has attended all three Mission K-Valleys. “We came to shine God’s light on them because they need Christ just as much as the people in Africa or Mexico do.”

Isaac Olivarez served as staff writer for Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and now ministers in Colorado.

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