(This week’s throwback story by Pastor Jeff Carroll was taken from the May 1980 Brethren Missionary Herald. You can read the full story and browse other articles here.)
What did Jesus mean when He promised, “I will build my church.”? How did Peter feel when 3,000 people streamed forward in response to his challenge to follow the Savior? The faithful people of Maumee Valley Grace Brethren Church in Toledo, Ohio, are experiencing, in some degree, the answers to these questions.
But where did it all begin? Great works of God are not established overnight, and Maumee Valley Grace is no exception. The first Bible study group began meeting in October of 1977, with Pastor David Goodman, of the Bowling Green (Ohio) Grace Brethren Church, leading the study. During those early months, the attendance varied from five to fourteen adults. Upon Pastor Goodman’s move to Anaheim, California, Pastor Dick Hopkins of Calvary Grace Brethren Church, near Toledo, began to lead the group. During this time, the adult attendance grew to between 20 and 30 each week with several professions of faith and commitments to the establishment of a new Grace Brethren Church on the west side of Toledo.
Meanwhile, Jeff and Pam Carroll were completing their final year at Grace Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. Pam had met Jeff at the Worthington (Ohio) Grace Brethren Church where Jeff, not yet a Christian, told Pam, “I don’t understand this Grace Brethren religion.” Shortly thereafter, Jeff received Christ at a Nathan Meyer evangelistic meeting. Later Pam and Jeff were married in June of 1976, right before the couple left for seminary. Pastor Jeff, in recalling those formative years at Worthington, says: “I was challenged almost daily by Pastors Jim Custer and John Willett to present myself for full-time ministry. When Pastor David Hocking returned to the church for a visit, I knew with certainty that God was calling me to the ministry.”
On March 18, 1979, Bob and Cathy Gillespie and Doug and Mary Davisson went to hear Pastor Jeff preach in a little church in Milford, Indiana. They informed Jeff and Pam of the tremendous need of Toledo. After much soul-searching and prayer, Jeff and Pam decided to commit their lives to reach people in the Maumee Valley. Pastor Jeff and Pam arrived in Toledo on August 9, 1979, and set a target of September 9, 1979, as the date of the first service of the Maumee Valley Grace Brethren Church. After checking more than 80 locations for public services, the group finally found a place for its first service. The Lord blessed that first service with 83 people present! The group set as its goal to average 50 people in attendance by December 31, 1979, and the Lord blessed them with an average of 50.4. Almost forgotten is the church’s attaining self-supporting status in less than two months under North Central Ohio District Missions.
The group can sum up their ministry in two words: “Great Expectations!” The temporary governing board of the church has set as their goal, “180 by the end of 1980.” Pastor Jeff has been training a group of very dedicated men: Bob Gillespie, Mike Henry, Doug Davisson, George Kinzie, Doug Bowman, Rick Fowler, David Lee, and Bob Nowak who have met each Saturday morning since Pastor Jeff arrived. These men have great vision. Their desire is to evangelize Toledo, Ohio, where only 5,000 out of the 600,000 residents of the city attend Bible-believing churches. But they will not stop there. They have the desire to raise up other pastors and to plant other churches up and down the 121-mile Maumee River Valley. In short, they desire to evangelize the world.
May the Lord grant these desires as they occupy until He comes!
(Today, Maumee Valley Church is led by Pastor Stephen Miller. Jeff Carroll went on to become publisher and general manager of the Brethren Missionary Herald Company in 1993 and is currently CEO of the Grace Village Retirement Community in Winona Lake, Ind.)