I grew up in the Bible belt of rural Alabama. In my hometown there are no less than five churches in a five mile radius, three of which can share a parking lot. We are exceptionally blessed here, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done. Our young people today are drifting away from the faith. One reason I believe this is happening is that they are not being given enough opportunities to see faith in action; young people are not given a chance to live out their faith, to see what a difference it can make in the life of others.
In 2006, I travelled to the Philippines for the first time to meet my wife’s family. I was vaguely aware at the time that I was stepping outside of my comfort zone. What I didn’t expect, was to experience a life changing shift in my priorities as I witnessed the great need for ministry, in the Philippines. I hadn’t yet been called to preach, but I began to think about how to get those back home interested in helping people they had never met, halfway around the world. And more than anything, I began think about how to get young people involved, both at home and in the Philippines, so that they could see firsthand the power of faith in action.
Since that first visit I have been to the Philippines on two more occasions and have had the opportunity to get to know several indigenous pastors and Christian leaders. I received my call to preach in 2012, and I am now a pastor of a small rural church in Ephesus, Georgia. I have seen how God continues to grow me and equip me with the tools of a missionary; as a result my desire to live and serve full-time in the Philippines is stronger than ever. Just recently my wife and I both felt a strong calling from God, indicating that the time is right to set things in order to go and serve in the Philippines.
I’ve had the opportunity to serve God in many different ways over the years, and I suspect I will be called on to serve in still other ways that I can’t even imagine. I sometimes joke that I am a pastor, preacher, and plumber, in that order. For me, missions is at the heart of the Great Commission, and so it informs everything I do. As for whether I am a pastor, evangelist, small group leader, youth leader, or church planter, I can only give one answer: Yes I am!
Ever since I was born again at the age of 12, I have had a strong desire to serve the Lord. After receiving Jesus as my savior, I found that the scriptures were opened to me in a whole new way. I fell in love with the Bible and it’s teachings, and the Holy Spirit became my teacher. Finding opportunities to share God’s Word with others became quite natural to me. I was given opportunities in my home church to usher, and to teach a small group class on Sunday evenings before service. I also joined the Word of Life program on Wednesday evenings as a coach for the 3rd and 4th grade boys. People would sometimes ask me when I was going to preach. All I could say was that when the Lord called me to preach, I would preach. He called, and now I’m preaching, first in my home church, then in other churches, and now at Macedonia Missionary Baptist as a bi-vocational pastor.
Making the transition from church pastor to foreign missionary has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced. There is always the question of ‘how?’ How will you support yourself in the Philippines? How will you reach the people there with the gospel? How do you walk away from your life here and transition into a new life halfway around the world? I don’t know the answer to all of these questions, but the Lord knows. I trust that His calling is real and He will make a way. Support from local churches is one part of the equation. Partnering with indigenous churches for a rice ministry and discipleship training is another part. And I also believe that the Christian Leadership Institute has an important role to play.
I took classes online for two years with a secular college, but only found myself being pushed farther from my dream, with a mounting debt that would take me many years to repay. I knew that I wanted a quality Christian education, along with the strong prayer community and personal accountability that only a school like CLI can offer, but I couldn’t afford to take on more college debt. Having a scholarship from Christian Leadership Institute has made all the difference. Now I can attend classes online, on my phone or tablet, no matter where I am in the world, all at zero cost. I am very impressed by the sound, Bible based doctrine that students learn from the very start in CLI’s Getting Started course. I highly recommend CLI to anyone who has experienced a calling from God in their life to share the gospel. Please pray that God would bless and further my ministry, that He would equip me with the resources and the right mindset to reach the lost, and that He would allow this ministry to give young people an opportunity to serve the Lord by serving others and seeing faith in action.
Thank you for reading my story and God bless you!
Varon Kyle Cook