20 years in MA!
by Robert Krumrey
July 15, 1999 is a little known day in history that is observed in the Krumrey household. It’s the day that we crossed over the Massachusetts state line with the intention of starting a new church called MERCYhouse. As you can see from the photo above (which is way before selfies so Mel is taking the pic) we were a bit younger than we are now. We’d been married for almost 7 years and the boys were ages 2 and 4. Kory had just turned 4 on June 29th. I had just finished seminary and had worked most recently as university minister at University Heights Baptist Church in Stillwater, OK. We had left a thriving college ministry and a very loving and supportive church 1500 miles away from Amherst, MA. When we arrived we knew Joe and Wendi Green, who were our partners in church planting, and that was it.
The day we arrived was much like today. Blue skies and a perfect summer temp. Our hearts were full of anticipation for what God would do in the start of a new church. Of course we had no idea what we were doing but honestly who does when it comes to starting a church from scratch. We stayed in a motel for a few days and then finally got the keys to our rent house on Amity Street. It was the perfect home base with lots of room for entertaining and walking distance from everything. It was time to begin.
We started with prayer. Lots of prayer. Joe and I prayer walked all five campuses and the communities of Amherst and Northampton. If you’re not familiar with prayer walking it’s “praying on site with insight”. That means you walk along the streets and sidewalks of a place observing what people are doing and saying. What the posters promote and the shops are selling. As you observe all of this, you begin to understand some of the needs, hopes, dreams for the region and you pray accordingly. We did this a lot. Using this scripture from Colossians 4 as a guide for our prayers:
We were asking God to open a door for the gospel message and that when he did that we would proclaim it as we should. I remember walking on the Amherst College campus while reflecting on the rich Christian history there. Walking beside a statue of Henry Ward Beecher who was an Amherst alum and a world famous evangelist and long time pastor in Brooklyn. His statue sits prominently on the edge of campus looking over the town of Amherst as if to be keeping watch over the town. I remember walking into Abbey Chapel for the first time at Mt. Holyoke and reading the plaque at the grave of Mary Lyon. Realizing that the college had been founded, like Amherst, to train students for gospel ministry. We also walked the streets of Northampton and were reminded of the influence of Jonathan Edwards and his experience of the First Great Awakening in the 1730’s. Reminders of God’s work were everywhere.
Henry Ward Beecher
Everywhere but in the hearts of the people. It was there that we saw a gospel poverty that broke our hearts. There were very few gospel preaching churches and very few campus ministries who were bringing the gospel to the five colleges. It felt like a spiritual wasteland, but of course, God was at work. One month after our arrival, Greg Mozel and his family arrived at FBC Amherst and began a revitalization of the church. We immediately began to see openness to gospel conversations and by the end of September we were gathering for Sunday worship with about 30 people (mostly students) and about a dozen for discipleship during the week. Within the first three weeks of school we celebrated three baptisms. We quickly found that there was a hunger for the gospel and a desire among the newly converted to grow as disciples of Jesus. Most of this ministry was among Umass students, but within two years we were reaching students from all five colleges with the gospel.
These last 20 years have been one crazy ride. We have as many children in our kids ministry as we did in our entire Sunday services back in ‘99. We have almost as many staff workers as people involved in discipleship in those early days. God has blessed us with a facility on the edge of the university. Best of all, we’ve seen countless people baptized, discipled, and sent out to places around the US and the world. Today I opened an email from a family who just had their third baby. Both the husband and the wife placed faith in Christ in our church. They then left to live in NYC and have been a part of a church there for almost 2 decades. The husband is an elder in the church and a teacher and the wife works with an NGO that is advocating for refugees around the globe. They first heard the gospel right here in our little church and have leveraged their lives for the cause of the gospel, not to mention raising three awesome kids to love Jesus.
We’ve learned a lot along the way. There has been pain so deep we didn’t think we could take another step. There has been joy so great we could hardly contain it all in our hearts. We have seen the work of God up close and personal in so many lives including the lives of our own family. Some of what we learned and have reflected on during sabbatical is to keep going back to what we knew before - pray, preach the gospel, and make disciples of those who respond in faith. No matter how large or how small a church or ministry is, these three things must remain at the forefront. Certainly there are other things that have to be tended to like new siding on the parish house or making sure the budget gets covered, but these three basics have always been paramount and will remain so.
So let’s celebrate these 20 years of God’s faithfulness! He loves to empower the execution of an impossible endeavor because it shows that he is at work among us. We hope all who can will join us on Sunday, November 3rd for an official celebration of these 20 years, but not so we can rest in the past of old success. Instead to be reminded of the goodness of our all powerful God. A remembrance that I hope will encourage us to continue in faith filled living for his glory and the good of the people who live on our campuses and in our communities and around the world.