Our Church History- Part One

Pastor Steven Harris

In October of 1953 Ward Harris, a young man born and raised in central Iowa, arrive in the Central African Republic as a single Baptist missionary. In September of 1962 he returned for the beginning of his third term but this time he arrived with a wife, Sarah Jane Harris. Before they would return on their next furlough they would be accompanied by three children born on the field: Joel, Steven and Esther.

That is where my story begins, I am the second child. I was born at Ippy, Central African Republic at about 11:30 AM on October 19, 1964 in the home of one of the missionary nurses. I would spend the next fifteen years of my life with my parents in missionary service there in the Central African Republic. It was there in Africa that God saved me, it was there in Africa that God called me to preach and it was there to Africa that I thought I would devote my life.

I was saved as a young child following a family devotion time. Dad was away on a village conference and Mom and my siblings and I were at our home in Bria. I am not sure what the devotion was all about but I remember the conviction of God on my young heart and the realization that I was a sinner. I did not immediately confide in my mother the conviction that I was feeling in my heart but went along to bed. Somewhere in the night I awoke with nightmares of hell and cried out for my mother. After calming me of my “nightmare” I shared with her the truth of the problem that I understood that I was a sinner and that I knew that I needed to be saved. I don't remember all that transpired that night but I remember that conviction and I remember the peace of God that came to my little life when I trusted Christ as my Saviour.

God's call on my life to preach the gospel followed quickly. I recall attempting to get my older brother to hold services on our front porch for our African friends. He was older so I figured that he should preach and I would lead singing. Instead he volunteered to lead the singing and I prepared and delivered my first message. I must have been all of six years old at the time. God had begun working and preparing me for His calling on my life. Through the years to follow as a child, God allowed me opportunities to preach at school and to other groups of friends. I was able to be an active part of the testimony of salvation of my two younger sisters and younger brother.

Eventually in 1979 I was to return full time to the U.S. to complete high school and then prepare for the calling of God upon my life for missionary service. All through high school and then into college everyone around me knew that God had called me to missionary service and to that end I was set. I graduated high school in 1982 and immediately went to a Bible college to prepare for the ministry. In 1984 Peggy and I were married and immediately returned to college to complete my studies. In 1985 I graduated from my Bible college studies and had all ready prepared with my parents to return to the Central African Republic for a short stay prior to beginning our deputation to raise the needed support to serve as missionaries there in the Central African Republic.

What I had never foreseen or imagined was that God might have some other place for me to serve but during that last year of college God had begun working on my heart and life to surrender that choice to Him. I informed my parents of that battle and Dad and I returned to Africa leaving Mom and Peggy in the U.S. in December 1985. The intention was for Dad and I to complete a three month tour and although Peggy would have liked to have gone she needed to stay in the U.S. as she was expecting our first child. On that plane ride to Africa I settled with God that I would surrender my will to Him as to the location of serving Him and He clearly gave me my orders to New Zealand, a country I knew very little about. What I did know was that it was a cultured country of well to do English descendants which was the opposite of my life and training.

When Dad and I returned from Africa in March of 1986, my home church, Cozaddale Baptist Temple, was prepared to ordain me to the ministry and to commission Peggy and I as local church missionaries to Christchurch, New Zealand. We began our deputation with a mindset of serving God till death as church planting missionaries in the country of New Zealand. Deputation was not an easy nor quick proposition in those days as a local church missionary from a small rural church in Ohio unknown to others around the country. In May of 1989 God gave us our clearance into New Zealand sponsored by East Coast Bays Bible Baptist Church in the north Auckland area and we arrived in Orewa, New Zealand.

We gladly served with Pastor Andrew Neville and East Coast Bays Bible Baptist Church for six months and were recommended by them to begin our church planting efforts on the South Island in the city of Christchurch. For the next year and a half we co-labored with an Australian missionary supposing in due time to continue our church planting efforts in an area farther south in the city once the first work was established. All of those plans were to be violently rewritten when in March of 1991 we were informed that our third child, Bethany, was terminally ill with an inoperable brain tumor. Due to health regulations in the social health care of New Zealand we were ordered to return as U.S. citizens to the U.S. where in April of 1991 Bethany died. That same day we were informed via our co-laborer in New Zealand that our New Zealand visas were revoked.

Thus began our search for God's direction and our next step of missionary service. Knowing that the field is the world we were open to the wherever of God's leadership. We earnestly prayed and specifically considered Africa, Wales, Russia, Australia as well as many other countries of opportunity and need. I was asked by a pastor friend if I had ever considered church planting in the U.S. And that is where God started it all. I could not get away from that question. Although that pastor friend was interested in church planting in New England, God was leading me west. I began to look for towns and cities in the west that had no independent Baptist churches. Eventually through search and prayer my list was narrowed down to two towns in Arizona and two in Montana. At the end of January of 1993 God made His will know that the town of Bullhead City, Arizona was where He was leading and by February 5th we arrived in Bullhead City setting up house on Ash Street in Mohave Valley.

I immediately began door knocking on every door beginning at the Colorado River and California border and working north. In my very first week of door knocking I met two families that would eventually become charter members of the Mohave Baptist Church although it took them quite a few more years to begin attending services. At first it was my hope to hold services in our house there in the valley but no visitors ever came. On Sunday May 2nd, 1993 we began holding services at 5287 Highway 95, Fort Mohave, Arizona. Still no one came but we started and continued with Sunday School at 9:30 AM, Morning Service at 10:30AM, Evening Service at 5:00 PM, and our Mid-week Service at 7:00 PM on Thursday.

Although soul winning was an almost daily activity it wasn't until the winter of 1994 that God began to increase our number. By our first CHRISTmas party in December of 1994 we saw an average attendance of thrity-five to forty. Our attendance included the Berry Family, the Ortiz family, the Rilley family, the Shipman family, the Weaver family and a few more names that elude me at this time. By March of 1995 everyone of those families had moved out of state and we began again. Possibly one of the hardest moments of ministry in my life up to that time. By that time my soul winning door to door had reached well up into the city of Bullhead City. The question that begged to be asked was, “Okay, so I came, I have knocked on almost every door in town. Almost everyone has heard and had there opportunity. No one is interested. God, can I leave?” The answer was no and I wasn't all that happy with the answer.

In February of 1996 we had our first Evangelistic Meeting with the help of the youth group from Anchor Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah and a group of men led by Pastor Ed Bragg of Lafayette Bible Baptist Church of Baldwin, Missouri. Bill Kinman was contacted and I was able to go by his house and lead him to the Lord, just down the street one of the men had spoken with Henry Angon and he had made a profession of faith. God had begun to lay the seed that would lead to the salvation of others surrounding those lives. Others that are still a very real part of the Mohave Baptist Church. Through that meeting and those souls saved God encouraged my heart and changed my attitude and I happily stayed to see God do great things at Mohave Baptist Church.

Every year we would hold our evangelistic meetings which were staffed by both Anchor Baptist Church youth and members of our home church, the Cozaddale Baptist Temple. Each year God allowed us to see some added through the evangelistic outreach and others added through the year. Each year some would move away but God would allow us to see some saved and others brought to the church to serve.

It was now 2003, we had another blessed evangelistic meeting and it had become obvious that God had established His work in the Mohave Baptist Church. I was still a missionary and the work was still a mission. It was time to organize as an autonomous work. We had a sufficient number of members to be autonomous, we had enough experience as a work to be autonomous, we had the finances to be autonomous, we knew our doctrine and purpose and needed to be autonomous. The question then became was it God's will for the only “pastor” the work had ever know to be the pastor or was God's will and calling in my life to continue as a missionary. It had been ten years since I had come to the Bullhead City area and I had become a pastor.

Just as it was a personal battle to surrender African to God it was a very real and personal battle to surrender the pastorate of Mohave Baptist Church to God. Eventually it became sure to me that God's calling on my life was to continue in the missionary way – I just didn't know where. God's peace came to me through Hebrews 11:8 and the life of Abraham who “went out, not knowing whither he went.” It was May of 2003 – ten years since God had led my family to the Bullhead City area. On Sunday  May, the 4th, 2003 forty people signed the charter membership of the Mohave Baptist Church. Mohave Baptist Church was now it's own autonomous church.

With the council of our pastor, Wayne Burke, we had begun praying and searching for who God was calling to become the pastor of Mohave Baptist Church when church organized. Through Pastor Wayne Burke contact was made with Gary Johnson. Gary Johnson relayed through Pastor Burke that both he and his pastor, Vernon Lindbloom, were confident that God was calling him to take the pastorate of the work. No doctrinal issues were evidently awry or inconsistent and it seemed that biblical and philosophical standards were equal. Thus with the recommendation of both pastors the reins of the pastorate of Mohave Baptist Church were determined to be handed to Gary Johnson. The only questioned remained as to when.

Mohave Baptist Church was the vision of missions. The church was started Biblically as a mission work of the Cozaddale Baptist Temple by a missionary with a desire to promote missions. The goal and philosophy of the church was to be not just a missionary minded church but a church with missions at its very heart. Thus the Mission's Conference planned for November 2003 was deemed the perfect timing for the pastorate of the work of the Mohave Baptist Church to be passed to Gary Johnson. On Sunday November 23rd, I resigned as the pastor and Gary Johnson became pastor of Mohave Baptist Church.

They very next week my family and I with the help of Pastor George Shaffer of Odenton Baptist Church left Bullhead City heading east to Goshen, Ohio and our home church, Cozaddale Baptist Temple while awaiting our next field assignment.

Currently, Pastor Harris is serving in Mexico.. You can see his blog here.. Mexico Missionaries