SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Bay Area is known for being a launching pad for digital and technological innovations. A group of church planting missionaries, however, is praying for the region to become a site for a global, gospel movement.
On October 7, trustees from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) traveled the city and listened to missionaries share their heart and vision for the church there. The tour was part of the trustees’ fall meeting which took place Oct. 7-8.
“San Francisco is a place where a lot of people are coming, immigrants from all over the world, because this place attracts technology,” said church planting missionary Samuel Perli. “It’s this place where so many people are coming in quest for truth, in quest for developing technology. So, we thought, maybe God has a purpose for us.”
Perli and his brother, Paul, grew up in Hyderabad, India. Their father was a pastor who developed a sending culture in their church and family.
“As God would have it,” Perli said, “God sent my brother and I to America to advance God’s kingdom here in whatever shape or form that might look like.”
With a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Perli works in the Bay Area’s technology sector as a bivocational, or co-vocational, church planting missionary. He and Paul primarily reach out to the South Asian population, many of whom are part of unreached people groups. Together, they started a Bible study that, over the course of a year, has grown to around 70 people representing seven different people groups.
“Because of the Send Network, what you’ve done,” Perli told the trustees, “we were able to get a grant to do a huge outreach concert to this unreached people group … Many people came to know about the love of Christ, and many of them came to TruthSeekers,” their Bible study.
Perli has already baptized two new believers who were formerly Hindu.
Along with the Perli brothers, trustees met another church planting missionary who came to the United States following persecution in his home nation.
Trustees were asked not to share any of the specifics of his story due to safety concerns for other fellow Christians in his homeland, but they were inspired by the testimony of his coming to faith and his journey as a refugee to the States where he now serves as a missionary.
“It’s encouraging to see that people are answering the call to go out and to do the hard work of planting a church, being part of the ministry and sharing Jesus,” said Briana Weathersby, a first year NAMB trustee and member of Transcend Church. She and her husband, John, planted Transcend in 2012.
A few miles away, trustees met a pair of pastors from The Movement Church – Edward Paz and Christopher Stites – who told of their plan to multiply the church across the Bay Area.
Paz shared the story of how the church began in September 2013, thanking trustees for being behind NAMB’s vision of reaching the North America’s densely populated, urban areas.
“As trustees, when Send Cities were talked about years ago and that vision was shared by [NAMB president] Kevin Ezell,” Paz said, “I just want to thank you for getting behind that because there is a pastor – myself – out here in Oakland, California, whose church would not have gotten started without the belief in that strategy.”
Paz shared the stories of three people The Movement Church has impacted – an unchurched, person, a de-churched person and an over-churched person. All three eventually came to Christ or rededicated their lives and became staff members at the church.
Stites, the “over-churched” member of the team, will be sent out to start a new church in Oakland. Stites shared that his first attempt at church planting, which failed several years ago.
“By God’s grace, his faith in God, his love for the local church, his calling to plant has been restored here at The Movement,” Paz said. “In nine months, we will be sending him and a team” to plant.
Stites said he learned from his first church planting attempt that a planter cannot parachute into the Bay Area without a support system. His current approach is much different.
“We entered into a network, the Send Network, where we had churches around,” Stites said. “Now, not only do I get to interact with [Paz] but also all these other church planters and things that God has been doing in Oakland, the Bay Area. You need to have that network of people that are encouraging you, that you’re seeing what God is doing.”
Paz and Stites shared their stories with trustees in a building housed by Epic Church, located in San Francisco’s Financial District. Epic, which was planted in February 2011, has quickly grown to become a foundational Southern Baptist church in the area.
After traveling to a local theater, trustees met with three other planting missionaries who all launched churches on the same Sunday, September 15, 2019: Jeremy Proemsey of Refuge Community Church, Akeem Smith of Storyline Church and James Westbrook of Realm Church.
Proemsey shared the story of how 26 people have come to Christ since their launch.
“What we found out through that time is why there is so much lostness here. Why there’s so much spiritual depravity here,” Proemsey said, “is not because people hate God or want nothing to do with God. It’s because they hate a different God that people have told them is the God we worship and love and follow.”
Westbrook shared a story of a man he led to Christ who then threw a party so that his friends could learn about Jesus. Smith said more than 250 people attended his launch service.
“I just want to say thank you for what you’re doing to invest into the kingdom here in the Bay Area,” Smith said. “If it wasn’t for you doing that, helping us hold our arms up out here as church planters, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing.”
Trustees said the vision tour stoked their enthusiasm for what Southern Baptists are doing in the Bay Area and gave them a desire to go back to their churches, share these missionaries’ stories and encourage their congregations to be more involved in the mission.
“The benefit is being able to see first-hand and hear first-hand what these church planters are facing and to gain a little perspective about the strategies and challenges that they face every day,” said Bill Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church in Purvis, Miss.
“We’re talking about guys planting churches in areas that are not church friendly per se,” Wright said. “I think so many people that are in church have this concept that church is just easy, but it’s just not that way in other places.”
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.