Parachute team members return to NW

By Shelia Allen
NW Baptist Convention

Photo: Stephanie Gibson oversees a game at a block party in Tumwater, WA for new church plant, The Canvas Church.

A homecoming of sorts took place in recent months when Stephanie Gibson arrived back in Tumwater, WA, to assist with The Canvas Church, a church launching in coming months. Gibson previously spent a summer with three others on a “parachute team,” sent to the area to cultivate the spiritual soil in hopes of building a community of faith near Olympia.

Raised and educated in Texas, Gibson began attending church with her grandmother in first grade, but when her family, who moved frequently, relocated to Amarillo, a neighborhood woman stopped by to see if her family would allow Gibson to go to church with her.

“I got saved at Vacation Bible School that summer,” Gibson recalled. “The pastor from that church picked me up even after we moved again. I wanted more than anything to see my parents in church, and it actually happened. My dad eventually led our youth group and mom got really involved, too.”

But it was in college that Gibson identifies as the time she began treasuring Jesus. She started participating in mission trips, such as “beach reach,” a spring break evangelistic outreach to college students partying on the beaches of San Padre, and international efforts in China and Thailand.

Gibson continued in her ministry efforts through Go Now Missions, a student missions program for collegians that enables them serve across the United States and the world for one week to 12 months as student missionaries. She spent the summer of 2012 in Tumwater, a site identified by the Northwest Baptist Convention as a town needing a new church.

“It was crazy and I didn’t know what to expect,” Gibson said of her experiences in Tumwater. “Four of us did life together, went to the grocery store, the local community college, walked and hung out with students. We used the bus system for transportation and met people there. Taking the bus changed my perspective on how God works because we would see people other places after meeting them on the bus.”

People in the Northwest are friendly but not as open to conversation as in her home state, but Gibson also found them to be more genuine after getting to know them.

“It was a really growing time for me, as I didn’t have my parents to fall back on and I learned to rely on God to level out my moods,” Gibson said. “We quickly began hosting a weekly dinner and Bible study for people we met. Over the course of time I grew to love it here.”

Gibson kept in touch with NWBC church planting catalysts Phil Peters and Gary Floyd after returning home. It stuck with her that Floyd would occasionally remind her that “the light was left on” for her in the Northwest.

She earned her degree in social work, but found a love of organization and administration. After church planters Ben and Shelly Tindall, also from Texas, were identified as church planters, Peters arranged for a meeting for the 25-year-old to share her knowledge of the area before they moved north.

“We met and talked for a few hours and they eventually asked me to pray about coming with them,” Gibson noted. “I had a lot of options but my mom suggested I come back and visit Tumwater, just to see how I felt. It was weird to hear from her, but affirming that she would suggestion a ‘vision tour.’ I was reminded of how beautiful it is and how much I love it.”

With her eventual decision to return, Gibson sold everything except what would fit in her car and joined forces and an apartment with the Tindalls to lend her support to The Canvas Church. They hope to begin services in coming months.

Gibson has a servant’s heart that was evident when she first arrived on the field as a member of the parachute team three years ago. And that heart fell in love with the community of Tumwater Hill and the vision of planting a church in the community to reach the people there.

“It was our hope that these college students may someday return to the Northwest,” said Peters, the NWBC’s team leader for the western Washington region. “It’s not a big surprise that Stephanie was the first of them to follow her heart to Tumwater.”

“I am working a part-time job as a physical therapy aide and am receiving some support, so that I can give the time needed to this ministry,” Gibson said. “I have the mornings to get stuff done such as the mailers I designed and other administrative tasks. We are hosting a Bible study and summer barbeque to generate interest.”

Although she has made a commitment to stay two years, Gibson is open to endless possibilities that will include her spiritual burden for college and international students and love of preschoolers.

“It is so great to see how God has worked in my life to bring me to this point and am so excited about the future to see how he continues to work in my life,” Gibson added.

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