Robert Griffis' story is not unprecedented. Professionals rise to places of
prominence in their respective fields. They are justly rewarded for their
labors, but then one day it happens. It's a dawning as bright as any
"I could use all this time and energy for God and not just for making a buck
for someone else," Griffis said of the day he awakened to the truth that his
passion for retail management could be aimed at things of eternal
Griffis found himself in the midst of retail management's nightmare. With 18
years in the business, including store management and four years supervising a
dozen stores, he witnessed more than his share of burnout.
"I spent the last four years counseling managers who couldn't handle the
stress and workload. The turn-over was high. Seeing people fall apart really
got to me--seeing them break under the pressure," Griffis said of the
experience that solidified his move toward the creation of a mall
With the help of his church and the Illinois Baptist State Association,
Griffis began Mall Ministry of America in November 1996. His initial launch was
met with enthusiasm.
"It was phenomenal. I had prayed specifically for a mall manager who would
be receptive to the ministry. The manager couldn't have been more helpful.
Members of my church prayerwalked the mall with me. I used a technique from my
retail days. I would visit stores and spend time establishing relationships
with mall staff. In the old days I was scouting for potential managers. Now I'm
looking for church members. I see that as the heart of the ministry--developing
relationships. That's how I share my faith and see people become involved in
Griffis asked the mall staff working Sundays if they would be interested in
a worship breakfast on Sunday mornings. The early meetings drew small crowds,
but then a strange thing happened. They stopped coming.
Griffis admits the struggles have been baffling at times. He finally had to
cancel the worship breakfasts at the mall because no one came. "We were asking
people to come in early on the only day they could come in late," Griffis said.
But an unexpected positive side effect occurred. Many of the people Griffis
reached to take part in the worship time were motivated to reconnect with their
churches. If they could get up and make it to the mall early, they could make
it to early worship. Thus, another benefit was that the ministry was plugging
mall workers back into their local congregations.
Now Griffis is encouraging and equipping others for ministry to malls and
retail outlets in other cities. He hopes the lessons he's learned with the
launch will help others buy into retail ministry. He's already made contacts in
Michigan and Texas, among others. He plans to launch another mall ministry soon
"I believe we're at the beginning of a ministry that will reach people who
have little time to attend traditional worship services. Of course my hope is
to see the ministry impact every mall with the gospel," Griffis said.
People typically think of the United Nations as a gathering place. Delegates
from one country meet with delegates from another country to debate resolutions
and strike agreements. True enough, but for national missionary Dottisie
Sutherland, the gathering place has become a sending-off point.
"We've had UN personnel who go to the field to assume 'mission assignments'
in their respective countries," she says. "They have been through our Bible
studies here, and they're able to start Bible studies there. Some of them
committed their lives to Christ as a result of coming to the Bible studies.
We've had tremendous responses. They write and ask for Bibles, and they
themselves have been able to lead others to Christ."
Sutherland's story is one of amazement at God's ability to work through
confusing calls and seemingly impossible situations. "Just a few months before
I came to America," she says, "there were Christian meetings in Kingston, Jamaica. At one of the meetings, I responded to a
call that seemed strange to me. That call was to go to the mission field. At
that time, my husband was attending New York University. And when I found
myself standing on my feet in response, I said, 'How can I be answering when my
husband is studying in the United States?' But I've found that there is no
bigger mission field than the United Nations community. There is a tremendous
need for the gospel here."
A United Nations retiree after 31 years of service, Sutherland finds herself
uniquely equipped for her truly international outreach on North American soil.
While working at the United Nations as an information specialist in marine
affairs--before an official ministry existed--she and another staff member
began a series of Bible studies that paved the way for the current ministry
position. When the ministry began (with a previous national missionary), the
Bible study was integrated into it.
Thanks to her opportunities to share the gospel with high-ranking delegates
from other countries, Sutherland is literally in a position to reach the world.
"It's a vast mission field. There are doors open to ambassadors, diplomats and
Even so, her heart is for the people she has come to know as friends and
co-workers, the micro-global village she interacts with every day. "I have a
passion for the community here. I've seen a tremendous change in this
community. There's still so much to be done here, but I believe that as long as
I'm affiliated with the UN community, I'll be active in trying to reach them,"
Diagnosed with mouth cancer in January 1998, James Pharis has endured
constant surgery and, most recently, chemotherapy to try to defeat the illness.
But instead of letting it claw at his spirit, the 72-year-old--and still
practicing!--attorney uses his cancer to find common ground with other patients
and as a bridge to faith-sharing conversations.
He writes in his poem, "Tiger Cancer":
May this tiger that I ride
And what it teaches me,
Be an avenue of hope
For those whose cares I see.
"Some have expressed anger at God for permitting them to have cancer," he
says. "I think I would not have opened up without having cancer. It's been a
real challenge, but I felt very confident that regardless of what happens, God
could use it in some way, and He has."
Cancer allowed Pharis to discover a natural way to talk to others about
Christ. It began when he met John Harris, pastor emeritus of Pineville Park
Baptist Church, Pineville, Louisiana, who had started a ministry to cancer
patients 20 years ago. Harris asked him to join the ministry, and he became a
Pharis then subscribed to an Internet mailing list for mouth cancer patients
and submitted some of his poetry to the list--poetry that spoke plainly of his
reliance on God to get through his illness. When the M.D. Anderson Medical
Center established a homepage on the World Wide Web, there was a great response
asking to include Pharis' poetry on the site available to patients.
Little did Pharis know that would be the birth of his own Internet-based
ministry. Though geographically limited to his home in Alexandria, Louisiana,
he now frequently receives e-mails and calls asking him to offer hope to others
in similar situations all over the country. By being vocal about how Christ is
his own source of strength, he has found many open doors to talk with others
who desire the same comfort and peace they sense in him.
"Most of them realize that you can't be the kind of survivor you need to be
without God," he says. "Most acknowledge that's a valid thing, but it's not
always something that leads them to say, 'Tell me how to have this assurance
that you have.' "
Rather than risk closing a door for good, he gives other cancer patients
time to think things through before talking to them about Christ again.
However, Pharis adds, "Sometimes people will say, 'I wish I could feel that
way.' Then I write to them privately and talk with them about it more in
Shared suffering produces fertile ground for outreach. But too often, Pharis
believes, people become wrapped up in their own troubles instead of looking to
see how God is wanting to use them and their situations for His purpose.
"If somehow," he adds, "we could learn to focus on others as we suffer the
same challenges, then we'd find out more about ourselves and become more able
to reach out to other people."
Some people call this place God-forsaken. But how can you call it that when
God sends some of His choicest servants here?" Paul Schlett muses.
The Schenectady, New York, mission pastor isn't exaggerating on either
count. The Hill, as his crime-riddled Hamilton Hill area is known, boasts all
the worst of any inner-city setting. Drugs, prostitution, shootings --and
that's just in front of the church.
But Schlett is never one to focus on the negative. God is too busy on the
Hill. "I believe Jesus is the only one who can clean up this city," Schlett
said. When Schlett and his wife, Carrol, were praying for godly men to provide
examples for the young men in their congregation, God sent two young women.
"In the midst of drugs and crack houses, it's humbling when a father comes
and invests his daughter in this environment," said Schlett of J.R. Thomas of
Easley, South Carolina. Thomas dropped his 20-year-old daughter Carrie and her
friend Meredith Sentell, 19, off for three months of ministry on the Hill last
summer. Thomas witnessed at least one arrest in front of the church before he
left. And even with Schlett trying to talk the women out of staying, they
committed to staying for the summer. They saw a tremendous need and were
motivated to do whatever they could to bring hope to people, Schlett said.
"We'd been praying for guys to come to give an example to our young men. God
sent these girls, these godly young women, to be examples. Now I will always
refer back to Carrie and Meredith as an example for everyone."
Schlett not only cites their example for godly living, but their proactive
style of ministry in sharing their faith in Christ. Building bridges of
partnership in ministry also helps Christians put their gifts and abilities to
work for God, Schlett finds.
The college women found themselves working in backyard Bible clubs and youth
Bible studies, but the jail became their main ministry. They shared with women,
many their own age, who'd been arrested for everything from possession to
On one jail visit Meredith handed her Bible to a woman to read a passage. As
she opened it she saw pictures from Carrie and Meredith's mission trip to the
Hill the previous year. The pictures were of her own children in a worship
service with Meredith and Carrie. The woman was just one of the many people who
came to faith in Christ because of Meredith and Carrie.
On the girls' last day on the Hill, the Schletts received a phone call from
a couple in Mississippi who said they felt called to the area to minister. Now
a husband and wife with two young children are working on the Hill while
attending seminary and giving an example of a godly family.
"Things can seem so bad here. There is absolutely no incentive to come here,
and yet people continue to come to minister. They are truly some of God's
best," Schlett said.
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