Wrong Number, Right Call
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Those were some of the questions that went through Nathan Geesey’s mind in 2017 when he inadvertently received a text message from the Assemblies of God Northern Missouri district superintendent. The message shared how the small church in Vandalia might have to close because the current pastor had to immediately step away due to advanced cancer and they couldn’t find anyone willing to take his place.
It was a text, Geesey would later learn, that wasn’t intended for him or his wife, but would change their lives.
Nathan, 71, and his wife, Carol, 69, grew up in missionary homes and came to reside in Platte City, Missouri. They attended Northland Cathedral – an AG megachurch located in Kansas City, Missouri, about 16 miles southeast of their home. When Nathan shared the text with Carol, they were at first perplexed, then admittedly worried. Was God calling them to the pastorate?
Nathan — who became a credentialed AG minister at the age of 60 — and Carol, to this point in their lives, had never felt a call to pastor. Instead, their focus was on their involvement in the Beauty for Ashes prison ministry and volunteering within the church, including putting on theatrical productions. However, the couple had “coincidentally” already been traveling monthly to — of all places — Vandalia to minister at the women’s prison located there.
“We discussed it and thought that we could surely drive out there four times a month, at least until they found another pastor,” says Nathan Geesey, who adds that the idea of uprooting and moving away from family, friends, their prison ministry in nearby Lansing, and their volunteer ministry work at Northland Cathedral initially had very little appeal to either of them . . ., but God’s conviction gripped them both.
“So, we contacted the district office and we were given a week to seek counsel, pray about it, make a decision, and say our goodbyes.”
Vandalia, located about 100 miles northwest of St. Louis, was once a thriving, wealthy community that at one time boasted nine grocery stores in addition to several industries. Today, the community struggles to keep one grocery store in business and has lost numerous businesses and industries, with most of the downtown businesses shuttered.
Although the population of Vandalia is listed at roughly 3,600, at least 1,000 members of that count are inmates at the women’s state prison in Vandalia.
Vandalia does have plenty of rural charm, but as with many small, rural communities, Vandalia’s population (outside of the prison) leans heavily towards seniors as young people pursue their careers elsewhere. Drug and alcohol addiction are also just as intense of a problem as in inner cities — perhaps in some ways even more so, as there are fewer entertainment options.
And the Assembly of God church, Beacon of Hope, was so small and forgotten, it didn’t even appear on Google Maps.
When the Geeseys began ministry at Beacon of Hope, the Sunday morning attendance was five. The church building itself was small, had no classrooms or kitchen, was outdated, and in need of repairs – and as the Geeseys quickly discovered, the church was literally dying out.
“When I asked about the congregation, which used to run between 50 and 60, I learned that most hadn’t left the church,” Geesey says. “The congregation simply aged and as members passed away, the congregation shrank.”
And, as Geesey later noted, the church’s physical size made it impossible to offer things that might attract families with children, such as children’s church, age-appropriate Sunday School classes, youth group, or even a nursery.
Yet despite the challenges, the Geeseys found that God hadn’t just called them there for a few months — this was where they were supposed to be! They jumped in and as funds became available, began updating the interior of the church and repairing maintenance issues, while also making connections in the community and maintaining their ministry at the now “27-second drive” to the women’s prison.
Then came a couple of game changers: Northland Cathedral purchased and installed a new blue metal roof on the church, making it an immediate eye-catcher for locals who quickly started to use “the church with the blue roof” as a direction reference point and the home next to the church was put up for sale.
“We bought the home as it not only gave a place to live, but it provided something we didn’t have before — a church kitchen and Sunday School rooms!” Geesey says. “We then began to hold Wednesday night fellowship meals and Bible study at the church — we started to grow.”
Over the next three years, the Geeseys continued to upgrade the church and the adjacent home, often with the help and support of Northland Cathedral and its members, to help meet the needs of the church and make it a more inviting destination for the community.
However, the Geeseys’ involvement in the community was just as focused. Nathan actively participated in the local ministers weekly and monthly meetings and joined the Rotary Club to develop relationships with the local business owners. Meanwhile, Carol found herself volunteering at the school, even helping to produce a school play. The church also bought an inflatable movie screen and held Saturday night movie nights at the city park featuring Christian-based movies.
“And when COVID hit and everyone was social distancing, the church owns part of an old drive-in theater,” Nathan shares. “We made a new access there, set up our inflatable screen, bought an FM transmitter, and for nearly three months we held Saturday evening movie night for the community as families watched the movies from their cars.”
The Geeseys also partnered with Convoy of Hope and Rural Compassion to provide news shoes for every child at the Van-Farr Elementary school and began a Celebrate Recovery, a program for those with life-controlling issues, at the church on Friday evenings.
From nondescript and invisible, the Beacon of Hope was now making an impact on a wide swath of Vandalia’s citizens, with the congregation growing to 15 to 20 on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. In fact, even the minister from the local Methodist church began attending Beacon of Hope’s Wednesday evening meal and Bible study.
Even though the newly remodeled and blue-roofed church building and the home next door were incredible blessings with God’s fingerprints all over the revitalization of Beacon of Hope, what was about to happen next simply was mind-numbing.
“We had outgrown the church for our Wednesday evening fellowship meals and Bible study,” Nathan says, “so my Methodist pastor friend asked if we would want to use his church and its large kitchen to do the meals and Bible study. We were very excited about that possibility and their church board agreed we could do it. Then one of their members volunteered to cover the rental fee for us using their fellowship hall and kitchen.”
Although that provision could be seen as “pretty cool,” it was just the first step.
Nathan knew that the Methodist church had been struggling. However, it came as a complete and total shock when the president of the board of the Methodist church approached him in February and said, “We would like to give you our church.”
“He told me the congregation wanted to make sure the building remained a church and not turned into a warehouse as so many buildings had,” Geesey says. “And due to our activity in the community and interaction with them through the Wednesday night fellowship meals and Bible study, they believed we were the right church to make the offer to.”
The Methodist congregation voted unanimously to gift the church to Beacon of Hope, with its district’s approval. Then another shocker — the Methodist church gave Beacon of Hope a very generous financial gift to make needed repairs!
“The church is a beautiful brick building,” Geesey says, still stunned by the gifts. “It has a worship center that seats 100, six large Sunday School rooms, a pastor’s office, fellowship hall, a huge kitchen . . . words cannot express how good God is!”
Although windows need to be repaired, false ceilings installed, and painting done, the Geeseys are more confident than ever that God will provide whatever is needed when it’s needed. And Geesey invites individuals or groups who feel led to assist in Beacon of Hope’s efforts to contact him at email@example.com.
Currently the congregation looks to move to its new home sometime in June. Geesey says that they are looking to add a youth pastor and music minister who have a calling to serve in a rural community and are bivocational, as the church isn’t to the point of being able to provide financial assistance. However, he believes those with an educational degree have a very good chance of being hired by the local school district.
“We are now in the process of adding a bathroom to the main floor of the church, and, apparently, that addition has stirred up a lot of interest in the community for some reason,” Geesey says with a laugh. “Imagine, people attending just to see what updates we’ve done, but at the same time giving us the opportunity to share the gospel with them!”
As far as the original church building is concerned, Geesey says they are considering the suggestions of either turning it into a daycare or a community closet, where people can come and pick up donated clothing for free.
And although this all began with a text sent to the wrong number, it appears that God’s call was in it all.
Challenges do remain and there are questions that Geesey admits he doesn’t know the answers to. However, he says, “I do know that the Lord is not finished with us or the ministry in Vandalia.”