In this age of overflowing megachurches and high-profile Christian ministries, can a tiny congregation hidden in the middle of America make a difference?
Consider West Covington Baptist. Kalkidan Tessema, a 4-year-old Ethiopian girl, is alive and well today thanks to this northern Kentucky church with a Sunday attendance of about 25 people.
Last year, when member Grace Wilson received e-mails from Southern Baptist missionaries in Africa about Kalkidan's plight, she felt compelled to act even further by bringing the need to the attention of her church. As a result, West Covington Baptist arranged for a life-saving operation that has impacted an entire African community and transformed the life of Grace's church.
"It has shown us that we can make a difference," says Grace. "One person can make a difference, not just in our local community but in our global community."
"It has definitely changed our outlook on how God can work when we're willing," adds West Covington's Pastor Chuck Overton.
From birth, Kalkidan suffered from a rare colon disease that forced her father to regularly flush it with water. After several operations, doctors told her family there was nothing else they could do and to prepare for the toddler's death.
Grace's e-mails to friends led to numerous connections, including the offer of free surgery at Cincinnati's Children's Hospital, the world's only hospital specializing in the treatment of pediatric colorectal problems. But the cost of getting Kalkidan to the United States was a tall order. With Grace's encouragement, her congregation agreed to sponsor a U.S. visit by Kalkidan and her father, Gashoway, an Ethiopian evangelist whose salary is the equivalent of $50 a month.
Media coverage of the operation helped bring in additional gifts, which totaled more than $18,500 by the time Kalkidan and her dad returned home last September.
Pastor Overton says God's involvement was evident, from the way He provided the funds to the fact that the doctor who performed the surgery had moved to Cincinnati from Long Island only a year earlier.
Not only did the successful operation thrill the mem-bers of West Covington and the community, it surprised the Tessema family's compatriots back in Ethiopia.
"They could not believe how little Kalkidan came running off the airplane," Pastor Overton says. "She was so sick before, but now she was bright-eyed and happy."
With funds left over, West Covington Baptist is sending the Tessema family a $125-a-month stipend until the fall of 2008. The money supplements Gashoway's modest pay and ensures they can purchase the nutritious food needed to maintain Kalkidan's health.
Grace is particularly impressed that Gashoway returned to his native land despite some suggesting he consider permanently settling in the United States.
"I feel he is in the right place to make a better Ethiopia," Grace says. "I never felt like this was a situation where I was supposed to adopt someone and get them to move. The purpose was to get this little girl a chance to live and allow a father to focus on his ministry with his family at his side."
Though the heavy media coverage of the event didn't inspire many new visitors to West Covington Baptist, Pastor Overton knows Kalkidan's story is having a widespread effect. He has heard of other area ministers urging their congregations to perform similar good works.
"We don't know what God's going to do in other churches because of this," he says. "We don't know what God's going to do in this little girl's life in Ethiopia."
If nothing else, this miraculous journey has shown Overton and his flock that a small church can, indeed, change the world.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian magazine.
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