Breathing Life into a Dead Community – Missionary Couple Heads Ministry in Desolate Desert Town

Mar 06, 2003 01:33 PM EST

TOMBSTONE, Ariz. – "It is just awesome that God allows us to be a part of what he's doing out here."

Elizabeth and Tommy Stevens, among the featured missionaries for the 2003 Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 2-9, brought the light and life of the Gospel to a desolate desert town.

"Somebody said there was no place deader than Tombstone or Cochise County before we got out here," said Elizabeth.

But since the Stevens entered the town, many events have happened; many seeds were sown.

“all these things are happening. This is God's timing for the area. There have been people who have planted a lot of seeds along the way."

The Stevens came from Tennessee, where Tommy had served as a pastor. He also served as a licensed counselor in private practice and minister of music. They chose to move to Tombstone, mainly because the location served as an integral part of the Cochise Baptist Association, which called him to missions.

Soon after they moved, they renovated an old abandoned church in the area, and established the CBA’s headquaters in its place. The bulding also serves as a home for the Stevens, as well as a retreat center for 3,000 missionaries from across the nation.

"This building may not have made it as a church, but it is a place of ministry," remarked Elizabeth.

About 20-24 teams of missionaries come to their office each year for retreat and even for personal breaks.

"I thought we'd have two or three teams a year, never dreaming what God was going to do," Elizabeth said

The Stevens’ core ministry however, is centered on their local community; the Tombstone region, similar to the old church, needed many renovations.

"The occult is very strong here," Tommy said. "One of our pastors went into a public restroom and saw a sign that said, 'Fight evil, kill a Baptist.' And that's been the attitude sometimes. Yet there are a lot of people who are open to the gospel."

Upon arrival, Tommy immediately identified sites for future churches and shared the needs of existing churches in the area.

"When the churches discovered the opportunities that were here they did not say 'no' to the Lord," Tommy said. "They got excited, and pretty soon I had churches starting missions on their own, and saying, "We started such and such mission, can you help us?"

Tommy has helped spark the deveopment of a new border ministry involving the Arizona Baptist Convention, the International Mission Board and the Mexican National Baptist Convention, to minister to the heavy influx of Mexican immigrants. Churches have been planted in many cross-border mainly Hispanic communities near Tombstone, as well as in isolated Anglo communities in the region.

Tommy’s assistance and skills are highly admired by fellow ministers.

"He gives you that shot of adrenalin that you need to come back out and get into ministry," said Mark Stevens, the pastor of one of the newly established churches.

Despite challenges in their ministry, the Stevens always maintain a grateful heart towards the Lord.

"We don't ever have time to get bored or find anything dull," said Elizabeth. "It's just one of the most rewarding jobs we've ever had."

By Pauline J.