In John 13:34-35, Jesus sets love as the benchmark. “Love for one another” is how people know you are His disciples. It’s the defining characteristic of the spiritual family, the Church, and when lived out loud, transforms and redeems lives. Love finds the lost sheep and brings them home.
This love is on full display at Fairview Baptist Church in Columbus, MS. This month is the one-year anniversary of Fathers in the Field at Fairview thanks to the dedication of Church Champion Keith Fortenberry, committed Mentor Fathers and the entire church family. They rally together to provide the needed resources, spiritual counsel and support to the Mentor Fathers and Field Buddies – from providing opportunities to serve widows to offering land to hunt and fish.
“Since the church is located in the middle of a dynamic and diverse cultural area, we’ve seized opportunities to come together as a family to serve the needs of those who don’t have a family of their own,” said Mentor Father David Dees, Fairview’s full-time college and youth associate pastor. “It’s easy for men to be disengaged from the work of the church, so it’s great to help them find their niche with Fathers in the Field. We’re taking care of kids God wants us to take care of. The ministry provides the structure and intentionality our church needed to reach more fatherless boys in our community.”
After taking Isaiah along on a city-wide Fathers in the Field fish fry on a local farm (see Defending the Cause – September 2013), Isaiah was moved by what he witnessed – another Field Buddy named Derriquon being baptized in a water trough by his Mentor Father. Witnessing this public profession of faith made Isaiah want to know more about baptism.
“Isaiah caught me completely off-guard on the bus trip home when he asked me in front of everybody, ‘What do you think about being my Mentor Father?” When David told Isaiah he was still waiting on the Lord, Isaiah wouldn’t relent. “Well, what if I told you your Field Buddy was me?” At that moment, David got the all the confirmation he needed to start walking alongside Isaiah as his Mentor Father.
“Isaiah wanted and needed to be in a committed relationship with me as modeled by the other Mentor Fathers in our church,” said David. The relationship between David and Isaiah pre-existed before they committed to each other in an official capacity with Fathers in the Field, “but it’s been full throttle ever since,” said David. “Isaiah loves doing the Journey Guide talks with me and consistently asks if we can go ahead and skip to next month.”
The “all in” attitude of David’s family has enhanced his mentoring role in his Field Buddy’s life. David’s wife, Angie, and his three young children have fully embraced Isaiah as a member of the family. They understand they are filling a void in Isaiah’s life by providing the love, affection and guidance he desires.
“We recently celebrated his 12th birthday with a surprise party after we had gone hunting. Obviously, Isaiah was overjoyed. It was unexpected gesture of how much he means to our family. My kids even call him their big brother.”
Isaiah is being loved on all sides. Not only does the Dees family treat him as their own, members of the Fairview church family have committed to come alongside David to help speak the Gospel into Isaiah’s life. David is humbled by his church’s dedication and heart for the fatherless.
“I’ve been the harvester of the fruit from the seeds our church have planted in Isaiah’s life. He’s realizing that people really do care for him, which is helping him believe that God does, too. It’s also encouraging to see his expectations for men are changing since all he’s known is abandonment.”
On Feb. 15 of this year, Isaiah was baptized by David at Fairview in front of the church family who have consistently pursued and loved him. Faithfully and compassionately, the Lord hasn’t stop there. “Isaiah’s seeing how I treat my wife, my kids and how a Godly family centered on Christ works. The change is influencing his single mom, too. She knows our love is genuine through our words and actions.”
David trusts by this time next year, Fairview will have many more men involved in Fathers in the Field. As a pastor, his realistic view of ministry is helpful as he and Keith encourage more men to “love one another” by mentoring a fatherless boy.
“Ministry can be messy especially when dealing with a broken home or broken life. You’re going to get dirty, but when your family and church family are working together to help bring a boy out of the darkness and into the light with God’s help, it’s worth it all.”
Watch Mentor Father David Dees baptize his Field Buddy, Isaiah, at Fairview Baptist Church on Feb. 15, 2014.