A Small Church With a Big Mission

Leroy and Joanne Fuller are retired. They’ve led a busy life, having worked all over the Northwest, and as missionaries in Bangladesh for 12 years. But they’re currently members at the Forks, Washington, church. And that, for the Fullers, means an active retirement.

Twenty years have passed since the little Forks church was dedicated by Bruce Johnston. Those two decades have seen church membership ebb and swell. Forks is still a timber town with an economy tied to lumber. As lumber has prospered so have the town and the church. When the lumber industry has declined, church membership has also struggled. But through all the ups and downs, the missionary spirit of the members has remained strong.

Commitment to missions, both home and abroad

Forks church members believe in sharing their message, not only with the people of the surrounding area but overseas as well. Church members have gone on short-term mission trips to India, others to El Salvador, Peru, Puerto Rico, Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. And those trips have fueled a desire for missions in Forks as well.

That’s one reason why the Fullers’ retirement is more active than ever. Joanne remembers the early years of the church. She grew up on the Clearwater about 45 miles south of Forks and attended the Forks church as a child. But now in their retirement years Leroy helps out with the local ambulance corps and they are members of area search and rescue teams. Their work has allowed them to be an everyday witness in their community, which matches their philosophy of outreach. “You can preach all you want to a person, but what they really need is to see the truth lived out in your life,” says Leroy.

Native American community

That’s what happened when the Fullers and other members of the Forks church met Steve Sansom and his family. Steve is a fisherman, a member of the Quinault tribe who lives in Queets. He was born into an Adventist home and as a child traveled with his family 40 miles to the Forks church each Sabbath. He drifted away from the church, however, as a teenager; then married, and began his own family. Yet he didn’t forget his Adventist roots. When people from other churches would witness to him, he would listen, but, as he says, “I always knew what was right.”

Meanwhile, two Forks members, Ivan and Diane Cowles, started a Vacation Bible School in response to a request from Betty Boome, a member living in Queets. This soon led to a regular Sabbath afternoon story hour. Then in November, 2001, the Cowles began an evangelistic series using the New Beginnings DVD materials, and Steve Sansom attended. In time, Steve’s wife, Laura, became curious and would ask questions that Steve would answer from the Bible. They viewed several of the Native New Day videos presented by Monte Church, North Pacific Union Conference native ministries director. Then the Fullers got involved, studying the Bible with Steve and his family. As a result of God’s blessings in working through these collective efforts, Steve, Laura, Steve’s mother, Dorothy, and two others were baptized during the Cowles’ meetings. And, because of Steve’s connection with the Quinault tribe, tribal leaders have given a piece of land for an Adventist chapel in Queets to house the growing number of believers there.

A single life

While some overseas mission reports speak of tens of thousands of conversions, many smaller churches here in the Northwest must place their efforts in one-on-one contact. The Forks church joins other churches in the district to sponsor a booth at the annual fair in Port Angeles. When Greg Senderhauf, a guard at the Clallam Bay Correction Center near Forks, filled out a card for a free drawing, he did not suspect where it would lead. Greg had been studying the Bible and, on his own, had come to believe in the seventh-day Sabbath and other Bible truths. He wondered if there was a church that believed as he did.

When students and staff members from Laurelwood Academy began working in Forks recently (see “Seeds for the Harvest” on page 23), they asked if there were any interested people to visit and were given Greg’s card. They visited him and invited him to study the Bible further. Greg’s story is still unfolding, but he has begun studying in earnest with Ivan and Diane Cowles.

And the Fullers, still enjoying their active retirement, are excited about the cooperative impact of foreign missions on the home field. “It is good for our church to see the work around the world and how Jesus can come soon,” says Joanne. “Enthusiasm in our church here just keeps growing.”

Help Wanted

“We really need people to come help us,” says Diane. “We’ve received response cards from people all the way from Neah Bay to Queets and even Aberdeen. We are facing the challenge of how to follow up with these before the opportunity passes. So, please consider coming to Forks to help us.”

So the story, which began many years ago and includes the efforts of the young evangelistic team from Walla Walla College (see “The Power of One” on page 6), has continued to bear fruit through members like the Cowles and the Fullers. The stories in Forks, Queets, and beyond echo the sentiments of many small churches throughout the Northwest. Their members are issuing a Macedonian call to “come over and help us.” Let’s pray that, like Paul of old, there will be someone to catch that vision, hear the call and respond. •

March 01, 2003 / Feature