WEEK OF PRAYER; 'Life-changing' mission trip to Africa motivates S.F. church plant
SAN FRANCISCO(BP) -- Living in an environment as affluent as San Francisco can numb people to others' needs, but Ben Pilgreen knows God is able to increase a person's sensitivity.
Pilgreen and a team including his wife Shauna launched Epic Church two years ago in the fine arts district of San Francisco. He led in summer 2012 Epic's first international missions trip, to Uganda.
"Our trip to Uganda was incredible," Pilgreen said. "People throw the term 'life-changing' around, but it truly was life changing for some of our people. The team of 14 was so impressed we are already scheduled to return next year." Pilgreen is Epic's pastor, a North American Mission Board church planter and a 2013 Week of Prayer missionary.
"We have several members who have been sponsoring children through our partner church there, and we were able to visit in their homes," Pilgreen said. "That truly brought it to reality for our people. It was eye opening to see the conditions the children live in, particularly compared to San Francisco. Then to see those people, living in what we would consider tough, even impossible, situations, exhibiting true joy. Amazing."
Epic works in partnership with United Christian Centre in Kampala, Uganda, a 20-year-old congregation that supports an orphanage, among other ministries. Pilgreen said the integrity of the church leadership guiding 2,000 members and multiple ministries spoke to his members.
"Spending time with the kids and their families was the best. We were able to take the kids to an amusement park one day. That was a great day," he said.
Recognizing Acts 1:8 as a comprehensive command, Epic simultaneously engages not only around the world, but across the street. One of their longest-standing relationships is with A Woman's Place transitional residence for battered women. When Epic held its "Hope for the City," six partner churches supplied 70 volunteers.
"Teams went in and totally redesigned rooms to make them brighter and give them a happier feel," Pilgreen said. "Then the teams hit the neighborhoods and local parks cleaning and doing whatever was needed. The Department of Public Works was incredibly appreciative. They see us as good neighbors and that helps us in the community.
"Our volunteers also helped us host City Impact events for children with games and interaction. That was a meaningful time for us and another great opportunity where people recognized us as contributing to the community."
Pilgreen relies on God's wisdom and the counsel of godly Christians to help him navigate issues unique to leading a church in San Francisco.
Pilgreen points to a family who came to Epic's inaugural preview service
After receiving an invitational flier.
"Volunteers handed out invitations," Pilgreen said. "Anna picked one up and came. Eventually she came to faith and brought her family to Epic. Her husband came to faith, too. She told us Epic helped save her life and her marriage.
"You don't know how a simple act, as simple as handing someone a piece of paper, can affect someone's life. Our partners and volunteers are vital to us. You have to sow a lot of seeds."
Epic will hire its first children's director this year. The leadership continues to write the church's entire small-group curriculum.
"We publish it in book form," Pilgreen said. "We realized early on that our members trust us, but they don't know any 'names' in Christian publishing.
"We are at three services and about 260 on Sunday. We have 13 Epic Groups now. We are looking to expand into the north, east and south parts of the city," Pilgreen said of Epic's small-group strategy.
The Pilgreens, parents to Elijah, 9, Sam, 7, and Asher, 5, are adopting a daughter from India. "It's another adventure. Why not?" Pilgreen said.
Shauna released in 2012 her first book, "The Same Page," co-authored with Courtney Bullard, and began writing for flourish.me, a blog for NAMB pastors' wives.
Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 3-10, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering provide support for Pilgreen and other church planters who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists in North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year's offering theme is "Whatever It Takes -- Reaching the One." Learn more about Ben Pilgreen at anniearmstrong.com/benpilgreen. For more information on Epic Church visit epicsf.com. For more information on reaching San Francisco with the Gospel, visit namb.net/SanFrancisco.