They say, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” Kevin McMahan, the pastor of Journey Church, could not agree more. In fact, he couldn’t wait to share story after story with me about the many things God has been up to with the people of Journey. It would take 3-4 articles to share all the stories, so I will give you the greatest hits from what I heard.
A SPACE TO WORSHIP
The space where Journey meets isn’t what you might expect of your typical church. The main room where they meet on Sundays to worship is, in a word, spartan. There’s a small, simple stage with tables and chairs in front. That’s about it. But what the people of Journey Church lack in production value, they make up for with heart and the desire to play a role in God’s story.
Kevin is basketball player tall (I am very much not, so maybe that’s just a matter of perspective). His hair and beard are white, and his overall demeanor and attire – t-shirt, shorts, and Chaco sandals – are casual and relaxed. He’s one of those people who makes you feel at ease right away when you’re with him. My kind of guy.
“DON’T GET AHEAD OF ME…”
Before I get to ask my first question, Kevin launches into a story. Eleven years ago he went on a mission trip to Costa Rica to share about the persecuted church (something close to Kevin’s heart) with an indigenous people group there. The trip forged a friendship with Steve, a former pastor turned missionary. After the trip, Steve posted on social media, asking for one bold church partner for this indigenous people group. He honestly had nothing to support his request other than the truth that these people were hungry for truth and needed a church.
Steve’s post captured Kevin’s heart, but he knew Journey had limited resources. He thought maybe he could find another church to help, too. Sure enough, God provided one, and Kevin emailed Steve and told him, “What about two churches?”
And so the partnership began. Through Journey’s partnership, Kevin met David, one of the Costa Rican pastors. Four years ago, David, was visiting church partners in the U.S. with his wife, Gaby. While crossing the bridge into Arkansas, God spoke to David and Gaby separately: “Get ready to move to Arkansas.” The message was clear, but it didn’t make sense. They were Costa Rican. They had strong family ties back home. Why on earth would they leave everything to move to Arkansas? Things got weirder when they visited Journey. When they stepped into the building, God spoke again: “This is where you’ll be.” Stunned, they didn’t know what to do or say. So they said nothing about it to Kevin. A year later, they told Kevin what God had revealed to them.
As if that weren’t strange enough, the Lord spoke again when they stepped into Journey for a birthday celebration at the church. “This is where you’ll be.” As Kevin puts it, “They were a little paralyzed” by the messages God was sending them. There was no doubt that it was from the Lord, but it seemed so far out of anything they ever thought of doing. Stunned and unsure of the next step, they said nothing to Kevin or anyone at Journey for a full year. Kevin could hardly believe it. “What?! That was my first response. I didn’t know what else to say.”
Eight months later, Kevin also received a word from the Lord during a time of prayer and fasting: “David and Gaby are coming. He’s the pastor. They’re coming to North Little Rock, and Journey Church has a part to play.” Then Kevin tells me what God did next. “The Lord showed me a vision. I saw David preaching at Journey. I could see Hispanic people coming in and out. It was so clear. There was no question about [it], but I didn’t know what to do.”
David and Gaby agreed to come for three weeks to visit and seek the Lord on what would happen next. “My approach was, ‘Let’s see what the Lord has in mind.’” Kevin shares. When the four of them began to pray, God spoke these words: “Don’t get ahead of me. Don’t lag behind me. Just stay with me.” Great assurance, especially because the process would take years, not weeks to happen.
GOD SHOWED UP
In order to bring David and his family to the U.S. on a religious visa, the church needed to raise 2 ½ years’ salary for him before applying. For a tiny church of around 11 people, it seemed like an impossible task and, at first, the fundraising process was challenging. “Everything was hard [at first]. Things took a long, long time.” But once they got started, the fundraising went fairly quickly. God also provided an attorney for them.
Everything was ready for them to apply for the visa. Kevin and the rest who were involved held their collective breath. How long would it take? Is there another hurdle ahead? Will this actually happen? Then God showed up in a big way. Instead of the application being processed in the typical 150 days, it took 22. Instead of waiting for an interview until 2024, they got one in 2 weeks. Their interview took 5 minutes and their visas were approved. Now, David and his family are making plans for the big adventure ahead, which is still unclear. All they know is what they heard from the Lord, and they are taking that next step forward in obedience. Reflecting on the experience, Kevin says, “Gosh, if I had a nickel for every time [in this process] I remembered those words, ‘Don’t get ahead of me. Don’t lag behind me. Just stay with me.’”
LOVING THOSE IN THE MARGINS
Just when I think Kevin’s finished and I can get to my list of questions, he shares another story that took place during the fundraising process to bring David and Gaby to the States. “As God would have it, one of our 11 people, Angie, teaches the deaf. It’s her whole career. I’ve always known that about her but didn’t feel called to do anything with it.” Angie had been asking the church to pray for an eleven-year-old she had been teaching who had a host of health problems.
One night Angie brought her to one of the church’s small groups for prayer. Kevin retells that experience, holding back tears, “She was seriously ill, as in deathbed illness. It tore at [Angie’s] heart that this girl had such a difficult life. And here she was, dying. We prayed…and we prayed…and we prayed. We prayed her right on into the arms of Jesus.”
After the girl’s death, people from the church connected with the girl’s parents, and learned that the parents are full-time missionaries for deaf people. Upon learning this, the leadership at Journey decided, “We gotta do this!” and the church began supporting their ministry. These days Kevin is often invited to join the ministry’s regular Zoom call. During one call, one of the participants told Kevin, “Journey loves people in the margins.” I’d say that estimation is spot on.
A CHANGE OF HEART
After this, Kevin has yet another story for me about another ministry the church supports. “Cru Storytellers go to places where the gospel’s not in any written form. They tell 42 stories of God’s story in that language and train others how to tell those stories. They leave them with a body of the Bible in the form of these stories. These people who had once never heard of Jesus now have all these stories.”
Kevin admits he didn’t like the idea at first. “I cherish God’s Word…every word…and you’re just paraphrasing it?! It rubbed me wrong. This is not correct! This cannot be!” But God, as Kevin puts it, “kept pounding on me until I joined one of their training programs. For a month, 2-3 hours a day per week, we learned what they did. They’d read the story. Then we had to retell the story. What comes to mind? What do you remember? As I went through that, I was like, ‘I can see it now.’ After that, I became a convert.”
IN THE CENTER OF GOD’S WILL
Toward the end of our conversation, we talk about how Kevin feels shepherding a smaller flock and whether the church should be bigger. “We’re so driven by numbers. Our economy and business sense are based on that, and it’s hard to step back from that. When pastors meet, typically the first question asked is, ‘How big is your church?’ [So much of what we do at Journey Church] doesn’t make financial sense, but I believe the Lord has where he wants us. And when you’re in the center of God’s will, nothing else matters. That is so powerful!”
Kevin attends CityChurch Network’s monthly pastor prayer lunches. He has also come to a number of OneVoice citywide prayer events. He appreciates the work CityChurch does to connect more churches and leaders for the good of the city. That being said, he admits that there’s much room for us to grow in our genuine unity here as the Church in Central Arkansas. “I come from a kind of Dreamland, thinking, ‘It would be nice to talk to other pastors. How would you deal with this situation? Have you preached on this topic before? Have you had this experience?’ Honestly, sometimes it feels like we’re competitors.”
Kevin and I both would like to imagine a city where pastors don’t see each other as competitors but as co-laborers in God’s work. Where church “success” isn’t measured by the size of the auditorium but by the love people have for Jesus. Where churches can connect with other churches locally and globally for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. Where the church’s impact is felt in real ways in communities near and far. We may not be there yet, but we’re getting there. Along the way, let’s remember, “Don’t get ahead of me. Don’t lag behind me. Just stay with me.”
THE LAST WORD
I finally have time to ask questions but decide, instead, to give Kevin the last word. Here’s what he shared:
We will each have our moment when we face Jesus—our face-to-face moment with our Lord and Savior. Will we be able to say, ‘I was doing what you last told me to do’? Not that I understood it fully, but that I heard you, and I did it. I moved in that direction. That’s what I want to be able to say.
We are thankful for the exceptional work of Journey Church and for all the churches in our city working toward a genuine unity that displays the love and beauty of Christ. They’re helping the whole Church grow.
Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Chris Loux, Communications Director, CityChurch Network