Before coming to Rising City to serve as a pastor for Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, Kevin Stellick spent 25 years as a missionary in Asia.
Originally from the Midwest, Kevin, his wife Sarah and their baby daughter moved to Taichung, Taiwan -- a city with a population of roughly 2.8 million -- in 1993.
"We began with a handful of Christians and the intent of planting a church...that was our initial work," Kevin said. "Eventually it morphed into doing more training of locals so that they could be the ones leading and doing the ministry."
When they moved, neither Kevin nor Sarah spoke any Taiwanese, Chinese or even a dialect of the most common language in the region, Mandarin.
"The joke is that you spend five years learning language, culture and customs and getting established. And then you spend the next five years making up for all the mistakes you made the first five years, so you're not really effective until you've been there for like 10 years," Sarah said, chuckling.
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After living in Taiwan for 18 years, the Stellicks moved to Shanghai, China, where they lived for seven years. The ministry was different in China, which does not accept foreign missionaries.
"We plugged in people who were willing to, by day, work as English teachers and, by night, making friends with the Chinese people and sharing the gospel," Kevin said. "I worked as kind of a shepherd over those teachers. ... We tried to be as much under the radar and behind the scenes as we could be. Our goal, of course, was to share the gospel of Jesus Christ and as we did that we tried to identify and equip local people."
They met with people -- most of them university students -- in small groups and moved locations often.
"If they were caught working with us as foreigners in unregistered church situations, who knows what might happen to them," Kevin said.
Kevin said many people were initially drawn to Christianity by a desire to learn English.
"But when you got to know them better it was just genuine Christian friendship, love -- something that was very foreign to them," Kevin said.
Kevin said the Chinese people he worked with were voracious when it came to studying the gospel.
"We've had Christianity in America for as long as Europeans have been here, and so I think there's kind of a 'take it for granted' mentality in American Christianity," Kevin said.
The differences don't end there. In the U.S., Kevin said, churches often have formal liturgies, paraments and gowns, but overseas they focused on the basics.
"You don't know if you're going to get called into a government office and asked to leave, so you try to boil it down. What's the important thing? Helping them understand God's plan of salvation through Christ, Jesus, and equipping them to be able to share that with others."
The Stellicks knew they would not stay forever, though.
"That was part of the rationale behind trying to identify and train local people. We're always trying to work ourselves out of a job, so to speak," Kevin said.
In 2018, after 25 years in Asia, the Stellicks returned to the United States. For two years, Kevin served as a pastor for a church in Waco, Nebraska. Then, in June 2020, Kevin and Sarah moved to Rising City where he currently serves as a pastor for Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Despite all the cultural differences, Kevin said their work hasn't changed at a basic level.
"As Christians, no matter where we are we are called to be witnesses and that's really doing mission-like work, whether it's in our backyard here or halfway across the world," Kevin said.
Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach her via email at email@example.com.