London preacher travels to Victoria to help start youth program

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Oct. 12, 2012 at 5:12 a.m.

Jesse Porras, 18, left, and Shandi Ybarra, 19, listen to Martin Berry, of London, give his testimony during service Sunday at Miori Lane Baptist Church. Berry and his wife were visiting to help start a youth program at the church.

Jesse Porras, 18, left, and Shandi Ybarra, 19, listen to Martin Berry, of London, give his testimony during service Sunday at Miori Lane Baptist Church. Berry and his wife were visiting to help start a youth program at the church.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

While the world watched the 2012 London Olympics unfold on television, the Rev. Mike Garrett secured a somewhat closer view.

But he didn't make the trek to England to attend sporting events and cheer on U.S. athletes.

He went to evangelize in Jesus' name.

And he figured he'd have better odds of reaching the world with the gospel - if he took the gospel to the world.

"We were outside the Olympic Village area, and we went walking through the malls and talked to different people about their beliefs in Christ," said Garrett, senior pastor of Miori Lane Baptist Church in Victoria. "We just wanted to evangelize and reach out to the world while they were congregated in one place."

Garrett said the overseas experience was a positive one, and he was thankful to dedicate his first visit to the United Kingdom to God's Great Commission.

But while his friends and church family expected their pastor to return home with exciting travel stories, they learned what he returned with was a great commission of his own.

While visiting Woodberry Down Church in London, Garrett said he was introduced to the Rev. Martin Berry, a youth and associate pastor from The Gospel Center Church in London. Berry was helping Woodberry start a new youth program at the church, and Garrett was interested in partnering with him to begin a similar program at Miori Lane Baptist.

"He had been successful at establishing youth groups in several London churches, so when we met, I mentioned that he should come to the U.S. and help us get ours going," Garrett said. "We're a very small congregation, but we want a bigger outreach program for kids, and it's our great commission to reach out and spread the word."

Garrett's conversation with Berry lasted only a few moments, but both pastors agreed it was a divine meeting.

"I didn't convince him to come, God did. It was an invitation to come to Victoria, and he took me up on it," Garrett said.

Reflecting on Garrett's initial invitation, Berry said, "It was a divine appointment meeting Mike, for sure. I'd never been to the States and my wife and I didn't have the means to be here."

"I was preaching" in London "and I mentioned Mike's invitation. . We didn't ask for the money, but all of it was given to us to come here."

Last week, Berry and his wife, Sandra, traveled to Victoria to join Garrett at Miori Baptist for a special Sunday service announcing a new youth program at the church, S2S, or Saved to Serve.

Berry and Garrett are hoping to build a visionary community outreach program for youth in Victoria that could possibly expand into an overseas missions exchange program between the pastors' two churches.

"I think S2S is about making a beeline for the young people and establishing a family," Berry said, mentioning how the S2S program is expanding in churches throughout the UK. "The big idea later would be to establish a youth conference, but primarily S2S is about serving: serving the church, serving the community, and loving thy neighbor."

Berry mentioned his passion for building strong youth programs started because he didn't grow up in a nurturing, Christian home. His mother was schizophrenic, his father, an alcoholic "gangster," and as he matured, he found himself making poor life choices.

Yet at 33, Berry said, he had a supernatural experience that led him into the church, and into a lifelong commitment with Christ. Months later, he submitted to God's will and was baptized in the Christian faith. He left his job as a truck driver and followed a call to spread the gospel among men.

"I have a strong call to preach, and I'm drawn to youth work because of my background, for sure," he said. "It's not just about a youth program. It's about encouraging churches."

In the next two years, the two pastors hope to continue building S2S in communities in Texas and in nations abroad. Their desire is to build a family of international Christian youth, unifying them in one faith.

"Things are really bad for young people at the moment. But we're not just trying to get young people into the church; we're trying have them be the church," Berry said.

They believe God will help them see the S2S project to completion, and they're excited about growing an international youth program that has the possibility of changing hearts for the Lord and broadening horizons for the kingdom.

"It has meant so much to me to be able to travel, and every time I do, it opens my eyes to something new," Garrett said. "We want to build something like that here. And maybe give some kids here the opportunity to see things they would never get the chance to see otherwise."



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