Pastor hopes to raise $1 million for mission projects

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Sept. 28, 2012 at 4:28 a.m.

Cynthiamarie DeGrand, 57, of Victoria, worships at Faith Family Church in Victoria.

Cynthiamarie DeGrand, 57, of Victoria, worships at Faith Family Church in Victoria.

When the Rev. Jim Graff was 23 years old, he filled a backpack with little more than a Bible and spry gumption, and trekked overseas to explore the wilds of Uganda.

Graff, the senior pastor of Faith Family Church, was then, a dewy Christian and recent graduate of Oral Roberts University.

But for reasons then unknown, the adventuresome grad felt the Lord leading him to Africa - and into the mission field.

"At the time, I was praying about whether I should go to law school or become a preacher ... but I felt a calling to that part of the world," said Graff, 52. "The trip to Uganda was my first time ever out of the country, and it was eye opening to see 16-year-olds holding AK-47s, stopping you at check points."

After many days in the country, sharing the Christian message with an unfamiliar people, the young missionary returned home determined to continue ministry work overseas.

"I was the first fully devoted follower in my family," he said, mentioning his submission to the faith at age 17. "I knew I had a gift for getting people to walk with God, even though I had a fear of public speaking. I wanted to build a church, and I wanted that church to make a difference in the most overlooked and under-reached places in the world."

In 1989, Graff accepted the pastorate at Faith Family, and preliminarily conceived what would become a lifelong effort to send millions of church and tithe dollars to mission projects oversees.

That effort included a specific goal: Each year, Faith Family would attempt to set aside $1 million for local, national and overseas missions, and missionaries living and working abroad.

It's a goal, and dream, that's been in the works for nearly two decades - one Graff and his church has neared many times, yet not quite seen come to fruition.

"He talks about it all the time. I heard about it 17 years ago," said second-grade Faith Academy teacher and Faith Family Church member Dan Laughhunn. "He's always wanted to have a church, so he could help missionaries. Every dollar changes the world, really. People are being fed, clothed and educated."

Laughunn, who's also participated in mission projects oversees, said he's proud to work for Graff, a man he believes cares deeply for others in every part of the world.

"You have to care about everyone, here and everywhere else. If you don't care about everybody, then that's probably not the love of God," Laughhunn said. "I've never had a boss that has cared so much about others. He's amazing. And he squeezes every dollar, so he can give away the maximum amount."

Graff has, in two decades, watched the church's annual mission budget rise from $28,000 to about $750,000. But to date, reaching $1 million at the close of a budgetary year has never been achieved.

For his part, Graff admits the $1 million mission project is lofty. But that's the point, he said.

"I believe God wants us to dream big about where we're called to make a difference," he said. "I see us making $1 million one day. Not because of who we are, but because of whose we are."

Laughunn said the mission project isn't about racing to a finish line to raise $1 million by the end of this year, or next. The project is about serving God and others, and offering Christians an opportunity to step up to a calling of service and giving.

"I don't really think it's about the amount. A million is more than (Graff) has ever had, and he's never reached that number. Though I'm sure when he does, he'll try to reach $2 million," Laughunn said. "The whole idea with him is unless you set goals, nothing happens. He set an impossible number on purpose - one that only God could help him reach."

Graff and his wife, the Rev. Tamara Graff, recently returned from a mission trip to Indore, India.

There, Graff's million dollar mission project and the tithes of faithful Faith Family church-goers, have left thumbprints in India for the past 13 years - helping to establish more than 700 churches, schools, Bible schools and other training centers for career missionaries and pastors.

Partnering with the Indian Evangelical Team, Graff's mission budget is funding efforts in 24 villages in the Banchra community, a once "unreached" area belonging to what is referred to in Christian circles as part of the 10/40 Window. The term refers to a specific region of the world located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator that have little understanding and access to Christianity.

People groups in the 10/40 Window also tend to experience gross economic strife, health problems and low quality of life.

"India is our main focus right now. The goal is to reach the critical mass, and we do that through establishing relationships," Graff said.

Other international efforts funded by the $1 million mission project include the Faith Family House in Guatemala, an orphanage that feeds, educates and spiritually nourishes 30 children each month. Graff's mission budget also helps fund ministries scattered throughout South America and Africa.

But the budget funds are also used for area mission projects, such as Toys for Tots, the church's food pantry, and Fill the Bus, among others.

"Jesus tells us to work both places. If you're not good at home, you won't be good anywhere else," Graff said.

Even though Graff hasn't yet realized his million dollar mission dream, he's optimistic that one day Faith Family will reach the goal.

"I believe people should give out of passion, not pressure. So we don't ever pressure anyone to give. But I think we have a good shot," of reaching $1 million one day, he said. "And if we make it, I'll probably up the number ... but I'll be doing missions until Jesus comes - or I die."



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