When Stephanie Grant asked her husband, Bob, what type of Christmas project their Gateway Group could do in November 2016, she had no idea such a small question would snowball into something so big. But it was not the first time God did something unexpected in their lives.
Ten years ago, Pastor Robert preached the REAL series for the first time, and Bob and Stephanie, somewhat new to Gateway, joined a group to meet people and grow in their faith. “I still have the red wristband Gateway handed out during the series on my car stick shift!” Bob says. After a few group meetings, they heard the group leader was stepping down. That’s when Bob and Stephanie realized they weren’t ready to see the group end, and neither were several other members. They knew it was time for them to lead and officially started their own group, taking what the REAL series taught them and putting it into action with the people around them. What started with just a few people in the Grants’ home on Sweetbriar Lane has turned into 25 people, 4 marriages, many local and international outreach trips, hundreds of fellowship dinners, and thousands of prayers. “We call our group The Fellow Sheeples of the Briars,” Bob says with a big laugh. “We are His sheep, and we love caring for His sheep. That’s a common theme with us. We love being in relationship with one another and we love asking ourselves, what is God calling us to do for others?”
So right after Stephanie and Bob started talking about a Christmas project for their group, two of their group members, Blanca and Charles Hayslip, sent them a note about some kids in Blanca’s small hometown in Mexico who weren’t able to have a Christmas. Blanca had been making homemade salsa (“Which is beyond delicious by the way,” says Bob) and saving the proceeds to try and provide some kind of Christmas for these kids, and her question to Bob and Stephanie was simple: “Is this something our group might want to support?” “We couldn’t say yes fast enough. It felt like the Lord set up the perfect project for our group,” Bob says.
Blanca and Charles pitched the idea to the entire group at their next meeting, and everyone was enthusiastically on board. Blanca told the group that she knew of 30 kids but felt they needed to plan for 50. They were all from a small church called Peniel in Cuidad Acuna, Mexico. The church had been renting a small tin building with no air or heat and walls that barely met in the corners, but that didn’t stop people from coming. Pastored by a single mom, Juanita Lucio, who was led to the Lord by her children and called to shepherd those in her neighborhood, Peniel Church and its people became the Sheeples’ constant prayer.
Once they set the project in motion, the Sheeples rallied in force. Gifts and funds flooded in. A woman in Del Rio even heard what they were planning. For a long time she had been collecting stuffed animals for her future children as she waited for a husband, but when she heard about the Peniel Church children, she knew she was supposed to give those gifts to the children at Peniel. “The response was mind-blowing,” says Bob. “We were able to give 50 kids a beautiful Christmas and present the church and Pastor Juanita with a few necessary items like a long table and chairs for the children, room dividers, and teaching equipment as well as extra funds for some medical needs.” The children and the church were not only given physical gifts but a message of hope.
The Sheeples felt like their part in Peniel’s story wasn’t finished though. About a year later, the Grants and Hayslips received a letter from Pastor Juanita, and they excitedly showed it to the Sheeples. A group in California was willing to build a real church building for Pastor Juanita’s flock and only required that the church have land and a building foundation laid. “To legally purchase land and build a foundation would cost about $5,000,” Bob says. “We asked the group if they would like to be involved, and within a few weeks, Blanca located the land, we funded the purchase, and they started to prepare the foundation!” The building of the church is scheduled for later in 2018, and the Sheeples look forward to visiting in person to see what they’ve been praying for and giving toward.
What started as a small series group has turned into a real testimony of the power of God’s people coming together. Throughout their 10 years together, the Sheeples have thrown Super Bowl and New Year’s parties at local homeless shelters, adopted families in need during the holidays, sent out Operation Christmas Child boxes, volunteered with City Church International in Dallas, and now, they’ve added building a church in Mexico to the list. As a result, the Sheeples are tight-knit—more like family—and they’re still growing! “It’s truly been a wild ride. Our group has really evolved in the last 10 years. We’re more Holy Spirit–driven and active than ever before,” Bob says. “But everything we’ve done has always started with the question: ‘What can we do to help?’”
You can start a series group too! For information about that and other things Gateway is doing in the new year, visit first.gatewaypeople.com.