How does a church in an Iowa farm community learn about missions and impact thousands of lives around the world?
Ottumwa Community Church opened its doors to ANM’s co-founder Bo Barredo in 1989. Bo became their first missionary. He continued introducing the church to native missionaries and when ANM began in 1992, Ottumwa became one of ANM’s first supporters. The congregation welcomed native missionaries from around the world along with ANM staff members. The church hosted mission conferences and opened its homes to these guests. The pastor and members of the church went on short-term mission trips. Relationships developed. One friendship that blossomed was with the compassionate family of Richard and Debbie Hall. Their young son Jacob truly loved Bo.
On Friday, July 23, 1999, an unthinkable tragedy happened when Jacob, then 11, died in a go-cart accident. Jacob was a Christian and loved missions. His heart was for the less fortunate. His mother Debbie said, “If he saw someone without shoes, he wanted to make sure they got some. At a young age he seemed concerned for others’ welfare and where they would spend eternity.”
As the Halls were drowning in a state of shock, numbness, and confusion, the church and community surrounded them with love. Debbie’s Sunday school teacher, Penny, was the first to arrive at the hospital. The next Sunday Debbie walked into class, and Penny held her as she wept.
Honoring a young man’s wishes
Richard and Debbie asked for donations to missions instead of flowers at the memorial service in an effort to honor Jacob’s wishes.
As they held the offering in their hands they wondered how God would want them to use the funds. Penny shared the heart-breaking news with Bo and asked his advice on where best to invest the money. Bo and current ANM President Oliver Asher cried and prayed together asking God for direction. They agreed to send it to a young Christian couple in the Philippines who were teaching preschool children under the trees. This offering would provide a building for them.
When more gifts kept arriving after the funeral, Penny, her husband, the Halls, and other close friends decided to create a non-profit foundation for Jacob so that he really could be a missionary. Penny and her husband became co-founders of Jacob’s Gift. Ottumwa Community Church was its first supporter.
With these on-going funds, ANM helped by suggesting international children’s ministries run by native missionaries that could benefit from the foundation. Richard said, “These dedicated men and women of God were now partners with our son — Jacob was a missionary!”
And what happened to the first project in the Philippines? Parents often walked their children to school and stayed to listen. As the parents heard songs and the word of God, they too wanted to accept Christ. Therefore, on Sundays, the same building doubled as a church. Since this couple was making such a positive influence on their small island of Guimaras, the foundation then funded a training center and additional pre-schools. Years later, the Halls visited the Philippines and went to the schools.
Richard and Debbie shared, “The songs they sang warmed our hearts. What a joy to see these children being raised in the ways of the Lord, just like we raised Jacob. We thank the people whose hearts were touched by a little boy in Iowa who wanted to be a missionary.”
This was only the beginning. It has now been 20 years. Thousands of lives have been transformed because of Jacob’s Gift — in the U.S. and around the world.
In rural Kenya, Jacob’s Gift built a library and birth center. The African ministry hired a university graduate to work with the children in the community. She visited five elementary schools every week to teach Bible classes. On Saturdays, 150 children showed up to sit in the 50 available seats. They listened to Bible stories and got help with homework. Test scores improved.
The ministry leader in Kenya told the Halls, “One of the boys who came to the library is the first in the community to qualify for college. He grew up in poverty. At age 15, his father and mother died and he raised his three younger siblings. He regularly walked to the library with these children to study. Because of the tutoring and support he received there, he not only qualified to go to college, but was also trained in children’s ministry.”
Celebrating 20 years of global impact
Jacob’s brother and sister and their families are also very involved in all aspects of the foundation. This farm community in Iowa will never be the same.
In October, the Halls held a reception to celebrate Jacob’s 20 years of missionary impact and show their gratitude to everyone who made Jacob’s dream come true.
During the event, Richard told the group, “Jacob’s Gift has taken us around the world building schools and orphanages. The construction of a playground, hospital, library and birth center now bless thousands. Providing electricity, books, computers, and VBS curriculum have all furthered His kingdom. Roofs have been replaced and widows have been helped. Perhaps the greatest gifts have been the friendships — locally, nationally, and internationally — we have made during this journey. Thank you all!”
Jacob is truly one of ANM’s heroes. His picture hangs with other missionaries on ANM’s walls. Thank you, Ottumwa Community Church, for dropping that first stone in the water of people’s hearts. Those ripples will end only in eternity.