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Confessions of faith: The Bunco girls

Patient invitations lead to multiple couples discovering a Bible-based church and joining a close-knit family of believers.

What does the dice game Bunco have to do with evangelism? Everything! Just ask Chris Keary-Taylor, Sue D’Oliveira, and Susan Lisenby, all part of a neighborhood Bunco group and all now members at Saving Grace, Mobile, Ala.

The “Bunco girls,” as Sue calls them, were searching for a church where they could belong. Though they all grew up in Christian churches of some kind and were now attending different denominations in Mobile, for each of them something was missing in their religious lives.

Enter Ammie Baldwin, another Bunco group member, whose patient invitations to check out her church, Saving Grace, resulted in three couples discovering a Bible-based church that helped them grow in their faith and join a family of believers passionate about letting their lights shine.

Meet Ammie and Don Baldwin

Ammie and Don Baldwin, members at Saving Grace since 2011, know what it’s like to be searching for a church. When they moved to Mobile, Ala., in 2010, they had just had their second child and wanted to have her baptized and raised in the church. Ammie had grown up Lutheran and Don Methodist. Both were members of the Coast Guard and moved around a lot, so finding a church home—even finding time to attend church—had proven difficult over the years.

Confessions of Faith Baldwins
Ammie and Don Baldwin

Even before they were stationed in Mobile, Don remembers a conference in Omaha, Neb., where a member of Saving Grace told him about Lutheranism and its teachings. When the Baldwins moved to Mobile a few years later, Ammie ended up working at an event with that same member, who invited her to worship at his church. Don remembered the discussion in Omaha, and they decided to visit. Once the Baldwins started taking the Bible 101 class, they were hooked. “When you plant that seed for evangelism, sometimes you think there’s no fruit to your labor,” says Ammie. “For us, it took about four or five years by the time we came. But we have been here ever since. . . . God’s Word is really what did it all; they just had to get us here to hear it.”

Ammie never forgot that and works to plant seeds whenever she gets the opportunity. With the area being highly churched—although not with many Lutherans—she gets multiple chances because the topic of church comes up frequently.

“When I think of evangelism, it conjures this nervousness in my stomach like I’m going to have to go and give a testimony to somebody or I’m going to have to do something big and grand,” says Ammie. “But ultimately these people who came to the church see how we live and they ask questions.” For Ammie, then it’s only a matter of answering their questions and always including an invitation to join her for worship.

It took time—years, in fact—before any of the couples from Ammie’s Bunco group visited Saving Grace. “You can’t feel defeated just because they didn’t come to church that Sunday,” says Ammie.

Meet Chris and John Keary-Taylor

Chris Keary-Taylor and her husband, John, were the first of the couples to try Saving Grace as part of their search for a church in which they both felt comfortable.

Confessions of Faith Keary-Taylor
John and Chris Keary-Taylor

Raised Roman Catholic, Chris attended Catholic schools and even studied to be a nun. “It was a period of time when everyone was doing all these altruistic things like joining the Peace Corps,” she says. “And of course, being around the nuns all day and every day, I thought, Well, maybe I’ll enter the convent because that way I can be of service and I can do something good.” But when her mother died a few years later following a short battle with cancer, Chris left the convent after she was not allowed to attend a service in honor of her mother. She also wanted to help her father cope with the loss. While her experience did not sour her on Catholicism, “it just made me rethink my role in the world,” she says.

A few years later, she met and married John, an FBI agent. They relocated often, making it hard to settle into a church. John considered converting to Catholicism but was turned off when the church only seemed interested in money. They attended and were active in a Presbyterian church for a while but then had to move again.

After they both retired, they ended up in Mobile. A few years later, they decided it was time to get back to church. They visited several different denominations with their friends but couldn’t find what they were looking for.

“Then Ammie said, ‘Chris, why don’t you and John come to our church? It’s a little church, only about 10 minutes away, and they’re having a special service for Mother’s Day. Maybe you’ll like it.’ So we went, and we absolutely fell in love with their church,” says Chris.

The welcoming community atmosphere, as well as the caring nature of the pastor and members when John later fell sick, kept them coming back. “It gives us a lot of comfort to go to church and have that connection,” says Chris.

Meet Sue and Robert D’Oliveira

Confessions of Faith D'Oliveira
Sue and Robert D’Oliveira

It took years of invitations from Ammie before Sue and Robert D’Oliveira decided to try Saving Grace. “I would say, ‘Sure, sure,’ ” says Sue, but she had no intention of going.

Sue and Robert had been attending a two-thousand-member Methodist church in Mobile for years, even though neither of them had grown up Methodist. Sue’s childhood was spent in the Catholic Church, and Robert was raised Greek Orthodox. But Sue left the Catholic Church after her divorce, and Robert wandered away from the church when he left home after high school. They each tried other denominations: Sue became Lutheran for a while, and Robert joined a charismatic church. When they married and moved to Mobile, they became Methodist—until changes and conflict in their church made them unhappy.

Now when Ammie invited Sue to visit her church, Sue started to consider it. “There was no pressure whatsoever, but she would just mention it, and you know, persistence prevailed because well, first, I love her, and so I trust her. I think I was ready.”

Confessions of Faith Bunco Girls
The “Bunco girls” (left to right): Ammie, Sue, Chris, and Susan.

After they attended once, they never missed a Sunday. “It’s like home to me,” says Sue. They decided to go to the Bible 101 classes and invited Chris and John, who had started attending worship about six months earlier, to join them.

Both Sue and Robert say that the classes were the best six weeks of their lives. “You know, you can read the Bible, but that doesn’t mean you understand it,” says Robert. “Pastor is so knowledgeable. It was basically a question-and-answer session for me, and now I understand [the Bible] a lot better.”

Sue agrees. “It’s really about Jesus, the Bible, and [Pastor’s] presentation,” she says. “All I can tell you is: Come, sit, listen, and you will find real comfort in that church. You’ll find a gathering of people who really care about each other. And I’ve never been to a church where we eat so much!”

Meet Susan and Fred Lisenby

It was Sue D’Oliveira who, in her excitement of finding the truth at Saving Grace, invited Susan Lisenby to come check it out. Susan and her husband, Fred, both grew up Baptist and had always attended Baptist churches throughout their 37 years of marriage. In 2022, they began visiting other churches due to their pastor’s retirement and other issues within the church they were attending. So when Sue invited them to Saving Grace, they decided to give it a try.

Confessions of Faith Lisenby's
Susan and Fred Lisenby

They instantly felt a connection—and not only to the tight community of believers. “We felt connected to the Word of God through Saving Grace Lutheran, and we love the simplicity of the religion,” says Susan. “We felt that Bible-based, which one hundred percent is what we understood this church to be, was the right path for us.”

But they weren’t going to commit to joining the church until they really knew what the church taught and believed. They went through the Bible 101 classes and became members in November 2023.

“For me, it felt like this is where I was always meant to be,” says Susan. “I was always meant to be a Lutheran.”

Now both Susan and Fred are getting involved and serving in whatever ways they can. “I want to be a part of this church, you know? Do my share and help out in any way that I can,” says Fred. “It just draws me closer to God.”

A congregation of witnesses

These new members are not afraid to proclaim their faith and what they found at Saving Grace. Chris invited her husband’s speech therapist, who has a Lutheran background but hasn’t found a church, to attend Easter services with her young children. Sue continues to witness to other members of the neighborhood Bunco group.

For Susan, witnessing is about living a life of faith—the same way Ammie let her light shine in the neighborhood Bunco group. “They should see God in you—your kindness, your willingness to help, your involvement in the church, the way you conduct yourselves in public—and this is how I see the Lutheran church doing it,” she says.

And Fred? “To me, it’s not about ‘going to church.’ It’s about serving your Lord and Savior,” he says. “We’re called to be disciples and spread the Word. So whether a person joins the church that I go to or not, I still try to share what the Lord has done for me.”

Author: Julie Wietzke
Volume 111, Number 06
Issue: June 2024

Everyone outreach

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Want to learn more about how to create a culture of outreach in your congregation? Schedule a five-hour Everyone Outreach workshop at your church to get every ministry and every member thinking about and participating in outreach.

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This entry is part 58 of 68 in the series confessions-of-faith

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