Gathering at the Well

Carlton and Shannon Deal follow a nontraditional calling for a changing world.
by Brett Wilson

Carlton and Shannon DealChrist’s ministry—delivered through parables, teachings and leading by example—was about meeting His followers where they were.

Throughout their 27 years of marriage, Carlton Deal ‘04 (Business & Leadership) and Shannon Deal ‘04 (Education) have established a history of developing ministry in Western Europe in the same light of Christ—meeting its citizens’ spiritual and physical needs within their own cultural context.

Their ministry spurs from their particular passion for youth and church planting. As a result, the couple spent 10 years in Geneva, Switzerland, prior to deciding to further their education to prepare them for what was next.

“Our plan was to get more schooling, go back [to Geneva] and do more church planting,” says Shannon.

Carlton, who was seeking more leadership experience outside of his theological background, pursued his M.A. in Organizational Leadership. Shannon, hoping to get a job as a teacher in an international school, completed her master’s in education.

But something different was brewing for the two of them, who were discovering that their nontraditional education was leading them to a nontraditional calling.

The door of opportunity to move back to Geneva after graduation closed, so Carlton and Shannon—along with their children Ani and Parker—moved to Brussels, Belgium. Their new mission would be to help revive the faith pulse of Europe from its capital city.

“The percentage of people who are following Jesus there is just diminishing,” says Carlton. “People have a bad experience with church here; and many have abandoned any kind of association to the Body of Christ altogether.”

Carlton and Shannon started with a triage of sorts by planting The Well, a church that follows a grassroots path to worship, bringing the congregation out of the pews and into community centers and cafés around Brussels.

“Our dream is to spread these communities all over the city and their neighborhoods in hopes that they will reproduce,” says Carlton. “We believe that a loving community of Christ-followers is the best apologetic for the gospel.”

The church name, Carlton explains, is derived from the New Testament story where Jesus approaches the Samaritan woman and offers her a “spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

“We redeem public spaces for gathering as God’s people,” says Carlton. “We don’t want the church to be seen as a thing that happens once a week, or a thing that you can only do in a sacred building. We want church to be seen as people connecting to each other.”

With this passion for the unconventional pulsing through the couple’s calling, the Deals faithfully incorporated another aspect of their ministry within their church body—to serve the city. This ambition would become the name of the couple’s international service organization that is “inspired by Jesus and open to all.”

Serve the City’s (STC) primary aim is simply to “show kindness in practical ways to people in need,” and to mobilize volunteers to follow suit. In just 10 years, STC has reached individuals on three continents, with its roots in more than 95 cities across the world. This mobilization of service comes from Carlton and Shannon’s shared belief in the importance of loving others.

“Loving the poor is not an optional extra in what Jesus calls us to,” says Carlton. “We want to emphasize that as a normal part of people’s faith journey.”

While The Well is a faith community that encourages service, STC is a serving community that encourages faith. The Deals use this nontraditional structure to gain trust with the members of the community.

The organization’s main focus is offering assistance in cases of homelessness, unemployment, or even asylum from political or religious abuse. Though many of their volunteers may not necessarily be Christians, Carlton and Shannon believe that God is at work in their hearts in the meantime.

“There are a lot of hungry and hurting people that we love to serve together, and we believe that Jesus reveals Himself in that process,” says Carlton.

This was apparent to Carlton when he met a woman named Madina who was in Brussels seeking asylum from war in Chechnya. She had been abandoned by her husband, and was living with her children in a squat—a name given to abandoned buildings where homeless individuals frequently seek refuge.

Madina and her children were beloved by the Deals and the volunteers who worked with her. Carlton remembers a day when she asked him to take her to the place where he prays.

“Inside I was laughing and asking myself, ‘You want to go to the café?’” says Carlton. “But she said, ‘I want to know about following Jesus—all of you have loved me, cared for me. I’ve seen through your life what it’s like to follow Jesus, and I want that.”

Then, true to their nontraditional form, they baptized Madina, along with her boyfriend, Hossein—adopting them into the Body of Christ by baptizing them with water from a bucket—an impromptu well of their own making.

“We never said anything; [Madina] knew we were connected to a church, but we never made it a point to talk to her about [becoming a Christian],” Carlton shares. “It’s just not what we were doing. There were a lot of language barriers that made it difficult to communicate, but she saw the kindness of God through His people, and it brought her to a place of repentance.”

Throughout their time in Europe, the Deals say they have had the privilege of watching as both volunteers and those they serve have been transformed by the love of Christ, even though the gospel was never formerly presented.

“The simple storyline that resounds with us and so many others is that of a love that gives generously and unconditionally—and a faith that nothing with God is ever wasted,” says Carlton.

His word for other Christians pursuing a calling that might not always look traditional or yield immediate fruit is this: “God redeems everything. He’s the ultimate story writer who has planted bits of the plot in your past and in your present. With Him, you are heading toward a future that makes sense. Even in confusion or frustration, God can mature it—and us—for redemption.”

“Spring of water welling up to eternal life”

- John 4:13-14

Baptism

Help on the Streets

Above: Madina being baptized.
Below: Volunteers aiding people on the streets.

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