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Alabama native goes ‘Xtreme’ for gospelcomment (0)

April 9, 2009

By Emily Flack

Graham Michael, an Alabama native and self-professed inexperienced outdoorsman, knows what it means to commit to the ministry to which God calls you. For him, it meant swinging machetes in the jungles of Peru and farming potatoes in the mountains of Bolivia just to have the chance to reach people who have yet to hear of Jesus Christ.

In February 2007 — just one year after graduating from Auburn University — Michael committed to doing something extreme for the sake of the gospel. Soon he was off to South America to spend two years as an International Mission Board (IMB) journeyman on an Xtreme Team focused on church planting. He returned to Alabama in February.

Based first in Peru, Michael learned how to build huts and work with machetes, among other things.

“We learned of the local culture and how to enter into it. We were not allowed to speak anything in English. Speaking in English equaled having to do push-ups,” he said with a laugh.

Disciplined in their training, Michael and the other members of the Xtreme Team spent three to four hours a day learning about the New Testament church and the biblical model of going out into the community two by two. 

“We had to memorize 35 to 40 Bible stories in chronological order for the sake of oral history since most of the indigenous people could not read. We memorized the story of creation all the way up to the resurrection,” he said.

It was in between Michael’s first and second segment of training that he was starkly reminded that the Lord would have to carry him through the uncharted waters of the next two years.

Michael and his partner — the only one who spoke Spanish at the time — were assigned to visit a village of Chayahuita people. Within the first few days, Michael came down with typhoid and his partner with malaria, and it would take two days on a boat to return to the city.

“Of course, there was a strike in the city we were going to, so we prayed for the strike to end,” he said. “Then there was no water so we prayed for rain. Then there was no person to take us, so we prayed for a person.”

A person became available but he didn’t have a boat, Michael said. “We prayed for a boat, and then there was a boat.”

During the ordeal, the only person he could communicate with was his partner.

“I was sick. I was miserable. I questioned God a lot about His sovereignty,” Michael said.

It was at that point that “God broke down any pride I had. I had no strength or power without God.”

He carried Michael through that first year in Peru and led him to Bolivia for the second year of his term. There he lived in a mud-brick house and ate potatoes every day.

“They would work seven to eight hours a day to help plant potatoes or to harvest wheat in order to have 30 minutes during a meal with [the people] to share the gospel,” said Ed Cox, director of the IMB’s international prayer strategy office, who made a three-week visit to the Xtreme Team during its time on the field.

But Michael said all the hard work was worth it for the end result. “I was able to see a work started with the Cechua people, and I am blessed to have been a part of that, as well as to know the Xtreme Team is still furthering the work,” he said.

Cox noted that Michael has a mature, gentle faith; a heart for the Lord; and a strong belief in prayer — something fostered by the church he grew up in, First Baptist, Clanton, in Chilton Baptist Association and the church that commissioned him, Lakeview Baptist, Auburn, in Tuskegee Lee Baptist Association.

Michael said he is thankful for these two congregations, which supported and prayed for him during his time on the missions field.

And even though Michael is back in the United States, his work in furthering the gospel hasn’t stopped.

“I pray that I have opportunities to speak of Christ in any form or fashion,” he said.

“I’m hoping to engage in Hispanic and cross-cultural ministries in the near future.”

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