The Bakers: A Life Lived at the Margins
“The more we’ve found ourselves engaging marginality, the more convinced we are the presence of Jesus is made manifest at the margins,” Jim Baker said. His deep and knowing eyes fill with passion as he speaks . . . these are the eyes of a man who has witnessed over 25 years of miracles in marginalized communities.
Jim sat comfortably at the old, wooden table next to Liz, his bride of 38 years. Their charming and rustic home—which was once a functioning gristmill—is now over a century old. The sounds of the waterfall just feet outside their door and the crackling of the warming woodstove wrap us in a soothing serenade.
The Mill Pond was once a functioning gristmill.
Through years of hard labor and unwavering commitment, what once was an abandoned, rotting mill is now a place of solace for families, ministers, missionaries, aimless wanderers, stray dogs, and just about anyone who shows up at the door in need of something. Such is ordinary life for the Bakers who continually find beauty in the discarded and cast aside and bring it forth into its fullest potential.
Liz clasped her mug of steaming tea and beamed as she thought back to how their life of ministry began. It was during their wedding in Kenya, where Liz’s parents were serving as missionaries, when Jim first fell in love with the global body of Christ.
“What captivated me was how big the body of Christ actually was,” Jim recalled. “There were all these people following Jesus that had nothing in common with me. Jesus was alive in them. They were very poor, but somehow very joyful.”
Little did they know that very miracle of joy would eventually become the thread that wove together a lifetime of ministry.
The Bakers began work as missionaries in Ukraine in 1993, just following the fall of the Soviet Union. What began as a one-year commitment soon turned into long-term missions after they fell irreversibly in love with the growing body of Christ in Ukraine.
“Ukraine was at a pivotal, critical place at that time,” Liz said. “There was a real wave of young people coming to faith after the country was starved of its faith for nearly 70 years. There was a spiritual void and we knew that void would be filled quickly.”
Seeing the fields were ripe for harvest, Jim and Liz committed to bringing the truth of the Gospel to the curious minds and open hearts in Kiev, Ukraine. They evangelized, planted churches, discipled new believers, and established a network of evangelical churches . . . all while raising four children.
“It was an incredible time to be a part of this amazing work of God,” Liz said.
But as their ministry continued to grow, Jim and Liz felt compelled to extend their reach outside their immediate circles.
“We began to recognize the importance of living out the Gospel in all its fullness…the preaching of the word and the performance of compassion and justice. We started to imagine what it would look like for the truth of the Gospel to touch every part of our community,” Jim said.
During that time, the HIV/AIDS outbreak in Ukraine was becoming the fastest growing epidemic in Europe. The disease was spreading rapidly through injecting drug users and those suffering from it were becoming increasingly stigmatized.
“The church had a significant problem relating to [the epidemic],” Jim said. “AIDS victims were seen by as evil people being cursed by God, and that certainly wasn’t accurate or helpful for ministry.”
In response, the Bakers began learning everything they could about the epidemic to help train local church leaders how to effectively engage the crisis. They began strategically networking to provide rehab centers, facilitate AIDS conferences, and create a context where recovering addicts and AIDS victims could find healing and refuge from the stigma placed on their lives.
“Jesus identifies with the marginalized,” Jim said, reflecting on the lives changed through their AIDS outreach. “Transformation happens at the margins.”
The Bakers continued their holistic ministry in Ukraine until 2014, when an urgent family need brought them back to the States indefinitely. But they knew their work among marginalized communities wasn’t finished.
Today, Jim leads ReachGlobal’s SERVEurope Catalyst Team, which collaborates with missionary teams in cities throughout Europe, offering insight and special training to reach victims of human trafficking, labor trafficking, the migrant crisis, marginalized gypsy communities, and more.
When they aren’t advising teams, traveling to Europe for conferences, or building connections among European missionaries, they are working tirelessly to renovate their home at the mill pond—a place where the tired come to rest, where young people seek guidance, where fresh vegetables grow in the garden, and where outcasts always have a seat at the table.
What is our biggest challenge? Liz wondered aloud. “Well, our support base is dying off,” she said. “Our primary supporters are among the older generation and as they are passing away so is our financial stability.”
The Bakers have been raising support the same way for over 18 years, but it seems it isn’t working anymore. Their familiar methods of communication are no longer resonating with the younger body of Christ.
Jim and Liz have continued their work both stateside and abroad despite their quickly diminishing income. They have been forced to cut their salary several times, but they are faithfully trusting God’s provision in this new phase of ministry.
But through the volunteer work of The Good Story Ambassadors, Jim and Liz are now receiving training to effectively rebuild their support base through social media, email, newsletters & brochures, and prayer cards.
“I have to learn how to do the MailChimp stuff . . . I need a missions makeover,” Jim said laughing. “But we don’t want people to give because they see we are in need. We want them to give because they see how awesome God is.”
This is the very heartbeat of The Good Story: catalyzing creatives to breath life into the stories that reveal God’s character and invite others into the miracles He is working around the world. These are the stories the world desperately needs to hear . . . the stories that missionaries worldwide must be equipped to share in our generation of technology.
Consider partnering with us today to help missionaries, like the Bakers, maintain critical prayer and financial support through effective communication.
Help The Good Story continue the work of equipping and training missionaries to be storytellers and effective communicators so the least of these will always have a voice that is heard...one story at a time.
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