We are the Gragg family, and we are an ordinary family who listened to a simple, yet extraordinary call to love our neighbors. Our story began in 1985 when Mark (dad) and Jennifer (mom) met at a church on the north side of Winston-Salem where Mark accepted Christ as a child and Jennifer accepted Christ when she was 14. In 1986, we started dating and were married in 1993. We were living the American Dream, both working and living near Raleigh, going to church, and living mostly for ourselves. Starting in 2000, we began having children, and Jennifer stayed home with them. At that time, everything was about as nice and tidy as it could be. But then in 2004, we learned that Jennifer had cancer at the age of 32, and within three weeks of getting that news, Mark learned that he was going to lose his job in 9 months. This was probably the first time in our lives that we realized just how much we needed God. We began to cling to scripture like Isaiah 26:3, and we started learning how to trust Him daily for peace. By the grace of God, after chemotherapy and radiation, Jennifer’s cancer was beaten, and Mark got transferred to Winston-Salem, back to our roots. We were thrilled and felt God had moved us to Winston-Salem to be near family, and while it was certainly a blessing to be near them, especially our fathers when they passed away, it became evident that God had brought us here to discover His heart for the nations.
We were invited to Calvary by some dear friends when we first moved back. We had a list of churches to visit, but once we visited Calvary, we never went anywhere else. We got involved teaching in the preschool ministry and with Love Winston-Salem. God began to open our hearts to the idea of missions through these opportunities, as well as through the Global Impact Celebration (GIC.) While having children can sometimes make mission work more “difficult,” our two oldest children were instrumental in getting our mission work started, and later our younger two children happily joined us. In 2009, a large number of Karenni refugees from Burma came to Winston-Salem, and many ended up at Calvary. Our oldest children were in first and second grades at the time, and many Karenni children started coming to their Sunday morning classes. Our oldest son, Joshua, told us about these kids and said, “They don’t know English, but it’s amazing, because once they know what to do, they can do anything! We need to teach them English!” So our family started going to the apartment complex where many Karenni lived and began playing on the playground. Karenni children started coming out and playing with us, and their families started inviting us into their homes where we began building the most amazing relationships. We quickly became passionate about living life in community with our refugee friends. We wanted to join God where He was already working so clearly, and we began dreaming about possibilities.
In 2014, we got the opportunity to go on a mission trip to New York to work with refugees alongside New Start, the Karenni mission group, and our dear friends, Tim and Jody Cross. It was a tougher trip than we expected; we saw a refugee community with many more challenges than the refugee community we worked with here. We began to appreciate all of the community support from Calvary and from individuals who were seeking to help refugees in Winston-Salem. There are so many amazing and godly people working behind the scenes to do so much in God’s Kingdom. We went on another mission trip to Iowa in 2015 and saw the same heartbreaking situations. That was when the Lord really began calling us to consider full time ministry.
If anything can be learned from us and our story, please let it be this: anyone can do what we are doing. Church is not made up of perfect people, so God does not call perfect people to ministry.
While on another mission trip to South Carolina in January 2017, God told us clearly that it was time to stop dreaming and considering, and to start moving! We began seeking to become missionaries with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in the summer of 2017, and the partnership became official this past December. We are now Evangelism Catalysts, and our current assignment is right here in Winston-Salem, working together in partnership with the Karenni refugees to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs that surround us. Many of our refugee friends live in the center of one of the 100 “lost pockets” designated by the Baptist State Convention. It is incredible how seamlessly the Lord orchestrated every detail of our journey so far; He even provided the opportunity for Mark to work part time at his old job, which meets our financial needs until we complete fundraising. Our lives have been forever changed by meeting just one of the many people groups from all over the world that God loves dearly and sent His Son to reclaim and redeem. Working with refugees has taught us so much. We have formed life-changing relationships, both for them and for us!
If anything can be learned from us and our story, please let it be this: anyone can do what we are doing. Church is not made up of perfect people, so God does not call perfect people to ministry. Our marriage isn’t perfect, our kids aren’t perfect, and neither of us have a seminary degree or a ministry background. We are normal, broken people who felt called by God to something greater than ourselves, so we listened and took a step out in faith, and He has provided. We have submitted all our hopes and plans for the future to Him. We want to share the same amazing grace that we’ve found through Jesus with others, especially in the refugee community. We could never have imagined this new direction our lives have taken, but we are so excited for this new adventure. We greatly appreciate all the prayers and support of so many faithful partners at Calvary and beyond. Please continue to pray for us as we navigate transitions with our family, as we continue to connect people to Christ and to community, and as we learn how to share the Gospel and make disciples most effectively. We love you, Calvary, and we look forward to continuing this amazing journey together!