BOISE, IDAHO–Matthew McDonald was working as a pastor in Live Oak when he learned about Southern Baptist church planters in Boise, Idaho, who were looking to start a new church to minister to a large community of Basque residents.
Having previously served with his wife Bethany for four years as International Mission Board missionaries in the Basque region of Spain, the couple said they could see the providential hand of God at work as they considered uprooting their lives in Florida to move to Idaho and minister to Basque residents. With numbers beyond 16,000, this area in Idaho has the largest population of Basque residents outside of Spain.
“There is no such thing as coincidence in the kingdom of God,” Matthew said.
Still, he was a bit hesitant at first, perhaps stubborn, wanting to make sure this was what God wanted them to do. Church planters in Idaho suggested they pray about it and seek wise and godly counsel before giving them a final answer.
So that’s what they did. But the more they prayed about it and the more they talked to trusted advisors, friends, mentors and fellow pastors, the more they realized this was God’s calling. All the pieces began to fall into place, and quickly, too.
They applied to the North American Mission Board for assessment, a rigorous process that can sometimes take 15 to 18 months. They were approved in just six months.
Then they set out to raise money for this mission, an ambitious endeavor as the Boise area is an expensive place to live. They set their budget and began talking to churches about what God was doing and inviting people to contribute. Matthew figured it would take about 18 months. In just four short months, they were at the 95% mark!
Every step of the way, they saw God’s provision. “It’s unbelievable how quickly God was able to put this together,” he said.
The couple and their children moved to Boise in April 2022 and have been there about a year now. It has not been an easy process, nor a fast one, but then they were not really expecting it to be. Church planters in Idaho had warned them that this was difficult work.
The Basque people, who came to America about 150 years ago during the gold rush days and ended up staying in Idaho as sheep farmers, are .02% evangelical. Most are culturally Roman Catholic, but they are not a very religious people, Matthew said. Approximately 90% of residents in the area are unchurched, and some 60% have a Mormon contextual base.
“They hold tight to their culture and are really a tight-knit community,” Matthew said. “They look like us, talk like us and dress like us. But they are not us.”
The McDonalds have started a home Bible study, which includes two 18-year-old men, one of them from the Basque community. They would like to grow this Bible study and grow disciples who will make more disciples.
To make more connections and get to know more people in the community, they also serve in a variety of ways. The McDonalds volunteer at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center. They take Basque language classes on Monday evenings with other Basque residents who speak English but want to learn their native language. They volunteer at a local elementary school, and they’ve begun doing foster care because there is such a massive need.
They also canvass neighborhoods doing survey work. In doing so they introduce themselves as a new church and get to meet new people.
“We tell them Jesus has called us to love our community. So, we ask them how can we better serve and connect with our community,” Matthew said.
The name of the church is Etxea, pronounced a-chaya – a Basque word that means “house of my father.”
“We thought this was the best name for our church because our desire is for them to come to the house of their Father,” he said.
Another way Matthew likes to share Christ with others is through what he calls Café Evangelism. That’s where he sets up shop in a local coffee shop with his laptop and a sign inviting people to share their story.
‘We want to share Jesus in everything we do.’
“As people share their story, we have an opportunity to bridge their story to the story of Jesus,” he said. “We want to share Jesus in everything we do.”
When sharing the gospel with others, Matthew likes to share what he considers to be the three most powerful words in evangelism – “I don’t know.”
“When someone asks a question, saying ‘I don’t know’ will disarm them. When we say ‘We don’t know,’ we’re acknowledging that we’re human beings. It also leaves a hook for follow-up.”
While in Live Oak, Matthew worked with the Suwannee Baptist Association to recruit students for NAMB’s GenSend ministry, and he’s still doing the same in Boise, hoping to get more students to assist in the work they are doing. The ministry offers immersive, hands-on training to support students from middle school through post-grad life in their efforts to transform lives and leave a lasting impact. It’s designed to give students the ministry mindset needed to become lifelong missionaries.
The McDonalds have a goal of turning their home Bible study into a worship service by the end of 2023, but Matthew admits it takes time.
“We’re trying to start a church. We’re building relationships, and God is going to use them,” he said. “It takes time – we expected that coming here, and it’s proven to be true. However we plan and however it goes, we just want God to be glorified.”
Matthew quotes Vance Pitman, author and president of North American Mission Board’s Send Network, when he discusses their work as church planters to Basque residents in Boise.
“Our goal should be to use our passions and skills and ability where we live, work and play for advancing and glorifying God’s kingdom,” he said in quoting Pitman.
“That’s exactly what we need to be doing. I’m not in hurry to start public worship services. What I am in a hurry for is seeing people come to Christ.”