Changing Lives for Jesus
One-on-one with Pastor Gus Davies
Pastor Gus Davies is a familiar face at Northland Church. But many people don’t know much about him beyond his smile, warm personality and pastoral duties. Following, he shares with us about his background and family, how he came to Northland, his responsibilities and his passion for expanding the Kingdom of God all over the world.
Q: How does your story shape your current role at Northland?
A: It began a long time ago, and it is still unfolding, shaping and transforming my life!
Family: Sierra Leone, West Africa, is the country of my birth. My parents provided the environment to raise their seven children with good morals, personal discipline, sports, hard work and a good education. Dad worked in a small retail business, and mom was a seamstress (dressmaker). The foundation to engage life was laid in our home from those early years.
Faith: At home our family had daily devotions – we read the Bible, sang and prayed. We regularly attended our Anglican church and participated in the activities. I came to trust Christ Jesus in 1975 through the Youth for Christ (YFC) rally in our city and discipled through Scripture Union missionary Bill Roberts. Many others provided coaching and mentoring, along with my parents.
In 1980, I moved to study at African Bible College (ABC) in Liberia. Jeneba and I got married in 1984, then came to Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) from 1986 through 1988. Our daughter Angela Marie was born after four months in the States. We learned and experienced the cultural sensitivity while living in the South. At the end of the studies, we headed back to teach at ABC Liberia. Catherine Joy was born that summer. Teaching and training at the Bible college in Christian education and ministries, serving in the local church, impacted us and even some of the students and leaders whom we are still in touch with today.
We fled from Liberia when the civil war broke out in 1990. We miraculously escaped death from soldiers caught in the conflict with rebels. We were displaced for a while and then experienced refugee status in neighboring Guinea. We returned to the U.S. and lived in Deland for another year, serving at Immanuel Presbyterian Church and traveling around the U.S. as missionaries with YFC (from 1990 to 1991). Later on, we returned to Sierra Leone. There I served as YFC country director for five years, then went into church planting, theological training and pastoral work with the founding and establishment of the Presbyterian church in the country. Jeneba was engaged with the youth at our church and Child Evangelism Fellowship Good News Club in our home and training leaders. We hosted short-term missions teams and interns from Seattle Pacific University during one summer to help with our ministries.
I also provided leadership with the Evangelical Fellowship of Sierra Leone. That role gave me opportunities to meet with our government and business leaders and Christian leaders around Africa. At the same time, Jeneba and I participated in the starting of Children of the Nations (COTN) in Sierra Leone, a compassion ministry now in Malawi, Uganda, Dominican Republic and Haiti. COTN is based in Poulsbo, WA.
Friends: The extended family went from relatives of our parents to others in the community. We had connection with people in our neighborhood and the town in which we lived. Families were linked with each other in the life of parenting and social life in the community. Today our family relationships span in many parts of the world.
Q: How did you arrive at Northland?
A: The journey began with relationships from Reformed Theological Seminary and Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Deland days. They connected us to Pastors Orlando Rivera and Vernon Rainwater at Northland Community Church during our visits to Central Florida in 1991, 1993 and 1996. We received missionary support from Northland church while serving in Sierra Leone. Life as a pastor and leadership in our country was fantastic, even though there was economic and political unrest around us.
Then the civil war in Sierra Leone peaked in May 1996. (If you watch the movie “Blood Diamond,” you will get a picture of that mayhem that took place in that country for years.) Jeneba was home with the family and interns, while I was in Canada and the Seattle area on ministry assignment. Rebels attacked our residence, and she narrowly dodged bullets when rebel forces shot in our home as she was defending our children, mothers and some of the interns. Our children and the interns were evacuated out of the country by U.S. mariners. The whole country plunged in a senseless civil war for over seven years.
Even though we were many miles from each other, we prayed, sought counsel from others and decided it was time to move to the States. Jeneba stayed behind to wrap up some of our work. Later she fled through war-torn areas to get out of the country. That year my family relocated to the Seattle area for a while. Then the relationships and community we had in Central Florida invited us to move over here. We served Northland church local missions at Restore Orlando on Kaley Street for several months and moved to Winter Springs in the fall of 2000 to fully engage with the church here.
All of these experiences formed and shaped our journey as we are growing in Christ and His Kingdom.
Q: What is your current role at Northland?
A: Mainly pastoral responsibilities and missions. Behind the roles and titles, Jeneba and I are passionate to shepherd our congregation and community to bring people to maturity in Christ.
This Scripture that captured our hearts over 37 years ago and is part of our bedrock for doing ministry everywhere, every day is Colossians 1:28-29: “[Jesus Christ] is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (NIV).
Along with the other pastors, I do weddings, baptisms, dedications, funerals, visitations and calls, and give spiritual directions as part of shepherding our people. All these take time, thought and prayers to properly meet the needs that God sends our way. We are admonished to know the condition of our flock and give careful attention to them.
Time to listen, pray, communicate, and [give] insightful care for local and global missionaries and partners is an immense role. Matthew Shiles and I consider these responsibilities as the gateway to Kingdom work here, there and everywhere. It is not a matter of a transaction with missionaries and partners, but a depth of spiritual involvement and investment with these brothers and sisters who are ambassadors for Christ. Everyone is committed to making the gospel known in many different ways. We are privileged to do it together and see nations bring glory to God.
I am also involved with our Thursday evening intercessory prayer group. Here a few dedicated congregants gather weekly to pray for the requests people submit to the church. Another prayer initiative is gathering for prayer and fellowship with area pastors in the community.
I have renewed my commitment to deeper and wider discipleship and leadership development through Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. It is over three decades ago that some of my teachers and mentors introduced this material to me in Bible college, seminary and the early days at Northland church. I strongly believe folks looking to sharpen their knowledge, invest their lives for Kingdom work, find it rewarding to participate in the course. I see this as a tool that is reliable, relevant and anchored in the Scriptures for many years.
Q: Your wife, Jeneba, has been by your side. Can you tell us about her and your marriage of over 30 years?
A: Jeneba came to Christ in elementary school through the outreach of some college students. Her parents were Muslims but sent her to a Christian school. I met her in high school, where she was part of the Bible club, and their witness was evident in the schools and communities. We went our different ways for years. She was the first female student at the Sierra Leone Bible College in Freetown. Later we met at my first Christmas camp, in 1975. Then we went our different ways again, as she was serving with the United Brethren in Christ Church as the Christian education director and I lived in Liberia.
At a friend’s wedding in 1982, we reconnected, and the rest is history. We got married in Sierra Leone 35 years ago June 30, then moved to the ABC in Liberia. She was also the first female student at that college. She worked in the radio Bible correspondence department and volunteered at the local church. Her parents trusted Jesus before passing away. Many of her brothers and sisters also turned to Christ and are involved in ministries back in Sierra Leone.
As a Proverbs 31:10-31 woman, wife and mother, Jeneba is adept at parenting and hospitality as a ministry. She is passionate about evangelism among children. She pursued every avenue to be educated in this area of ministry almost 40 years now. From Sierra Leone to Seminole County, she is fully alive with Child Evangelism Fellowship, running Good News Clubs in public elementary schools in Sanford and Winter Springs on weekdays after school and teaching at grade school at Northland Church.
Q: I know your daughters grew up here at Northland. Tell us about your family members and the influence Northland has had on them. What are they doing now? You have recently become a grandfather. What is that like?
A: Angela Marie and Catherine Joy experienced elementary, middle (LUGrox) and high school ministries at Northland church with several families, leaders and friends. The relationships with some of their family members and friends continue to this day. Our daughters grew up through the weekly youth gatherings, Christmas camps, retreats, the Urbana (InterVarsity) conference and community life, which developed them as women of faith. They had the privilege to work in childcare and volunteer in other areas at the church. Angie moved away to USF for undergrad studies. Cathy had the opportunity to do college ministries with some leaders while at Seminole State and UCF. She joined the worship team and ushered until she moved to Denver seven years ago.
After UCF grad school, Angie served with some children’s agencies, Seminole County public schools and Northland Church as a community social worker. She moved on to Community Resource Network (CRN) as program development director and last year completed her MBA at the Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business.
Six years ago, Cathy married Steve Ojala from Michigan (a “Yooper”). They live in Denver, CO. They had met at Northland church serving on the usher/greeter team. Steve is a VP at Wells Fargo in the commercial real estate group. Cathy runs her own business, Conversation Innovator, is a cultural diversity trainer, and has a podcast on iTunes, “Not Just a Mother.”
Our first grandson, Roman Augustine James Ojala, was born March 5, 2018. We are seeing the Davies, Tucker and Ojala DNA traits as he grows up. So as grandparents, we are joyful for another stage of life.
Q: We see you walk through the foyer during services, and you greet all with a smile. Why are those interactions and connections important to you?
A: Walking across the room is key to meeting, greeting, welcoming folks, asking questions, listening and finding connection points to engage people. Sometimes you hear how to pray for them; other times you connect them to the relationships and resources that best fit their next steps. Some moments can be brief, but very beneficial for a long-timer and new folks to the church. Some distractions can also be turned around. Jesus walked among people, and people engaged Him in different places, at different levels and in many ways, but the goal was to touch a life and bring about transformation. That model is very important to me.
Q: You have relationships all over the world. Tell us about their impact on you personally and the Kingdom.
A: Psalm 2:8: “Ask me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your personal property” (NET).
Yes, we do. Our family and ministry relationships are literally on every continent. (Antarctica was only visited by two of our friends.) My parents impressed on me to see the world as my heavenly Father’s parish: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1, NIV).
It means God’s got the whole world in His hand. My relationships and travels began even before coming to Northland. I had the opportunity to represent the church in various nations in Africa, Canada, South Korea, the UK and U.S.
Since working at Northland, I am blessed to be a blessing to many other countries. Some global missions travel to some countries in Asia, South America, the UK and Africa.
I continue to provide coaching and mentoring for some of the pastors and leaders we trained over the years in Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, South Sudan, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Those relationships equipped and empowered men and women to impact their nations and beyond, so some look to Pastor Dan Lacich and me to coach them.
Every one of the relationships all over the world goes back to the doors God opened over the years in ways we touched their lives and they impacted us. Our travels to the nations and those who have come to us are with the goal of declaring God among the nations. Central Florida is a great outworking of that promise and purpose of God, and Northland Church has given me that privilege.
Everywhere we have lived and influenced for the Kingdom of God is to make connections consistent, build relationships, and communicate with passion so that ministry is sustainable, reproducible and accountable for God’s glory.
Q: You’ve seen a lot of change here at Northland over the years. What excites you about this current season and the new vision to engage people to be fully alive in Jesus?
A: I have seen lots of changes, and I am changing too. Changes will always happen. What excites me and does not change is seeing the glory of God, the advancement of the gospel to all the nations, and the church established and expanding. This is always happening in season and out of season. I see my calling, passion and gifting as part of the new era at Northland Church.
We have to be occupied about Kingdom building until all have heard the gospel. Some changes can cause distraction from the main thing. I want to stay focused in this current season and with the new vision build upon the decades past and to seize every moment to change lives for Jesus. We have to bear fruit that will abide.
When I am fully alive in heart, mind and body, the church will be fully alive with what I have to give!