God’s call leads Kingsport couple to Denver’s urban core
DENVER — Derick Sherfey answered the phone in his Denver home in March 2020. A local Denver public school principal was on the line.
The COVID-19 quarantine was just starting and the principal and his team were concerned about the large number of students receiving free and reduced lunches. With schools closed, Sherfey recalls, the team was afraid these children might not eat.
The principal told Sherfey he held a Zoom call with his team to discuss the issue. During the call, one of his team members unmuted to ask, “What about those annoying Christians who won’t leave us alone? Could they help us?”
After discussing it further, the principal agreed to reach out to Sherfey, the pastor of The Oaks Church, a church plant sponsored by the Send Network of the North American Mission Board.
“Will you help us?” the principal asked.
Sherfey laughs at the memory but considers that conversation a pivotal moment in the genesis of the Send Relief Ministry Center in downtown Denver.
Within two weeks of that call, a network of churches and individuals in the Denver area mobilized.
The network collected food, packed it into boxes and delivered it to families every Sunday, feeding approximately 1,500 refugee children and their families during the height of the pandemic.
“We had been praying for a way in,” says Sherfey, who in addition to pastoring The Oaks also serves as director of the Denver Send Relief Ministry Center. “God used the (COVID-19) crisis to catalyze a movement of compassion.”
Sherfey, his wife, Cayla, and their two children have served with NAMB in the Denver area since 2018. The Sherfeys are native Tennesseans who grew up in Kingsport. Tri-Cities Baptist Church, where Cayla grew up and Derick served on staff, is their sending church. An encounter with the Lord eventually led them to Denver.
During a short-term mission trip in Southeast Asia in 2015, Sherfey was reading Isaiah 61 when “God broke my heart,” he says. As he read, Sherfey says he “fell in love with Jesus” in a new way as he saw “God’s heart for the global church.”
That encounter set the couple on a missions trajectory, Sherfey says. They thought they would go overseas, but when the Lord very clearly shut that door, Derick and Cayla began praying through strategic focus areas within the Send Network.
“God said Denver,” Sherfey says. “After a vision trip, we knew Denver was home.”
The Sherfeys spent a “year of prayer” with the Sojourn Church in Louisville, Ky., before moving to Denver. Once they arrived in the city, they spent another year in residency with the Summit Church Denver, a church plant of the Summit Church led by J.D. Greear in Raleigh, N.C.
With these two years of training completed, the couple started simply: They mapped a three-mile circle around their home and assumed what Sherfey describes as “spiritual and social responsibility” for the people living in that three-mile circle. Within that circle the Sherfeys found young families, refugees and college students.
“Our home is located in a pocket where the urban core, college students and the peoples of the world coalesce,” Sherfey said.
“There are tons of young families in the urban core. A mile or two to the east the people speak 65 languages and represent 50 different countries. In the other direction is the University of Denver, with lots of college students.”
Derick and Cayla began inviting their neighbors into their home, Sherfey says, and the church formed slowly — one disciple at a time. Then came the call in March 2020 from the Denver public school principal, which led Sherfey, with a network of Christians in the city, into the refugee areas.
This opportunity paved the way for the launches of NAMB’s Send Relief Ministry Center and later The Oaks.
The goal of Sherfey’s ministry is to provide access to a restored life to the people of Denver, he says. Restoration comes through relief work to meet immediate needs; relationships to combat the loneliness of urban life; personal development through care groups and jobs skills training; and equipping the Send Relief network of partner churches by providing opportunities to equip and coach short-term mission teams — both by receiving them to work in Denver and sending them to other areas of the U.S.
The Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is crucial to this work, Sherfey says.
“100 percent of this offering goes directly to people like me who are planting churches,” Sherfey says. “But the support we receive is more than financial. It also includes the system of care that happens through Send Network. From the assessment process to orientation to coaching, all of that is funded through Annie.
“We couldn’t do what we do without the national network the Southern Baptist Convention represents,” Sherfey says. “We really are better together.” B&R — The Week of Prayer for North American missions was held March 5-12. This year’s goal for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is $70 million.