Parishioner answering missionary call

Miami Herald/May 2000
By Aurin Squire

Since LaToya Channer can remember, God has been calling on her for a higher purpose.

And on Monday she will finally answer that call and become a missionary for a few years -- or perhaps for life.

"I felt God leading me up to the front one Sunday, and I went to the altar to rededicate my life to the Lord," said Channer, who was attending Cosmopolitan Baptist Church at 3003 NW 207th St., one Sunday in January. "Next thing I know what was coming out of my mouth was that I was going into full-time ministry."

Channer, 25, is off for six months of missionary training in the Youth With A Mission program on Monday but the path has been years in the making.

Channer said she had been considering the idea since she worked with children for a summer. She wrote to several missionary schools and decided to train with YWAM.

With the help of sponsors and donations from Cosmopolitan, Channer raised $1,000 to cover the first installment she'll need for room and board for six months, travel expenses and missionary training. She hopes she'll be able to raise the remaining $3,000 to $4,000.

Cosmopolitan and its pastor, the Rev. Percy Ransom, played an important role in Channer's decision. When her family emigrated from Kingston, Jamaica, to Miami in 1989 they joined the church and Ransom became her spiritual advisor.

Ransom said that Channer's commitment is a rarity in an age obsessed with self-interest.

"Everyone is for the self and exclusion of others," Ransom said. "LaToya epitomizes what the Bible teaches, which is sacrificial service to others."

Channer said that although God has always been calling, she was reluctant to answer. At a young age she would organize church events and help out with youth Bible study groups but didn't feel spiritually involved.

"I was a good person, went to church like a lot of people and thought that was enough," Channer said. "Yet the whole point isn't going to church, it's to develop a relationship with the Lord and that can't be done by spending a few hours, one day a week."

Channer's freshman year at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., became a test of her faith. She had led a sheltered life with her parents and close friends. Away from home, she was shy and went through a period of depression. And she became a prime candidate for a religious group she now describes as a cult.

In September 1992, a member of the group asked Channer if she was a Christian. She was invited into the group and for the next five months was a dedicated member.

"They're popular on college campuses," Channer said. "It's like this great big happy family and you start spending more time with them and less with your actual family and friends."

The church had no pastor, just a group leader who organized meetings and sessions. No songs were sung or sermons delivered, but group members shared personal experiences with each other. Channer said she became dependent on them.

The turning point was when the group leader told her in order to be a true Christian, Channer had to be baptized again in her new church. When she called home and got into an argument with her parents over her newfound religion, Ransom stepped in and had a talk with Channer.

"I know it changed her because a crisis has a tendency to bring out the best in a person, especially in a young person who was not rooted in her faith," Ransom said. "She had to dig deeper because she was hearing conflicting messages, and I believe it helped her find out what she believed and why she believed it."

After January 1992, she left the group for good. Channer said that period in her life was painful but necessary.

Channer later transferred to Florida International University and in 1997 finished her degree in hospitality management. In August she quit her job as a human relations manager at Wyndham Hotels to begin raising money for her missionary work.

Although friends and family will miss her, they're not going to stand in her way. Carina Robertson has been a friend since joining Cosmopolitan a year ago and said Channer is a role model.

"She's a very warm person and a great inspiration to others," said Robertson, 20. "I have mixed feelings because I don't want her to go - but God is calling."

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