Mick Baker and Luther Whitfield have a long history of working together and traveling together.
Nearly 20 years ago, Baker was Whitfield's boss. He was executive director at Youth for Christ and Whitfield was its Fort Wayne urban director.
Now, the tables have turned. Whitfield recruited Baker to help make his latest vision a reality.
Whitfield is pastor of New Covenant Worship Center, which broke ground in June for an East Paulding Road center that plans to offer numerous services not just to church members but to the community.
Baker is executive pastor at New Covenant, a position he accepted after leaving his paid job as executive pastor at The Chapel, a nondenominational Fort Wayne church.
The two men met at Fort Wayne Youth for Christ, which offers various youth empowerment programs for middle and high school students in northeast Indiana. They were both recent college graduates who learned from each other and worked side by side.
“Luther's always been kind of a mentor in the urban setting for me,” said Baker, 58.
A Fort Wayne native, Whitfield has been in ministry over 30 years. He started New Covenant in 2004, initially holding services for six families in his basement. The church in 2014 had a $1.8 million worship facility constructed on East Pauling Road.
Whitfield's first mission trip in 1995 led him to Haiti, and he was one of few minorities on the trip. Whitfield recalled the love his “white brothers and sisters” were sharing with the children in Haiti, but internally, he was struggling.
He looked at the poverty that surrounded him, and felt a connection to the people living in contrast to the comfortable lifestyle he was raised in.
“There were so many people who looked like me,” Whitfield said.
He describes trying to give a little boy shoes and a bag of candy he had at the end of the week. He picked up the child and set him on a cinder block in a medical clinic. Whitfield bent down to wash the boy's feet before trying to put him in the new shoes.
Left shoe on first. But when Whitfield looked the boy straight in the eye, he began to weep uncontrollably and said he could not continue. He saw Baker passing and asked him if he could finish the job.
Whitfield believes compassion can be a strength, especially as a pastor.
“That's where the passion comes from,” Whitfield said, “because it reminds me there's so many kids where it was me or could have been me. It drives me: the kids who go without.”
Those feelings are largely behind the vision for The Impact Center, New Covenant's planned expanded facility.
But Whitfield realized the concept was larger than one person could manage.
So he recruited Baker, but not with an offer that included a specific salary or benefits.
Baker's role as executive pastor would be compensated based on donor support.
Baker and his wife made the decision within a week, demonstrating trust that Whitfield's vision could be successful.
“Our friendship is kind of silly, stupid,” said Baker, who considers Whitfield his best friend. “We finish each other's sentences. It's one of those things.”