Pastors, Ministry Workers Receive Helping Hand
- Saturday, May 22, 2004
If someone were to ask you about the spiritual and emotional condition of your pastor and his family, what would your answer be? "Oh, they're fine." "They're doing okay, I guess." ... Do you really know?
It's a frantic world, where even Christians inadvertently get caught up in the daily grind of living. And it's easy to forget that pastors and their families have the same pressures we do, plus a lot more that are theirs alone.
Pastors by the thousands have lost the joy of their calling because of the unabating stress that accompanies their vocation. Ministers' wives and children long for Dad to "throw in the towel" because of the expectations and demands they face each day. Worse, there are couples who, because they're expected to be "perfect," feel they have no one to whom they can reveal their wounds, disappointments, and failures. No one to be their friend.
A Compassionate Heart
But God is the God of all comfort. And in His infinite mercy, He placed in the heart of a Mississippi pastor's son the longing to provide a place of quiet rest and infinite peace for pastors and others in vocational Christian ministry -- a place where they would be loved and ministered to in ways both unique and unequaled.
Today, Gilead Retreat and Conference Center near Oxford, Mississippi, is that place. And the man who is living out his dream to "minister to ministers" is Lanny Autry.
"As a preacher's kid, I watched my father, Ewart, minister to the needs of others while always struggling and denying himself and his own family," explains Autry. "Out of that life experience came the desire to build Gilead."
Today, with the help of his wife, Deborah, and son-in-law, Ken Williams, Autry welcomes pastors, missionaries, evangelists and other Kingdom workers who come from places near and far to be spiritually and physically renewed at Gilead.
A Rare Find
Pastor Tony Blevins and his wife, Freda, of Carl Junction, Missouri, were looking for a place where they could spend some quality time alone with God and each other. The minister plugged words like "quiet" and "retreat" into the search engine on his computer, and happened upon the Gilead website. After a phone conversation with the Autrys, the pair were soon on their way to the hills of Northeast Mississippi.
"We stayed a week," Blevins commented. "It was a wonderful time of spiritual renewal. The hiking trails offered a great opportunity to be alone with God. It was also a special time for my wife and I to focus on each other -- away from phones and television and all the distractions of the world."
Blevins says that if one is looking for fast-paced entertainment, Gilead is not the place to go. "But if you're looking for a place to unwind and allow God to renew your spirit, there is no better place."
The United Methodist pastor adds that the delicious breakfasts and the time he and Freda spent getting to know the Autrys were highlights of their stay. "We're looking forward to the day we can go back again."
Far from Home
Pete Gibson has been a missionary to Romania for the past 12 years. He recently journeyed to the headquarters of Global Outreach, an international missions organization based in Tupelo, Mississippi, for a missions/board meeting.
Gibson and his wife, Barbara, have ministered under the umbrella of Global Outreach since April of 1988, when they were first commissioned as missionaries to East Africa. But on this particular Tupelo trip, Gibson traveled alone, and he was given the opportunity to spend a night at Gilead.
"I can't tell you enough good things about Gilead and the people who run it," says Gibson. "I know of no finer facility, nor two people with more of a heart for pastors and others in ministry. The Autrys' sweet spirit and compassionate care certainly qualify them to minister to those who are hurting and need to be encouraged."
Gibson pointed out that in much the same way God gave the Autrys a vision for Gilead, He also gave him and his wife a vision to build a camp and conference center for young people in the foothills near the city of Arad, Romania. "As a result of God's faithfulness, we've been able to minister to thousands of young people."
As the trio discussed God's call upon their lives that morning, Lanny's and Deborah's deep commitment became apparent, says Gibson. "I covenanted to pray with them. Pastors everywhere could benefit from their loving, compassionate care. And Gilead's setting is so conducive to restoration and healing."
The beautifully furnished cottages and guest rooms, 10,000-square-foot conference center, fishing lake and numerous hiking paths make up the physical trappings that are Gilead. But Gilead's backbone is a non-profit ministry called Pastor's Friend.
"The Pastor's Friend ministry is the main reason we exist," remarks Lanny. "It's a non-profit ministry, funded primarily by donations from churches and individuals, through which ministers and others called into vocational Christian ministry are given assistance in five specific areas of need." These include:
1. Educational -- Many ministers need additional educational training. Funds help provide tuition, books, school supplies and seminar fees.
2. Emotional -- The Autrys' Godly wisdom and counseling expertise make them the perfect pair to listen with an understanding heart. Lanny recently completed a Doctorate in Biblical Counseling.
3. Financial -- More than half of those in ministry vocations find it necessary to engage in a second job outside their calling. Pastor's Friend helps with one-time and short-term financial needs and counsels families in wise stewardship.
4. Physical -- Pastor's Friend has developed a network of Christian healthcare providers who will provide services at no cost, or at a greatly reduced rate, to pastors' families who are either uninsured or under-insured.
5. Spiritual -- People in ministry often give so much of themselves that they ignore or downplay their own spiritual needs. But meeting needs such as these is first and foundational to Pastor's Friend. By encouraging ministry couples to spend intense time with the Lord, and requiring them to be accountable for that time, the Autrys often attest to spiritual renewal in those who earnestly seek the Father.
And a heart that is open and genuinely longing for help is one of the most important factors in whether or not a pastor, his wife, or any other ministry worker will truly benefit from the Autrys' ministry efforts.
So says Rev. Richard Owen Roberts, a former pastor from Wheaton, Illinois, who is recognized as one of the leading authorities in the world today on the subject of biblical revival and spiritual awakening.
Roberts and his wife, Margaret, have been guests at Gilead several times when they've come to Mississippi for speaking engagements sponsored by Christ Community Church in New Albany. When contacted by phone and asked for his impressions of Gilead and the Autrys, "Mr. Roberts," as he is lovingly called, had much worthwhile to say.
"I think the thing I find most impressive today is the hunger of God's people for serious things. And I think pastors often get caught up in their daily labors and almost lose sight of how hungry the people are. So the opportunity that Gilead provides to break away from that pattern and to catch a fresh vision of the hunger of the people is wonderful."
As with everyone who visits Gilead, Margaret Roberts mentioned the quiet, and the opportunity to seek God without the pressure of other responsibilities. However, the comments concerning the Autrys' hospitality and selfless ministry to others were most revealing of all.
"Their brand of wonderful, gifted hospitality we don't often see," says Roberts. "A lot of people love to entertain, but they're nervous. Lanny and Deborah, bless them, know how to extend a hand of fellowship and love that is very rare."
Roberts adds that pastors can find great encouragement in seeing people who are serving the Lord with no ulterior motives. "The Autrys don't gain a thing; essentially, they sacrifice everything they have." He further asserts that very few pastors encounter that kind of person in their daily work. Instead, they usually deal with people who drain them.
"Lanny and Deborah have this great heart to pour into others and take nothing out themselves," Roberts concludes. "They have no hidden agenda. They are there for the benefit of others."
© Agape Press, 2004
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