By Gary Prichard
Although it has always been by faith, it seems that as we grow older it should be more obvious to recognize the Lord’s will for our lives. The signs of faith that give us direction and assurance should also be more obvious than when we were new in our faith. Right?
Nevertheless, every situation challenges us to discern if we are really going in the direction the Lord intends for us.
My grandmother had faith that her prayers would not be unanswered. She gave me my first birthday present, a King James Bible. I ran across it the other day. It had pages torn out, but sandwiched between the old pages was a piece of paper I had written in my college days at Cal Poly, in my junior year of engineering school.
I had just accepted and made a commitment, in a profound way, to follow Jesus as a way of life. On this piece of paper, now 49 years old, I had written, “Today I asked the Lord to help me find some funds to pay for this registration….If I find the funds today, I will know that the Lord was in this and I will proceed….On the way back from the post office to my dorm it started raining so hard, I took an alternate route through the Ag-Science Building, when I spotted the head custodian, the boss of my part-time job on campus….He said he was just turning in my time card and wanted to know if I would be interested in working another two days after class this week!”
The Lord had answered my prayer in a profound way. The reality is that there is Someone who will show us the way if we will trust, honor and obey.
Keep an eye on the principle within
After graduation and being drafted into the Army and serving some time as a design engineer, I became executive manager of a shopping center with seven stores in a remote town in the California desert. My father and stepmother were the owners of the Eagle Mountain Shopping Center. It was not only a profitable business but was extremely interesting. It provided many vocational opportunities such as working with employees, developing relationships with regular customers, and the challenge of maintaining the equipment and facilities.
The shopping center served a community that had been built around an iron ore mine near Desert Center, California. It was a town of 3,700 people, with more living in some outlying areas such as Lake Tamarisk—an area created for executives who wanted to live on a golf course. That’s where my wife Phyllis and I bought our first home when I began working in the family business.
Eagle Mountain was established in the World War II days to supply iron ore to Kaiser Steel’s production plant in Los Angeles. My father, Frank L. Prichard, a building contractor, had constructed many of the houses in Eagle Mountain. Kaiser had asked him to take over the operation of the mess hall and town store in the late 1950’s, and eventually build and operate a shopping center. It was built to include a grocery store, variety/drug store, restaurant, laundry, post office, bank, service station, beer bar, and bowling lanes.
Since the nearest place to make purchases was Indio, 60 miles away, this shopping center was a convenience for those living in Eagle Mountain and it also provided a way for the community to socialize and get caught up on local gossip.
My stepmother, Margaret, managed the office, and if it weren’t for that, I may have never seen my folks. Their Mooney Super Executive was parked at the Eagle Mountain airport for quick getaways. Both Dad and I had private pilot licenses.
A Change of Direction
After a couple of years of this exciting work, I began to experience some changes in my life. I had given my heart to Jesus, but now, it seemed I was chasing rainbows. The kind with the pot of gold at the end. I was drifting away even though I was taking my family to church. There was a spiritual war inside of me. I knew my life needed to count for something good, and in order for that to happen, Jesus needed to be in control. It seemed worldly things were filling my mind and establishing my goals. The work in the shopping center swallowed up most of my time, and the grind was eroding a balanced home life and the discipline of spiritual commitments. But, I loved this work and if I would have to serve the devil through all this work perhaps the ways of the world might be fun! This statement appalled me! I could not believe I was even contemplating such an irrational notion.
A dramatic event caught my attention and began to turn me around. My daughter Jennifer almost died of spinal meningitis at 9 months old. The pediatrician said it was the worst case of this disease that she had ever seen in which the child did not die. I held my daughter in my arms at the Desert Hospital in Palm Springs in 1974 and cried out to heaven, “Please Lord, before you take this child, I want somehow for her to know that I love her so much and that I need to confess my inattentiveness to showing her I loved her—but now I need her to respond to me!”
In that very moment it was as if the Lord spoke audibly to me, “Gary, I want no less from you. Why do you ask me for a response from your daughter when your response to me has been empty!?” And in that moment she opened her eyes and smiled at me and I heard the angels sing. I instantly recalled the Bible verse talking about angels singing over a repentant sinner (Luke 16:10). I was stirred to the core.
That experience, coupled with the testimony of a Lay Witness Mission, provided influence which led to my calling into full-time Christian work. I was reading Lloyd Ogilvie’s Let God Love You during a morning devotional at my kitchen table when I heard God call me. I began to grasp the power of the Cross and Jesus’ personal atonement for me again. It motivated me to give up chasing a million dollars and to accept a call to the ministry. It has been 35 years since that day and I have been wonderfully blessed, to God be the glory!
At 36, I told my dad I was going to seminary. He was shocked that I would do such a foolish thing and give up a million dollar family business to work for thankless people in the church! My wife of six years, who also had a wonderful job of teaching school, said she would support me in a decision to move and go back to school. She had said this prior to my calling, and I wondered what in the world she was talking about. Somehow the Lord had impressed this on her heart prior to putting it on mine.
Blessing and Response
In the first year of seminary, at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, I had a profound dream. I envisioned the Eagle Mountain Shopping Center in the midst of a ghost town. This dream contained such clear visions that I remembered it in vivid detail, including tumble weeds rolling across the empty parking lot. Memorable dreams are not common with me—especially one as alarming as this one. I immediately wrote and encouraged my folks to get out of the business as soon as possible. They sold the business soon and within five years the community was closed.
Eagle Mountain is now a ghost town, after serving as a prison for a few years. Tumbleweeds are blowing across the parking lot of the one-time lucrative shopping facility. Although Hollywood has produced a few James Bond-type of movies there, it is basically a ghost town. I am grateful to have listened to the voice calling me to come forth, like Lazarus.
Construction and Service
Ten years ago, at 60 years of age, it seemed a bit early to retire from the pulpit and pastoral ministry. My wife Phyllis—a special needs pre-school teacher—was providing needed funds for our new home and increased expenses. I knew if I stayed in the pulpit ministry I could receive a much larger pension and be more assured of a better retirement. But, what about using my gifts for ministry in another way?
It is much easier to look for financial stability and allow this to be the determining factor for the future. What about the everlasting arms? They had worked before, what about now? “Let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy” (Hebrews 10:23). In 2 Corinthians 13:5 it says, “Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!”
I served four churches and the last was for 14 years. When I reached 59, one year prior to my retirement from the pastoral ministry, our church was involved in a building program. This was the last phase of our four building projects. The old sanctuary needed to be converted into a much needed fellowship hall with a large kitchen. Since we were doing this job on faith with no funds to start, we had to look for volunteers.
Someone suggested I call the Nomads, a United Methodist Ministry that provides volunteer construction, remodeling, and repairs for churches, children homes, camps, colleges, outreach missions, and disaster rebuilding. With a variety of skills, Nomad members do maintenance, cleaning, painting, electrical, drywall, sewing and flooring.
With the help of Nomad volunteers, it took us about six months to build a beautiful kitchen and two large bathrooms, and a maintenance room and food storage room. The Fellowship Hall also needed remodeling which we could do with future Nomad projects. The project turned out better than expected and I knew the Lord wanted Phyllis and me to work with Nomads.
Launched 23 years ago in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Nomads began when United Methodist “snowbirds” from Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana wanted to do some work among area congregations. These Winter Texans approached local United Methodist churches and offered their services. That first year there were 24 members who completed five projects in Texas and Oklahoma.
Nomads grew as an all-volunteer organization under the North Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. Membership grew, and in 2001, Nomads incorporated and became an organization under the General Board of Global Ministries.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Nomads began doing disaster recovery work in Mississippi. It was estimated that Nomads donated a total of 102,000 hours of volunteer labor in 2009. Five disaster Response Projects have been offered over the past year in Mississippi, Texas, Indiana, and Iowa with a total of 10,600 hours of donated labor.
The Hands in Ministry
When I reached 60 years of age, I could feel the powerful tug of building and using my hands in ministry. But, would a small minister’s retirement be enough to give toward mission work? On the day of retirement, just 10 years ago this June, we said goodbye to our local church and had our truck and fifth-wheel parked outside for the congregation to view. We were able to purchase our rig from the sale of a rental house in which we had invested a few years earlier. Now, we were embarking on a new adventure of “trust and obey.”
After serving 5 years, Phyllis and I accepted the position of Southwest Project Coordinators for Nomads. We have now served a total of 10 years this coming June and find ourselves involved in finding, overseeing, and working with teams and agencies in 5 states. We have worked 42 projects nationwide. In 2010, there were more than 120 couples serving in 27 projects in the Southwest.
Nationwide, there were 120 projects during the first five months of 2011. Most of these projects are done in the winter when those living in the North travel south to get out of the cold weather. While Florida, Texas, and Arizona are the main focus areas, the work is accomplished in almost every state including Alaska (and if a highway can be installed, we will include Hawaii).
There are presently 1,200 Nomads. All the projects must be United Methodist-related or somehow connected to a local United Methodist church. The Nomads are blessed to have some very generous churches, agencies, and individual donors who contribute each year from their mission budget or tithe to support our work around the country. Some churches take up collections for Nomads and many of our members tithe or make annual donations. The Annual Meeting for Nomads was held in September 2011 in Forest City, Iowa, where 300 Nomads contributed by bringing craft items to an auction. The Nomads auctioned these items off to each other and raised over $40,000. These funds will be used for Nomad projects in 2012.
For everyone involved, it is a walk of faith.
It is still true to trust and obey. A heart that is focused on giving to others is blessed more than one at first realizes. You cannot out do the Lord.
Gary and Phyllis Prichard are the Southwest Project Coordinating Committee for Nomads. If you would like to contribute to Nomads, they are Advanced Special #982658 through the General Board of Global Ministries. You can learn more through their website; www.nomadsumc.org.