“God, I need to know if this idea for a pastoral retreat is my ‘bright idea’, or Your heavenly will.”
Carl Walker is the founder of En Gedi, and this is the long, but very interesting story of how God convicted him to help pastors, missionaries, and their families. This letter was the first prayer partner letter sent out in January, 2006.
The Road to En Gedi
I was a teenager, eating lunch in a restaurant with my father when a major shift in thinking occurred in my life. I was simply eating and enjoying my lunch, thinking about the things I normally thought about as a teenager: flying, gymnastics, Civil Air Patrol, and the occasional girl. The restaurant was not overly crowded, but had a decent number of people in it. My father, whom I believe was more keen and insightful than the average man, stopped eating and asked me this question: “Carl, do you know what is going on in this room?” After a few moments of silence and wonder, I replied, “Uh…what do you mean, Dad?” “I mean, do you know what is going on in this room, with these people around us,” he asked. Again, some silence and confusion on my part, “Uh, what are you talking about?”
“Carl,” he said, “Every room you walk into is telling a story. Every person in here has their own story, their own set of circumstances, and they are carrying with them their happiness, sadness, hope, anger, and frustration. See the woman in the corner booth?” I looked at her. “Can you see her sadness?” he asked. I thought I could, and responded so. “Son,” he continued, “If you can’t walk into a room and tell what’s going on with the people inside, you will never be able to help anyone.” He then explained to me that everywhere he goes, everyone he meets, every situation he is in, he is trying to be constantly aware of the people around him. He told me stories of times when he was able to help people: pay for a meal here or there, give a friendly smile, or a well timed compliment, other times when he avoided serious danger and trouble by leaving a room, crossing a street, or intervening in a conversation and turning it away from the angry path it was going down. All just by being observant and caring. He then challenged me to do the same: to always be aware of the stories of the people around me, be sensitive to them, for their good, and my own.
We left the restaurant and I never entered another room again as I had that day. I watched my dad like a hawk. Anywhere and everywhere we went I would be watching him, trying to see through his eyes, and listen through his ears. I saw him pay for people’s meals without them ever knowing it, strategically sit next to a screaming child and help distract them to spell their parents, leave a tip bigger than the entire bill for a pregnant waitress. I saw his compassion; compassion for a world that he knew was falling away from Christ. He would extend a hand of understanding and kindness, instead of criticism and judgment.
My father fully understood that he couldn’t turn someone’s life around with one act of kindness, but he could turn their day around. He could be the next drop of water that kept them going for one more hour, or that one ray of sunshine that gave them just enough hope to keep on believing that there is good in this world.
There were hundreds of people at my father’s funeral, a testament to his kindness and how he lived his life.
It has been over 15 years since our lunch at that restaurant. I have tried with some good success to practice what seemed to come naturally to my dad. I have taken an extra minute to help someone in need, paid for a meal on occasion, supported friends and strangers in need knowing their end result would still be dismal, but their journey could at least be a little sweeter. I have failed too, I have been more critical than compassionate, more selfish than giving, I have let opportunity to help someone slide by, knowing my father would have done differently. However, one thing that has become very apparent in my life is a “gift” that has been given to me. I look at someone, just about anyone in any situation, and can almost immediately think of a way to help them. It is not something I try and do: it just happens, and it happens a lot, sometimes a couple of times a day, other times a hundred times a day. Sometimes it is a small thing that would only cost a second of my time, other times it has been something that has taken serious planning and considerable amounts of sacrifice. If I were to act upon every one of these ideas, I would be flat broke, and would never have time for my family and friends, much less my job. So therefore I chose carefully how to balance my acts of kindness with other obligations.
I tell you this long story to give you a background for my next story.
After leaving the Army, Audrey (my wife) and I moved back to Colorado, to a town home in Monument, just south of Denver. We had only been there a month or so when I had an idea to help a particular group of people. My idea was to turn our town home into a pastoral vacation home when we moved out of it. I knew that there were many pastors and church workers around the country who did not have the monetary means to take a vacation, and I could help if I could provide them a free place to stay. I also knew that many pastors can get burned out, and that a place to come and spend time with God could be the blessing they need. The idea was the biggest one I had ever had, and if I were to follow through, it would take lots of time, planning, and money.
A year later, Audrey and I took a two-day trip up to Steamboat Springs in Colorado, a ski resort town in the northern part of the state. After being there for a couple of hours, we fell in love with the town and people, and then shortly after decided that we were going to move there. Steamboat offers much of what Audrey and I are looking for: small town living, lots of outdoor activities, and the mountains. So we started to look for land to purchase and build a house on. This posed a problem though: how would we manage a pastor home in Monument from Steamboat, over a four hours’ drive away? Then the logical thought occurred to me: why not a pastoral retreat in Steamboat? There are a ton of activities, and it could be the perfect place for reconnecting with God. Now my idea had grown in size, scope, commitment, and money.
So, as we looked for land to buy in Steamboat we always kept in mind the idea for a pastoral retreat; maybe we would build it, maybe buy a home for it, maybe a town home? We didn’t quite know. A year later Audrey and I found a piece of land that we loved, and more importantly could afford. It is located 15 miles west of Steamboat on top of a hill that has incredible views. It is quiet, covered with trees, and is filled with wildlife.
After we closed on the land at the end of last summer I realized that my “idea” for a pastoral retreat needed a little more direction. It either needed to go forward or stop entirely. I had spent too much time thinking about it, and now was the time to put this idea away, or get it going. So, that night I prayed and asked God for guidance in almost these exact words: “God, I need to know if this idea for a pastoral retreat is my ‘bright idea’, or Your heavenly will. It will take a lot of money I do not have, time I am short of, planning and sacrifice that will affect my family and me, and I don’t even want to try to do it if it is not Your will. But I need a sign that You want me to go forward with this, or not. I am not asking You to provide the funds or plans or anything. If You tell me to build it, I will trust that You will provide all of those things, as I need them. I just need to know if I should build it. If You tell me ”no”, I will not spend another second thinking about it. If You tell me “yes”, I will not stop until it is built, and I will seek Your guidance and faithfully trust that You will provide everything I need to make it happen.” It was one of the most honest heart-felt prayers I have ever said.
Twelve hours later I was on a United flight from Denver to Detroit. I was going to pick up an airplane for my company, and fly it for the week. The flight was full, and as usual, I chose the emergency exit row seat for a little extra legroom. We took off out of Denver and I started my laptop computer and opened up my “PC Study Bible” program. I began to read in John, where I had left off before. About ten minutes into the flight the gentleman next to me leaned over and asked, “Excuse me, but are you a pastor?” I replied, no, and that my wife had bought me this program for Valentine’s Day since I was a pilot and it was difficult to carry a Bible with me on the road. Then as kind of a joke I returned the question and asked him if he was a pastor. To my surprise he said, “Yes.” He was a church pastor for 25 years, and for the last ten years has been a revival minister, doing revivals at churches around the country. We began to talk and over the next two and a half hours I got to know this man, named Paul, who has dedicated his life to God and whose strong faith encouraged me in my own walk with Christ.
Paul told me of his ministry, his family, and his church. We talked about the importance of the Holy Spirit, and how we need him in our lives to direct our thoughts and words. He told me that when he is not doing revivals he is working at a construction company building houses, and how his boss is a Christian and gives him all the time off he needs to go to revivals. Paul had a twitch in his right eye, and he kept taking his glasses on and off as if he couldn’t see too well. He then told me an amazing story of how he had an accident at work two months earlier. While working, he accidentally turned around without realizing what was behind him and jammed his right eye into some scaffolding. That night he had an operation on his eye. The doctor told his wife that when he woke up he would not be able to see out of it. His wife called the church that night and started their church’s prayer chain. The next day, much to the doctor’s surprise, Paul could see, although mostly black and white and blurry, still he could see. He told Paul and his wife there was absolutely no explanation as to why he could see; he should have been blind in that eye. Of course Paul and his wife knew why. Two months later when we met, after no work and no preaching, he was back on the road for the first time going to another revival, with his vision almost back to perfect and still healing.
Paul said that he took this injury and his time off as a sign from God to slow down a bit. He mentioned to me that he has battled depression for a number of years and this time off was good for him. At first, I must admit that I took his confession of depression as a sign that he must lack faith, or that there was something wrong with his spiritual walk. “How could a guy who is a revival minister suffer from depression?”, I thought. God answered that question for me, more on that in a minute.
When Paul mentioned he needed to slow down a bit, I started to think about the pastoral retreat, and the prayer I prayed the night before. We were involved in such a good conversation that I had not even thought about it up until this point. Coming to a realization that God might be answering my prayer, I interrupted one of his stories and asked, “Paul, when was the last time you took a vacation?” He looked at me like I was speaking a different language and said, “Uh, well…I don’t really…..really know.”
I asked God for a sign, and 12 hours later he sent me a missionary named Paul who had a problem with his sight (some scholars believe the Apostle Paul had a sight problem), who had not taken a vacation in so long he couldn’t even remember the last time he took one. Here was a pastor who is fighting the good fight, battling depression and might need to spend some time alone with God, away from the everyday stresses that bog us all down, or maybe he would just like a vacation.
I told Paul of my pastoral retreat idea and he thought it was incredible. Paul is a very humble servant of Christ. In our conversation I learned that he has moved to many different churches around the country in his life, going wherever God calls him, wherever he is needed. He and his wife have no home; they live in the basement of someone’s “vacation” home, and he pays rent by improving their house with his construction skills. Paul is exactly the kind of pastor I thought about when I first thought of a pastoral retreat. Before I got off the plane, I got his phone number and address in hopes of inviting him to the retreat one day.
That night I talked with Audrey and asked her what she thought of my prayer and my encounter with Paul. “Looks pretty obvious to me,” was her answer. The next day I got on the Internet and researched about the life of a pastor. I found a study conducted by Focus on the Family and others, which focused on pastors and their lives. The statistics are amazing: over 70% of all pastors fight depression, 50% of their marriages will end in divorce, 80% say they feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors, 70% of pastors say they do not have a close friend, mentor or confidant, 95% say they do not regularly pray with their spouses, and 80% say their family has been negatively affected by the church.
After reading on pastors, how much they work, how much they are paid, and what is expected of them, I gained a new appreciation for my new friend, Paul, and no longer saw his depression as a lack of faith, but as an attack from the devil. The devil knows that Paul’s faith and commitment continually takes souls out of the clutches of Hell and places them in God’s grace. I also knew I had an answer to my prayer. This was not my idea, it was God’s, and he has given me the go ahead to turn this dream he gave me into a reality of His.