Home missions legacy
by Pat Thomas
“Pat, the way you and Roy drag your two kids from town to town starting churches will cause them to hate going to church when they are grown up!”
These angry words spoken by my mother could have discouraged me, but I felt that my husband and I were doing what God had called us to do. We were so burdened for the many western states with huge cities that had no Free Will Baptist churches. For almost 18 years, we “drug them from town to town” starting churches. However, I guess my mother was wrong, for both of my adult children and their spouses have been involved in church planting as national home missionaries for over 20 years.
My daughter and her husband, Patsy and Howard Gwartney, are on their second project with the Home Missions Department working to establish a church in San Tan Valley, Arizona. Their first project was the East Valley FWB Church in Mesa, Arizona.
My son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Donna Thomas, are also on their second project with the Home Missions Department, working to establish a church in Pueblo, Colorado. Their first project was the First FWB Church in Greeley, Colorado.
My husband’s parents were actually the first generation of the Thomas clan to become involved in church planting. Rue and Mary Thomas helped form the nucleus of the Buhl, Idaho, church, and helped in the formation of other churches in Idaho at Jerome, Twin Falls, and Boise. Rue pastored the only Free Will Baptist church that has ever been in existence in the state of Nevada, at Hawthorne. He also pastored in Midland and San Angelo, Texas, and in Artesia, New Mexico.
Grandpa Rue Thomas was called on many times by the Home Missions Department for special assignments to serve as interim pastor in isolated mission churches where the missionary had resigned and left the field. His children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren pay special tribute to him for giving them a legacy of love for their Savior, their denomination, and for home missions in isolated areas.
The legacy of Home Missions!
Those words have always held a fascination for me. I have never failed to be challenged, thrilled, burdened, and excited when I think of Home Missions. What a tremendous way to spend a lifetime – in the never ending, stimulating, inspiring labor of love called Home Missions.
Through the years my husband Roy served as a “tentmaker” (bi-vocational pastor), a national home missionary, a Home Missions Board member, seven years as associate director of the department, and then 18 years as the general director. How exciting it was to watch the work grow, see new missionaries added, see the Home Missions Department expand into evangelism and church growth ministries, and see added staff members employed to help carry the work load.
My husband passed away six years ago, and since then I have moved to Arizona to assist the Gwartneys in establishing the new church here in the San Tan Valley. I do computer accounting of the church finances, assist with printing and publications, help set up for worship services, teach in children’s church, and play the clarinet in the church band. What an exciting adventure this has been!
We rent a middle school for Sunday morning services, and have “portable church.” The church purchased a used U-Haul truck and had it repainted with the church logo, web address, and telephone numbers. We store our sound system, 150 chairs, tables, children’s church supplies, literature, and all other equipment and supplies in the truck, and keep it parked in the back yard of one of our members.
Every Sunday morning we leave the house at 6:30, get the truck, and arrive at the middle school at 7:00. About a dozen other people from our congregation meet us there to help. (We call them “Levites” because they assist in setting up for worship services.) It takes about an hour to complete setting up, and then we have band practice, choir practice, and prayer time before worship services start at 10:00.
After church is over at 11:15, we have 45 minutes to take everything down and load it onto the truck. Some of our men have built three large carts mounted on wheels and called them “arks.” The tables, curtains, storage tubs, and supplies are stored in and on these arks. After the 150 chairs are loaded on the truck, the three arks are rolled into place in just a matter of a few minutes.
Because the Arizona heat ranges from a high of 105 to 117 degrees in the summer, most of the men are sopping wet when they are finished loading the truck. We realize the heat is not good for the sound system and other things stored in the truck. With the extreme heat, it feels like an oven inside the truck.
Having “portable church” is extremely hard work! Therefore we are looking forward eagerly to getting our own church facilities someday. The congregation is making payments on almost five acres of land, and is looking forward to the day when the land is paid off and the building can begin. The architect is already working on the drawings for our first unit building. In the meantime, we are seeing people saved and growing in the Lord. Small group Bible studies are being held in the homes of our people, and the converts are baptized in a swimming pool. Will you pray for us as we labor in this needy area to build a strong, soul winning church?
I have so much for which to be thankful. God has been so good to me. How blessed I am to have had the privilege to serve my Lord and my denomination through Home Missions. God saved me in an isolated church in Hobbs, New Mexico, gave me a wonderful husband and children, led us into an exciting, fulfilling life in Home Missions, and blessed us with more blessings than I can count. Yes, Home Missions is a wonderful legacy!
About the Writer: Veteran home missionary Pat Thomas and her husband Roy (deceased), planted churches across the West. Today, she is working with her family to start Christ's Church Free Will Baptist in Mesa, Arizona. Read more about the ministry of Home Missions at www.homemissions.net.