By Judy Turner
On any given day at the Christview Ministries Center you might see a person or two coming in the front door with their overnight bags, looking forward to spending some time with God. They are retreating from the stress and noise and busyness of life to rest, to enjoy the beautiful setting, and to receive what they most need from God. Often they will ask me to help guide their retreat with suggestions about how they might most productively spend their time. They may ask John for Bible passages relevant to theirquest. Sometimes John and I together pray with them for healing from old emotional wounds. Mainly they are here to hear from God. Usually they do hear, and often in ways that they were not expecting. They leave refreshed, and with new direction and hope.
Or, you might see a couple who comes most weeks to learn more about the Bible and to discuss with us their ministry of serving people recovering from addictions. Another couple comes weekly for guidance in enriching their spiritual life and becoming better followers of Jesus. You might see a man or a woman who comes every couple of weeks, or once a month, to meet with me to talk about prayer and how to grow in relationship with God. You might see someone coming to learn from John how to use Bible research tools or how to trace the major themes of biblical theology. At times, you may see groups of people coming for one of the events Christview offers to help people move toward wholeness in Christ and gain skill to serve God more effectively, in whatever way they want to serve. There is hardly a day when you wouldn’t see someone coming to Christview!
Christview Ministries visibly came into existence in late 2004, when the Christview Ministries Center opened. But as I look back at the road leading to Christview, I see that God started preparing for this ministry about 1982 when John and I—then in Little Rock, Arkansas, first envisioned having a place where people could come and be with God. We wanted to grow spiritually, but we struggled to find time for God. Although we wanted to receive God’s guidance, it was difficult to “hear” from God. We knew other Christians had similar struggles.
But we had also experienced the peace of getting alone with God in solitude and silence. We knew that God communicates when we get still enough to listen. Our dream involved offering spiritual retreat, spiritual direction, and Bible mentoring in a place of natural beauty. But we were young parents and pastors, and life was filled with more tasks than hours in the day, not to mention that we were not yet spiritually mature enough to do what the dream would require of us. The years went by, and the dream was buried under the daily stuff, but re-emerged from time to time. When we were in our mid-fifties, residing in Indianapolis, IN, the thought came insistently: “If we’re ever going to pursue this dream, we’d better do it now!” A big step of faith we took was my resigning from my job to devote more time and energy to the search.
But how were we to pursue it? We had been in ministry all our working lives, and had little money. We took a step of faith in 2002 and started looking for property and funding. Many people told us what was wrong with our plan and that it was not financially viable. Some just said, “No!” If it hadn’t been for the encouragement of prayer partners, we might have given up. Instead, we continued exploring any path that looked promising, holding on the belief that if God wanted this ministry to come into being, God would somehow make a way.
It seemed totally unrelated to the dream, but my mother called one day to say she wanted to go to Tampa, Florida, to visit a dying friend. Mother was living in a retirement facility in Texas and had memory lapses. I was living in Indiana and was not able to accompany Mother on this trip, and advised her not to go. But Mother was insistent, and went to Tampa to see Betty. (The names of the people in this story have been changed to honor anonymity) Their friendship had developed in Honolulu Hawaii 55 years earlier, and Betty remained one of Mother’s treasured friends. Frequent moves of both families kept us from seeing much of each other through the years, but Hawaii was one of the places Mother liked best to visit again in her memory. She reflected on how she and Betty were pregnant with their first child at the same time. Betty had a daughter named Robin. Several months later June had a daughter named Judy. I am the baby on the right in the photo.
Fast forwarding 55 years, Mother made the trip to Florida and called Betty’s home. Betty’s daughter Robin answered and said, “My mother isn’t doing very well today. But since you’ve come such a long way, let me pick you up and bring you to see her.”Robin arrived where Mother was staying and said, “You haven’t seen me for years. My married name is Robin Lawler.” The name “Lawler” and Tampa, Florida, stirred something stored a long time back in Mother’s memory. She struggled to bring the memory to clarity. She spoke hesitantly, “The only Lawler I knew who lived in Tampa, Florida…” then with more certainty, “was a young man my daughter Judy dated in college named Mark.” Robin looked stunned. “Mark Lawler is my husband!” They stood together in amazed silence. Then Robin called Mark to tell him about this most unlikely thing that apparently happened. “I have the mother of one of your old girlfriends here!” she said.
Mother later called me to share this strange story about discovering that Robin, the baby girl born in Honolulu about the same time I was born, had married the man I dated at Baylor University in Texas. “How strange,” I thought, but didn’t dwell on it. Mark and I had not communicated in over 30 years. Mother had provided contact information, and Mark e-mailed me, asking what had been going on for the last 30 years. I wrote back a quick summary, concluding with, “John and I have had a dream for a long time. We’ve recently taken steps of faith toward it.” I didn’t say how discouraged we had become with all the dead ends and “No!” responses, or how unlikely it seemed that the dream could ever move toward reality.
Some time later I was at home in Indianapolis, while John was at a meeting at the church he served as pastor. I put on a video of one of my friends leading worship. I felt some of the discouragement lift as I focused on how big and wonderful God is. I was singing along with the video, “Mercy is falling…. like a fresh spring rain”, when I heard the computer ding with the announcement of an e-mail message. It was from Mark. He began by listing the remarkable coincidences:
“The only answer I can find is so that I could help get your ministry off the ground. What do you need?”
I read the message and sat for awhile not fully able to take in the fact that the prayer of many years had just been miraculously answered! As the reality of Mark’s offer to help sank in, I could only sit and weep, tears of wonder and joy. When John came home from the meeting, I said, “We’ve received our miracle. Look at this e-mail!”
We talked with Mark about a friendly loan to purchase property for a ministry center. When it actually seemed possible to have a place to do the envisioned ministry, John and I looked at real estate in earnest. God had provided the “how”, but “where” did God desire this ministry to be located? Beginning from where our daughter was in grad school in Pennsylvania, we worked our way south through the Appalachians to North Carolina and Georgia. Our twenty- something daughter and her friends who were involved in the adventure said, “You’re acting like someone our age!” We actually thought of ourselves more like Abraham and Sarah, embarking on a faith venture when we were well along in years.
John and Judy on their adventure of faith
One Christian building contractor with whom we consulted along the Georgia—North Carolina border said, “This isn’t in my interest to say, but I believe you’ns could get a lot more for your money in the Ozarks.” So our search led back to Arkansas, where our dream had first begun, not to Little Rock but to the lovely mountains of Northwest Arkansas. Consulting with Mark who would actually fund the purchase, we made an offer on a rural property with two houses and several guest suites. As negotiations proceeded, there was one obstacle after another. We prayed, “God, are you telling us to persevere or to look further?” If God said to look further, we would have to move to the area without a house to move into. John had concluded his pastorate, and we had sold our house in Indiana. But negotiations reached a standoff around a boundary dispute with a hunting club! When we had visions of our retreat guests having to wear bright orange to avoid being shot by deer hunters who did not want us there, it became clear that we would have to look further. Another step of faith was leaving Indiana, putting most of what came off the moving truck into storage, and renting a little house in need of repairs, but with plenty of fleas! We arrived in Northwest Arkansas the first day of September in 2004, and looking at the gaps between the door and window frames and the walls in our rental house, we earnestly prayed we would find a place to purchase before winter.
Within several weeks after the move we saw a large new house on 20 acres, near the town of Eureka Springs. It even had a large room that would serve as library/ meeting room. The woman who built the house was a Yoga instructor, and designed the big room for exercise classes. It would be perfect, BUT the price was higher than we had discussed with Mark. Through another set of circumstances that only God could orchestrate, a Christian couple came from Arizona and looked at properties with John and me. “The large new house is what you should go for,” they advised. “You could get started with your ministry right away, where all the other properties you are considering would require renovations. “But it’s out of our price range,” we said sadly. “Make an offer,” they advised again. “Well, why not?” we decided. Nothing in this whole journey has been possible from the human way of thinking.” After some negotiation, the large new house was purchased for the Christview Ministries Center. Apparently, God wanted a beautiful, workable facility for His work.
In November of 2004 we moved in, setting up our personal living space in one wing of the house. A second bedroom and bath became the first guest bedroom, the loft became the Christview office, the living and dining area became a hospitality area for retreat guests to sit and look out at the stunning view and eat their meals. We also envisioned people sitting out on the deck overlooking the hills. Downstairs, we set up bookshelves along all the walls of the big room and filled them with books. We purchased tables and chairs which could be easily moved to make the space multi-purpose for studies, small group gatherings, large worship gatherings. Volunteers came from a congregation I served in Indianapolis, assisted by a Sunday school class from nearby Harrison, AR, to convert a 2-car garage into more guest bedrooms. Later, a member of the Sunday school class added a kitchenette.
We clearly saw the story so far as one that only God could write. We didn’t have another word for the unlikely, amazing, unforeseen things that had occurred to get us here other than “miracles.” We had a facility for ministry, but now what? We had anxious thoughts like, “Will anyone come? Does anyone need what we want to offer? How are we going to make a living and survive, much less have income for a growing ministry?” We moved and started the ministry without any visible means of support, and without people involved in any way other than prayer. During the Thanksgiving holiday John went looking around the downtown area of the unique little tourist town of Eureka Springs. He went into the art gallery of a well-known wildlife artist. The artist asked John what brought us to Eureka Springs. John replied, “We came to mentor people in Bible and prayer.” Her eyes got wide and she said, “I’ve been praying for a mentor. I need to know Jesus and the Bible better.” When I heard the story, my anxiety lessened. Yes, there was at least one person for whom our coming was an answer to prayer! Soon the artist was coming weekly to Christview and studying the Gospels with John. I connected with an interdenominational women’s Bible study, and when the study needed a new meeting location, offered the Christview Ministries Center. God had started connecting people with Christview.
God provided income through interim pastorates and short-term pastorates in nearby towns for both of us. Gradually, some people began to give regular gifts to Christview Ministries. More people came for Bible mentoring and spiritual direction. A couple who felt called to ministry but who did not have time or money for ministry education came and received mentoring and supervision as they built a youth ministry.
Many received services who could not donate to the ministry. A commitment we made from the beginning is that nobody would be turned away because of inability to donate. But we also stated that people who felt led to give more than the suggested donation could help those who couldn’t give by their generous giving. Some have donated generously. Even through bad economic times, Christview Ministries has been able to continue and to grow. We really don’t know how it has been possible to survive economically. We just shake our heads and say with awed gratitude, “We live in God’s economy.”
Groups come for day retreats and enjoy the deck
Judy leads a training session for spiritual leaders
Saturday morning events at Christview help people grow closer to God
God has also provided the people and skills needed to help build the ministry. At the beginning, we needed an accountant to help us apply to the IRS to be a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. We couldn’t even understand what the questions on the application meant! When we expressed our need to a local pastor “for someone who speaks the language of the IRS,” he connected us with a retired accountant in his congregation who was very interested in the ministry we were starting. God also knows that John and I are not “wired” to do much with technology, and has provided several people to help us with the website and a Facebook page. God has provided volunteers with carpentry and decorating skills. We have never been more grateful for the varied gifts of the body of Christ.
Christview Ministries began through a miracle of God. Miracles continue to happen in the lives of people who come to Christview. People who thought God was far away, discover God involved in every aspect of their lives. People bound up with hurts and fears find healing and freedom. People who know nothing about the Bible and people who think they already know the Bible all discover so much more in God’s Word. Those who have struggled to pray, develop a natural, continual communication with God. Those who had a dream of doing something for God are now doing it! Christview is a beautiful place to rest and pray, to learn and grow in Christ, to heal and prepare to serve. Christview is the ongoing demonstration of what only God can do!
John and Judy prepare a meal for retreat guests
A guest enjoys quiet time with God
The miracle of Jesus doing so much with a few loaves and fishes reminds us of the miracle we continually experience with Christview Ministries as we offer what has been given to us and God blesses many lives!