I’m Gary Owens, and this is how I’ve been living deeply.
When you retire, there’s a plus and a minus. The minus: You lose a lot of interactions with people. The plus: You’ve got more free time. When I was still working, I asked God for more opportunities to share the Gospel, but there weren’t a lot of practical avenues for that. Then, just over 10 years ago, when I was well into retirement, our CSPC global missions director (to whom I’d also made this desire known) said, ‘Here’s a ministry I think you might be interested in- it’s called Global Media Outreach (GMO), and it allows you to chat with people around the world about Jesus.’ I said, ‘Man, that sounds great. Right up my alley.’ So when GMO was here for the CSPC Global Missions Conference, I signed up. GMO advertises on media around the world, always offering a short version of the Gospel. The ads close by saying, ‘If you want to talk about this more, contact us through Facebook or email and we’ll connect you with an online missionary.’ That’s what they call us –online missionaries- and we’re all volunteers. There’s a stockpile of messages coming in from the ads, and the volunteers can see how many are piling up, then select which ones to respond to and when. (I love to get the messages that come in from Facebook because people usually respond better.) I usually spend about two hours or so every morning on this, seven days a week, which is why it’s perfect for a retiree. In that time, I’m responding to eight to 10 people each day- most I’m already in relationship with, along with three new submissions. That’s a manageable number for me. I’m limited to 2,000 characters per Facebook message and 5,000 per email message, so you can’t say a whole lot, but that’s enough to get a feel for when someone has genuine spiritual interest or need. GMO has a bunch of Bible studies available, so once I’ve gone down the road with someone a good bit, I’ll ask them, ‘Would you like to do a Bible study with me?’ Young guys especially will often tell me they’re having problems with pornography, and I can say, ‘Well, we have a series on sexual purity. Would you like to go through that with me?’ They always say, ‘Yes.’
I send the Bible lesson, they read it, and then they’ll often write back about what they’ve discovered. If there’s something I’d like to add or clarify in response to what they write –or something I feel they didn’t get right- I’ll address that (all communication is written only, on both ends). But usually my part is just a few sentences, and then I send another lesson. Over 10 years, I’ve engaged with 5,300 people. There’s no other way I could have that kind of interaction with that number of people! It just blows my mind that God has allowed that to happen. Of course, my first responsibility is to make sure they understand the Gospel and try to discern whether they’ve accepted Christ. Sometimes it’s hard to tell because of language difficulties, but I just keep talking to them and eventually get a pretty good sense of where they stand spiritually. Of those 5,300 people, I’ve had the privilege of leading many to Christ. They come from all over- the number one area is Africa, but there are also a lot from India and some from the Middle East. The longest-term contacts I’ve made, though, are here in the States. We don’t know full identities and we can’t meet in person (both per GMO policy), so I can tell you about some of them. One is a young guy in the Midwest –a farmer- and we’ve been talking for years. When we started, he was single, had just graduated from college, and was having a little trouble with pornography. Since then he’s gotten married and has a baby. His struggles haven’t all subsided, so I just keep telling him who he is in Christ: ‘You’re not known as a pornography reader, you’re known as a child of the Lord. That’s who you are.’ And he’s really bought into that. There’s also a lady who came to faith over the course of our conversations- I’m sure she and I have been through at least 10 to 15 Bible studies. We’re going through Romans now. She led a pretty rough life before becoming a believer, but now she has a hunger for the Word. In fact, I’ve told her if she can find the time, she’d make a great online missionary!
There’s another young man overseas I’m really impressed with. Several years ago, he had an accident. He’s paralyzed from the waist down- pretty much bedridden and wheelchair-bound, but he has such a love for Jesus. He teaches me more than I teach him, I believe. He lives with his brother, who takes care of him. There’s another guy in Africa who not only loves the Lord but leads a Bible study and uses a lot of the stuff he and I talk about. By the way, a lot of times when I’m talking with these people, I’ll use something from our most recent CSPC sermon: drawing from John Wood my first few years, and now James. Every week, this young man asks me, ‘What did your pastor preach about?’ So the teaching from CSPC’s pulpit reaches way beyond Knoxville! Speaking of teaching, I really appreciate the teaching my family has received here at CSPC. My wife and I started a CSPC young married couples’ class back in 1975, which I taught for many years. All that study and teaching has set the background for what I’m doing now. It’s so helpful to know the Scriptures well enough to chat with these people and see where God’s Word can help their walks. I’m 84 now, and this is the most productive season of ministry in my life. Years ago, Henry Blackaby said, ‘Find out what God is doing, and ask Him if you can join with Him.’ It amazes me that He allows us to join with him in what He is doing. So if you’re in a similar stage of life, I’d encourage you to ask the Lord what He’d have you do. He’s promised to continue to work with us to change us right up until the end of our time here on Earth. Serving in this way has really deepened a lot of what I already believed, especially about Jesus and just holding on to Him. I’m focused much more than ever before on Jesus and how He is sufficient- for the African guy who doesn’t walk, for the Indian guy who’s confused about the Bible, and for everyone else. It’s fascinating. Sometimes in this sort of ministry you don’t know just what He’s doing in you, but He’s always working in a fresh way, preparing you to one day see His face.