This week I'd like to introduce you to Dr. Gary L. Hawes - the founding Executive Director of His House Christian Fellowship.
Gary grew up in Elsie, Michigan and happily headed off to Central Michigan University to pursue a degree in psychology not a single thought in his head about ministry of any kind . His junior year he started dating - literally - the girl next door back home - Miss Carol Mort. Carol wasn't just any girl though - she had a real love for God and thought carefully about her future. During their senior year - Carol arranged for Gary to meet her minister - who began to tell Gary "You're going to be a minister." Well this was the funniest thing Gary had ever heard. Absurd! But - despite it being completely absurd - Gary felt very disturbed by the minister's prayers. Carol's minister even preached a sermon on how God needs ministers. He preached that exact same sermon two weeks in a row. Finally Gary found himself sleeplessly and prayerfully waiting for some peace from God. What do you know - that anticipated peaceful slumber did not come until in the middle of Tuesday night Gary prayed "God - I know you want me to be a minister - but I'd just like You to confirm it." Gary fell asleep praying that night - the first sleep he'd had in days. That weekend Carol's minister excitedly asked "Did anything happen very early Wednesday morning?"
Gary never looked back. In the summer of 1963 Gary and Carol were married and they moved to Kentucky so Gary could start seminary; Carol found a job teaching 6th Grade. Many of Gary's classmates had not only been thinking about and planning for ministry work for quite some time - but a substantial number already were working full-time in ministry. But Gary quickly caught up and preached his first sermon and sank his teeth into learning everything he could about becoming a minister. Seminary was fantastic though - and before Gary knew it - he'd spent 8 years at 4 graduate schools and seminaries and had accumulated 5 masters degrees and a PhD. Academia was looking pretty good. But Carol's eyes were still focused on ministry - and one of Gary's first full-time ministry jobs was working at church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gary worked as the minister of outreach, the youth minister and as the minister of Christian education. That church grew to 2,000 in its first year with 250 baptisms.
Soon Gary had drawn the attention of two groups - Cincinnati Bible College - who was looking for a new Dean of the Graduate School - and a man named Virgil Felton in Lansing Michigan - who'd contacted Gary and told him "There are 500 students at Michigan State waiting for you to start a campus ministry." Gary drove hours to meet with both parties and personally relay his regrets that he would not be able to accept either position - only to find himself in front of a full-interview with job offers on the table. The job at the Bible college was particularly attractive - especially after all Gary's time in grad-school - he was well prepared to excel in that environment. The campus ministry job seemed to him like a lark - no one even knew what campus ministry was or what a campus minister did! Again - Carol's influence weighed in - and she reminded Gary that she'd prayed even before she and Gary had met and felt called to marry a minister - and God Himself had not given Gary sleep way back when until he agreed to be a minister. Gary finally made one more drive to Lansing and said "Yes. I'll be a campus minister."
So - in the fall of 1969 Gary found himself standing on the grounds of Michigan State University - with his wife and baby daughter - ready to start this thing called a campus ministry. He found that there were somewhat less than 500 hundred students waiting for him on campus. He met one. But there were plenty of students on the campus of 35,000 at that time who needed Jesus. The ministry struggled in the beginning: "When we had money - we didn't have students - and when we had students, we didn't have any money." But - one of the students Gary met in those early years was a female student who just seemed to be able to do anything - so Gary just kept encouraging her to tackle things. Before long Sally Keisling was as much a vital part of the work of His House as Gary. With Sally working diligently to keep the administrative gears moving - Gary was free start new ministries - and he did. Soon Gary was leading ministry at Michigan State and Central Michigan University. God brought along a student to begin working as the full-time campus minister at CMU. Gary thought - "Well, Hey, maybe University of Michigan students would like a campus ministry too?" and Gary began splitting his time between MSU and U of M.
At one point - the board sat Gary down and said "We think you should over-see all the campus ministers you've hired. Gary was bummed about this prospect - until he landed on the idea of over seeing the existing ministries AND starting the new ones. As Gary says "What I loved was starting new ministries - especially where there wasn't anything." I personally have vivid memories of Gary seemingly being EVERYWHERE in the state of Michigan - and it'd be easy for me to believe that he still knows all those highways better than the state's own DOT! I asked him during this interview - "How in the world did you oversee so many campus ministers running so many campus ministries with so many students - while also starting campus ministries - while also fund-raising sufficient funding to keep the whole show running?" Gary answered, "Well - I had to say no to a lot of distractions."
As a student at Michigan State I admired Gary's sermons and loved attending the retreats we'd have each spring and fall. Invariably I came home with my head crammed full of inspiration to invest in my walk with Jesus. Later I was invited to intern and the highlight of every month that year was the standing meeting all the interns had with Gary in his office. We all learned so much from him. It was a treat to continue working with Gary after that - as I was invited to help launch a new campus ministry in the state of New York. Despite all of that - I was completely surprised the day I met with Gary in his office 19 years ago and said "I have an idea for a campus ministry." I imagined I'd hand over my idea - which I thought it was likely Gary had either already considered - or that Gary could engage his life-time of experience and morph my little idea before my eyes into something vastly superior. I imagined I'd spill the beans, and then walk out - a free woman - able to focus on grad school. Nothing prepared me for Gary to say "I'm going to make sure you start that ministry yourself." and then shout down the hall way: "Hey Sally - wanna be a board member for Amy Jo?"
Gary retired as the full-time Executive Director of His House in 2015 and now works as the Executive Director Emeritus and Director of Special Projects for the ministry he started on faith with Carol all those years ago. In his tenure as Executive Director - the ministry grew to 30 staff serving 12 campuses. The ministry baptized over 4,000 students and Gary estimates that they reached 30,000. I feel so blessed to have met Gary and become a part of His House. So many of us - working all over the world now in ministry are so grateful for all they, their family, and the rest of the staff of His House did to make that ministry possible. Our walks with Jesus would not be the same without them.
What really amazes me today about Gary - is how effortlessly he seems to exercise his habit of pointing men and women towards ministry. He has personally started more campus ministries than any other person I can name. I know that this was anything but effortless though - it was a life-time of intentional decisions to love God and serve Christ. If we would all embrace saying no to the distractions as Gary learned to - imagine what God's Kingdom would look like. I'm honored to have been able to know Gary so many years - and to still be learning from him as I work with JC's Village.