Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an interview with an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are thrilled to interview, Gail Suratt Davis. Gail IS what a minister looks like!
Gail, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My story could be endless because I am in the last decade of what most people consider a work career. I believe a Christian and minister/missionary never truly retires. We serve the Lord until our last breath. Because of this, I will hop through my life and ministry like a rock skipping on water.
God called me to know Him in a salvific way when I was fourteen. When I was twenty-one, God called me to full-time ministry, but didn’t tell me in what or when. A year after I finished my business degree in accounting, God told me it was time for my training for God’s service. I attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to study for my Master’s in Christian Social Work, where I met my now husband.
Three years after beginning seminary, our children started arriving. I realized I am not superwoman, so I stopped attending seminary. When the first two were in preschool, I tried to finish my degree. I realized I still needed to focus more on the kids and being a minister’s wife.
Before my husband became a staff minister, the Foreign Mission Board appointed us as missionaries. While in training, I had flashbacks to abuse I experienced for 21 years as a child and young adult. We took a leave of absence, then resigned from the FMB. In 1999, we felt God calling us to missions again, and the IMB reappointed us late that year. We arrived in Cape Town, South Africa in January 2000.
We arrived in Cape Town with three children. Our last child was born in 2001.
When my youngest child began school full-time (third grade), I returned to finishing my Master’s degree. Unable to finish the social work degree, I began studying online through Southeastern, then Union University, which offered a 100% online Master’s degree in Christian Studies. I finished it in 2014. My husband tells people I’ve taken enough courses to get two Master’s degrees. (I think he’s proud of me.)
In 2011, as I was studying to finish my degree, I told God I would not fill whatever vacant spot in ministry was available. I would wait for Him to lead me. I prayed for almost 4 months and, one day in church in Cape Town, He told me to look behind me. What I saw for the first time were 30 people I called friends, but whom I had not labeled. God opened my eyes to see them as refugees. I asked them what they needed most. They told me English because, without English skills, they were unable to work, and people would take advantage of them. I found NAMB’s English education program, which uses the Gospel of Mark, and began teaching in my church, then in a Burundian Pentecostal church, a library, a town hall, and a sports club. Over these almost 11 years, I have taught over 425 students. From these classes, I got to know them and their needs and help them. I’ve directed blanket and food distributions for these refugees and their families. I’ve asked professionals-doctor’s maternity nurses, refugee lawyers, career counselors, pastoral counselors, librarians, city officials, and police officers-to speak to them. Each of these people cares about refugees and were willing to help.
In 2011, God told me to put my writings online. The devotionals and Bible studies are on a blog site titled Thoughts from Another Home. After 10 years, almost 500 articles are online and almost 300,000 people have read them. This work has been a great joy to me because I love to learn. What I write comes from my personal studies. I process by writing what I’ve learned from studying the original languages, history, and culture surrounding the passage from which I am learning.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
Someone once asked would I not rather write all the time and do nothing else. Inside I shouted, “Yes!” but without outer ministry, any study become irrelevant. I would lose contact with people and the world. Another person asked me if I would rather do refugee ministry all the time. My first reaction was like someone lit a light in me; I would say, “I love doing it.” Yet, if I only did refugee ministry, I would burn out. I need time for in depth Bible study to feed my heart, mind, and spirit. It is my most craved food… besides dark chocolate. Though both these bring great joy to me, God is my greatest source of joy. He inspires, feeds, protects, leads, and keeps me going in every way. God gives me rest when He knows I need it. This reminds me He cares about me, and not just as His servant.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
The greatest challenges in ministry have been the times when people conned us. Someone said they needed help and would return to English class or repay us. We’ve had to set up boundaries to try to avoid those pitfalls. Even with the boundaries, if God leads our hearts differently, we help a person, though it crosses the boundaries we set. Because of this, we have grown closer to God.
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
The best ministry advice I have might seem cliché. Make sure, each day, before you minister to your family or other people, you take time to read God’s Word, meditate on it, and pray. As a mother to young children for a long time, I can honestly say, I know having a quiet time is hard to do. Many days came and went when I was unable to make time with God first. As I have aged and grown closer to God, I wish I had spent more time with Him when I was younger. Seeking at least one prayer partner is my second recommendation. Ask God for this person and keep asking until His chosen child enters your life.
Gail Suratt Davis is in Cape Town, South Africa where she serves in missions with refugee work, Bible teaching, Bible study writing, and always learning.