Every Friday Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we are proud to introduce Gala Van Eaton. Gala IS what a minister looks like!
Gala, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
Over a period of time in 1976, while experiencing great hardship, I felt God might use me when things got better. I was thirty years old. I found out then that God is unpredictable, more than I thought, and had contrived to call me to ministry not at some later time but in the midst of my own suffering.
The way I first perceived that call goes beyond and above assigning words to it. I just knew I was to serve God with a focus on women. I did not know how. Acts 20:24 (RSV) was the closest I could come to saying it, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
If I could define that call from this forty-plus year perspective, I would say that God wants me to see ordinary women’s hearts with an effort that goes beyond my own perceptions, through counseling, writing and teaching, creativity, and hard work.
Though I’ve tried various avenues to seek how this ministry would manifest itself for me, I’ve learned what I’m not called to do as much as the ministry I am called for:
- writing, not preaching,
- teaching, not speaking,
- counseling, not activism, and
- exploring creativity and imagination, not “thinking my way to God.”
All of these things are valid and I’ve attempted most of them (except preaching), so supposed “failures” have taught me a lot and fixing my mind on the simplicity of what is rather than what is not helps me to refine my service.
My service began with one woman and the support of the ministerial staff in the church I attended. As I struggled with my own personal crisis, I handed a note to a single woman who had just joined our church. It said, “If you just need to talk to someone who will understand, please call me. I will listen.” I added my name and phone number. I found out later that she had asked two of our ministers about me, and they recommended that she call me. (A good idea, I learned over time!)
After that I began a class specifically for women who come to church alone for any reason. Our ministers often called on me for “unofficial” counseling, defined as listening and knowing God was there when it least appeared that God was present. I found I couldn’t advise anything that I wasn’t willing to believe myself.
I served in this “unofficial” way for several years for several reasons: I had my hands full as a single mom, training and nurturing my two dear children. Also, at that time, I had never considered the option of formal ministerial training. I was fully a product of my culture that took for granted the validity of women’s service but did not encourage academic training or leadership positions for women except in clerical jobs, or service with children or other women.
In the 1980s, and after two degrees in other fields, I was asked to serve on the staff of a mega-church as part-time women’s counselor. This position grew exponentially as I continued to serve as women’s counselor. I added women’s educational programs such as inductive Bible studies, prayer groups, and support groups for women with young children, women in military families, and women who had experienced childhood sexual abuse. I then served as full-time director of women’s ministries and offered events such as monthly luncheons, retreats, and bi-yearly regional conferences with nationally known speakers. The preparation for these programs and events was equal to the program/event itself as we included hundreds of women sharing the leadership tasks and learning to work together over sustained periods.
I was surprised to discover that God gave me a ministry outlet for his gift of creativity. One example was my creation of large worship banners to compliment our pastor’s weekly sermons on all the Old Testament names for God.
I learned so much during these years, not the least of which was how to work alongside an all-male staff of ministers. That brings me back to the heart of God’s call to me, when I was confused, or bothered, or felt discounted or unappreciated. I remembered God’s straightforward call to discern more fully what I was to do. I set my focus on the clear latitude I had to serve, much more than focusing on what was not available to me. That church provided many hours of training for me through Colorado Christian College and the ministries of Doctors Larry Crabb and Dan Allender. One of the women who informed my service was Elisabeth Elliot, who spent a week with us and influenced me in body, mind, and spirit: to take care of myself and my children first, to love God with the fine mind given me, and to be ready to be enlarged in knowing God. After several years I resigned that position to finish a graduate degree and licensing in counseling.
God’s call has never diminished, though it is manifest in somewhat different ways as I cross the threshold into more life at threescore and two years. I still counsel women, but only occasionally as God brings women to me. I teach women’s Bible studies through my Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church and serve as a deacon, ministering and relating to those I call my “deac-ees.” I have time now to research and write, and again—a joyful surprise—I serve God through creating art meant to stimulate worship, bring truth, or extol every day beauty.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
Beyond my kids, grands, and friends whom I also serve? Richard Rohr says, “…the joy that comes up in us is not just our personal joy, it is the joy of all creation.”
I notice more than ever ordinary things and people. When God brings me notice that someone sees God more, when I can listen and just be with someone in pain, when I see the light in someone’s eyes through application of Bible Study, or when I see any degree, no matter how small, of a view of God’s kingdom in reality on earth, I am away from myself, joining all souls in what we seek—to love and be loved. God is more than I ever imagined or knew, and I await seeing Christ face to face.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Okay, I can certainly name specific times of challenge, mostly through the pain or neglect of what others have said or done or not done–or what I have imagined to be so. Yes, that is true. When I become rigid or dogmatic, wanting to control my world because I fall back to idolizing my way, wanting to be my own God, becoming worn out by the sin of the world and my own sin, I wait for God to help me surrender and be grateful.
What words of wisdom would you share with young ministers who are just beginning their ministry journey?
These wise words relate directly to my joys and challenges.
- Pray to love and attend to ordinary people as much as VIPs.
- Avoid falling into the trap of being idolized. It hurts those who idolize you and will eventually disappoint them. And it brings trouble for you in how you see yourself.
- Find others to help you. Never turn down help. Don’t think your ministry belongs to you alone.
- Seek less status and ambition (being INformed or REformed) and more TRANSformation. Learn and practice contemplative prayer.
- Eschew comparison and competition.