How a children’s worker became a church planter
When U.S. Alliance President John Stumbo challenges our worldwide family to reach overlooked people—of all ages—Judy Gaskin comes to mind.
“I grew up a hillbilly in Alabama,” Judy says, her southern twang still palpable after serving almost 45 years in Asia. “My mother’s death in 1960 left me with lots of responsibility as a young teen. Since my father was an alcoholic, I had to care for my three younger siblings. We had little income, and at one point we four lived under a bridge for a day.”
After her mother’s death, the family settled in a rural community in south Florida, a “divine move” she claims. An Alliance pastor and his wife, Rev. and Mrs. Bill Nabors, “noticed all these unchurched kids out there on the dairy farm, so they offered to come get anyone who wanted to go to Sunday school,” Judy recalls. “I had no desire to go, but out of respect I agreed.”
After her first visit to church, Judy became a regular. “For the first time, I heard about God’s love; I was like a sponge, soaking up that good news and the love of my beloved Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Nabors.
“I was saved through her witness when I was 16,” says Judy, who recently turned 70. “I was reached because someone invested time and energy to come pick me up and take me to church.”
Ordinary Person, Extraordinary Calling
Soon after her conversion, Judy sensed the Lord’s call to serve Him as a missionary. “For several months, I tried to convince Him that He was calling the wrong person because I was just an ordinary person from a poor family and had no outstanding gifts,” she laughs.
“I thought, Lord, You know there are other young people in the church from good families.” God reminded Judy of how He had called and equipped a resistant Moses (see Ex. 4). She committed to serve Him during her senior year in high school, going on to attend a local community college before transferring to Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. While there, Judy taught weekly Good News Clubs with Child Evangelism Fellowship before sensing God’s call to serve in overseas children’s ministry.
When the Alliance church president in Vietnam urgently requested workers to minister to the many war orphans in his country in the late 1960s, “I was so excited,” Judy says. “That was my heart’s desire, and I was in the pipeline to go.”
But then she received a call from C&MA Headquarters. Several missionaries had recently been martyred in Vietnam, and leadership didn’t think it was wise to send a single woman to the war-torn nation. “Would you be willing to go to Indonesia?” they asked.
“I was devastated; I cried. But I never questioned His call upon my life. I said, ‘Lord, You know my heart’s desire.’” She notes that learning more than half of Indonesia’s population was younger than 18 helped her to accept the assignment.
While she was packing, Judy’s father questioned her decision. “It just tore my heart apart,” she says. “I look back now and think: How did I have the emotional courage to leave my family that needed me? But I knew I had to be obedient to Him—He had to be first.”
Why Am I Here?
Challenges continued for the determined young woman soon after her arrival on the field. One of Judy’s coworkers told her: “We really don’t know why they sent you to Indonesia; we’ve never had a children’s worker, and we didn’t ask for one. What are you going to do?”
Judy began questioning: Lord, did I make a mistake? Did You really call me to be here?
Just trust Me, He replied.
During those difficult early years, Judy shed many tears. “But God’s call on my life was so deep and so strong; it kept me going when I questioned: Do they want me? Is there a place for me in the C&MA to do children’s ministry?”
As Green as Could Be
Overseas Alliance workers during that period often were assigned ministry tasks without specialized training, Judy notes. (That isn’t the practice today.) When her leaders asked Judy to focus on church planting, “I struggled with it,” she says. “I had no experience; I was as green as green could be.”
Her first assignment was in north Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital city, where two national Alliance families had moved. With no training in church planting, Judy did what she knew—she initiated a vacation Bible school, inviting the VBS kids to attend the Sunday school class she was starting the next week.
“The children invited other kids; they stood on the roadside as I drove around picking them up. I could relate to that,” Judy laughs, recalling her youth in south Florida.
As the children began accepting Christ, Judy sent them home with weekly Bible verses their parents helped them to memorize. “I remember so clearly that first church where mothers came up to me after Sunday school, saying, ‘Miss Judy, we want to learn more about the Bible. Our children are changing, and we want to know how that’s happening. Can you teach us?’” So Judy started a Bible study for those mothers.
A God-Inspired Template
After the ladies began studying together, many became believers and started praying for their husbands to attend church. “When they began saying, ‘Hey, my husband is talking about going to church now,’” Judy says she then called the local Alliance district superintendent to send a pastor.
“It’s always better to have an Indonesian or a national doing the ministry, rather than one of us international workers up in front,” she observes.
So began a pattern over the next 10 years: About every 16 months, Judy was moved to a new neighborhood to plant a church. In each community, she started with a Bible club or Sunday school class. “Due to lack of space at one location,” she says, “I taught a small group of kids who were sitting in a Volkswagen van.”
“I really thank the Lord that He gave me the opportunity to start seven churches in Jakarta that are still going today,” she says. One of the congregations Judy planted began with two children and has since birthed 10 other churches—all self-supporting and self-sustaining today.
During those first years of ministering in the 17,000-island nation, Judy also initiated kids’ camps. “She started from zero; summer-camp ministries are unknown here,” says Krisy, the Alliance Indonesia team leader.
After about 14 years of renting facilities for the camps, Judy shared the dream with her colleagues of building their own campground: Camp Good News. She raised money from among her U.S. supporters, had the blueprints drawn up, and created a budget and a working plan to ensure children could spend a week at camp learning about God’s love for them. “About 350 children still annually attend Camp Good News,” Krisy notes.
Several years into her church-planting assignment, Judy realized, “Hey, I’m actually doing what I came out to do: I’m planting churches, but I’m also doing children’s ministry—it’s a double blessing. I have the joy of not only reaching children but their parents as well.”
Although it’s not the way she would have chosen, she says, “God put it all together. And I was doing what others have struggled to do—many in this culture have spent years trying to get one church planted.”
Once the children’s camps were established, Judy and one of her former Sunday school students, Ivone, began adapting Kids’ Evangelism Explosion materials. The two traveled the Indonesian islands, instructing adults in how to teach children to share their faith with their friends.
“One way to reach children is for them to reach each other, especially in Indonesia where Christian adults accused of proselytizing are imprisoned because it’s illegal,” Judy says. “As far as I know, there are no Christian kids who have been incarcerated for sharing their faith here.
“Children are the largest unreached people group in the world today,” she adds, citing the 4/14 Window movement. “That’s what I want to leave with the Church: don’t forget the children and youth. If we don’t reach them, we may lose two or three generations.”
Who’d ‘a Thunk?
“Judy is passionate about loving children into the Kingdom,” Krisy says, recounting a recent national church event the two attended together. “I sat in a packed church where everyone around us was pressing across the pews to say, ‘I’m one of Judy’s kids.’ It’s safe to say that she has impacted thousands of lives.”
“Sometimes we think we have to have special skills, but I think God delights in using the simple things, someone simple like me, to do something great for Him. He chose me; I never would have chosen myself to do this,” Judy says.
“Who’d ‘a thunk that a hillbilly from Alabama from a dysfunctional family—with no outstanding gifts—could be used of Him in Indonesia for almost 45 years? That’s a miracle!”
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