“I ain’t goin’ ta church” :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

“I ain’t goin’ ta church”

Tim Berrey
2:19 read

Written in memory of Brenda Garren, retired GFA missionary to the Philippines

Brenda Garren, a GFA missionary in the Philippines for 35 years, entered the presence of her Savior around 10:30 p.m. on October 18, 2022. She was 76 years of age. A friend at church described her well as someone who loved the Lord, was fun to be with, and smiled with an impish look in her eyes. This was as true when she was in her seventies as it was when she was in her twenties. I first met Brenda around the year 2000, while I was serving as a GFA short-term missionary in the Philippines. I quickly sensed that behind her zesty love of life was a robust love for God and God’s Word. Brenda especially loved fervent, solid, biblical preaching.

But this was not always the case with her. At her funeral, I learned the back story of how she was converted to Christ. The story was told by Jim Roberts, whose wife was a key human instrument in Brenda’s salvation. Evidently, Brenda called Jim and his wife one morning around 4 a.m., and then asked for some favor. As penitence for waking them so early, Brenda asked the next day what she could do to make for it. Jim’s wife responded that Brenda could come to church with them. Their church, Camp Creek Baptist in Pickens, South Carolina, was having revival meetings with a preacher by the name of John Weaver.

Brenda’s reply was, “I ain’t goin’ ta church.” Jim’s wife insisted, however, that going to church was the only way that Brenda could make up for the early morning call. So, Brenda went. Sitting in the back of their car after the service, smoking one cigarette after another, Brenda asked whether the truths Preacher Weaver had spoken about that night were real.

“It’s real,” Jim and his wife insisted. Brenda came the next night and was saved. The transformation was immediate. When she went to work the next day, she told everyone she had gotten saved. She told her family. She decided to go to a Christian college. She wanted to serve the Lord. Brenda was a new creation in Christ, and all things had become new.

After finishing at Bob Jones University, Brenda joined GFA and the growing team of missionaries headed to the Philippines. She assisted church planters, ministered in various roles at Bob Jones Memorial Bible College, taught in Christian day schools, and mentored ladies. The fruit of her mentoring young ladies lives on in the number of women who continue to faithfully serve the Lord in the Philippines, some of them single and others alongside godly husbands.

Brenda’s salvation testimony reminds me that God does not always save those we consider to be the most likely candidates. In addition, God uses persistence and creativity in getting unsaved people under the sound of the Gospel. God calls through the Gospel, and we must do all in our power to bring people under the sound of it. Brenda’s testimony also stirred in me the desire to see God save people in the “old-fashioned way” again. I long for the kind of conversions that lead to radical life transformation—transformations that result in the Lord of the harvest thrusting laborers into His harvest fields.

Finally, Brenda’s testimony at the funeral reminded me that all of us have a limited window in which to serve the Lord. Brenda came back from the Philippines to help her four older sisters. She ended up being the first of them to pass into eternity. She also invested 35 years of her life in the Philippines. She used her window in service to her Lord and to others. The time clocks of our lives started ticking down to zero the moment we were born. We don’t know how far from zero we are. Until we get to Heaven, let’s be all out in serving our Lord, worshiping Him, and witnessing about the salvation He has provided. Jim Elliot’s words well summarize Brenda’s life: “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”