EIGHT YEARS AGO, Jerry and Janis Harper found themselves at home on a Sunday night with nothing to do. The church they usually attended had canceled services for that evening. They sat on their couch and turned on their TV only to run across a channel with a Texas preacher. He caught their interest and after listening to the message, they said, “Wow, wouldn't it be great if we could visit that church next time we go to Denton to visit Abi? That church is not far from there!” (Their daughter was working on a degree at the University of North Texas.) That TV preacher was Pastor Robert, and what began as a missed Sunday night service turned into something that would change them forever.

Jerry, a Christian since the ’80s and retired Marine, unexpectedly moved to the Dallas area for work about a year ago, which enabled him and Janis to start attending Gateway in person. They loved the weekend services but something had been stirred inside them. They wanted to serve and establish some friendships here too.

Thinking that starting out as volunteers would be a good way to get their feet wet at Gateway, they set out one night to attend the Guest Experience Volunteer Orientation, but God had other plans. When they got to the Southlake Campus, they asked the first person they saw where the orientation was being held, and he directed them to the Gateway Equip volunteer meeting instead. “I like to say he shanghaied us!” Jerry says with a laugh. “But it was God-ordained—He surprised us with something better.” Jerry and Janis were introduced to Gateway Equip classes, and they felt like they hit the jackpot. “When I realized the wealth and depth and breadth of the knowledge offered, I was overwhelmed at first,” Jerry says. “But when I got past that feeling and saw that it was lovingly being presented to me to enjoy and soak in for His glory and to fully equip me for every phase of life, I was hooked.” 

He began helping out as a classroom host, and after serving, he would sit in on classes reveling in every word. From freedom to Messianic to worship classes, he started taking them all. You’d often find him tearing up in the back of the room as he discovered new revelation or insight from the Lord. “Several of the classes gave me tangible proof that there was more to God’s Word and this Christian life,” Jerry says. “Equip gave me the tools to read the white space between the words and start hearing God’s voice. It taught me how to worship and come into His presence, and it helped me realize who God is and who I am.” He and Janis even made a bunch of friends and started attending a Gateway Group with people they met in Equip. They know now that it wasn’t just a happy accident when that pastor directed them to the Equip volunteer meeting, they were meant to be part of Equip.

Now, every time Equip is on the schedule, you’ll find Jerry and Janis there. They not only love attending any and all the classes they can, they love the energy and community in Equip—seeing newcomers blown away by the spiritual insight or watching someone who came by themselves suddenly in the midst of ve or six people chatting about the class—it’s like watching his own experience again and again. In the 30 years since becoming a Christian, he’s never experienced so much concentrated spiritual growth as he has in this year of attending Equip, and he’s thrilled. “Equip is my heartbeat. God has worked in me so much through this ministry, and I’m still so excited about it,” Jerry says. “Wherever you are in life, you’re going to find a class that appeals to you at Equip. God will speak to you and help you become who you were meant to be. Everyone should come to Equip!”