I was introduced to a woman who has made an indelible impression on my life, a true hero of the faith. Before I tell the story of my time spent with her, I want to first ask a simple question: have you ever wanted to be a part of the “next big thing”?
For most of us, the answer is an easy “Yes.” We are conditioned to look for it, even live for it in some ways. For instance, those “fashionistas” who are completely driven by being fashion forward, to them finding the next greatest trend or fad is simply exhilarating. For the “techies” out there, euphoria occurs as you continually upgrade to the newest and best piece of technology money can buy, as it promises to be “the thing” to change your life and the world!
On many levels there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the hunt for the “next big thing”, but I want to take a glance at that thought from a spiritual perspective. In our attempt to pursue God with zeal and passion, do we need to sometimes stop and ask ourselves if it’s truly the Father we are passionate about, or is it the destiny we perceive God has for us that we are really ambitiously pursuing? Tough question. I’m embarrassed to admit my dreams of attaining that “big vision or destiny” has many times disguised itself as a wholehearted, passionate pursuit of my Savior. Ouch! God began doing a pruning and chiseling of my heart to cut away anything that didn’t fully desire Him and Him alone.
Recently, I had the unique privilege of meeting with a woman who has never sought the “next big thing” of ministry, yet her ministry has touched hundreds of thousands. There was never an ambition for notoriety or a drive for worldly success, she simply wanted to serve the Lord, tell others about God and obey Him in the small things. I want to share with you the incredible story of Mrs. Tillie Burgin. The first time I ever heard of Tillie Burgin she spoke at my church’s women’s conference. She came to share with us all the work being done at Mission Arlington.
Mission Arlington is a ministry started by her and her husband 23 years ago which meets the needs physically and spiritually of thousands of people daily via Bible studies, outreaches, clothing donations, food supplies, counseling, dental and medical needs throughout Arlington, Texas and the DFW Metroplex. As I listened to her, I found myself completely compelled by the sweet-natured wittiness and anointed, confident words that she spoke so eloquently. I continued repeating in my head how I want to be just like her “when I grow up.” There was something so magnetic and intriguing about her humility, her calling and her life of obedience. I knew from that moment that I had to meet her … and so I did.
“Mrs. Burgin, It is such a pleasure to meet you.”
“Oh call me Tillie, everyone just calls me Tillie.”
This is how my conversation began on the day I eagerly spent some time with Mrs. Tillie Burgin, one of the most inspirational, fascinating, and unassuming women I’ve ever met. She ranks right up there with Mother Teresa, whom I met in 1992, and that’s hard to beat! As I walked into Tillie’s office at Mission Arlington, I couldn’t help but notice the wall-to-wall certificates and accolades that covered every space. There was the plaque recognizing her as an inductee to the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, there were pictures with Presidents, letters from governors; I could go on and on. Yet after about one minute of being with her, you realize none of those things are really what’s most important to her. We sat at a small round table in her office with a large bowl of M&M’s placed perfectly in the center of the table, serving as a major temptation while we chatted. As we began sharing bits about our lives, I was impressed at the ease with which she spoke. I felt like I was sitting in a comfortable living room with a dear friend I’d known for years. Every word she spoke was rich with wisdom and gratefulness. I knew immediately that this very special woman of God had something that all of us needed to hear.
Tillie and her husband Bob raised their two boys in Korea from 1966-1978. It was really their dream to be missionaries there for as long as God needed them to be. A severe brain issue that occurred in one of their sons required immediate and intricate care and thus ended their time in Korea and brought them back home to Arlington. At the time, their son wasn’t expected to live; but as Tillie retells the story, she cleverly says, “He’s now in his 40’s, married with children and getting his doctorate, so I think he’s going to be ok.”
When the Burgins returned from Korea, still full with a mission’s heart, Tillie had the thought, “If you can do missions in Korea, why can’t you do missions in Arlington?” That simple thought didn’t have a face or a name or even a plan of action, but it did have a huge servant’s heart. I asked Tillie if she had always dreamed of God using her in big ways. I asked how she handled the big vision God gave her for Mission Arlington. Her reply was profound:
“No, God never did it like that. I didn’t have a clue. It was just one Bible study in one apartment. A person needed their electricity turned on, so we helped her. It was just one situation at a time. After that went well, we said, well this seems to be working. If the Lord would give us other apartments to help and have bible studies in, then we would know we were doing what He wanted us to do. So we began to pray for six apartments in a year and we got six in a week. I couldn’t keep up with God. He was providing and doing it and all I could do is just go through doors that seemed to be open. I told a lady we’d get her some furniture. I didn’t have furniture or a truck. I had no way of getting her what I told her I’d get her. Within a day a man offered his truck and a lady offered furniture she wasn’t using. Then as we began helping these people in the apartments, one of the volunteers asked what we were going to do if these people have dental problems. So they created a dental clinic. So I can’t take any credit for this. It is all God. The only idea that I had is when I asked someone, “Can I start a Bible study in your apartment?” From that point on it just has happened. This is totally His. God has led us every step of the way.”
Tillie grew up with parents who believed in serving their community. Her dad owned a service station and always taught her what it meant to be a servant. Back then, service stations really were about serving and helping people. You could pay for gas and tires, but the station would clean the floorboards, windows and anything the customer needed. The most trouble Tillie ever got in was when she took a dime from a lady after washing her windshields. Her dad told her, “You give that dime back to that lady. We’re here to serve.” She grew up in that atmosphere. But it was at a “Sunday School visitation” with her church in her young teen years that she led a 13-year-old girl to the Lord, and she knew right then she wanted to have a part in seeing people come to know Jesus. There would be no way to count the thousands upon thousands of people who have come to know Jesus through the loving service of Mission Arlington. In Tillie’s words, here is the work Mission Arlington is doing to serve the community:
“Today there are 316 apartment or mobile park churches that exist. Anyone who comes in gets counseling, gets prayed with, gets their needs met and when we find out where they live we connect them to one of our churches closest to them and that’s how we begin the discipling process and getting them into church. We believed from the onset of starting Mission Arlington that there were people who were hurting, broken, poor, whatever, and they were just never going to step foot in a church building, so we decided we would bring the church to them, and that’s just what we’ve done. I have story after story of people who have come here for help and as they’ve been able and they get a job or get their feet on the ground, they come back here to serve and give back. There are so many moving parts to this; it’s not an organization, it’s an organism. It’s living and moving. It’s one life, one opportunity, one situation and God does the bigness. He multiplies it. He takes it wherever He wants to take it–to the ends of the Earth, because I believe that’s what the Scriptures say. This is just one speck. That’s just something I’ll always hold on to.”
Tillie never dreamed about being or having the “next big thing”; it was always about doing the one small thing time after time as God prompted. So when it became a big thing, she never took any credit for it. She knew it was only God that could do it. It should come as no surprise that her favorite scripture is John 3:16, because when God says “whosoever,” He means everybody and anyone!
This is a woman who is reaping great rewards because of relentless sowing done out of obedience day after day, year after year. It never has become laborious or burdensome because it truly was, and has always been, about God and doing the work of His kingdom here on Earth. I could have stayed many more hours to listen to Tillie share her life story, but as we wrapped up, she gave me a huge hug, filled a cup with M& M’s and asked me to come serve anytime I had the chance.
It would be my pleasure, Tillie.
If you would like more information about how to serve at Mission Arlington, check out their website at www.missionarlington.org.