When Cathy and I began our ministry with The International Congress on Revival (ICR) in 1989, it was a result of our friendship with Brother Bill Stafford who had taken over the leadership of the organization from the founder Manley Beasley. Brother Manley had died at a relatively young age from the effects of several devastating medical conditions. Brother Bill invited me to join the reorganized board of ICR, and I agreed although I knew very little of the history and ministry of the organization. I did know Brother Bill; however, and was confident of his zeal for evangelism and missions.
For the first year on the board, Cathy and I resisted making the overseas trip to the conference. Each year they were held in various European cities, including Vienna and Salzburg in Austria, and one year the conference was in Les Diablerets, Switzerland. The meetings were held for the benefit of western and eastern European pastors and their wives so they might come to a very nice hotel for 4 days to hear outstanding messages from American pastors. All their expenses including travel were covered by ICR. Most of these pastors worked extremely hard at their respective church with very little compensation and certainly had no extra money for leisure and travel. A few of the men served as pastors of multiple churches. Some of the countries represented at a conference included France, Germany, Austria and Slovenia in western Europe and Romania, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia in eastern Europe.
During my 2nd year on the board, Brother Bill convinced us that our presence at an overseas conference would be valuable for the love and encouragement we would bring to the pastors and wives. I had no thoughts about preaching, but Cathy and I both considered leading some breakout sessions in which we might share ministry ideas concerning marriage and family issues. We were still uncertain about the value of our attendance when we agreed to go for the first time. There were to be 18 other Americans making the trip, and we were taking our older daughter Mary Kay, her husband Dave Janke and our younger daughter Ginny. The conference that year was in Salzburg, Austria with a side trip to Innsbruck for 3 days prior to the meeting. During those conference days we had some memorable experiences with our children and the new friends we met among the Americans and the European pastors. We also discovered that we did have a purpose and ministry in attending future conferences. Cathy noted that most of the European pastors and wives although nicely and neatly dressed, seemed to wear the same clothes each day. She purposed in her heart she would bring at least one extra outfit the following year to give to a pastor’s wife. Thus began the idea of a clothing ministry.
Months in advance of the ICR conference Cathy began formulating ideas for taking clothes for the pastor’s wives and asked several of her friends if they would consider giving at least one nice outfit. The response was encouraging, and she also asked if I would carry an extra suit or sports coat for a pastor. We were not interested in taking old and worn-out suits and dresses, but clothes presently being worn that were essentially new.
Our couple’s Sunday school class caught the vision of assisting in this new phase of ministry, and they began bringing nice and attractive clothing for us to transport and distribute. We had some concern the volume of clothing and the weight would exceed the 75 pound baggage limit of the airline and thus become very expensive. We placed the clothes in large duffel bags and when we weighed the clothes at check in, the weight did exceed the limit. We told the Delta Air Lines clerk at the terminal in Little Rock the purpose for the large number of clothes, and she graciously waived all extra charges.
In addition to the extra clothes we were bringing, Cathy had called several wives of other attendees travelling from America, and they also brought clothing for the first time. The initial effort made for this new ministry did not produce an extremely large response in terms of volume of clothes, but when the joy and delight of the recipients was seen, we knew this ministry must continue and be enlarged.
The distribution of the clothes took place in our hotel room and when it was made known we were giving suits and dresses, our room quickly filled to overflowing. Cathy has the unique ability to look at an individual and know the size clothing they wear, so she became known as having the spiritual gift of “sizing.” She also has a great heart of generosity which meant when the clothing we brought specifically for giving was depleted and some were still waiting, she began giving our personal clothing we brought to wear at the conference. On one occasion I had brought my very favorite sports coat which was tailor-made and very expensive. When I came to the room that afternoon, I immediately spotted a tall Romanian pastor with my coat on and noted it fit him perfectly. Cathy saw me shaking his hand and said, “Doesn’t that coat look perfect on Pastor Mickael?” I responded it did, but inside I didn’t want to part with my special coat!
On that first trip we brought a new 3 piece suit owned by El Dorado’s Fire Chief, who along with his wife was a member of our Sunday school class. He was a large man and I didn’t think there would be a man in attendance who could wear the suit because most of the pastors were medium to small in size. Cathy immediately spotted a Ukrainian pastor who was far above the average of his colleagues in size. When he tried on the suit, it appeared to have been tailor-made for him. He began weeping as he told us in his marked accent he had never in his life owned such a fine suit of clothes. We all wept and rejoiced with him. He wore that suit to every meeting for the next 3 days as an expression of his gratitude. When we returned home and told Chief Ben the story, he could not keep back the tears.
In the years that followed, the clothing ministry greatly expanded as other American wives including my sister Marilyn Berry, brought increasingly greater numbers of beautiful and expensive clothes to distribute. The hotels in which we stayed began providing a separate room for the clothes, and that room eventually looked like a well stocked clothing store. These tangible expressions of love and encouragement from the Lord Jesus through the wives to all those European pastors and wives made the ICR ministry so very special to all of us from America.