By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
PIGEON FORGE — When he was invited to the Bivocational Ministers and Wives Retreat for the first time, Jim Haggard wasn’t even sure if he wanted to go.
Ten years later, he now considers it to be one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
Haggard, the pastor of Middlebrook Baptist Church in Knoxville, was dealing with the death of both of his parents — who had passed away about two months apart — when he was invited to attend the retreat.
Emotionally exhausted and not really wanting to see anyone or be seen, Haggard said he was on the fence about attending. But he eventually felt led to go, and the retreat proved to be a life-changing event.
“It was pretty ‘iffy’ for me; I just wasn’t sure if I should come or not,” Haggard said during this year’s retreat, held Jan. 24-26 in Pigeon Forge. “We ended up coming, but the first night, during the preaching, it was like my mind wasn’t here.”
It was later that night, however, when things really changed for Haggard.
“After the evening service, we met two couples (Chadwell Station Baptist Church pastor Jim Blevins and his wife, Margie, and White’s Creek Baptist Church pastor Roger Britton and his wife, Kathy) in the lounge,” Haggard said. “They knew it was our first year, so they invited us to sit down with them and have some coffee and doughnuts. And that was the highlight of the weekend for me.”
That night, the Haggards, the Blevinses and the Brittons sat together and talked. And talked. And talked.
Before they knew it, it was the middle of the night. But that hardly mattered. This was a God-ordained appointment, and the clock had nothing to with it.
“We talked that night from about 9:30 (p.m.) until about 2:30 in the morning,” Haggard recalled. “And I can’t tell you what it meant to me to open up like that. … I really needed someone to talk to and say, hey, this is what is going on in my life.”
The three couples became close friends that night, and the tight bond that was formed remains in place to this day. They stay in touch over the phone and through social media, and each year, they look forward to reconnecting at the retreat.
John Parrott, bivocational ministry specialist for the TBMB, said the Haggards’ story is a great example of the bonds that are formed each year at the retreat.
“The bread and butter of the retreat is the relationships that are built among bivocational ministers and their wives across this state,” Parrot said.
Parrot said the retreat, which has grown each year, is built on relationships, both old and new.
“There are two key elements to the retreat’s success — first, the directors of missions who know how to effectively promote the retreat, and secondly, the one-on-one relationships that are developed.”
Patty Haggard remembers that she had some uneasiness when she attended the retreat for the first time. But she said her concerns were quickly erased, and that she now encourages others to put the event on their calendars and make plans to attend.
“We look forward to it every year,” Patty said. “That first year when we came, when they divided us up into the men’s group and the women’s group (for the breakout sessions), I pulled Jim aside and said I can’t leave you. But he talked me into it, and I am so glad he did.”
Patty now seeks out the first-time attendees at the retreat and tries to put them at ease.
“Every year, I tell the newcomers, ‘you can do it,’ ” she said. “It might be difficult at first, but you can do it.”
Jim Blevins said he will never forget the night that he met Jim and Patty Haggard, and said he knows God brought the couples together.
“I remember that me, my wife, Roger and Kathy were just sitting around the fireplace and we saw Jim and Patty,” said Blevins. “And we felt led to ask them if they wanted to come over and fellowship with us and have some doughnuts. And they did. We didn’t have a clue what they were going through in their lives. But we quickly became friends, and we’ve been close ever since.”
“It’s amazing how God used this conference — and a box of doughnuts — to bring us all together,” he said.