Barbara Avery was in the ICU with a host of health problems when doctors started talking about hospice.
“And I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no. We are going to speak life over Barbara, not death. … You don’t understand, I have to get home and answer emails.’”
At 71, Barbara is sharp as a tack and quick-witted. You’d never know the physical and emotional pain she’s endured—a divorce, losing two adult children and being bedridden for months, just to skim the surface.
That’s also what fuels her passion for telling people about Jesus Christ; He’s the one who’s been there through it all.
Barbara is a trained volunteer email coach with BGEA’s online evangelism ministry, Search for Jesus, where she responds to spiritual questions from people across the globe. She found out about the ministry while she was on oxygen for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and could hardly get out of the house.
“Being house bound didn’t fit with my personality,” she said. “This is so perfect for me because I can serve the Lord right here from my home.”
But Barbara didn’t always feel like serving Him.
‘It Cost Me Everything’
“I remember my life before Christ and it was awful,” she said.
Barbara grew up wealthy—a pool, tennis court, a Mercedes, Neiman Marcus clothes, a sailboat—the whole nine. It was a beautiful life, but ridden with immorality, she said.
“We did not need Jesus. My dad had money. My biggest decision was what to order at the yacht club.”
Barbara had always made fun of Christians until a life-altering circumstance changed everything.
“I had the American dream, all of it. And it cost me everything,” she said. “God took my life apart and then He put it back together and it’s never been the same.”
It’s also never been easy.
Barbara met her husband-to-be at a Christmas party. Once married, the couple moved to a cattle ranch in Mexico—a complete 180 from Barbara’s upbringing.
“I had to break my own horse. That was a disaster.”
Her husband was a heavy drinker, and the couple divorced when their kids were young. He passed away a year ago.
Prior to his death, he and Barbara lost two of their four children.
The first was about four years ago when Barbara’s daughter committed suicide. Five months later, her son—who had completed three tours in Iraq—was killed in a tractor trailer accident.
“My son was just getting his life back together,” Barbara said. “I was like, ‘Lord, why?’ And of course I don’t know why.”
Barbara lives in Kerrville, Texas, a small town with lots of churches about an hour north of San Antonio.
“We’re Jesus freaks,” she said. “All we do is go to Bible study and talk about Jesus.”
But the death of two children so close together brought her churchgoing self to a fork in the road. She’d had enough and had a talk with God.
“I’m going to sit down and chain smoke and watch secular TV,” she said. The longtime smoker had finally quit, but after her son’s death several years ago, she “gave up” and started back. She knew God loved her, but the grief was unbearable. And she let God know about it.
“I’m just waiting for you to come get me because I’m done. I’m done. I just cannot do this,” she told Him.
“When you lose two children, it’s like you have leprosy,” she explained over the phone. People avoided her because they didn’t know what to say. She questioned God and her faith and stopped going to church. “I just didn’t know what to do with life.”
Today, she calls it a “pity party,” and adds, “The Holy Spirit won.”
‘Box of Chocolates Ministry’
It took a year and a half to turn her life back around. She quit smoking again and got rid of her TV.
“I don’t have time. I’m online with Search for Jesus,” she said. She joined the Search for Jesus (SFJ) team this spring.
Every day, people around the world find SFJ’s website, PeaceWithGod.net, which explains the Gospel and gives people a chance to respond. They can also choose to leave a question, which is where Barbara comes in. As a SFJ email coach, she fields many of those spiritual questions.
She tells about one she got from a Muslim who asked, “Is Jesus God?” And the young girl who wondered what she could do to please God.
Before responding, she always prays, asking God to guide her words. She feels the weight of her response, knowing it could be used by God to impact people for eternity.
Another person once wrote in, asking, “Am I too evil for God to forgive me?” Barbara says issues of forgiveness come up a lot.
Ruth Jackson is a SFJ email coach who also serves as a volunteer trainer. She helps review Barbara’s emails.
“It’s like box of chocolates ministry,” Ruth said. “You have no idea what’s going to pop up in your inbox.”
‘I Want to Be Like Barbara Avery’
Ruth has served as a mentor to Barbara, who had trouble getting used to her computer at first. She’s also been a prayer partner as Barbara has been in and out of the hospital.
There’s no pause button for Barbara’s faith sharing, even when she can’t be online. She shared Christ with her Pakistani doctor and with a young woman who cleaned her hospital room.
“I’ve told friends, I want to be like Barbara Avery,” said Ruth. She admires her teammate’s zeal for ministry.
“You can’t just show up and fill in the blanks,” Barbara said about responding to emails through SFJ. “You have got to be dependent on the Holy Spirit to guide you in writing that response.”
“I’m not sure if I had been well and healthy, … I would’ve even been interested in Search for Jesus,” she continued, reflecting on the last several months of online ministry. “I think it’s the neatest thing I have ever done in my life. I have never felt like I was right in the will of God, but I feel that in this ministry. …
“Instead of being homebound, I’m global.”