Finding Purpose In Simple Obedience

Garlen, Pecos, and Sam at Marc Adams School of Woodworking


Narrow Gate Exchange has been blessed by God with many friends. Garlen Whitis is one of those very blessed friendships. And when we sat down and asked him to retrace how the Lord brought our paths together, the result was a beautiful tale of grace, and how the seemingly pragmatic act of buying a sawmill (of all things) changed his and his family’s life forever, and set him on a path of spiritual growth and transformation.

This is his story…

In 1998, I purchased the largest sawmill model that Wood-Mizer made. The idea was to be able to produce the greatest amount of material in a limited time. The milling business was to provide extra income for my family during my spare time and days off from being a high school Technology Ed. teacher. This income made it possible for my wife to stay home with our three children.

The Lord has been very careful to weave together my interests, talents, and career and church experiences into a story that I sometimes find hard to believe myself. In my twenty years as a Wood-Mizer sawmill owner, I have maintained a relationship with many of their former and current employees and am currently listed on their website as a Pro-Sawyer. This listing has continued to provide opportunities that I would not have otherwise had.

Narrow Gate Exchange was one of those opportunities.

Mike Hanlon, the Missions Coordinator at Wood-Mizer, gave my name to Narrow Gate when they purchased their first mill. Mike called and said, “I gave your name to someone in TN, they will probably be calling you.” And the rest is history.

BEcause of the relationship I have established with Wood-Mizer, I have gone to Africa twice with Heart of Africa, a non-profit from Wilmore, KY. Last year, we went through Zambia observing Wood-Mizers sawmills at work creating opportunities for local people, and then on to Kyenjojo, Uganda to expand the courses offered at Heart and Hands Vocational School for adults.

This year, I was able to return to Kyenjojo and set up a sawmill and basic equipment in a building that we designed last year. We also were able to work with and begin training two young men named Simon and Bright to participate in the Narrow Gate Exchange program. Narrow Gate Exchange is such a blessing to these communities. It will provide a level of training that would be impossible for me to give on site in a few weeks. Also, the Exchange offers so many more chances for Americans to participate in the lives of Africans, because only a few of us go there, but many can assist here. Through NGE, Christians can make a difference in the lives of remote Africans and never leave TN.

In the US, we have divided careers into at least four areas: education, primary processing of raw materials (industrial products), secondary processing (consumer goods), and services. In my experience, we do not have a clear understanding of how these areas should work together and how much they depend on each other. I suppose the divisions could be classified as 1) mortarboard, 2) blue collar, 3) white collar, and 4) the “thirty second blip” producer. I believe that we become more successful in all four of these areas when we work to make them more cooperative and understand that each are vital in our communities. I tell folks that I have at least four full-time jobs, one in each of the above areas.

In the last two generations, the four above areas have experienced nearly catastrophic failures in vital parts of their systems to the point where now many and some would say most citizens (especially men) are left confused, neutralized and almost hopeless when considering their future careers.

The idea that a sawmill is a sustainable business is valid because it makes use of all four areas: education and training, processing local raw materials, converting them into consumer goods, and sales and marketing.  To be genuinely successful, this process must be based on Kingdom principles and openly operated as such with no apology. All glory and honor belongs to the Lord who made heaven and earth.

It is my belief that Narrow Gate Foundation is experiencing great blessing because they are following this model and I have joyously offered my contributions.” Garlen Whitis

So what’s your sawmill? What seemingly simple, practical step is God asking you to take that could potentially launch you on a journey of serving and loving others? Whether your gift is milling lumber or raising babies, teaching physics or writing poetry, there is a place for you in the Kingdom. Step out and use your gifts as only YOU know how.


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