“It is more blessed to give than receive.”
Those are words that Don Thomas, pastor of the Brownstown United Methodist and Emmanuel United Methodist churches has always lived by.
Although material things and money have not always been in bountiful supply in his life, his spirit of giving to others has never wavered.
Meet Pastor Don Thomas, who has become a familiar face and friendly, giving, personality in the Brownstown area, and his wife of 33 years, Marlys, to whom he gives much of the credit.
Beginning the Story … A Dream Job
Seated in the pastor’s church office, Don began with the story of his changed status in life, leaving a job which he loved to do, and his battle with cancer.
“I was a concrete finisher for almost 30 years. I was in the union, and I had what most people would call a dream job,” he said.
“I finally worked my way into a supervisory position. I had a company truck, a company phone, a company credit card for fuel. I no longer had to kill myself making a living. That lasted for a total of six months.”
The cancer was diagnosed after Thomas noticed a small sore inside his left jaw that didn’t go away. When Marlys learned that the sore was still present after a time, she insisted he get it checked.
“Then I found out I had squamus cell cancer of the jaw. We went to get that checked out and found it had gone from stage 1 to stage 4, and had gone into the bone. We did other research and found out that was the only place it was, so we scheduled surgery,” he said. “They removed my jaw bone and took a bone from the back of my leg, repaired that and made a new jaw bone out of the bone from my leg.”
“During my recovery, I kept getting a call from God that there was more I should be doing,” he said.
“I did a lot in our church (where they attended at the time). I taught Sunday school, I served as Sunday school superintendent and, as in small churches, I filled whatever position that was needed, basically.
“But I felt like God was calling me to do more, so I got into lay speaking, and traveling, being able to fill pulpits in some different churches, and different things, and the call was stronger,” he said.
“But then, after being off work for 18 months, I got an opportunity to go back. But it was a lot different, because of my (cancer) treatments, I lost my saliva glands and it was harder to stay hydrated.
“I had lost my supervisory position, so I went back as just an employee. But I loved what I did and it was working out so well,” he said.
“I felt that God was calling us to do something more, but I wasn’t sure what it was. I was putting forth getting back to work, because I felt like there was a short time-span and I needed to make as much money as I could,” Thomas said.
“The concrete work had been my life, and I enjoyed it. Then, after I had been back to work two or three years, I started having trouble with my knee,” he said.
Thomas knew he needed about seven more years of work to get full retirement and decided to get his knee fixed, so he could then continue working for seven more years. Then, he felt he and Marlys could do more, such as missions, after he retired.
“I loved doing things (mission work) in foreign countries, so they talked me into a partial knee replacement,” he said. “A mechanical knee was put in, but it just wouldn’t bend enough to get me back to work, so the doctor wanted to do a manipulation. They put me to sleep to do this.”
The manipulation was done, the site opened up and fluid was present. A biopsy of the fluid found he had three infections present. So the partial knee was removed, and a pick line was inserted running to his heart. And he was placed on three antibiotics twice a week.
A total knee replacement was done later, but it was not a success. Another manipulation was attempted, during which his femur bone was accidently broken, just above the knee. Screws and a plate had to be inserted, as the bone was splitting lengthwise. Another knee replacement was then performed.
“In the process of all of this taking place, I felt the draw to get into the ministry, so we made that decision and I signed up for school. During the time I was getting over all the surgeries (six knee surgeries total), I was doing my homework for school,” he said.
“My left-hand woman, Marlys, was not only encouraging me all this time, she was also doing my typing for me, because I do not know how to run a computer, except to get my e-mails,” he said.
“I now have license in the United Methodist Church, which allows me to take an appointment somewhere, and I am on continuous studies now.” He now fills the pulpits at the Brownstown United Methodist and the Emmanuel Methodist churches.
“When I felt the calling of God, I put my whole life into it.” Thomas said. “That’s the way I’ve been with everything I’ve done in my life.
“I feel that if it is worth doing, it’s worth doing with all my effort. It is a pet peeve of mine to hear a minister say, ‘I can’t do this or that because I don’t get paid for it.’ Well, God takes care of them every day of their life, and if that’s not payment enough,” he said. “The price God paid for us is unpayable.”
Thomas has traveled to Mexico and Haiti on mission trips.
“It is better to Give
Thomas was “in the middle” of 12 children in their family.
“I never looked at us as being poor; I just knew we didn’t have anything. We started earning a living as soon as we were old enough to mow yards or something. I’ve always had a giving heart.
“My dad was a giver. It didn’t make any difference if he had supper or not. If someone needed to eat, dad would give them his supper and do without. So I grew up with that attitude.”
Don and Marlys give of their time, talents, skills, possessions and monetary gifts.
Marlys said that Don has to be careful of what he eats because of his bout with cancer and the treatment. He began cooking foods that he could tolerate in ways that he could manage to eat them. Marlys said she appreciated this, as when she came home from work, she didn’t have to cook supper.
He enjoys cooking so much that he contributes, more than generously, to his church potlucks, the Golden Years Club potlucks and, just recently, a free dinner for the whole community, which was well-attended.
He has always had the spirit of giving and has often given to others when he really did not have the extra to give.
They said that when their children were young, and times were rather hard, Marlys sometimes was concerned about his giving nature. They admitted they sometimes had heated discussions concerning his compassion and generosity to others.
“Now,” he said, grinning, “She is the same way, giving to others.”
Very friendly and willing to help, he is now a member of the Golden Years Club and is now serving as an officer, at the club’s request.
“The people have been absolutely wonderful, and we have started a visitation thing,” Don said.
“I’m in the office on Wednesdays, with a Bible study class in the mornings, and then I hang around usually until approximately 1 p.m.; then I go visiting here in town.” Not pushy, he usually goes where people invite him. He visits the nursing homes on Thursdays, not restricting his visits to members of the church, but also to other residents.
He also visits Brookstone Estates Assisted Living in Vandalia, where a small group now voluntarily wheels their chairs together for group prayer.
When Thomas expressed a wish to have a community garden, his friend and fellow Golden Years Club member, Charles Reece, offered a portion of ground to be used as the garden site.
Thomas is now working with Reece to have a community garden, with the produce raised to be available to anyone in the community. Located in town, it will be easily accessible.
Planting a “Different Seed”
Thomas said that when he was taking treatments for cancer, another patient receiving therapy for cancer often sat next to him in the waiting room. One day, the man was crying because he knew he was terminal and would not live to see the grandchild his daughter was expecting.
Thomas tried to console him and offer him hope by telling him that if he would accept Jesus as his savior, that one day he would see her in Heaven. The man became angry and never again sat near Thomas.
When the man died, Thomas went to the visitation, and the wife and daughter left the casket’s side to meet him, and thanked him profusely for what he did for their husband and father.
Thomas said he hadn’t done anything, and they told him the man had accepted Jesus, and the man told them it was because of what Thomas had said to him that day in the waiting room. A seed was planted and, unbeknownst to Thomas, it gave hope, peace and salvation to a lost soul.
… is petite, soft-spoken and friendly. She was supportive of Don’s calling from the beginning, but they laugh now at her concern of being the “pastor’s wife.” While she usually sits quietly while her husband is talking, she does injet comments at times, and infrequently, even corrects him about a date or time.
While she does sit quietly, her expressive face often mirrors Pastor Thomas’ conversation in charming, engaging and positive ways.
Thomas often used the word “we” in talking about his ministry, which indicated that, in his heart, Marlys is his partner in his calling, as well as their marriage.
“You know, if I did not have those problems with my leg, and had been able to go back to concrete finishing, I don’t think I would ever have got back to the ministry. This is where God wanted us.”
Thomas had the opportunity to pastor another church, but somehow didn’t feel the call there. Shortly afterward, the call to serve the Methodist Churches here came, and they felt this was where God wanted them.
“You touch more people. I really felt like my calling was not so much really to minister to the people or to be a preacher, because I’m really not that good a preacher, I don’t think.
“But what my calling is to guide people to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. I’ve had really had good success in meeting strangers here accidentally, by God’s leading, that developed into a visitation that day.”