serving behind the scenes

By Viki Rife

      “Behind every great man there’s a great woman.” For the past 23 years Tom Avey has served as the Charis Fellowship Coordinator. His responsibilities have included coordinating activities such as conferences, but also he has focused on networking people and churches within the Charis movement. As he approaches retirement this summer, we thought it would be good to hear the story of the woman behind him.

     Sandi Avey has seen many stages of ministry in their nearly 48 years of marriage. “We were both involved in various ministries when we started dating, and our relationship was built on that. It’s who we were,” she shares. “We ministered together. It seemed very natural.”

     Life began to change, however, when children arrived. As Tom moved into pastoral ministry, Sandi had the adjustment of realizing she could not be as involved in ministry with him as she had been. “Our family needed to be a priority,” she shares. She found herself in a balancing act to continue to minister to others while fulfilling her responsibilities as a mother. She was grateful for her husband’s understanding of the family as priority, adding, “Ministry can swallow people up. It’s good to be able to remind them to pay attention to the family.”

     Sandi believes that giftedness does make a difference in how couples work together.  She does not see herself as a speaker and prefers to minister in less formal ways. Her love for serving God, however, had to be redirected to include raising her children. “Sometimes I just wanted to talk with adults so I could know my brain wasn’t becoming totally mush,” she laughs. She notes that each couple has to do a “dance” to figure out how each of them should be using their gifts in ministry as they go through different seasons of life.

     One adjustment for her was that she is very detail-oriented, but found that her husband couldn’t tell her all the details she wanted to know about his ministry. “I came to accept that I didn’t have to know everything,” she reminisces.

When Tom became the Fellowship Coordinator he began to travel a lot. With two children still in school and her job at the Grace College music department, she couldn’t accompany him at that stage of their lives.

“It was a big adjustment,” she remembers. “Things like leaky roofs would always happen when he was gone. Sometimes it was hard when he would call and tell me what a beautiful view he had out the window of where he was staying, and I would think, ‘Thanks for sharing. I’m staring at a computer screen.” She found it helpful to remind herself that when someone is experiencing something wonderful, they want to share it with their loved one. “I felt honored that he wished I was there.”

     When Tom had to have heart surgery while he was on a trip to California, Sandi just “happened” to be traveling with him. She was grateful she was able to walk with him through that time. She found herself having to accompany him in his travels as he was recouping. With many other things going on in her life at the same time, she realized she needed to quit her job.

     One positive outcome of his heart attack, she notes, was an increased realization of how much the Charis Fellowship—“our tribe”—meant to her. The concern of many people, not only in this country but around the world, was a great encouragement. On the other side of ministry, where they were receiving it instead of giving it, she was struck by the reminder, “We are not all there is; they can bless us and we can bless them.” She loves seeing unity as each believer does what he or she can.

     “We’re stronger together,” she underscores. “I love seeing our churches and people helping each other.” She also draws great encouragement from her conviction that everything we do matters. “Time invested in people doesn’t go to waste,” she points out. “Even when things change and you go your separate ways, you can be grateful for the influence they had on you and you had on them.”

     In recent years Sandi has been able to travel more with Tom and gotten to know more people in the Fellowship. She says it has been an honor to meet different people and hear their stories. “I love seeing our different organizations working together. Each has a mission, but rejoices in how God is using the others, too.” She loves seeing how “we’re there for each other,” citing as an example the recent floods in Kentucky where various groups volunteered to help. “People love being part of something bigger, and God will use it for better purposes than we can foresee.”

     After serving for so many years of ministry, Sandi says one of her joys is watching the younger generation of women coming up and helping each other find their gifts and calling. She wants to remind women that although your ministry morphs at different times throughout your life, whether you are a leader or a participant, you can help encourage and build up those around you.

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