ArticleMissionary Life

Celebrating 37 Years of Ministry: Gil and Denise Thomas

God called the Thomases into ministry with a simple question: “Why can’t I go?”
During their time in Portugal, the Thomas family leveraged music as an avenue for ministry.
The Thomases’ journey to the mission field started with a flat tire, when Gil pulled over to assist Denise with her car.

They were married six months later. Their mutual passion for missions, and an encouraging challenge from missionaries Jon and Marilyn Rust, prompted Gil and Denise to pursue ministry in Portugal with ABWE in 1984. They served there for 23 years doing church planting before being called back to the International Headquarters in 2008 to join Good Soil Ministries.

Q: How did God first call you to missions?

A: (Gil) I gained an interest in ministry while working at a Christian camp in New York for six years. While at Clarks Summit University, I decided against majoring in music because I wanted to be involved in ‘real ministry,’ which is a silly notion when I look back on how God used music during our years in Portugal. God impressed upon me the need for church planting, and so during junior year I asked myself, ‘Why can’t I go?’

(Denise) I grew up attending a missions-oriented church in Michigan and always loved hearing the inspiring stories from visiting missionaries. My grandparents were also involved in ministry, and so I thought I might follow in their footsteps when I got older. In college, I dedicated my life to ministry service at a missions conference.

Q: What is the best part of being a missionary?

A: The best part is serving God and playing a part in his work in other people’s lives. We also enjoy getting to know other cultures and helping to develop others spiritually.

Q: What moment had the biggest impact on your ministry?

A: A significant moment in our ministry occurred when ABWE missionary Jack Shifflet approached us about training teams in other countries. Soon, I was traveling around Europe teaching our field teams. In 2005, I was part of a group of ABWE missionaries who gathered to develop a cross-cultural evangelism, discipleship, and church-planting training curriculum for the mission, which eventually led to us being enlisted to expand the training worldwide.

Q: What is your favorite memory from the field?

A: Our favorite memories from the field relate to what we did musically. The surrounding ABWE church plants in Lisbon formed a joint-church choir that would perform multiple times each December. Some of the concerts were held in public venues such as theaters and town halls. As we introduced the different songs, we were able to present the gospel.

Q: What advice would you give someone considering cross-cultural ministry?

A: (Gil) A lot about being a missionary is not just getting to the field but staying there. One key is to form close friendships with the local people. Seek out a close friend who will be a partner in Christ.

(Denise) Develop yourself in hospitality, which is a wonderful way to serve—especially in Europe. [Europeans] take mealtime very seriously. Familiarize yourself with the national dishes and cuisine.

“Gil and Denise were very often the first to volunteer to go and meet a new need, giving up their personal goals for the good of the team. Gil led by example, pushing himself beyond the status quo and challenging others to try things beyond their imagined limits.” — Jon Rust, retired ABWE missionary

About the Author

Loren Skinker serves as a communication specialist with ABWE and managing editor for Message Magazine. He graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in communications and English.

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