Gwen Eiland always enjoyed a visit from her good friend, Carol Dobson.
“She was so sweet and I just loved her, but she was kind of special to me,” Gwen remembered. “One day, when I opened the door, she took my hand and squeezed it. When I looked, I saw she had put a fifty-dollar bill in my hand.”
“I said, ‘Carol, what is this for?’ And she said, ‘It’s just because I love you.’ She was just that kind of a pastor’s wife; she was special.”
It’s easy to love Gwen Eiland. At age ninety-six, her steps are a bit slower than they once were, but her mind is sharp and her heart is big. And like Carol, Gwen was a pastor’s wife herself.
She and Clarence married in 1941 while he was a young seminary student and she was a member of one of the churches he pastored.
“My husband’s dad was a pastor,” Gwen said. “We have a picture with six different Eilands who were preachers.”
“When we got married, Clarence served two half-time churches in Pine Island and Gillum. We soon moved to Plain Dealing and Vinton and those were half-time churches, too. Our first full-time church was at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. That was a good start; we felt like we were really progressing.”
The churches were small in those days and so were the salaries.
“We were paid $25 a week, we had no insurance, the church didn’t pay any retirement, and it was just that little salary that we had for the week,” Gwen said. “There was nothing provided for the future.
“Back then, you didn’t realize it wasn’t very much,” she noted. “I just thought that was how things were supposed to be and what we were supposed to get as a pastor. My dad had a grocery store and my mother sewed a lot so that helped us.”
Clarence and Gwen continued in pastoral ministry for forty years, raising two daughters while starting and serving churches in Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Their income varied over time and only a few churches made retirement plan contributions.
“When we left our last church, we knew that we really didn’t have a full retirement so we had to do something,” Gwen said. “I had a cousin who was an interior decorator and she said we could come work for her. We moved to New Orleans and I made draperies and Clarence made top treatments for the windows. That was our life for several years.”
After Clarence died in 1986, Gwen moved back home to northwest Louisiana to care for her aging mother.
“I lived on his Social Security and, fortunately, the Lord had let us buy a home through some friends while we were working. We had sold that home and I had a little savings left to live on. My mother and dad gave me this house after she died.”
It was Gwen’s pastor, Jimmy Dobson, who introduced her to Mission:Dignity, a ministry of GuideStone Financial Resources that helps retired Southern Baptist ministers, workers, and their widows living on low incomes.
“He came to visit one day and wanted to ask me a personal question about my finances. We talked and then he told me about this program. He asked if I would mind if he turned my name in. I said, ‘Of course not.’”
Gwen’s first check from Mission:Dignity arrived in January 1998 and she has been receiving monthly assistance from the ministry ever since.
“When we get old, God looks after us and takes care of us and not just in the big things. It’s also in the small ways that we don’t always realize,” she said. “He holds our hand and is there for us in every way.
“Mission:Dignity has helped me with my living expenses. It helps me with my medicine; it helps pay my taxes every year. It just helps me in a lot of ways.
“I’m especially thankful to all the people and churches who contribute to this program,” Gwen said.
“Knowing they are giving and praying for me, I love them.”
And those Southern Baptists are giving and praying for the same reason: “Because we love you.”
Mission:Dignity assists nearly 1,800 aged pastors and their widows, many of whom served small churches in rural areas with modest incomes and little or no benefits. Sixty percent of Mission:Dignity recipients are widows with one in four a pastor’s widow over the age of eighty-five.
For churches, Sunday school classes, and others interested in supporting Mission:Dignity, GuideStone provides free bulletin inserts, promotional posters, and a DVD with several brief testimonies of people assisted by Mission:Dignity. The materials are undated and can be used anytime.
The free resources can be ordered at MDSunday.org or by texting MDORDER to 41444 from a mobile device. Individuals wishing to donate, or wishing to refer potential recipients, to Mission:Dignity can do so through MissionDignity.org.
John Ambra is director of development for GuideStone Financial Resources and is a member of Ovilla Road Baptist Church in Ovilla, Texas.