On the Road
When Don and Debi Gatlyn visited the Sandhills in 2002, they never dreamed they'd locate their Apostello Missions Training Center in "Bobby Joe Blue's Barn."
"They used to have big barbecues out here," says Don Gatlyn, 49, settling onto a couch in his wife Debi's office at Apostello MTC.
The Christian center is housed in a huge two-story metal building (built around 1973 and dubbed "Bobby Joe Blue's Barn") on Jolinda Road in the small community of Lobelia in the Vass area.
"We heard it was a garage, a used car lot and then a catfish house," Gatlyn says.
Fort Bragg Army training grounds for Special Forces and Green Berets are near Apostello.
"We believe God has placed us here to train 'Special Forces' for His kingdom and to send them out as able ministers of the gospel," Gatlyn says.
He notes that "apostello" is a Greek word for "sent," found in Luke 4:18. In that verse, Jesus, reading from Isaiah and announcing his own ministry, said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."
A guitarist, Gatlyn sings and writes contemporary-worship songs (over 500 since the late 1970s). Debi specializes in drama, speaking and art. Their son, Samuel, a 24-year-old musician, singer-songwriter, works with his parents. The Gatlyns' married daughter, Rebekah, 20, lives in Charlotte but sometimes assists in training Apostello students.
"We've been on the road since the early 1980s," Gatlyn says.
The Gatlyns continue their ministry in churches but now also recruit young people -- youths must be at least 15 years old -- to train for two and one-half weeks at Apostello and accompany the Gatlyns overseas on two-week mission trips, ministering with drama teams. Each participant raises personal trip-cost funds.
A team recently visited England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
"We performed in London's Covent Gardens," Gatlyn says. "After performances, we had discussions with youths and handed out tracts. In Ireland, we encountered some Gothic young people."
The Gatlyns also want to begin scheduling weekend retreats for church youth groups at Apostello (call 910-245-2288 for information; view the Apostello Web site at www.apostello.org or at www.myspace.com/apostello).
The well-kept training center includes a large, high-ceiling drama room, a worship-prayer-lounge area, a lunchroom, offices and two dorms with full showering facilities: one dorm for eight women and one for nine men.
"There's something special about getting young people away from their environments," Gatlyn says. "Our focus is spiritual character building."
"We really get connected to the kids," Debi says. "We become like a family."
Participants "fast" all secular media while attending Apostello sessions.
"They can check their e-mail a little," Gatlyn says. "We arise at 6:30 a.m. and go till about 9:30 at night. Mornings are for Bible study and worship. We practice drama, dance, mime -- the arts -- in the afternoons. Evenings are for intercessory prayer for the nations."
Worked with PTL
During the two weekends team members stay at Apostello MTC, they perform at local churches, practicing dramas (contemporary morality-play kinds of skits written by Samuel Gatlyn) they'll present overseas at churches and outdoor malls.
Don and Debi Gatlyn met at a North Carolina prayer meeting.
Gatlyn and his older brother grew up with Oakland, Calif., roots. His father, Daniel, spent 20 years in the Navy and now serves as an interim pastor in Macon, Ga.
"I was 'saved' young but got back with the Lord at a Jesus festival in Georgia when I was 21," says Gatlyn, who began playing guitar at age 15.
He joined PTL (the "Praise the Lord" TV show) at Heritage U.S.A. in Charlotte and worked six months in the mailroom and over four years as an audio floor-man on the show's set (1978-82). He sang several times on the show.
Debi Trutwin was raised Catholic in Conneaut, Ohio, and has "many siblings." Her father worked as an excavator. Her mother accepted Christ at a Women's Aglow meeting. Debi became a Christian at age 18 and was "filled with the Spirit."
"Before that, I thought everybody who knew God was old," she says.
She worked in a fiberglass company for a year but saw the PTL Show and decided to attend PTL's fledgling School of Evangelism and Arts (1979-80).
"I said, 'I'm going to be a Christian movie star,'" she recalls.
She worked in PTL "security" and met Don at a prayer meeting. They dated nine months and married. Eight months after wedding bells, they "went on the road," home-based from Charlotte's Central Church of God.
"I sang and led worship; she did the preaching," says Gatlyn. (He, Debi and Samuel are now ordained through Maranatha Full Gospel Fellowship, a denomination Gatlyn's father founded.)
Their two children arrived and traveled with the family as Debi "home-schooled" them.
Gatlyn worked as a youth minister (1989-91) for Pastor Bryan Rainbow of Sandhills Assembly in Southern Pines when Rainbow served as a pastor in Morganton.
'A Heart for England'
The Gatlyns first visited the United Kingdom in 1991 with a mission group from Times Square Church in New York City.
"God gave us a heart for England," Gatlyn says.
In 2002, the Gatlyns, working as itinerant evangelists based in Tampa, Fla., traveled to Moore County to lead a revival for Rainbow at Sandhills Assembly. That year they had, for the first time on their own (without a church's sponsorship), organized and escorted a mission group to England. They shared with Sandhills Assembly their vision of founding a training center for youths desiring short-term mission trip experiences. They assumed they'd plant their center in Tampa, but after their Sandhills presentation, a man attending that meeting suggested they locate in the Sandhills. He offered to give them land for their center, but that endeavor "fell through," Gatlyn says.
In the meantime, Bobby Joe Blue's Barn had last been used as a Christian coffee house but then stood empty for at least two years.
The Gatlyns drove to see the building in Lobelia.
"But a wheel bearing on our van went out," Gatlyn says. "It was another four months before we saw the property."
The Gatlyns moved from Tampa to Carthage in November 2002 and considered getting a modular home for their center.
Apostello MTC board members, made up of pastors and business people, encouraged them to look at the Lobelia site, which included the "barn" and four acres.
"The minute we saw the property, we knew it was the place for our school," Gatlyn says.
A Baptist church was eyeing the site, but Gatlyn drew up plans showing how he'd use the property -- and its owner liked those plans.
"Will you give us 10 days to get the money?" Gatlyn asked him.
"Yes," the owner said.
Gatlyn, living with his family "in a 'single-wide' in Carthage," called an Apostello board member, a New York building contractor.
The builder mailed a check and said, "Worry about the financing later."
"On April 15, 2003, we closed on the property and began renovating," Gatlyn says. "The builder who mailed that check brought his family and helped us for eight days."
When not traveling, the Gatlyns attend Mosaic Ministries in Aberdeen, and they deliver food weekly (supplied by Sandhills Food Bank) to 24 families. They plan to take a 15-member mission team to Tokyo, Japan, in the spring.
Steve Crain may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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