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Pam Tebow describes 'fishbowl' experience

Tuesday, Jun 19, 2012
By Tammi Reed Ledbetter

NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Well-versed in living a "fishbowl" experience, Pam Tebow, mother of NFL quarterback Tim Tebow and a former missionary to the Philippines, joined Jeannie Elliff, wife of the International Mission Board's president, for the Pastors' Wives Conference June 18 prior to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans.

Tebow challenged the ministers' wives to appreciate the interest others have in their lives and use it as an opportunity for influence.

"That's not a bad thing," Tebow said of a fishbowl experience. "There are such advantages and great accountability. Use your influence intentionally because that's why God created you -- to glorify Him."

Tebow urged the audience to get to know the Master, learn from His manual, discover the power of prayer, develop a biblical mindset that focuses on eternity, care about their mission and remain passionate about God and the opportunities He has given them to influence their children.

"When we invest in our kids, husbands and ministries of our churches, those are things that last forever," Tebow said. Her testimony provided highlights of her ministry with her husband in the Philippines and as the mother of five children.

Aware that many of those investments do not yield immediate appreciation, Tebow said, "We're not patted on the back and we don't get a lot of accolades when we do things on behalf of children, husbands and churches, but God notices and He rewards you eternally for what you do for the cause of Christ."

Elliff, a former pastor's wife and missionary, traced the hand of God in her life as she recounted the touchstones that point to the promises of God's deliverance found in Psalm 34:15-19.

Growing up in a non-ministry family, she married a preacher, Tom Elliff, who pastored nearly 20 years before God called them to the mission field of Zimbabwe. Their departure was bittersweet, leaving within a year after Tom's father walked away from a 43-year marriage. "We were like two little kids holding on to each other," she said, recalling the night her husband learned of his father's lapse in moral character.

Still in their mid-30s at the time, Elliff said they were crushed and scared. "After that, things began to happen in our lives that really proved our faith."

There was the act of sabotage that wrecked the car she was driving in Zimbabwe, throwing three of the four children out of the car and leaving their 14-year-old daughter on the highway pinned under the vehicle and eventually requiring a return to the States for medical care.

Then, a 20-year pastorate began with recovery from the monumental debt the church had incurred in previous years. Later, their 16-year-old son was hit by a car in which the driver was killed. In one year both of her parents died leaving her with the responsibility of selling their house and belongings.
Then there was the fire that destroyed their home in Oklahoma, followed soon after by an F5 tornado that exploded the condominium to which they had moved. A knee injury forced her husband to preach from a wheelchair during his three-month recovery, and her two battles with breast cancer taught her that he was a better nurse to her than she was to him.

At one time 11 of their grandchildren lived overseas. "Tom and I cannot grieve over the sacrifice we make in being away from our children," she said, calling the nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries and their 4,000 children "the world's unknown heroes."

"When God broke my heart for missions as a pastor's wife and helped me get out of myself and the issues I was struggling with, I realized it's not just about me," she said. After developing an interest in the IMB, she realized it is only in eternity that the sacrifices of missionaries will be fully known. "Join me," she said, "in getting to know who they are."

Parenting preachers' kids was the focus of a roundtable discussion led by Susie Hawkins, author of "From One Ministry Wife to Another," joined by Elliff, as well as Carmen Howell of Daytona Beach, Fla., Elicia Horton of Kansas City, Mo., and Cindy King of Philadelphia.

Begun in 2005 as a pre-convention session of the annual meeting, the event is operated on a shoestring budget with LifeWay Christian Resources and the North American Mission Board underwriting much of the funding necessary to rent space and cover travel expenses of outside speakers.

The session was opened in prayer by one of the most experienced women's ministry leaders in the country, Barbara O'Chester of Wake Forest, N.C., with Kathy Litton, national director of the North American Mission Board's ministry to pastors' wives, closing the session with a guided prayer applying the principles taught on behalf of preacher's kids.

Litton encouraged wives of ministers to check out NAMB's online resource at www.flourish.me as well as www.contagiousjoy4him.com for pastors' wives and other women serving in ministry.
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Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist Texan.

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