This article was originally published in the November 2018 edition of ITMI Monthly.
Pastor and counselor, Gary Howell, has been on the ITMI team since 2011, quietly serving in the background.
It’s likely you haven’t heard his story. Because the majority of Gary’s ministry is counseling, Gary can’t share too many specific stories from his ministry.
But Gary’s own story is something we don’t want you to miss.
It’s a story molded by deep heartache that has made Gary who he is today and enabled him to serve and help the suffering around him. But it’s also a story filled with joy...and Gary’s dry, ironic humor.
When Gary was 6 years old, he wanted to be a pastor...and a professional baseball player. “I spent years running toward ministry at the same speed I was running away from ministry,” Gary laughs.
Gary met his wife, Candy, when he was 20 and she was 16. Chuckling, Gary said, “When my daughter was 16, I would never have let a 20 year old come around!”
Gary and Candy married young. Gary worked while going to Bible school part-time. Soon the Howells welcomed a daughter into their family.
Two years later, Gary and Candy buried their firstborn daughter.
God blessed them with two more daughters, and Gary started full-time Bible school. He was a year into the course of study when his fourth daughter was born. She had the same condition that took their first. When she was a year old, she became really sick.
Gary went to the dean and dropped out of Bible school with 20 hours left to complete his degree. Two months later, she passed away.
Years later, these painful experiences have shaped Gary’s compassionate heart and his drive to help the hurting.
“When you bury two daughters, you know what it’s like to hurt. When I see people hurt, I can’t stand it. I’m obsessive about getting them out of pain. If I hear of a marriage breaking up, I won’t be able to sleep.”
Meanwhile, Gary spent time working part-time as a youth pastor, helping start churches and speaking at chapels for professional athletes. He was 34 when he enrolled at Liberty University and finished his degree in 2 weeks.
Gary spent time as a college pastor, a pastor of student ministries, a teaching pastor and a counseling pastor. “I love people and I love to speak,” Gary said, then added dryly with a chuckle, “I can talk until I actually say something.”
He felt his biggest impact was as a counseling pastor, and got his masters in counseling. At that time, it was “en vogue” for every church to have a counseling pastor. But they were the first to go when times and budgets changed.
Gary began doing counseling for many churches. He has done that for almost 17 years. He served alongside ITMI’s Steve Evers as an elder for a church plant in Chandler.
Of that experience, Gary says, “I lived chapter one of the SALT material, ‘I Am Not God.’ [I acted like I was God.] It didn’t work.” The SALT material is Biblical living training created by counselors, which ITMI has found to be very effective all around the world.
Gary landed at ITMI in 2011. “ITMI gave me a place to land and the courage to leave [what he was holding on to],” Gary said, “I love the people, I love every [ITMI] partner I’ve ever met.”
Now, Gary counsels people from all over the world, including local believers, not-yet believers, ITMI partners and supporters. Because Gary is not on any church staff, he can counsel any denomination’s pastors who need a safe, private place to turn.
You heard that right. Pastors, missionaries and even counselors... need counseling. Because we live in a sinful world, people hurt each other. And every single one of us can benefit from help working through that hurt and letting Jesus heal our wounds, our lives and our relationships.
We often need an outside perspective to do it - even if we know the Bible and the truths that would set us free, it can be hard to see the forest through the thick underbrush of our own emotion.
At the time of this interview, Gary was counseling 25 couples and about 50 individuals. Counseling both believers and non-believers has led to regular opportunities to share Jesus with many who don’t know Him yet.
Gary’s clients refer people from all faiths and lifestyles to him. He loves to share the restoration and healing that the Gospel brings to each individuals’ issues.
Gary teaches marriage classes. “I love to sit with a couple and watch their marriage heal. I love to introduce them to a community where they can connect if they need it.”
He is authoring a book about, “Understanding your soul ID.”
“God is the ‘Wonderful Counselor,’” Gary says, “He is honing me to understand that counseling is what I have to offer. Counseling is restoration. I love that part.”
Gary loves that he gets to benefit ITMI partners as a byproduct of his counseling ministry.
Your support of ITMI has allowed Gary to be used to help mend so many hurting hearts, and to keep doing what the Lord has shaped him for and called him to - while still supporting his family.
Many of his clients can’t pay for counseling. Some of them are just people he approaches to share the healing Good News with. Your support helps fill the gap. It allows Gary to help people who wouldn’t get it otherwise.
It allows Gary to help people heal and return to spiritual health - which pays great dividends for the Kingdom.
About the Authors
Steve Evers has advocated for and served the ITMI partners as ITMI Director since 2001. Approximately once a year, Steve visits with ITMI partners in their countries and brings stories back to encourage supporters. Steve enjoys photography and mechanics, (both hobbies that have greatly benefited ITMI partners!) Prior to becoming ITMI's Director, Steve served on the Board of Directors for 4 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.