Where Two Or More Are Gathered

10I was fifteen years old.  A sophomore coming out of a time of rebellion.  I was dealing with a lot of questions and deep hurts.  Some of the questions are still unanswered, some were the creation of youthful immaturity.  But the fact remains, my soul was ripe for harvest.

I was approached one Sunday afternoon about an upcoming mission trip to the former Soviet union with an organization called Student Venture.  “Would you like to come?” he asked.

I blinked.

“Let me ask my parents,” I replied.

How does one ask her parents if she can go to the former USSR for Spring Break? 

Turns out, I didn’t have to do much convincing.  My parents were not only supportive but were quite excited for me to take this trip.  I am indebted to them for their willingness to push my brother and I to experience life to the full. 

And so it came that in March of 1994, I embarked on a journey that would forever alter the course of my life.  And the man who led me on that journey was Gary Varner.  For two weeks, Gary led our team through the streets of Belarus, and on a side trip to Moscow.  Because we were not that far removed from the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, we were treated like rock stars.  It was baffling and exhilerating to be followed and clung to.  We visited schools and shared the Gospel of Christ, we put on night time events, we made friends, we traveled on public trams and buses, we visited Lenin’s tomb and stood before St. Basil’s cathedral, we played wicked April Fool’s day pranks and we laughed much but slept little.

I came home a changed young woman.  Suddenly life was no longer about me.  And I knew I would be back.  Not just because I felt an odd kinship to that area of the world, but because I couldn’t imagine a better way to serve, learn and grow than under Gary’s leadership.

Two more times, I returned to the former USSR with Gary and his wife Carol.  They became a guiding force in my life, pouring countless hours into my development as a young woman.  They prayed for me and with me.  They held me accountable and challenged me.  And they were a grand example of living out the calling of God with passion and zeal. 

I grew such a passion for that area of the world, in fact, that I decided to minor in Russian in college.  I even lived in Ukraine for a time, studying the language and reveling in a culture that has become like a second home to me.  Today, my children are learning Russian.

All of this because Gary took notice of my yearning heart and poured into me as a fifteen year old.  He didn’t have to.  He could have passed me over, assuming me too spiritually immature for such a trip.  But he didn’t.  He believed in me and he continued to encourage me throughout those very confusing years called adolescence.

Over the years, as life ebbed and flowed, I lost contact with Gary and Carol on a regular basis.  We kept up via the cyber world and through mutual friends and I learned how Gary’s ministry in Russia grew and expanded.  For some reason, the door never really opened for me to go on another trip with Gary.  Part of that was my fault – I let the business of life convince me that taking off on a mission trip for two weeks was simply too difficult.  Part of it was simply circumstances.

This past November, Gary was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.  And he has been in a fight for his life since that moment.  A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to see my former mentor again – to soak up his wisdom and wit in person once more.  And I realized how much I had missed him.  And in the three hours that I spent sitting in Gary’s living room, he blessed me in a most profound way.

The cancer, and the treatment required to fight this particular brand of disease, has left him in a lot of pain and with little ability to do much other than sit, think and pray.  And, of course, pour into the hearts of those who come to see him.

When my friend Lindsey, who was with me visiting Gary, asked him what his times with the Lord have been like he stopped and thought.  “I can tell you what they haven’t been,” he said with a smile.  “I determined from the moment I heard the diagnosis that I would not ask God ‘Why.‘  It’s not my position to question the Sovereignty of the God of the Universe.  And to be quite honest, God doesn’t owe me any explanation.”

I’ve mulled over Gary’s words quite a bit in the last couple of months.  And I have fought the urge to ask the question myself.  But Gary is right.  God is Sovereign.  I don’t understand Him.  I’ll never understand Him.  For all of eternity, I will be in awe of Him.  So who am I to question His Sovereignty?

This Sunday, June 27  has been deemed an International Day of prayer for Gary Varner.  For over twenty years, Gary served overseas, working with orphans, teenagers, newlyweds, and the elderly.  He has been the hands and feet of Christ and the thousands who have directly benefited from his sacrificial love want to gather now on his behalf.

Would you consider joining with us in prayer for Gary this Sunday? 

Here are a few ways you can pray:

  • Pray for a miraculous healing of Gary’s body.  Medically speaking, the kind of cancer that Gary has doesn’t look good.  But we serve a God who is the Great Physician – the Gentle Healer.  May we pray with boldness, placing our urgent request before Him.
  • Pray for Gary and his wife Carol as they deal with the stresses of chemotherapy.  The regiment Gary is on now is brutal – pray for strength to endure.
  • Pray for Gary’s children.  His son, Lt Clayton Varner is currently stationed in Iraq.  Pray for his safety and return to the US in August.  Gary’s daughter, Jessica, is currently serving in Athens, Greece with Campus Crusade for Christ.  Pray for her safety and protection in that unstable environment.
  • Pray that Gary, who is also an accomplished writer and author, would be able to finish the second installment of his popular novel.  Outside of missions, Gary has a deep love for writing, but the chemo has left him unable to finish his book.  Pray that he would have miraculous moments of clarity throughout his days to be able to release the creative giant inside.  As a writer myself, I know and understand how desperate it feels to have pent up creativity and no way to release it.

I’m sorry this post was so long, but my urgent and desperate hope is that thousands of people would unite and lift this man up on Sunday and that together we would all be partakers in God’s unfailing miracles.

If you would like to join the thousands who will be praying for the Varners, would you do me a favor and leave a comment letting me know?  I’d like Gary and Carol to have tangible evidence of the working and moving of the Spirit through the faithful prayers of many. 

Thanks everyone!


  1. Kelli – so well put! Thank you! I will make sure Gary sees this.

    Is there a way I can post this to my page???

    PS “Grease is the word” comes to mind whenever I think of you on a “Russia” trip!!! LOL Humor is a great medicine!!

    Love you!

  2. Amy Branson says

    That mission trip changed my life as well–opened up a whole new world–literally and figuratively. Gary is one of the first people I met who could intelligently explain his faith and share it with anyone, anywhere–a Paul of our day for sure. I know I’ll be praying on June 27.

  3. Polly Blomquist says

    Praying for Gary.

  4. Yes, Carol – there are many memories of those trips that make me laugh. Singing Grease in the hallways of the hotels, Calling Gary and pretending to be the Russian desk manager telling him our passports were being confiscated, Aaron Samuelson and the other guys being “hypnotized” the the circus ring leader, Jesus Man, Polly and I laughing until…well…

    So many sweet memories. 🙂

  5. We will definitely pray for Gary and his family on Sunday!

  6. I shouldn’t have said that we would pray for him on Sunday as that sounds like that is the only day we will pray, we will pray everyday including Sunday for Gary and his family.

  7. Nancy and Jerry Zykan says

    We are praying to, but will be praying more frequently throughout the day on Sunday.

  8. Danny & Diana Brown says

    We continue to lift our specials friends up in prayer. What an awesome day to see God working through out the work!

  9. Tom Crowe says

    We will be praying. I just got back from leading a trip of 12 students to Mexico, building a house and loving on kids. Gary put a spark in my life for missions and to lead others on mission trips. I can only hope and pray that my life will touch as many students as Gary’s.

  10. I and whole my relatives will pray for Gary and his family on this Sunday.
    But we pray for him every day.

  11. Charlotte M. says

    We will be continuing to lift up Gary, especially on Sunday. I loved the story. Brings to mind Rev. 12:11
    “They overcame him[Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death”. We are praying for a healing miracle, that Gary’s time here is extended to 80+ years, but in that throng someday, you will be there because of the blood of the Lamb and the word of Gary’s testimony, and others will be there because of YOUR testimony–glory to God! This is why we are here-and-now still! Thanks for blogging the power, and we are asking for the grace and mercy of our Sovereign God to rest with the Varners, and for the power of God to sustain and heal Gary.

  12. Lynda Habertberger says

    Steve and I will be Alaska Sunday and will be praying

  13. Will continue to lift Gary and his wonderful family up in prayer. Praying with an expecting heart that he will be healed!!!

  14. Thank you for the sharing in such a beautiful way your experiences with Gary and Carol. They contintue to bless and encourage so many of us by their lives of service and devoted hearts. I will continue praying, but will be especially mindful on Sunday.

  15. Melissa says

    Thank you for sharing. You are very blessed to have met him and shared what you have. It’s amazing how some people are put into our lives to shape us into the people we are today. I will definitely be praying for Gary and his family.

  16. John, Ellen, Allison Meaodws says

    As next-door nieghbors of the Varner family for seventeen years, we too, have been blessed with Gary’s friendship and presence in so much of our lives and will be praying for Gary and family on this special day, as every day.

  17. Dave Beerbower says

    I have also been blessed with traveling to Russia with the Varners and with Kelli. It is a life changing experience and Gary’s passion is what got most of us started. I will be fervently in prayer with you all on Sunday.

  18. Vonita Hill says


    What a beautiful tribute to this Godly man. I will join with you in prayer on Sunday.

  19. candy martin says

    Beautifully written Kelli. I am so thankful for godly mentors in your life. I was blessed to work with Gary with our youth and also take a trip to the Ukraine. He has touched so many lives with the gospel. I will continue praying for Gary, Carol, Clayton and Jessica. We have a mighty God.

  20. Anonymous says

    YES!! Of course, my family will also join in prayer for Gary’s healing. Gary and Carol introduced me to the mission field when I had the honor of traveling with them to St. Petersburg, Russia. I’ve been on several other mission trips since and I look back and realize that Gary and Carol set the bar high. No one prepares you as well for the culture as Gary, no one knows the history of the people as well as Gary, no other mission trip was as well organized as my trip to Russia (I think thanks to Carol!) Their trips are always so focused on loving the people as Jesus loves them. The Varners have certainly changed my life forever because of their passion to share the Lord in the utmost places. I am forever grateful. We are praying for a miracle so amazing that we know only God could have accomplished it. We love you Gary, Carol, Clayton, and Jessica!

    Christe Boen Mirikitani

  21. Everything is in God’s hands… Let’s pray together for this great man and his family, the wisdom of whom have touched me through your post. His determination to not ask “Why?” means a lot.

  22. James from Cambodia says

    I know and believe that all things work for the good for Gary and his family. God is God! May His name be glorified in and through brother Gary. Thanks for giving me opportunity to be part.

  23. diane stolzberg says

    I am praying for Gary and his family. Sunday, we will keep them in our prayers and hearts all day. What an awesome God we have.

  24. Anonymous says

    will be praying, too!

  25. will be lifting up a good man…

  26. Russ and Barb Elwood says

    We greatly love and admire the Varner’s and have been praying and will be participating in the international day of prayer. Praise our Loving God that He never leaves or forsakes us.
    St. Louis, MO

  27. We will pray for him. Thank you for sharing. Blessings to his whole family.

  28. We will pray for him too. (My Grandma is actually in Belarus this morning with her “Belarussian family” (a pastor’s family that she has worked with for years!). So Belarus is on my heart this morning. What a great testimony!

  29. Sarah H says

    I’m praying!

  30. Mark and Jan Finelli says

    We have been praying and thinking of y’all during the day. Thank you for being a special inspiration in our lives. Mark and Jan. St. Louis, MO

  31. My entire church (Christ Memorial Lutheran in south county) prayed for him this morning…right down your bullet list.

  32. Mark & Kelli says

    We pray for healing and strength for Gary.

  33. Wow. I’m overwhelmed and grateful to all of you who commented and shared and prayed. I know you were joined by hundreds, if not thousands more. And we all wait in hopeful expectation knowing and trusting in God’s glory and greatness.

  34. Virginia:-) says

    I will join you in prayer as well!

  35. MIchele says

    Gary and his family were in our prayers today and will remain in our hearts and minds.

  36. Rick and Ann says

    We continue to pray for healing and strength for Gary and Carol. We love you!

  37. Chuck and Louise Koeshall says

    Dear Carol and Gary, Praying for you Sunday and continuing to pray for God’s will in your life to be healing. We pray that His peace will overcome you and His energy will fill you!

  38. Phil Varner says

    Gary is a blessing and an amazing brother…….I continue to be so proud of him and pray for his healing daily.
    It is so exciting to see, how Gary continues to give the Lord all the Glory and how the Lord uses this terrible disease to bring so many to a personal relationship to HIM.

    I Love you Bubba……….you are a special gift. You have and continue to change lives, including mine, to Gods Glory.

  39. Ashton says

    So many people have been influenced by Gary, myself included. He is always in my prayers no matter what time of day.


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