A bustling organization with a broad network of Bible studies and community initiatives, Mission Arlington started in the mind and heart of Tillie Burgin after she and her family returned home from the mission field. She and her husband, along with their two children, spent ten years serving as missionary teachers in South Korea. When their tenure ended, Tillie and her husband, Bob, returned to their work in public school administration.
Yet a persistent question kept turning inside of her. “If we could do missions in Korea, why [couldn’t] we do missions in Arlington?” she wondered. No one seemed to have an answer. Despite her attempts to connect with churches, seminaries, and city leaders, the concept of community outreach and enrichment was largely undeveloped.
Unwilling to ignore the gentle prodding in her soul, Tillie persevered. She asked groups of women around the city to partner with her in prayer. A year later, First Baptist Church Arlington invited her to join their staff and develop her program. The church told her, “You can come on staff and do whatever this is you want to do for a year, and if it doesn’t work, you can go back into the schools.”
Tillie took them up on their offer and began a grassroots effort to reach those in need. She stumbled upon an opportunity her first day on the job when a woman called the church asking for help with her electricity. Tillie visited her rundown apartment and later met her son whom she invited to church.
The young man agreed to attend. And when the pastor gave the invitation, “Ken ran down the aisle,” Tillie said. As the service concluded, the pastor told the congregation, “You know, we don’t know what God is up to, but tonight something has happened.” On that weekend in August of 1986, Mission Arlington was born.
It didn’t take long before Tillie realized that people in Ken’s situation wouldn’t feel comfortable coming to the church building or attending a traditional Bible study. Instead, she decided to bring the church to the community.
Within a week, Ken’s electricity was turned back on and furniture was supplied for his apartment. A group of volunteers rallied around Tillie’s vision, and seventeen people showed up for the first Sunday Bible study. “We were all in there together, teaching the Word,” Tillie recalled.
People heard the gospel message and told their friends. Six more studies formed as those who previously felt unwanted also caught the vision. “[We’re] ordinary folks, letting God use us,” Tillie said. There’s a place for everyone—teachers and preachers, plumbers and doctors—who longs to serve the community and see others come to know the Savior.
The mission has multiplied, but the vision stays the same. “We’re praying for workers and doing the same thing we did twenty-seven years ago—trying to help people know the Lord Jesus Christ [and] meeting them at the point of need in their lives,” Tillie said. Mission Arlington currently has over 300 locations and numerous community partners.
Despite her years of service, Tillie has never grown tired or wanted a vacation. She finds so much pleasure in serving others and seeing them come to Jesus that she seldom needs a break and never plans to retire. They key to her longevity is her joy. “It’s fun,” she said.
Tillie often recounts the story of a catholic priest who tirelessly served the needy for ten years. As his work grew difficult and tiresome, he withered and wanted to give up. He felt like an old, rusty pump with nothing left to give. When he shared these feelings with a friend, she challenged him “to dig his well a little deeper.” Tillie strives to live by that message every day.
“We say [God’s] strength is sufficient. Well, is it?” she asked. If we turn to God and trust His promises, we’ll never run dry. “He’s sufficient for the day…He empowers His people.”
Tillie believes that God desires to use each of us in our respective roles and communities. Her advice for finding your place to serve:
- Take a risk – serving calls you to leave your comfort zone and try something new
- Try it – the best way to find where you’re supposed to serve is to start somewhere and see what you enjoy
- Pray – regardless of your age or life stage, you can pray
God desires to use each of us. “The Lord has commissioned all of us…we’re all ministers of the gospel,” Tillie said. With deep faith and a dependent heart, we all can make a difference.
You Can Make a Difference
Looking for ways to serve your community? Here are some great opportunities to partner with Mission Arlington this holiday season.
- Turkey Baskets – gather your family and grocery shop for items like ham, turkey, boxed mashed potatoes, canned fruit and sweet potatoes, rolls, and pie filling. Drop off your donations at Mission Arlington or help them package and prepare the baskets.
- Christmas Store – assist parents as they shop for free gifts for their children. You can help collect toys or serve in the store wrapping gifts, stocking new items, and playing with the children.
- Adopt a Family – adopt a family or child in need this holiday season. Mission Arlington will provide you with a list of sizes and particular needs so that you can give a Christmas blessing.
For more information and additional details, contact Mission Arlington (www.missionarlington.com).
Amanda DeWitt is a freelance writer based in Dallas, TX.