The Lasting Legacy of Influence
Recently, the life and ministry of Barbara O’Chester were recognized in a chapel service at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Barbara has faithfully served the Lord alongside her husband Harold who has been a pastor for more than 70 years. Lovingly called “Preacher,” Bro. Harold quickly acknowledges that much of the apparent success of his gospel ministry is credited to his gifted wife. Barbara not only supported her husband as the pastor’s wife, but she has also fulfilled her personal call from God to women’s ministry in their own church and beyond. She is well-known for her Great Hills Women’s Retreat Ministry which reached thousands of women across the country from 1975 to 2003 with solid biblical teaching and leadership training.
I was blessed personally to attend and speak for many of those amazing weekend retreats. As a newlywed and young woman in ministry, I learned from Barbara O’Chester that godly influence can leave a lasting legacy. If influence is the power to change or affect someone, then Barbara O’Chester has had a profound influence on me. She significantly impacted my personal life and ministry which continues to bear fruit today. Let me share with you five specific lessons that I learned from Barbara that have greatly shaped me and I pray have shaped other women through me.
1.) Submission – Barbara was never hesitant to use this “s” word. As a strong-willed young woman, I bristled when I first heard her teach about submission. Every word from her mouth to women of all ages was straight from Scripture: “Submit yourself willingly to the Lord, those in authority over you, and to your husband.” In fact, biblical submission was so foundational in her teaching that she required all women, married or single, to attend her session on submission when they first attended a retreat. The Holy Spirit convicted my heart through her teaching that submission to my husband was a natural response to submission to God.
2.) Family – Barbara loves her family and quickly gushes about their many accomplishments. She faithfully reminded women that God created us specifically to nurture our families. While she did not criticize women who work outside of the home, she challenged all women to serve their husbands and children, ministering first inside their homes. As life and church ministry became busy for me, her solid teaching on the home kept me grounded and focused on the main thing. My husband and my home are my first ministry.
3.) Modesty – Barbara taught us very specifically about modesty. She urged women to remember that our bodies are a temple of God which must reflect His image. In fact, she required all teachers/leaders in the retreat ministry to wear dresses or skirts to reflect our femininity and be well-covered to illustrate modesty. She insisted that her team dress appropriately to be godly role models for others. I hear her speaking when I shop and purchase only clothing which is beyond reproach.
4.) Service – Barbara taught about spiritual gifts and Christian ministry from the biblical perspective. She encouraged women to discover their own gifts and use them appropriately in ministry. She warned about serving outside of God’s gifting which would lead to burnout and frustration. During one of Barbara’s retreats, God taught me clearly that I was to teach from His Word and through my personality, not imitating the speaking or teaching style of others. What a joy to serve the Lord in the unique ways He has gifted us.
5.) Leadership – Barbara encouraged women to lead according to biblical guidelines in the home and in the church. Her emphasis was on servant leadership. She challenged Christian women to lead like Jesus, serving all people and not seeking to be served. I learned these leadership lessons as a ministry wife supporting my husband’s call and in women’s ministry within my church and beyond.
Barbara once shared her mantra with ministry wives: “Love the Master, love the man, and love the ministry.” Her legacy of influence will continue through generations of ministry wives and Christian women who pass along these biblical truths to other women in their own homes and churches. Join Barbara and me in leaving a lasting legacy of godly influence!