Throughout one's life, the focus of intent, or mission, sometimes changes. Such has been the case for Larry Freed.
Born a PK (preacher's kid) in West Virginia, there was one constant in his young life - the reality that, as the son of a United Methodist minister, he was going to move every two to three years as his father's ministerial assignments changed.
After high school, Freed attended Penn State University, from which he graduated with a degree in engineering science. Not long afterward he took a job with Bell Labs; however, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
The Rev. Dr. Larry Freed, lead pastor at the Christian Church at Cogan Station, and his wife, Sharon, a retired school teacher spent time in the fall in the Philippines where they serve part-time as facilitators with One Mission Society.
He married the former Sharon Warner, who he had met at the State College Free Methodist Church, after completing his basic training in 1970. Over the next few years he served in Vietnam and South Korea, during which time God pointed him in another direction - the ministry.
Once his service stint was over, Freed attended Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., where he received a master of divinity degree before taking his first pastoral assignment. He later received his doctorate in ministry to marriage and family from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
A father of four and grandfather of eight, with another on the way, Freed has been in the pastorate for 27 years and in full-time ministry for 36 years. Initially with the Free Methodist Church, he held charges in Port Allegheny and Austin for seven years before moving to Loyalsock Township as the pastor at Light and Life Chapel where he served for five years (1983-1988). He then worked nine years as the director of the Family Life Institute at Tressler Lutheran Services in Williamsport before coming on staff at the Christian Church at Cogan Station from 1997 to present, where he now serves as the lead pastor.
The events in his life during the last year alone are testament to change and his being open to it as he is directed by God.
What's the plan?
"What's your game plan for the second half?"
That is a question Freed asked those who attended a recent workshop he presented at the International Conference on Missions in Indianapolis, Ind.
"We really help people look at the fact that most of us, just like in a football game, live out two halves. The first half we're focused on success - we're starting a family, we're starting a career, we're trying to earn a living and it's pretty much success-oriented," he said.
"Somewhere around midlife, late 30s all the way into the 50s, there's kind of like a quiet voice inside of us that asks 'is there more to life than what I am doing?' For some who listen to that voice, all of the sudden they begin to shift and their life begins to look at significance - 'what kind of legacy am I going to leave? How am I going to spend the rest of my life?' " Freed continued.
"For us, in the U.S., we're starting to see retirement in a whole different way because most of us are living longer; we're healthier. We're retiring these days and maybe have as many as 20 to 25 more years of good active life. Most of us have some kind of retirement funds, as well as Social Security, and it's, 'how are you going to spend the second half of your life' "?
"My advocating is to spend it in some kind of work for the Lord, be it stateside or overseas," he said.
"Over the last year, Sharon and I began to look at what happens after I step down as the lead pastor 'retire,' because we didn't want to follow, like many baby-boomers, the traditional retirement where you do the snowbird thing in Florida. We're both healthy and very active and still want to keep at it, so it's like, 'God, what do you want us to do?' " Freed said.
"We had mapped out four main goals. The primary one was to invest in our grandkids. We want to make a difference there.
"A secondary one was, in ministry you are ministering to a whole congregation and so when we step back, we really want to just focus on our neighborhood.
"Third, we want to travel. We've always been campers. A few years ago we purchased a fifth-wheel and
our goal at that time was to go full-time, but then along came grandkids and that goal all of the sud
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"But the fourth one was we wanted to continue to serve God, primarily in missions. Our mind set was short-term mission trips and we weren't sure what that meant. We went to the National Missionary Convention two years ago in Lexington, Ky., and were just awed by the thousands who were there and the hundreds of mission organizations. It was like, 'wow, Lord, what do you want us to do?' " Freed said.
"We began to pray about it and last October (2011) we took a trip to Arizona where we visited a couple of (American) Indian reservations. (First) we visited some friends who have been ministering to the Navajos in northwestern New Mexico and came away saying, 'no, this is not where God wants us.'
"Then we went down to an Apache reservation. We had been introduced to a couple and we fell in love with what they are doing. They're really making an impact," he said.
"We were looking at that (as) one of the places to go and thinking about some of the couples in the church who are campers. We could put together a trip a year, go and sight-see and work a couple of weeks or a month. They really need the help," Freed said. "(But) then God began to send us in a different direction."
At last year's International Conference on Missions in Atlanta in November, he and Sharon went "with the conviction that we would really try to discern what God wanted us to do."
None of the workshops "wowed" them, so they decided to work the exhibit floor, determining to talk with any missionary group that would engage them. They had narrowed their choices down to four mission groups by Saturday afternoon, the last day of the event, when Sharon abruptly said, "Oh, there's OMS."
The Freeds first encountered OMS (One Mission Society) some 40 years earlier while they were in Korea where, in addition to Larry's military job as an engineer, their volunteer job was working at the main post chapel in Seoul, where they oversaw the education and mentored a youth group. One of the youths in the group was Julie Hunt, whose father, Everett, was responsible for OMS' work in Korea.
After returning stateside and while a senior at seminary, they went to OMS headquarters in Indiana while they were trying to discern whether God wanted them in the mission field or in the pastorate. Larry entered the pastorate and OMS dropped off the map for them.
OMS started in 1901 in Japan. Originally it was known as the Oriental Missionary Society, started by Charles and Lettie Cowman, who helped train pastors and evangelize Japan. Their effort was to reach every home in Japan with the Gospel.
Freed's interest was renewed by his wife's comment and, when one of those working the OMS booth came out and engaged him, things got even more interesting.
They learned that neither originally had expected to attend the convention and only did so at the last minute. Initially, the Freeds were told about the typical short-term mission opportunities that were available. While interesting, it didn't sound like an exact match. It wasn't until Larry began to explain the ministry background of both he and Sharon, a school teacher, that things began to click.
Larry explained, "missions is in the process of shifting and changing. More and more nationals are taking on the work in their own country. Although there will always be a need for resident missionaries, what they are finding is they need more and more facilitators, individuals who will go to the mission field for short periods of time but on a consistent, repeating basis to train, coach and encourage nationals. They don't need to reside there; the nationals know what to do and are doing it well."
OMS is in 58 countries around the globe and its work is exploding. At the end of 2011, Freed noted, 674,000 people came to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and they started 5,879 new churches. In recent years in Africa alone, he said, more than 21,000 churches have been planted and 1.7 million people have come to Christ. Similar growth is happening in South America and Asia, but not so much in the U.S. and Europe, Freed added.
OMS representative Mike Dragon explained that his organization also is seeking those who are older, experienced, have specific skills and are getting to the place in life were they are free to fill positions such as a shepherd, who goes into the field once or twice a year to provide pastoral care for the nationals and missionaries, and church multiplication facilitators, who go to the field three to four times a year for two weeks each time to train, coach, encourage and provide prayer support.
"For the first time I was in touch with a missions group that actually was addressing the skills God has trained me with. I've been a trainer. I've been a coach. I've been a counselor," Larry said.
While excited, he and Sharon put the matter to prayer. Last January they attended a conference to learn more about the positions and, when asked which way they were leaning, Larry had greater interest in being a facilitator, but not on a full-time basis because he plans to continue in his position at the Cogan Station church for another year and seven months.
Trip to Bangkok
In March, they went to Bangkok, Thailand, for a prayer team training session.
"It was the best thing in the world. Sessions during the day were training in one of the church multiplication methods, but in the evening we met with every national individually and we got to talk to them about their ministries and families. We began to build relationships," Larry said.
For various reasons, they were led to those from the Philippines and, in October, spent several weeks there.
"We went to see if we liked the work in the Philippines and they were checking us out," Freed said.
During the first three days they attended a summit, during which time a clear vision was developed by the group on establishing new churches.
A day later they began their travels, which included meeting with church-planting teams in seven areas.
"A typical day was we would get up and travel for a couple of hours and then we would meet with the team, then go to the hotel and travel the next day," Freed said.
The first weekend Larry also preached on Sunday in Battan Province, where the infamous Death March took place during World War II.
Their final weekend was spent in Baguio, where Larry and Sharon were the speakers at a retreat for the church planters and their spouses.
When they left the Philippines on Monday to return to New York City where their flight had originated, they were headed into the teeth of Superstorm Sandy.
"Our flight was to arrive at 10 p.m. Monday, but they redirected us to Toronto, where we rented a car and then drove home," Freed said. Two days later, they retrieved their car which, although parked underground at a hotel garage near JFK Airport, was OK.
"Every four months, from here on out, we will head to the Philippines for two weeks. Because of our background, we bring something a little bit different than just standard church planting, church multiplication training. We're planning on doing a lot of stuff in the area of family parenting, couples conferences. We bring a more consistent coaching approach, with lots of encouragement and lots of prayer," he said
Through Skype and Facebook, the Freeds stay in touch and continually interact with those under their care even when they are not in that country.
"There are all kinds of opportunities opening up and we sometimes don't know about it. Many people are saying, 'Retirement is not the same for us, we want to keep active and we don't want to just play.' We are finding entrepreneurs, CEOs, people who are saying, 'We can do something different,' " Freed said.
Part of gearing up for the future is reshuffling how he allocates his time. Freed now counsels only those he has counseled in the past or those in a crisis who can't get referred. Also a long-time Civil War re-enactor, he has resigned his commission as the national chaplain for the Sons of Union Veterans.
"There are all kinds of organizations out there, and it doesn't have to be Christian. There are a lot of non-profits that would just go wild to have people with skills (on their boards). God uses (all of your life skills) as a preparation to say, 'Hey, I can use you right here.'
"I'm very passionate about trying to help people find their spot, where they can find significance, so they can end their life looking back and say, 'Yeah, I've done something significant. I've left a legacy. It's not about me. It's not about me at all, but it's about what God has been able to do through me.' "
Work to do locally
When it comes to reaching an area for Jesus Christ, he said there are three ways:
Invest in people's lives by inviting them to church and discipling them;
Traditional church planting;
"In the last year, God has pointed me in this direction (church multiplication) and I can't get away from it," Freed said. "I'm not one who has the gift of evangelism. I've had a passion all of my life, but it has played out in discipleship and counseling. It's like God said, 'you've got to do this.' It has opened up (my eyes) that guys, like myself, can find a place.
"There are a group of us (in multiple states) wrestling with, 'what does this look like?' It is happening in other places, why can't it happen in the United States?" he asked.
"Can it be accomplished? Can we actually saturate northcentral Pennsylvania with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and do it in a 10-, 15-, 20-year period of time? If God works the way he's working in other places in the world, easy. It can be accomplished. But it's going to take a lot of hard work. A lot of prayer. A lot of sharing the Gospel and a lot of training the leaders," he said. "A church planting movement can only move as fast as you develop leaders.
"I've learned that there's something out there in the rest of the world that needs to happen here and it can happen here, if we begin to pray and let God work," he said.