Eric Barry went from empty to everything.
“I had like zero going for me without Jesus,” said Barry, 62. “Jesus Christ has given me everything. I didn’t even have a career. The American dream didn’t really do much for me. I just thought, ‘So you get the house. You get the cars. That’s it?’ I didn’t get it. Then with Christ, ‘Oh, we have to win the world. We have to take the Gospel to every tribe, tongue and nation. Yea, let’s do that. That’s worth giving our lives for.’”
Barry began attending a church in Los Angeles when he was 21, and he dedicated his life to Christ after the pastor preached about hell.
“I read the four Gospels and understood Jesus,” added Barry, a Southeast Christian Church member. “I’m not knocking any preacher, but to this day, nobody talked like Him. He scared the daylights out of me. I began to think I’ve got to get into heaven. This life is going to be over. I’m going to last 70 years and then I’m done. Eternity lasts forever. It doesn’t matter what you get in this life; it’s all about the next life.”
Up until that point, Barry was living in sexual sin, working at a bar and thought Christians were missing out on all the fun.
“I was selfish. I was proud. Life was about me,” he said.
Barry grew up in New Jersey. His large family (he had six sisters) went to a Catholic church, and he served as an altar boy.
When Barry was 11, his father moved the family to Los Angeles for a job, but he lost it shortly after and never really recovered or worked again. Barry’s mother supported the family on a secretary’s salary.
As a new believer, Barry quit working at a bar and got a job at an ice cream factory.
“I started loading trucks in a freezer at 20 below,” he said. “I really loved it. I had a New Testament I’d read at work.”
Barry began attending a local church and heard a presentation on missions in Sunday School class that changed the trajectory of his life.
“They’re showing this indigenous man saying, ‘Will someone come and tell us about Jesus?’” Barry added. “The narrator says, ‘Unfortunately, we don’t have someone to send.’ It was crushing to me that these guys wanted someone to tell them, but there was no one to go. My line of thinking was, ‘If nobody can go, I can go. I had no idea how missions works, but if you need somebody to go over there, I’ll do it.’”
Loving Latin America
At 26, Barry married his wife, Chris, and four years later, he completed a degree in missions.
After graduation, Barry moved his family, which then included an 18-month-old son and 6-week-old daughter, to serve on the mission field in Venezuela. The Barrys had two more children while they were in Venezuela.
Barry pastored La Iglesia de Hoy con Cristo, a church founded through Team Expansion, a missionary agency working to multiply disciples and churches among unreached people groups worldwide. The Barrys helped plant 12 churches in 20 years.
Young men came to church looking for a father figure because about 75% of Venezuelan children are raised by single mothers. It is common for Venezuelan men to have children with multiple women.
“Even though growing up my family was a mess and my wife’s family was a mess, through Christ, I loved my wife, the kids loved each other, they loved mom and dad and they were respectful,” Barry said. “We’d all go to a restaurant, all six of us, and we’d sit, eat and talk, and people would walk up to us and say, ‘How do you do this?’ It was really funny. That gave us all kinds of credibility with the Latin Americans because they love large families and family relationships, but outside of Christ, they don’t know how to get there.”
Barry said many at his church were much more interested in his family of six than his sermon style.
“At the end of my 20 years, they had a big party for us,” Barry added. “They had everybody say what they appreciated about Pastor Eric. I was hoping somebody would say, ‘Boy, I really loved his sermons.’ Nobody said that. Everybody was saying, ‘I loved his family.’ We were kidding around because our kids were growing up and we were wondering, ‘How are we going to have a ministry now?’ because they gave us so much credibility.”
All four Barry children serve as missionaries: three in North Africa and one in Italy.
Team Expansion went from planting one or two churches a year to planting 1,500 in 2018.
When the Barrys arrived in Venezuela, Latin America was 1% evangelical. When they left in 2009, it was more than 11% “not because of us, but it was this massive national movement God’s doing that we were graced to be a small part of,” Barry said.
The Barrys eventually moved to Louisville where they now focus on training others in the 3/3rds disciple-making movement through Team Expansion.
“We have a vision to be disciples that make disciples and, in this way, to reach the ends of the earth,” he said.