Vern and Donna Eswine are firm believers that serving is essential in being connected to the church body, and that God can use seemingly hopeless situations to bring Him glory.
The Eswines, who have been married nearly 29 years, lost one of their two daughters, Miriam, to cancer in 2004. She was just 14. Their other daughter, Darian, is 25.
“Losing a child is the most difficult thing a parent can go through, but it’s been a beautiful journey to see how He has been able to work through both Miriam’s death and Darian’s life,” Donna said.
The Eswines have been following Jesus for decades and came to Southeast Christian Church’s Indiana Campus in 2011 from another church where they had been heavily involved.
“When we first came to Southeast, I asked Vern if we could just come and sit on the back row for a year,” Donna said. “I thought, ‘Just give me one year to rest.’ Fortunately, God knew I didn’t need to be just a spectator, and we were here about three months before we were asked to volunteer as decision guides. Southeast is big, but the more we served, the more people we met, the smaller the church felt and the more this felt like our church home.”
They started serving as decision guides, then Vern became an usher while Donna served at the Connection Center, helping guests get connected to various church groups and leaders.
They served faithfully for a few years, and though it was gratifying to serve in those ministries, they both felt most in God’s will when they were teaching God’s Word.
“Vern had taught at our previous church for years, and I was heavily involved with a women’s Bible study group outside of church, but Southeast was now our church home, and what better way to serve our church family that was so gracious to us than to use our gifts of teaching,” Donna said.
They now lead small groups both in their home and at the Indiana Campus. Vern leads a men’s Bible study on Wednesday nights, while Donna leads a Thursday morning women’s Bible study.
The Eswines are grateful for the growth in their lives and in the lives of others through their small groups and Bible studies. They both spoke of the joy of seeing people grow closer to Christ and open up about the hardships in their lives through studying God’s Word in community.
“We’ve been through a lot together, but God has been able to use our story to help others connect to Him,” Vern said.
In the wake of Miriam’s death, the Eswines sought God’s hand, and He led them to serve in India.
One of Miriam’s doctors was from India, and after Miriam died, Donna felt that God was nudging her to give back to those who had cared for their family and bring Him glory in her daughter’s death.
Eleven months after Miriam’s death, Donna went on her first mission trip to India and fell in love with serving the people there.
“When I flew to India for the first time, I had never been out of the country, and I didn’t know a single person I was going with,” Donna said. “But God has since given me hundreds of people there that are now family to me. They are my people. And I would have never experienced that if I had not stepped out in faith. That’s part of your belief in Jesus—we are supposed to serve Him—be His hands and feet.”
In May, Donna will make her 20th trip to India. Her husband and daughter have joined her about half a dozen times and have faithfully supported her ministry there.
Darian also serves in Southeast’s Children’s Ministry and leads a small group at her apartment. She, too, held tightly to her faith when her sister lost her battle with cancer.
“We often say that our oldest daughter taught us how to die for Christ, and our youngest taught us how to live for Him,” Vern said. “What’s remarkable to me is the reaction of people on the outside looking in. A lot of people ask, ‘How can you still believe in God after going through such a thing?’ We never questioned that God would deliver us through this. We knew that whatever happened, Miriam would be with the Lord and He would continue to be faithful.”
Donna added, “If we could have passed on anything to our kids, I would hope that it would be that it’s all about God and the best way to give back to Him in response to what He’s done for us is to serve. I’m so grateful that Darian has that heart, and that Miriam did, too.”
The Eswines encourage others as often as they can to allow God to use them by stepping up and serving.
“Often, Christ is shared more loudly in our doing than in our saying,” Vern said. “If you profess to be a Christian, then you need to walk like one, too. If you feel like God is prompting you, trust that prompt. If he’s calling you to do something, He will be with you and sustain you through it.”
The Eswines believe that the benefits of serving far outweigh the commitment it takes to serve.
“I believe that serving is the best way to grow in community and get to know the hearts of people in the church and the church as a whole,” Donna said. “I think there is something really powerful that happens when men and women come together with the same heart and purpose and serve God’s Kingdom together. There is so much love, friendship and community that comes in serving.”
However, the Eswines also believe in the importance of committing to serve others.
“If people say, ‘I don’t have the time to do this,’ it just means they are choosing to do other things,” Donna said. “If being a part of the Body of Christ is a priority to you—if being obedient to Jesus as your Lord is a priority to you—then you will find the time. God will make the time for you. You just have to choose to follow Him. Just take one step out of your comfort zone. Sign up for a special event. If you’re following Christ from your comfort zone, He is probably not using you as well as He could be. Just start somewhere.”
The Eswines would love to serve with anyone who feels called to serve, but is unsure where to start.
“Serve with us!” Donna said. “We’ll meet you at the door.”