Meryl O’Donald, the wife of Austin O’Donald, senior pastor of The Gates Church (TGC), graciously agreed to be one of the first wives to participate in BaptistLIFE’s Pastors’ Wives Profile Column.
Tell us about yourself and your family.
Austin and I have been married for fourteen years. God has given us the incredible privilege of being parents to Phoebe (10), Gus (8), Carey Anne (6), and Barnabas (3).
We are originally from South Carolina, where Austin and I met in college and later married and served at a local church for eight years. Our family, then just five of us, moved to Baltimore in 2015, following a call from the Lord to make disciples and plant a church in a place with many, many people.
Being a wife and mother are awesome roles that I feel overwhelmed at filling much of the time. But I would not wish for life any other way. Having come to trust Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at a young age, I am now passionate about the privilege of all that it means to be a mother to my children. I am so thankful that my mother taught me what repentance is, discipled me as a child, taught me the Gospel, and encouraged me to be a student of God’s Word. During my first weeks of motherhood, I knew that II Corinthians 12:9 had become the cry of my heart: “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (ESV). This journey is one of utter dependence on the Lord. That was solid preparation for church planting.
Teaching children is one of my passions. I taught fifth grade for three years in South Carolina. When the Lord blessed our family with our first child, I transitioned to staying home with my children rather than working outside of the home. As the years have gone by, the Lord has continued to foster my desire to teach by leading us to home educate our children. He also provided plentiful opportunities to teach through our church’s ministries to children.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy reading — biographies, historical, and fiction. Also, I like to cook and bake. Our oldest daughter, Phoebe, especially enjoys helping me bake, so we make a lot of cookies and cupcakes.
Tell us about your spiritual journey.
The Lord has bestowed on our family a life that is never boring! I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I said, “Yes,” fourteen years ago, but I knew it would be interesting. I thought Austin to be quite a unique character when I first met him. I knew him for three years of college before we dated. Besides observing his affinity for wearing vests and making people laugh, I noticed early on his passion for prayer and God’s Word. In him, I saw a character that was most concerned with his heavenly Father’s approval. For this, I am incredibly grateful, and our marriage is thriving because of this solid foundation.
Having sensed a call to missions in my teenage years, I explored opportunities to serve on short-term mission trips domestically and overseas in high school and college. As a result, I ministered in New Orleans, Vermont, Nicaragua, Panama, Mexico, and Nepal.
I am grateful for those opportunities, and I am a proponent of these types of trips because I think the Lord can use them to open our eyes to His work worldwide.
After finishing college and getting married, Austin and I served at a church from 2007-2015 in a rural area of South Carolina where Austin was associate pastor and youth minister. Our wonderful church there remains an incredibly special family to us, and they have been a tremendous blessing in the process of sending us as missionaries here.
During the last few years there, we began exploring a call to minister in a densely populated place needing more of the light of Jesus. We traveled and visited bigger cities and visited young church plants while praying and discussing this call with others who had experience and wisdom to offer. By 2015, the Lord had shown us through this long process that Baltimore was the place for us.
We packed our belongings in the moving truck. Then, with our seven-month-old baby girl, our energetic little two-year-old boy, and our sweet four-year-old girl, we drove away. We left our family we love and everyone we knew and set out to obey this calling.
We served with an existing young church plant in Baltimore for a season. By the beginning of 2017, our effort to begin planting The Gates Church was underway.
What have been the highlights and challenges of your role as a pastor’s wife?
I believe the two go hand in hand. This kind of ministry means meeting people where they are in the midst of life’s challenges and seeking to point them to the hope, help, and healing found in Jesus Christ alone. On this side of heaven, as we live in this sin-stained world, life is hard, and we are dealing with life and death issues. The work is heavy. In John 17:3, as Jesus prayed, he stated, “And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
Our work is exhausting, and it feels like the challenges are ever-changing. Our only hope is that as we are obedient in seeking to make disciples, the Holy Spirit enables people to access eternal life through Christ Jesus — abundant life here and now that also stretches into forever with our Creator and our Father in heaven! To what better pursuit could we give our lives?
Do you have any encouraging words for other pastors’ wives?
If I had anything encouraging to share with others in a similar position as mine, it would be strictly from God’s Word. I must have my feet firmly planted on the Word, my mind renewed by its truth, to even begin to attempt this feat.
When I am overwhelmed and wondering what to do when there is so much to do in life, I consider Jesus’ teaching on worry and prayer: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
I sometimes wonder if the hundreds of little things (that seem to be all I can accomplish) even matter. But I find some reassurance in principle found in Jesus’ parable of the talents: “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master’” (Matt. 25:21).
Thank you, Jesus, for the truth found in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”