Gary and his wife tried to leave Texas and move back closer to family on more than one occasion. They thought (each time) that they would never return. But the transplant from the Detroit area and his high school sweetheart always found themselves coming back. If you ask him, they’ve never really felt that Texas was home. Like most sports fans, he still cheers for the teams he grew up with; Lions, Tigers, and Michigan Wolverines. But no matter how many times his 35-year career in Human Resources called him away, North Texas had a hold on the McPhersons. Once, the family car’s radio even spat out a prophetic tune as they crossed the Texas border on the way to a new life.
“The eyes of Texas are upon you/ all the livelong day/ the eyes of Texas are upon you/ you cannot get away.”
There was no escape. Now that the family has settled in North Texas for what appears to be the final time, Gary seems to think that God always intended for them to be here. He doesn’t claim to know why, but he’s sure that the McPhersons' wilderness journey ended exactly where it was meant to end. At least, that’s what he said after the Catalyst of Hope Forum. It resonated with Gary when Eric Swanson, the keynote speaker at that event, referenced Psalm 107. Just as God’s people wandered through the desert until God gave them a city, the McPhersons bounced around until God brought them here. Now, he’s sure there was a purpose for it.
We’re inclined to agree.
The Family Legacy
Born into a long line of General Motors toolmakers, Gary took the road less traveled into the world of aerospace. He never intended to pursue a career in human resources, but was glad to find himself there as the years went by. It was the sector of the corporate world where he found the most overlap between work and his faith.
“I actually started off in Education and, at one time, thought I would go into the chaplaincy. [That was] during the Vietnam era,” Gary said during his interview. “I didn’t even know what Human Resources was when I went into it. As it’s turned out, it has been a great platform. If you’re going to work in a corporation and you want to be engaged in people’s lives, that is certainly a place you can do that.”
The integration of Christian service into corporate ideals became central to Gary’s career. But long before he was a member of the 6 Stones Board of Directors, and even before he connected Lockheed Martin to the Community Powered Revitalization program, he was a visionary. Albeit one with a background of predictability.
“If you lived in Detroit, you worked in automotive,” Gary recalled. “That’s just how it was. My Dad always said that the country would go under before General Motors ever went out of business and you lost your job.”
Years later, the family’s anomalous son seems to have correctly read the future of American Industry. But Gary wasn’t just a corporate innovator. He dreamed big in church, as well.
Completing the Good Work
As a young man, the Gary’s church was almost as one-dimensional as his career path seemed to be. They were faithful and passionate, but their missional focus was nearsighted. If you wanted to serve God, you needed to leave home far behind. You had to travel to the other side of the world, where the Unreached people lived.
“The church I grew up in did very little outreach in the local community, which was always intriguing to me. Why one and not the other?” Gary said. “So, growing up, there was always an expectation that if you were going to do any kind of Christian Community Service, you had to go on an international mission. And, for a long time, I struggled with that.”
Eventually, that struggle led Gary to a Christian liberal arts college. During this time, he encountered an older student from New York who radically altered his approach to life under Christ with a discussion centered on Philippians 1:6 (“…and I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”). Suddenly, the entire world was a mission field. God had a place for each of us; with meaningful, productive labor to go along with it. He could live out his faith regardless of what career and location God gave him.
This radical “new” idea melded with the teachings that had always made sense to Gary. The sense of duty that came with being blessed. The notion that having much meant being called to generous giving. And to top it all off, a note in pasted in the lid of his grandfather’s old tool chest, which read:
In all of His dealings with us, God is at work for our good: in prosperity he tests our gratitude; in mediocrity, our commitment; in misfortune, our submission. And in darkness and at all times, our obedience to trust in Him.
Being a Christian, then, was a call to focus every aspect of life on the cross. On the completion of the work prepared for us. It meant “Loving God” and “Loving Your Neighbor.” He had the framework for a Christ-centered life, and his chance to apply it was coming. It would be straightforward, but it wouldn’t be easy.
When his phone lit up on a Sunday morning in 2004, Gary knew something was different. He had never been interrupted at home that early before; especially not on a Sunday.
He took the call, shaking off the morning fog just in time to recognize the name of Lockheed Martin’s then-Chairman-and-CEO: Coffman. Vance Coffman was on the line. He wanted Gary to know that the company would commit whatever resources were necessary to take care of a Lockheed Martin employee who was being held hostage in the mid-East. That included looking after the man’s family. Gary had been assigned to be the point person on the ground, caring for them during the ordeal.
The family, spread across the continental United States, were soon gathered in Little Egg Harbor, NJ. For 6 weeks, Gary walked with them through everything from fearing their father’s death to the many personal, individual, and family issues that preceded the crisis. Ironically, in many ways, he took on the role of Chaplain; the very profession he thought he’d given up pursuing. In the course of that time, he was shocked to find that the family had received no coordinated government support, no emergency relief, and no guidance. He was the first one to offer them anything, and he came to rely on a local church for support.
“From that whole experience, it became very evident to me that there is no catalyst or focal point out there to help people out in crisis,” he said. “I never saw any situation like 6 Stones where you had all the resources in the community coming together at a focal point so that a variety of resources can be accessed through a single contact; a ‘catalyst.’ This model is more tailored to individual needs and efficient for getting people the help they need — you’re not out there trying to boil the ocean. You’re actually focusing the resources exactly where they are needed. There’s a process to help validate the need, support the need, follow through on it, and bring all the resources together. That’s what really intrigued me about 6 Stones. I had never seen anything like that.”
His wilderness journey was almost at its end.
A “God Thing”
When his work with that family concluded, Gary found himself back in North Texas. He and his wife attended First Baptist Church in Euless, and he crossed paths with Scott Sheppard just as 6 Stones was getting off the ground. In 2010, we hosted our first Operation Back 2 School event, and Scott was invited to FBCE to share about it. Gary was excited by the prospect of a Coalition that meets needs in the community.
“It really caught my attention because the kind of structure and processes Scott talked about at 6 Stones are exactly in line with my experiences and thoughts around what a Catalyst should look like or be in transforming a community, or helping people; having a focal point for doing that. You just don’t find that anywhere.” Gary said.
A few of weeks after Gary learned about 6 Stones, a Lockheed Martin employee came looking for him. As part of a graduate school project, the employee needed to locate and analyze a nonprofit organization. He wanted to know if Gary knew anything about 6 Stones; a local organization the student group had stumbled onto during their research. At the time, Gary knew almost nothing about the group he would eventually help to direct. But he reached out to Scott anyway, and a relationship was born.
“I really saw that as kind of a God thing. That, just out of the blue, this guy wanders in — didn’t know who I was or what I was about — and brings up 6 Stones. I had just heard about it a few days before that. Next thing I know, I’m getting more deeply engaged with Scott on what 6 Stones is all about.”
Whether or not it was home, North Texas was pretty clearly his mission field.
6 Stones + Lockheed: A Powerful Partnership
Gary is retired now. He served more than three decades with the company that eventually became Lockheed. When he started, employee giving was lumped into a pot and donated to a single nonprofit. Over time — and with the help of an employee group assigned to diversify the company’s giving — 6 Stones was selected as one of many local organizations to be included as an option for employee support.
Now, Lockheed adopts multiple homes during every Fall Community Powered Revitalization Blitz. Doing so allows them to serve veterans, continuing the company’s mission of protecting their clients and keeping citizens safe. According to Gary, investing in the community is also good business for Lockheed. He says that providing volunteer avenues for employees has become essential for companies as they recruit and retain the next generation of the workforce. Corporate Social Responsibility has become critical for success in this economy. His belief could explain why, over the last few years, his company has invested heavily in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford community.
For a long time, Lockheed had been involved in small projects across the metroplex — rebuilding the Arlington Life Shelter, assisting Mission Arlington and Mission Metroplex, and serving the YMCA in Grand Prairie — but it was hard to identify organizations that needed help, tough to be sure those needs were legitimate, and even more difficult to get the correct resources in place to serve. By partnering with city governments, 6 Stones made it easy to find and validate needs, then get to work on solving them.
The Modern Ellis Island
“When you look at what 6 Stones is trying to foster, it does fulfill a common purpose. Whether you work in a city government, or you’re an atheist working at a company, or you’re in a church. At the end of the day, it’s all about reaching out and loving the people that live in your own community and neighborhood to take care of each other,” Gary said. “I think we’re seeing a shift in that thought process in this country. 6 Stones, though, is a vehicle — a catalyst — to help make it happen.”
“When you can connect and make a difference in somebody’s life and give back, you are not only following what we’re commanded to do, as Christians, in the Bible — to love your neighbors — you’re acting that out. You’re actually taking that step; making your faith real. When you see that play out in an individual’s life, that fulfills the basic, fundamental need that we all have to feel like we’ve made a difference somewhere. That there is meaning to life; meaning to what we do.”
Gary’s basic, fundamental need is the most important one we meet. It helps us to serve our entire community, not just the ones who lack physical and financial resources. It brings everyone together for a common purpose. That’s what transforms our community.
“Growing up in an international mission oriented church, I didn’t go on international missions,” Gary reminded us. “The missions are here now. Scott always talks about the DFW airport being the modern day version of Ellis Island. I think that’s really true.”
In a community like ours, we need a focal point. We need people bold enough to build that focal point. And they need to understand the bullseye hidden inside every human heart.
Now an executive professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, Gary hasn’t let retirement slow him down. He is an active member of the Board of Directors here at 6 Stones, and was one of the first to focus his efforts toward scaling and reproducing our programs.
“I’m more of an Architect mindset, and I always have been,” he said. “I’ve always liked to find ways that you can marry what happens in a business or what happens in a society with what the Bible commands us to do. When you can integrate those things, it’s pretty powerful. It provides a way for people to live their faith, rather than just have faith.”
That marriage of society and scripture has allowed 6 Stones to serve more than 500 homeowners in the last seven years. It has provided backpacks, school supplies, and Christmases for thousands of students. And it is helping us to feed around 12,000 of our neighbors annually. But those are the big picture, broad stroke observations. The really incredible stuff is what happens on the individual scale. In all of us.
“[6 Stones] has provided a vehicle for me to exercise my faith in a more robust way, if that makes sense,” Gary said.
“I’m at a point in life where I don’t know what tomorrow brings. We have to keep racing forward today and try to make a difference. 6 Stones is one of the ways I can do that. It’s not the only way I get engaged, but I do like being involved with an organization that very much has a model and a framework that I can embrace and feel good about.”
That’s a race we’re happy to run, any day. And, thanks to people like Gary, we have a good idea of what the Finish Line looks like.