Conversation: Deborah Burke
Experiencing God’s grace
Deborah Burke’s husband, Robert, died of a brain tumor on
Nov. 30, 2006. At the time, he was serving as pastor of Inner City Church in
Oklahoma City. When Deborah and her in-laws told her then 7-year-old son his
dad had died, his response surprised them all. “Now who will do the work at
Inner City Church?” he asked.
As Deborah stepped into the pulpit the next Sunday to tell
the congregation about their pastor, she looked into the faces of the people
and realized God was directing her to serve them as pastor. The church never
questioned that she would continue in leadership. She received credentials in
April 2007 and serves today as the pastor of Inner City Church. Deborah
recently spoke with National Women’s Department Managing Editor Darla Knoth
concerning her ministry.
tpe: What did you consider your strengths and weaknesses to
be before your husband’s death?
BURKE: I was the “behind the scenes” person of our missions
work. I considered myself the helper and did not enjoy speaking in public. In
fact, in high school I chose to take an F on an assignment rather than give an
oral report to a class of 20 students.
tpe: How have you grown or changed personally since becoming
pastor of Inner City?
BURKE: I preach each Sunday now to an audience of more than
250. I could have stepped back and let someone else take over this work. But I
felt like I had a vision separate from my husband’s vision; it wasn’t just his.
My focus has changed somewhat to see the ones who are truly in need. I don’t
feel I have personally changed, but I stand in awe of what God is doing here.
tpe: The church recently moved into new facilities. How has
the work at Inner City changed since you have become pastor?
BURKE: Our numbers have increased since we moved. Last year
at this time, we were about 120. Our KidCare afterschool program is up and
running, and we have increased attendance in children’s and adult classes. Our
Clothing Closet has expanded to four times the size it was in our old facility.
The Oklahoma City public schools have opened their doors to us to partner with
them as well. At the holidays, we gave more than 750 gifts into the community.
tpe: What has surprised you as you’ve stepped up to do this
BURKE: All the years in the shadows, I had questions and
doubts about our work and our visions. I would ask my husband, “Since we are a
missions church, how are we going to pay for the practicalities of this mission
— the electric bills, the gas bills, etc.?”
Since becoming pastor, I have watched as not one vision has
gone by the wayside; God has provided financing for every dream. My husband
used to tell me that if God gave the vision, He would make provision for it,
and I have watched that happen again and again.
tpe: What would you say to someone who feels God’s call
— or sees an opportunity for ministry — even if they don’t feel
equipped or qualified?
BURKE: If we wait until we feel equipped or qualified, we
may never step into ministry. I still don’t feel qualified, but I know God is
faithful to give me the means to complete this ministry He has called me to.
Sometimes I have self-pity about my loss and I question, Why me? Why was I left
behind and Robert taken? I may have questions, but I never doubt that God knew
Robert would be taken, that He would be with me, and that He knows best.
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