Gary and Mary Lee have been married for 30 years faithfully following God on an extraordinary journey that has taken them places they could never have imagined. I asked the couple, who have run Bridge Bookshop Exeter for nine years if they would ever considering writing a book about their missionary adventures and what they would call it?
Without hesitation Gary answered that the title would have to be ‘No Way God!’. An intriguing title, inferring that their life calling has been in the face of significant challenges, but also that it has required some Heavenly persuasion! Only God can give us ability to forsake the comforts of home to venture to a foreign land with a different culture and a language we cannot speak.
But, this is exactly what Gary and Mary Lee did for several years and it’s amazing to see how God has taken them places they never considered possible and sustained their venture into Christian retail in supernatural ways. So who are Gary and Mary and what has kept them faithfully serving the Christian community in Exeter for so long?
Gary and Mary Lee met at Moorlands College, an Evangelical Christian training college in Dorset where a missionary to a far flung nation would come and talk to the students every Friday afternoon. “Back then we were rearing to go,” says Gary, “but God kept us back in the UK, where we ran a Christian conference centre in Mid Devon for four years.”
During this time, the Lees started to work with Agape UK which is a part of Campus Crusade for Christ. They were involved in the Jesus Project for a further four years distributing videos of the Jesus Film across the South West and inviting people to join an Alpha Course. However, they always had a leading towards travelling to another nation.
Little did they know at the time that God would take them from far from home to live under a strict Communist regime for six years. “When the opportunity for us to go to China opened up” says Gary, “our initial reaction was ‘No Way God!”
“We were at a conference,” says Mary, “and a couple, who had just come back from China, were sharing about the desperate need for more people to go… I couldn’t even look a them! There was no way…”
Six months later at another conference, Gary came round to the idea even though it seemed impossible, but Mary was still saying, “no way!”
“Ok, Lord,” Gary said to God, “but what do I do? You need to talk to her then!”
Within three weeks God made it very clear to Mary that this was what He wanted for their lives and so the couple and their two sons (8 and 6 at the time) went to a major Chinese city not too far from the capital, Beijing.
“There is no such thing as a mission to China”, Mary says. “We went as workers! You can’t apply fo a visa as a missionary organisation, so we were seconded to an International school where we spent the first year learning Chinese.”
“We pray for you every day! Remembering this is God’s business. You may have known us since we came to Bridge Books nine years ago, or met us recently, whichever, you are prayed for!” – Gary & Mary Lee.
As their surname is Lee, the couple were mistaken for being Korean and instead of being put into a class of people from other Western nations, they were put in a group already familiar with Asian languages, so they had to work twice as hard! Soon they became known as Lee Jaru and Lee Ma Lee! And, the amazing thing is that while in this class, they met three Chinese teachers and Mary ended up leading two of them to the Lord.
“We’d invite our Chinese friends to come to different social events we would arrange. You can’t just go up to people in the streets and start sharing the Gospel. However we could have parties for any and every occasion we could think of. We even had an American Thanksgiving party!
“We would invite people over to play games which they loved and then share the reason for the party, the story of Christmas or Easter etc. We would also get Chinese Christians to come and share and when we led somebody to the Lord then they would give their testimony at the next party. That was our way of reaching out, through all these house parties!”
So what was the most memorable thing about their time in China? Gary answers by recalling the advice of a fellow missionary from the USA. “You may think you came to China to change people’s lives – but probably God has brought you here to change your life!”
Though they would sometimes feel overwhelmed and yearn for home, God gave Gary and Mary such a love for the Chinese people that they didn’t want to leave. When Gary suggested it may be time to go back to England, once again Mary’s words were “No, Way God!”
However, within four months they were back home. After six years in China they didn’t have anywhere to live, but God supernaturally provided for them. He led them to Exeter where their sons could continue to learn Chinese.
The two boys are now adults, but they will never forget their childhood experience in China. One has been back to China twice and the other went on to do a GCSE in Chinese and has responded to a missionary call with mission trips to Latvia, Greece and Spain and his wife also comes from a missionary family. Gary also has two daughters. Three of the children are married and they have four grandchildren.
‘You are a missionary wherever you are’ – Gary and Mary Lee
Undoubtedly a heart for mission has impacted this family and their mission continues here in Devon. “You are a missionary wherever you are,” Gary says, “Really, you don’t necessarily have to go to a country. You can be a missionary at home simply by placing appropriate Christian resources into the hands of believers and unbelievers alike.
“At Bridge Books we have books geared towards sharing the Gospel with atheists, but we also have books that will empower believers to be more effective in their witness. Our job is to pray that the Holy Spirit will help us pass on the right resources exactly where they are needed. You never know what seeds you are planting when you give that card with a particular Bible verse, or how God will speak to a person through a book, CD or DVD!”
Today Gary and Mary Lee live in a village just outside Exeter. As they drive to work each day they pray for everyone coming into the shop. “At Bridge Books, our heart is to help draw people closer to God. Daily we ask the Holy Spirit to direct His people to the resources they need, not only for themselves but also to give to others.”
May you be inspired by the missionary example of Gary and Mary Lee. Perhaps God may call you to go as far as the Great Wall of China, or He may want you to break some spiritual walls down in Devon, helping others to move closer to God. However the Lord calls you, may the experience change your life!
Also read: Revival in Exeter – Let’s pray for a spiritual awakening across our city