Expanding the Narrow Gate Through Woodworking
By Chase Warner, Wood-Mizer Contributing Author
Expanding the Narrow Gate Through Woodworking
Established by Bill and Stacy Spencer in 2004, the Narrow Gate Foundation has helped more than 500 young men discover a relationship with Jesus Christ while finding and pursuing their life’s purpose. With multiple facets of the foundation including the Narrow Gate Lodge, Narrow Gate Trading Co., and Narrow Gate Exchange initiatives, the organization reaches well-beyond their Headquarters in Tennessee, USA to impact communities across the world.
In 2002, Bill and Stacy were running a small software development business when they were invited to a dinner at a church by a client. That was the 1-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center in the United States. One of the survivors was in attendance and shared her testimony of becoming a believer in Jesus Christ. That night, Bill and Stacy encountered God’s presence for the first time.
While spending more time serving within the church, Bill and Stacy were asked to help with a homeless ministry and met a 42-year-old homeless man named Donald. Donald had cerebral palsy and had just checked out of a drug rehabilitation center with nowhere to go, so the Spencer’s invited him to stay at their home. After a few months, Donald had decided that he wanted to become a pastor so Bill and Stacy drove him to Florida to get connected with an organization to follow his calling.
“When we dropped Donald off, Stacy and I had tears in our eyes, because we realized it wasn’t his life we were changing, it was ours,” said Bill. “We had found it, we weren’t looking for it, and there was no plan. We were just trying to be available for God to do whatever he wanted to do for our lives. He wanted us to find our purpose, by helping other people find their purpose. That’s the upside-down economy of God when you give the thing that you’re desperately seeking, and you wind up receiving it back.”
Narrow Gate Lodge
“Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” are two of the most important questions we face in our lives. Finding these answers are at the foundation of The Narrow Gate Lodge. The residential ministry that serves as the centerpiece of Narrow Gate allows young men to live and work together for 8 months while pursuing biblical training, personal discipleship, and new life skills. This enables them to pause from the distractions of daily life to discover who Jesus says they are and their calling for the future.
Since 2004, Narrow Gate has helped more than 500 young men to find their purpose and have a generational impact on their families and communities in a positive way. “When God unveils that path, our goal is to get beneath that and support it with everything we have,” said Bill. “We’re teaching them how to think, the discipline and value of hard work, and how to fall so desperately in love with God and the idea of eternity so that permeates everything they do and everywhere they go.”
Narrow Gate Trading Co.
With 128 acres of property including dozens of acres of timber, Narrow Gate was setup as a prime location for a woodworking operation. Although it was nothing but a dream at the time, this interest reached an 87-year-old local woodworker, Tom Yontz, who donated his entire woodshop and woodworking equipment for Narrow Gate to get started. “We had no master plan, we just waited for God’s plan and simply followed it,” said Bill.
However, even with equipment to process and finish boards into finished projects, Narrow Gate was still relying on purchasing costly lumber instead of sawing logs and producing lumber themselves. Wood-Mizer caught the attention of Narrow Gate which led to their interest in having their own portable sawmill.
Today, Narrow Gate uses two Wood-Mizer portable sawmills including an LT15 and an LT35 Hydraulic portable sawmill which enables them to saw their own logs into lumber either from harvested trees on their own property or from donated logs from local arborists. “We are taking things other people were going to dispose of and we are populating our log yard with it,” said Bill. “We’ve gone from nothing where we had to go to lumber yards and buy material to teach woodworking with, to having zero cost material, teach milling to our guys, have the education byproduct of lumber, put into our kiln and dry in weeks instead of years, and use in our woodshop to use the same metaphor of transformation,” said Bill.
Through hands-on craftsmanship including working with wood, metal, and leather, Narrow Gate is able to create marketable products to fund the ministry with minimal cost for materials. Handmade products including wood cutting boards, wood furniture, leather journals, and more are crafted and sold to provide free tuition for all men attending the program in addition to supplies, equipment, and resources needed to continue running the ministry. Having a portable sawmill has opened opportunities to create products to sell while also build structures and projects around Narrow Gate including a new 9,000 square foot woodshop from cedar harvested on their own property.
“What happens inside of a living organism like a tree, you take it down, peel back the layers and you begin to discover inside is absolutely beautiful,” said Bill. “It’s a metaphor of what we do with the guys, as we begin to peel those layers back, as we put their hands on the saw and we get them to load up a log to turn into a cant so they can saw boards out of it, they see what’s happening inside of them in metaphor in that log that’s in front of them. From that we take it to our woodshop and create something that is beautiful and useful out of trees that were standing and dead or spalted. What was headed for the trash heap now becomes the resource for something useful and beautiful that will last for generations. We do that with wood, leather, and metal, we just use it to help guys understand what God is doing in their life.”
Narrow Gate Exchange
A newer part of Narrow Gate is the Narrow Gate Exchange program that exists to provide a training environment where international men are equipped to build and sustain businesses in their home communities to alleviate poverty and make disciples of Jesus Christ.
The program identifies potential students through close connections with non-profit organizations or ministries and rely on them to select and recommend individuals who meet certain criteria. In addition to the selection process, two major obstacles that exist are appropriately training woodworking techniques and business skills while also providing the woodworking equipment necessary to profitably produce lumber and finished wood furniture that stay within their communities. “Our goal is to champion people that we train by bringing them to the US to step out of poverty, and receive world class training,” said Narrow Gate Artisan Education Director Grant Batson. “This enables them to go back home with the skills and knowledge they’ve gained and truly impact their community for generations.”
Narrow Gate provides an intensive training program that involves craftsmanship, business skills, and discovering their purpose of discipleship. The training takes place on Narrow Gate’s 128-acre property that includes a new 9,000 square foot woodshop, two Wood-Mizer sawmills, and a close fellowship with the students and volunteers with the Narrow Gate Lodge for support. After students have graduated, Wood-Mizer assists in providing portable sawmill support packages that enables the students to return home with the equipment and training necessary to have sustainable success in their communities.
While pandemic concerns prevented international travel for recent Narrow Gate Exchange students, there is a tremendous success story with their first student and graduate Davis Muhairwe from Uganda. After graduating and returning home, Davis has trained his 7 employees to better use their Wood-Mizer LT15 portable sawmill and has instructed them on proper woodworking techniques. Davis and his team have received several large orders for furniture including a recent order for 100 desks from their hometown of Kyenjojo, Uganda's local school district. Using the best business practices he learned while walking through the Exchange curriculum, Davis' woodworking business is making a profit and doing well, creating employment for the 7 men on his team and forever impacting their lives and the lives of their families.
What started as a calling to help one man pursue his God-given purpose, has turned into something much greater to expand the “Narrow Gate” through woodworking.