I personally know the individual in this news release, and his journey. Perhaps this story from The Fig Tree (an online journal in the Pacific Northwest) has more impact on myself than it might you. However, Mike’s story captures so much wisdom and so much of the essence of what being alive in Christ means, that I wanted to share it. So many think that the pinnacle of spirituality is to be the leader of a megachurch in the USA or to have your book become a best-seller and be in demand as a conference speaker. It is not. It is so much more than pulpits, sermons, and singing. Michael has learned what it means. Mike exemplifies what it means to be a “minister” in the grace of the new covenant. If you sometimes feel like your lot in life makes you “insignificant” in any way, I hope Mike’s story encourages you today.
Mike Turner feels so blessed to work surrounded by the beauty of the Ferris Perennial Garden and Lilac Garden at Manito Park in Spokane that it seems like an avocation to him. It is an opportunity for him to develop his relationship with God and with people he meets. In informal encounters with people as he gardens, he sometimes engages in a ministry of being “a Presence, as the hands, feet, heart and voice of God,” he said in a recent interview.
He describes it as a ministry of meeting new people every day and visiting with people who return and seek him out. “I show people they are valuable,” Mike said. “I listen to them, affirm them and accept them for who they are. Sometimes people tear up as we talk and sometimes I do too. I feel that God is using me to help people know that they are loved.” A kind, gentle man with a hat and well-worn work boots, Mike’s peace is contagious.
After graduating from high school in Walla Walla, Mike became an announcer for the local radio station but felt something was missing from his life. He realized he was missing a “real relationship with God,” but had no role models or mentors. One day at work 45 years ago, he experienced a tangible encounter with God. Filled with peace, he felt God was calling him for a mission, but he did not know what it was or where he should go. At that point in his life he was not a church-goer.
While he enjoyed announcing on the radio, he also looked forward to going outside to mow the lawn around the radio station. After visiting Manito Park in 1974 with his fiancée, Malynda, he thought it would “be heaven” to work there. So when he and his wife moved to Spokane, he studied applied horticulture at Spokane Community College. “I need to work with my hands, and I enjoy things that are beautiful, well-manicured, and delineated,” he said. “I really like edging.”
After working eight years for the Spokane Parks Department, Mike took one of the seven gardener positions at Manito Park. “Every day I am so glad I have this job to come to,” he said. “It is an anchor as steady work and an opportunity to meet people.”
Manito Park is a century-old, public park located in Spokane’s South Hill neighborhood. It includes five gardens: the Duncan Garden, the Perennial Garden, the Rose Hill Garden, the Nishinomiya Japanese Garden and the Lilac Garden, plus a conservatory and pond that are toured by more than 150,000 visitors each year. The 90-acre park includes spacious manicured lawns, playgrounds, walking and biking paths, flowers, topiary shrubs, a greenhouse conservatory and multiple picturesque gardens, he said.
Mike joined the staff at Manito Park 29 years ago, but on one level it feels like yesterday because each day is different. “Every day I look out my office window and watch spring awakening as the flowers start to bloom in the landscape of the perennial garden,” he said.
Mike is responsible for the two gardens and sometimes assists with other areas. This includes care for the grounds, some 300 varieties of perennials and 100 types of lilacs. As busy as he can be, he usually has time to talk with someone or just listen to a person’s story.
Mike said he is an introvert, but in the garden he has something in common with people because they are there to visit the garden. “Some people want to be left alone. Some have questions. Some just talk, which gives me the chance to listen,” Mike said. With a smile on his face he said, “This place, this work, it was clearly God’s provision for me.”
Today Mike and Malynda, attend The Bridge, a non-denominational church. “Members seek to live the Jesus’ love for all people in a way that engages the church, the city, and one another,” said Mike.
Its values are: 1) inner wholeness is greater than outward success; 2) mercy is greater than justice; 3) kindness is better than being right; 4) serving is better than being served; 5) brokenness is the door to wholeness; 6) truth is liberating and devastating; 7) learning is greater than education; 8) giving is sweeter than gaining; 9) forgiveness doesn’t fix everything, and 10) prayer is more powerful than persuasion.
He feels that he is doing what God created him to do: to help people know that God loves them unconditionally. “We can worship God by doing whatever God created us to do, even if it is pulling weeds,” he said.
Although Mike is in the garden every day, he tries to look at it with new eyes each day because “familiarity can rob us of the beauties around us. When I come to work, I try to see the beauty of all that is in the garden. I look past weeds and imperfections. Then I can appreciate the garden like the visitors do.”
Taken from http://www.thefigtree.org/june15/June15FT.pdf, By Sr. Sue Orlowski, SP; used by permission of Michael Turner.