After 14 years, first stage of Briar Creek Retreat opens
Briar Creek Retreat in Theodosia will host an open house from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, welcoming the community to see the first stage of a respite retreat for pastors and missionaries that began in 2005 when Navy Sr. Chief Mike Hatcher, while stationed on Guam, received what he describes as a vision from God.
Now, 14 years later, area residents are invited to see how that vision is becoming reality. Everyone is welcome to the open house, which will be a come-and-go event with food and soft drinks offered. Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP to Hatcher at 417-771-8093 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2007, Hatcher wrote a letter to the Times, describing how, while he was stationed with the Navy in Guam in 2005, the Lord gave him a very specific vision directing him to open a retreat center in Theodosia, Missouri (wherever that was). The retreat would give pastors and missionaries and their families a peaceful, beautiful place to deal with burnout or other stressors related to their ministry work.
“I have never been there, so this letter is to document exactly why I know this is going to happen,” Hatcher wrote in the 2007 letter.
The vision Hatcher received was very specific, including the retreat’s name, Briar Creek, and its location in Theodosia – a place Hatcher had never been to or even heard of. According to the 2007 letter, the vision also specified “the layout of the buildings,” which would include a main house connected to a fellowship hall where guests could share breakfast and fellowship, plus a barn and seven cabins named for the gifts of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness and Gentleness, Hatcher said.
The main house, where Hatcher would live with his wife, Gretchen, and their two sons, Michael and Aaron, would be called Faith. Hatcher said in the letter that God told him to name his garage/barn Self-Control “to remind me not to fill it with a bunch of toys.”
Making Briar Creek a reality
After Hatcher retired from the Navy in 2010, the family settled in Nixa, and he became chair of the electronics school at ITT Tech in Springfield. He later worked as a field service technician for Stryker Corporation, which sells and services products such as hospital beds, stretchers and ambulance cots throughout the area.
In November 2017, a story in the Times shared the remarkable experiences they’d had up until then as they worked to make Briar Creek Retreat a reality, including how, in 2007, they ended up buying the 26 acres of land west of Theodosia where the retreat is now being built. The story announced Hatcher’s upcoming appearance at a Sunday service at the Fountain Church in Theodosia.
Hatcher said he realized later that his talk to the congregation there on Nov. 5 was “12 years to the day” from when he’d gotten the original Briar Creek vision while serving 7,300 miles away in Guam.
Shortly after they bought the Theodosia land, the Hatcher conducted an informal groundbreaking, inviting some church friends from Nixa to share the experience. Their younger son Aaron and one of the friends piled rocks – they called it an altar – where the shovel went into the dirt.
Later that same year, Hatcher and Aaron were hunting on the property, and Aaron shot his first deer. It fell next to the altar. The time stamp on the photo shows the day it happened: Nov. 5.
Last year, the Hatchers were finally ready to begin construction. “The excavators and concrete guys came in to decide where the footprint of the house would go. They were looking for the most level spot, and they were using lasers and stuff. I stood back and said, ‘You guys tell me where it should go,’” Hatcher said.
Most of the construction was completed by Thornfield contractor Mitch Jakusz “with some other people who came alongside and did their part,” Hatcher said.
When the house was finished – on the spot the builders decided was best, without Hatcher’s input – “the fireplace for the fellowship hall, the room we call Grace, is right over where the altar was,” he said.
He knows because of a V-shaped tree that appears in the background of the photos of the groundbreaking, the deer kill, of Gretchen standing in what would be come her kitchen adjoining Grace and now, through the window of the finished room called Grace.
Adjusting to life in rural Ozark County
The retreat center, which has received financial support from churches and individuals from here to Guam, is being designed for pastors and their families to come on a Monday and stay until Friday morning “so they make it back to their home church in time for their next Sunday service,” Hatcher said in the 2007 letter. The idea is that guests may choose to share a communal breakfast in the room called Grace, but the cabins will have kitchens so guests can prepare and eat their own lunches and dinners. At night, a time of fellowship will be offered.
Mike, Gretchen and Aaron Hatcher moved into the finished house three weeks ago. Their oldest son, Michael, is still in Springfield. Living in such a remote area is requiring an adjustment for the former military family that’s lived in places around the globe. For one thing, they’ve had to adjust to their outdoor security lights coming on repeatedly through the night, triggered by deer and other varmints.
And then there’s the nighttime sound of the woods – or lack of it. “At first it was hard to sleep because it was so quiet,” Hatcher said with a laugh. Then he added, “It’s so peaceful here.”
The Hatchers are eager to introduce area residents to Briar Creek at Saturday’s open house. And then they’re looking forward to sharing the retreat with pastors and missionaries and their families. They’ve invited some couples to come soon to serve as their “guinea pigs” and stay in the main house with them as the Hatchers continue working on the rest of the planned structures.
Ozark Countians’ role
Twelve years ago, when Hatcher wrote his letter to the Times sharing the vision for Briar Creek, he said he had subscribed to the Ozark County Times as a way to get acquainted with his future home. He said he was looking forward “to my first Hootin an Hollarin, ... and I can’t wait to catch my first fish out of Bull Shoals Lake.”
He added that Briar Creek will be a success if the people of Ozark County “are all a part of it.”
When the retreat welcomes its first pastors, “they are going to be coming to Theodosia to be ministered to. God says He will do it, but I have the feeling He is going to be using the people in Ozark County to get His message through,” Hatcher wrote in 2007.
“Some of these pastors may come because they are feeling like quitting; they may be burned out. Your impact on them could mean the future work of bringing others into God’s kingdom,” he said.
Hatcher’s goal for Briar Creek is that it will be “a place where they can come for free and enjoy a place of peace and beauty so they can recharge their batteries and reconnect with their Creator,” he said.