By Oliver Dossmann for LeaderCare
Have you ever wondered where you would be today if it wasn’t for the decisions you’ve made throughout your life? Like everyone, I’ve made decisions that have brought me to this point. Some were well thought out, while others were made in a split second.
As a Christian, I believe God offers us guidance and opens various paths before us. But I also believe that God doesn’t make our decisions for us. He gives us the ability to make decisions for ourselves.
I don’t think there’s just one path. Sure, God might nudge us in one direction or another, but I believe God can work within us and through us regardless of our decisions. At the end of the day, our goal as Christians is to live with God and for God. We live with God by trusting Him with every aspect of our lives, and we live for Him by following His will for us as best we can.
Today, in my mid-fifties, my life is the culmination of some important decisions. Many of them, I believe, were responses to opportunities laid in front of me by God. I’m sure I missed a few, and my life today might look completely different had I made different decisions. It’s fun (but scary) to think about that too much, the “what ifs” if you will, so I prefer to look at where I am today and to reflect on the good decisions that brought me to this point.
I lead a Christian retreat center called EdenRidge, whose vision is to provide a place of rest for missionaries, pastors, and ministry leaders. It is an extremely rewarding life, and to be honest, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I simply love what I do. Is it the only path God had for me? Honestly, I have no idea. There are other things I love that I could have gone into as careers. My dad was a musician and I hear music (that I make up) in my head all the time. Could I have been a musician? Maybe. I love the outdoors and mountains in particular. Could I have been a nature guide or work as a park ranger in a National Park? Maybe. I love aerospace. Could I have been an engineer and worked on rockets? Maybe. I love business. Could I have grown a business into a big business and become wealthy? Maybe. You get the idea. I don’t regret anything, but I’m sure my life could have gone in several different directions and been blessed by God all the same.
So what decisions, some of them made in a split-second, did I make that resulted in me being where I am today? As you read this, you can think about the decisions you’ve made in your life.
“What would be your ideal career?
In the early 90’s, I was a student at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. A series of decisions had brought me to that point. Honestly, I had never heard of Union before seeing an ad for it in a magazine. I was looking for a Christian university I could afford and that offered Computer Science as a field of study. Union fit the bill. Little did I know then that my decision to attend Union would change my life. I met my wife Rachel there, but even before then, my career path was set in motion as the result of a friendship with a young lady named Ashley.
Ashley and her boyfriend Chris were friends I spent time with on a regular basis. One day, Ashley, being quite inquisitive, asked me “if money was no issue, what would be your ideal career? What would you love to do?” It took me a few minutes to formulate my thoughts before I replied, “I want to do something for missionaries.” Having grown up as a missionary kid in Ecuador, South America, missions was a big part of my life. The idea of doing something missions-minded was important to me, especially if it could be something that helped missionaries. Second, I added, “From a business standpoint, I would love to run something.” My studies had shifted into business, and I was working on my Masters in Business Administration (MBA). I loved all things business, including management, marketing, finance, etc. Third, I continued, “I love nature!” I had recently completed a bicycle trip with two friends from Colorado to Alaska and thrived on the outdoors. Finally, fourth, I said “I love to travel, and I love to meet people from around the world.”
Ashley thought for a second and said, “you should build a retreat center for missionaries!” In what I now realize was a split-second decision, I said “that’s it! That’s what I want to do!” The rest is history. Chris, Ashley, and I founded a non-profit called Mission to Missionaries with the goal of building a retreat center for missionaries. Several years later, through extraordinary God-led circumstances, we purchased 130 acres of land in East Tennessee and named our retreat center EdenRidge.
“Would you be our full-time IT consultant?”
As Chris, Ashley, and I worked on launching the retreat center project, I was working at a corporate IT job. I also did some IT work on the side. One day, I was helping a friend at his job, a local eye clinic. I fixed a couple of IT issues they were having. During one of my visits, I met the clinic’s administrator which turned into a conversation about the clinic’s broader IT needs. It was straightforward, and I enjoyed the extra work, so I accepted the challenge to become their “IT guy.” I still had my day job, but I figured I could do both. A few months later, the clinic’s administrator asked to speak with me. The clinic was joining an alliance of 15 clinics, and they were looking for someone to manage IT for the entire alliance. He asked me “would you be our full-time IT consultant?” My first thought was “I can’t, I have a full-time job.”
I didn’t want to say no right away, so I said, “let me think about it.” The next day, the administrator called me and said he needed an answer because someone else was interested, but I was their first choice. Saying yes would mean quitting my corporate job, hiring help, and starting an IT business.
I hadn’t thought about starting my own business because I was on track to launch a non-profit ministry to build a retreat center for missionaries! In what I now look back on as a split-second decision, I decided to say yes and to start my own IT business! Little did I know at the time that starting a business while launching a new ministry would go hand in hand in ways I could have never imagined. Within a few weeks, I had resigned from my job, hired a full-time employee, and began to grow what would become within a few years a multi-million-dollar business with a team of employees. What I realized a few years later was that owning a business would grant me the incredible opportunity to make a living “on the side” (so to speak) while working nearly full-time on the retreat center project I knew God was calling me to build.
“What if we recorded our music?”
While the project to build a retreat center was forefront in my mind, Chris, Ashley, and I were finding it difficult to raise funds. We realized that it was difficult, if not impossible, to raise money for something that didn’t exist! We were often told “that’s a great project, God bless you,” but given no money.
Around that time, I went on vacation with my mom and dad in the Bahamas. My dad and I, who never turned down an opportunity for a long walk and great discussion, were walking on the beach at dusk. The funding issue for the retreat center project came up in our discussion and we started talking about an idea. My dad was a composer and an accomplished classical guitarist, and my mom played the recorder beautifully. They often played together in churches as part of their missionary presentations to share their story and present their missionary work in Ecuador. People often asked, “do you have any recordings of your music?” and the answer was, unfortunately, “no we don’t.” That’s what triggered an idea in our minds as we continued to walk on the beach. We deliberated, “what if we recorded our music, sold CDs, and saved the proceeds for the missionary retreat center project?” In what I now realize was a split-second decision, I remember thinking “this is brilliant, it will work, let’s do it!”
It soon became a family project! With my dad’s compositions and playing classical guitar, my mom the recorder, and my experience with computers and audio recording, it had become a family project! Within two years, we had produced two albums and sold 15,000 CDs! The proceeds, totaling $150,000, made it possible for us to acquire 130 acres of beautiful land in East Tennessee for our missionary retreat center project.
“What’s wrong with this land?”
How we came to purchase land was another split-second decision. We had raised enough money to start looking for land, but we had no idea where to look. By then, I was married to Rachel, and we were still living in Jackson, Tennessee where my business was thriving. We received a postcard in the mail from a resort in East Tennessee called Fairfield Glade. I had never heard of it, but it looked pretty, and it piqued my interest. The resort boasted five golf courses, 11 lakes, trails, swimming pools, and more.
The postcard was an invitation to come check out the resort at no cost, in exchange for a commitment to sit through a timeshare presentation. We weren’t really interested in a timeshare, but we figured it was worth the trip to check it out.
After a day in Fairfield Glade, we realized that we really enjoyed the area and thought “this would be a great area for the retreat center!” We contacted a realtor and visited several properties. We didn’t find anything suitable that day, but we told the realtor to let us know if he ever came across anything that might be suitable for our needs.
A few weeks later, the realtor called me and said, “I have a property getting ready to go on the market that’s $130,000 for 130 acres and it’s only a few miles from Fairfield Glade.” We had assumed we would be able to afford about 30 acres, so my first question was “what’s wrong with this land?” He replied, “nothing’s wrong with it.” It’s 10 minutes from the Interstate and 10 minutes from Fairfield Glade, but it’s quite remote and completely undeveloped. A few days later, we drove back to East Tennessee to check out this too-good-to-be-real property.
I must insert here that over the years, the “vision” of the retreat center was quite clear in my mind. No matter where I was and what I was looking at, I would always think to myself “this isn’t it.” But when we arrived at the 130-acre property and began to explore it, I had a surreal peace and thought “this is it.” In my mind, I was superimposing what I had envisioned the retreat center would look like on top of the property we were seeing, and I knew we had found it. In what was perhaps the quickest split-second decision of all, I said to the realtor “this is it – where do I sign?” A few days later, the Board signed off on the purchase and we became the proud owners of 130 acres of land!
“Would you like to attend CareGivers?”
The retreat center was soon named EdenRidge, and the ministry began to transition from a dream into reality. We continued to raise funds and began to develop a master plan, build infrastructure, and ultimately constructed a first guest cabin. Within a few years, we had built six cabins and were welcoming 1,500 missionary and ministry guests a year.
For the most part, we were doing our own thing, and I didn’t pay too much attention to the outside “retreat” world. We were focused on steadily making a name for ourselves and working toward the goal of building our facilities and our ministry. I had no idea that there was a world out there of other ministries occupying the same space of “retreat ministry.” One day, seemingly randomly, I received an email from a lady named Marlene Frimodt. I delete so many emails every day, but this one caught my eye. Marlene and her husband Dale were leading a group called CareGivers Forum, and she asked, “would you like to attend CareGivers next month, it’s a three-day forum we host every year?” and she explained briefly what they were all about. In what I now realize was another split-second decision, I thought to myself “why not, I’ll attend!” That decision changed EdenRidge’s trajectory in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined. I went to CareGivers not knowing anyone and left three days later with 80+ new friends!
After those few days, I saw EdenRidge differently; no longer as a ministry on an island doing its thing, but as part of something bigger. Over the next few years, some very special friendships, full-time staff, Board members, partnerships, alliances, and funding sources all came out of CareGivers.
“Do you want to smoke a cigar?”
A few years later, while attending another CareGivers event, I was busy making connections, leading a few sessions, and networking with other ministry leaders. A man by the name of Kay Hiramine approached me and said, “you’re Oliver Dossmann, you’re on my short list of people I’m supposed to talk to.” A mutual friend, Jim Fenlason, had suggested that Kay meet me. We met later that day and had a great, albeit brief, conversation.
The next day, I had signed up to go on a hike with some fellow CareGivers attendees. I was running a few minutes late to meet the group at the trailhead. My room was on the third floor, and I was going to take the stairs down, but just as I was going to open the door to the staircase, the elevator opened. No one was in it. I thought to myself “why not?” and I got in the elevator. The elevator stopped on the second floor, and I remember thinking to myself “I’d be there by now if I had just taken the stairs!” I hate being late to anything, so this was frustrating to me. The doors opened and Kay walked in! He said, “do you want to go smoke a cigar?” I was stunned – what? A cigar? I had smoked a few in my life, but a cigar at a Christian conference? I replied, “I signed up for a hike with a group.” Kay replied, “are you sure?” He opened a briefcase and showed me an assortment of cigars! Right then, I made the split-second decision to join Kay for a cigar instead of going on the hike. We found a spot where we could hide (I know, I may get in trouble for this) by the lake and lit up cigars. What followed was an amazing conversation about life and ministry. Kay had become a friend! From that friendship, incredible new opportunities have come my way, including becoming a part of LeaderCare for which I am writing this article.
I could go back further and write about many other split-second decisions that changed my life’s trajectory. But you get the idea – God orchestrates encounters and sometimes we find ourselves facing opportunities we had no idea would come our way. I’m thankful for those encounters, and I wonder “what split-second decision will I be presented with next that might impact the rest of my life?”
I hope this encourages you to be attentive to the opportunities that God presents to all of us. You never know what split-second decision might change your life.