While many students spent last weekend visiting harvest corn mazes or cleaning their dorms,  13 students from the journalism and mass communication department spent their Halloween weekend volunteering at Elijah’s Harbor, a private mansion turned retreat and conference center in the mountains around Greeneville, Tennessee.

Elijah’s Harbor, named for the rest and care Elijah received in the wilderness, is the 250-acre property of businessman Mike Jackson.

The 22,000-square-foot mansion, which was designed for hosting corporate functions, used to be his private residence.

Now it serves as a retreat for pastors and families in the ministry.

The 13 students, both upper- and underclassmen, spent their Saturday doing cleanup, stripping old paint from decks and painting fences at one of the Harbor’s adjacent properties.

“I really felt connected to the burden that Joe and Pati [Gatas]   have, and after hearing their story, I really wanted to get behind them,” junior JMC major Rebekah Wright said.  “Painting fences may not seem very big, but to them it was [valuable.]

According to Joe Gatas, the director and caretaker of Elijah’s Harbor, the group was able to accomplish several weeks’ worth of work in an afternoon.

Gatas and his wife Pati owned several Checkers and Burger King franchises in New Jersey before answering the Lord’s call to serve at the Harbor.

Gatas’s heart is for students to find a ministry to get involved with.

“I was hoping [seeing this ministry] would change [their] mindset about getting a job in the world versus getting involved with something significant for Christ,” Gatas said.   

Mr. David Lurtey, an assistant professor in the JMC department, organized the weekend work trip after vacationing there with his family over the summer and falling in love with the ministry.

“I wanted the group to bond and get to know each other better; we had a group that ranged from freshman to seniors ,” Lurtey said. “I wanted them to think about doing something for a ministry [and] the Lord. A lot of times when we’re in school, we tend to just think about our homework, studies and going to activities. I wanted the JMC students to give of themselves and have a ministry.”

Marjorie Elliot, a sophomore JMC major, encouraged future students to take part in this unique opportunity.

“JMC is like a family, and getting to be around them and some people I don’t know was really fun,” Elliot said. “Yes, it was lots of work, but there was also lots of time to have fun.”