While they live out a dream, Theodosia couple copes with devastating setback

In 2005, while serving with the Navy in Guam, Mike Hatcher, shown here with his wife, Gretchen, had a spiritual vision directing him to build a retreat for pastors at Theodosia, Missouri, a place he had never heard of. Two years later, the Hatchers bought land in Theodosia, and now they're living out that vision at Briar Creek, a respite retreat for pastors and missionaries they're building on P Highway.

Theodosia resident Gretchen Hatcher lost her eyesight soon after she and her family enjoyed a fly fishing trip to Arkansas on Labor Day weekend in 2022. She is shown here with her sons Michael, left, and Aaron, in straw hat, and her husband Mike. 

In the summer of 2020, Gretchen Hatcher and her family opened Country Apron bakery on Highway 160 in Theodosia. Proceeds from the bakery went toward funding Briar Creek, the retreat they are developing for pastors, missionaries and their families. The Hatchers had to sell the bakery when Gretchen lost her eyesight. It's now owned and operated by Russ and Pam Mathews.  

Each morning before he leaves for work, Mike Hatcher lays out clothes for his wife Gretchen, who lost her eyesight 17 months ago. He also takes her to hair and nail salon appointments, where he recently chose a nail color (below) for her that exactly matches her favorite fishing pole (above).

In December 2022, Navy retiree Mike Hatcher, a board member at The Bridge to the Living Word Church in Theodosia, officiated the wedding of his and Gretchen's son Michael and his bride Kailee Raper in Springfield. (Their second son, Aaron, is at left in the photo.) Earlier that year, knowing her future mother-in-law was going blind, Kailee invited Gretchen to see her wedding dress before she totally lost her eyesight.

Theodosia resident Gretchen Hatcher, 62, is no stranger to hardship and heartache. During her 24 years as a military wife, she parented two sons alone while her husband, Mike, a career Navy submariner, was repeatedly at sea for three months at a time. She grieved for five babies lost to miscarriages. And she experienced the shock of learning, as an adult, that she'd been born with only one kidney, instead of two – and then, later, being told that her one kidney was failing and only a transplant could save her.

Gretchen has been through a lot. But with the love and support of her husband and sons, she survived each of those challenges, and now she and Mike, 59, retired from the military since 2010, have been living a dream. 



A place they'd never heard of

Gretchen and Mike are living out a vividly detailed, spiritual vision Mike had in 2005 while he was a Navy senior chief serving in the American territory of Guam. In that vision, Mike felt God telling him that, sometime in the future, he and Gretchen were to build a retreat center for pastors and missionaries in Theodosia, Missouri, a place they had never heard of, let alone been to. Oh, and they were to name the retreat Briar Creek. 

That's the dream they're living now – at their home off of P Highway in Theodosia. The house they built there is the heart of Briar Creek, the retreat for pastors and missionaries and their families the Hatchers have been developing since buying the land in 2007 and breaking ground in 2010.  

The journey to Briar Creek has been a remarkable one for Gretchen, Mike and their sons, Michael and Aaron. They marvel at how things have come together in amazing ways (the Hatchers would say miraculous ways) to make the retreat center a reality. These happenings confirm to the Hatchers that they're doing God's will.

To fund Briar Creek and supplement his military retirement pay, Mike works as a technician and trainer for Stryker Corporation, servicing medical equipment for hospitals, ambulances and other health-related businesses around the southern Missouri region. 

In addition to Mike's full-time job, three and a half years ago, he and Gretchen opened Country Apron, a small bakery in a strip center on Highway 160 in Theodosia, with all proceeds going toward supporting Briar Creek. Each morning before he left for his technician job, Mike would "start the cinnamon rolls," and Gretchen would come in later to create the other treats, as well as lunchtime soups and sandwiches that attracted a steady and devoted local clientele to the bakery's small dining area. Their son Aaron helped in the bakery, which hosted Christmas parties, cookie-decorating sessions and other community events. (Their other son, Michael, an EMT, lives with his wife Kailee in Rockaway Beach.)

For a while, Gretchen also operated a dance fitness studio next door to the bakery where women of the community met to work out together to music and videos.

With these ventures, the Hatchers have been all in, working hard to create and support Briar Creek as a welcoming retreat for pastors and missionaries and their families. But even as they've devoted themselves whole-heartedly to fulfilling the mission they believe God has given them, they're also struggling now to cope with a new challenge that has rocked their lives. 

The challenge is that, 17 months ago, Gretchen went blind. And no doctor, no specialist they've been to, has been able to diagnose the cause or propose a cure. 

Yet while they learn to cope with this heartbreaking situation, they continue to hope, to pray . . . and to build Briar Creek. 


The story of Briar Creek

The story of how Briar Creek got started could fill a book. In fact, Mike has written one, "Briar Creek: A Vision of Faith" (available from Amazon.com). 

After sensing God telling him in 2005 that he and Gretchen were to build Briar Creek in Theodosia, Mike found the little village in an atlas and then subscribed to the Ozark County Times to learn more about this place they'd never heard of or been to. In 2007, to document their story, Mike wrote to me at the Times to tell me about his vision and ask a few questions about their future home. 

The letter began, "Dear Mrs. Sue Ann Jones, this letter may be one of the strangest you've ever received, . . ." 

Mike identified himself in the letter as "the guy getting the Ozark County Times in Guam." 

To be honest, we do get some strange letters at the Times, and Mike's 2007 letter to me wasn't even close to being the strangest. But it has certainly been the most memorable – because during the intervening years, in scattered news items and feature stories, the Times has documented the steps the Hatchers have taken to carry out the mission God gave them in Mike's 2005 vision. 

In the Nov. 1, 2017, we wrote about their story with an announcement that Mike would be speaking at The Fountain Church in Theodosia. The article included a preview of the stories Mike would tell about some of the little "miracles" that came together to get Briar Creek started. For example:

During the Thanksgiving weekend of 2007, Mike and Gretchen visited Theodosia for the first time, wanting to look at property. Realtor Doreen Gimlen at Ozark County Realty suggested looking at a 26-acre tract that had just come on the market. When she handed them the information sheet, the first thing Mike noticed was the Multiple Listing Service number. It was his birthdate.

The Hatchers hadn't told Doreen about the name God had given them for the retreat. But as they drove down P Highway, she explained that even though the property fronted a county road, they wouldn’t be able to walk directly from the road into the property because “there are just too many briars.” Instead, they crawled under a neighbor’s fence.

While crossing a stream on the property, Mike asked Doreen if the creek had a name; when she said she didn’t think so, Mike told Gretchen, “Well, maybe this will be Briar Creek.” 

Overhearing him, Doreen turned and said, “Well, this is Briar Hollow.”

Then, back at Doreen’s office, Mike stepped to the back to use the restroom. While he was there, he prayed, “Well, Lord, what do you think?” He felt the Lord answering, “It’s time to plant the mustard seed.” 

They bought the land. 

A few years later, a copy of Mike's book about Briar Creek, which included his email address (briarcreekretreat@gmail.com), ended up in the hands of a couple who contacted him and said, "We read your book. When you went to the bathroom and the Lord told you to plant the mustard seed . . .  we wanted you to know that the building that was Doreen's old office used to be our restaurant, and we never knew why the Lord had given us the name for it: the Mustard Seed.”

In February 2019, a story in the Times announced that the Hatchers were welcoming the community to an open house at Briar Creek "to see the first stage of the retreat for pastors and missionaries."

In July 2019, the Times announced the opening of the Hatchers' Country Apron Bakery and also Gretchen's fitness studio, Inside Out Fitness.

In August 2019, an announcement said Gretchen, who holds a degree in counseling, would be the speaker at that month's Ozark County Ladies Prayer Brunch. In addition to talking about her family's Briar Creek project, the announcement said, she would talk about her life as a Navy wife, her five miscarriages, her baptism in the Mediterranean Ocean and her 2016 kidney transplant. 

Mike has participated in Veterans Day events and other military-related events. And he serves as treasurer and board member at their church, The Bridge of the Living Word, in Theodosia. 

While Briar Creek is still in its beginning stages, Mike and Gretchen have already welcomed pastors and missionaries into their home. And they've helped pastors and families enjoy getaways, like trips to Branson and Silver Dollar City. 

The Hatchers have stayed busy living out the vision, following the path God laid for them. In his 2007 letter to me, Mike described those plans in detail: The main house, where he and Gretchen now live, is named Faith. The retreat center is to include seven cabins, named for "the gifts of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness and Gentleness." It will include a walking path designated as the "Names of God Trail."

Volunteers from area churches have helped with various jobs at Briar Creek, and churches have also made financial and material donations, like rocking chairs and other furnishings.

The plan is that visiting pastors, missionaries and their families will come on Monday and stay until Friday, free of charge. They'll be welcomed into the Hatchers' home for breakfast, and then they can cook their own lunch and dinner in their cabins' kitchens. Evenings will include a time of fellowship, but, for the most part, there won't be planned activities or entertainment. The cabins won't have TVs.

"You come here, and you find God," Mike said. "Pastors know how to have a retreat with God."


Coping and carrying on

Gretchen's vision started failing in fall 2022. She had managed the bakery for a little over two years; the fitness center had closed by then – it got to be too much to operate a bakery and a fitness studio and develop a retreat center for pastors. Her eyesight had been getting "blurry and blotchy" for a while. Then, on Labor Day weekend, she and Mike took their sons fly fishing in Arkansas. 

"There's a picture of us all standing together, in our waders and stuff," Mike said. "It was right after that, that her vision went out."

"I had no idea what was going on," Gretchen said. "It scared me."

They had no choice but to close the bakery. But they were delighted when the associate pastor at The Bridge, Russ Mathews and his wife Pam, stepped in to take over the business. 

"They're doing a good job with it," Mike said last week. "They just had a Valentine's dinner, and 22 people came out for it."

As soon as possible, Gretchen scheduled an appointment with her eye doctor. "He couldn't figure it out and sent us to a specialist. They couldn't figure out what was going on either," she said.

Mike and Gretchen have been to more specialists since then and found no answers. The problem is apparently not in her eyes, themselves. She has diabetes, "but that's in check. It's not that," she said. 

And it's not related to her transplanted kidney or to a stroke. Ironically, in the 17 months since Gretchen lost her eyesight, there have been two days when she could see again. One of those times occurred while they were at an appointment with a stroke specialist. 

They continue to seek medical advice – next at the University of Kansas Medical Center. 

There are days when Gretchen can see "the outline of things – trees and things like that," she said. Other days she has very limited tunnel vision, and for that she still wears glasses. "I've had someone say, 'You're not really blind because you're wearing glasses.' But they just don't understand," she said.

Some days she wakes up and "can't see anything. It's totally black," she said. "That's a hard day."

Their son Aaron, who worked at the bakery with Gretchen, now has a new job. During the day, he's his mother's companion and helper. "I call him my Seeing Eye Aaron," Gretchen joked. 

"I pay him, and I tell him, 'I'd like you to take your mom out every day on a field trip.' They go to Branson, Ava, Mountain Home. Just to get out of the house. I text them a grocery list," Mike said. 

They especially like going to the Walmart store in Branson because it has a "Caroline Cart" that accommodates a seated adult and also has a basket for merchandise. "It's kind of neat," Mike said. "When they walk in the door, the store people recognize her and bring it out for her."

Each morning before he leaves for work, Mike lays out Gretchen's clothes for the day. And he says he's becoming good at "shopping the women's clothing aisles." He was especially proud of himself when he took Gretchen to a nail salon for a manicure and picked out purple nail polish that "exactly matched her fishing rod."

He's also becoming familiar with all the businesses in the area that have family restrooms, he said. 

The Hatchers still enjoy going out to eat. They head to Country Apron Bakery some Saturday mornings. But Gretchen is bothered by the sound in large restaurants where too many people are talking. And although she can feed herself, Aaron has outlawed salads. "He says I make too big a mess," she said, laughing. 


'OK, God, what are you doing?'

Married 34 years, Gretchen and Mike are a team. Mike tells Gretchen she "could veto anything I do." And when she tells him, "I believe God's speaking to you," he listens. Now they're coping as a team with Gretchen's blindness. 

"When she first went blind, we were at the altar every Sunday at church," Mike said. "I know a miracle can take place. I've come before the Lord and said, 'I don't understand this. The Bible says you anoint with oil and lay hands on the sick, and they should be healed, and we've done that.'"

But healing hasn't come. Gretchen's vision hasn't returned. They still go to the church altar to pray for healing but not so often now. "I think it depressed people," he said. "They think, 'Why doesn't he answer?'"

"I think I cried once or twice, and that was out of frustration," Gretchen said. "When I want something done, I want it done now. But I've learned to cope. I tell myself, 'I could wallow and cry, but what good would that do me?'"

What she wants now is to learn God's purpose in taking away her sight. "I say, 'OK, God, what are you doing?'" she said.  

Mike likens it to the television reruns they watch. Gretchen prefers the old, familiar shows because she recognizes the voices and knows who's talking. 

"We went through "The Waltons," and now we're watching "Little House on the Prairie," and I've thought about this. There's always some adversity they have to go through. There wouldn't be a story if there wasn't that story," he said. "We don't know what the end result will look like for us, but we're praying that God uses Gretchen's blindness like Jesus used his healing of the blind man in the Bible – to show the glory of God." 

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423