Forward through Adversity…An Interview with Jim Tully

by Jonathan Simpson
Publication: One-to-One, Summer 2005

When you are in the midst of trials, there is a comfort and encouragement gained from those who have been tested by fire and found faithful. Their strength is not imparted through pats on the back and extensive shoulder crying sessions (although there may be time for that). Their best gift to you is their own faithfulness. It is their living testimony that gives meaning to any words they may offer.

Isaiah 30 tells us that the Lord gives us “the bread of adversity and the water of affliction” but it also promises that we will have teachers who will say “This is the way, walk in it.” Jim Tully is such a teacher. Jim owns Tully Automotive and is also a church leader in Bettendorf, Iowa. He is the husband of Judy and the father of Tim, Dan, Joie, and Jimmy (who went to be with the Lord). He has a passion for cars, a love for the church congregation that he pastors,and is never caught without a fresh joke

or funny story. Make no mistake,when it comes to his work, Jim means serious business. It has been said that “adversity introduces a man to himself.”

…Meet Jim Tully.

121: Tell us how your enthusiasm for cars began and led to the establishment of Tully Automotive?

Yellow hotrod carJT: I grew up on a small farm in Illinois. We had a tractor and other small farm equipment . My initial mechanical education came from working on these. When I was a junior in High School, I bought my Aunt’s 1931 Ford coup and put in a ’57 Buick fuel injected V8 and numerous other upgrades to the car that, needless to say, turned it into a hot rod.

It was also at this time that Jim was in a sledding accident that cracked his back and ended up paralyzing his knees.

I went to an orthopedic doctor and I was healed. By the time I was a senior in high school, I sold the car because I knew I was leaving home. I graduated in 1960 and moved on, doing mill and railroad work.

”I was a fanatic… 1 bought a 1955 Chevy 210 Series. The Mississippi River divided

the town and I had the fastest car west of the river and my brother- in- law had the fastest car on the east side. ”

During that time, all of my buddies loved cars, as did I. I bought a 1955 Chevrolet 210 series. The Mississippi River divided the town where I lived. I had the fastest car west of the Mississippi and my brother-in-l aw had the fastest car on the east side.

Jim set the scene of evening hot rod races where crowds gathered and the inevitable race between he and his brother-in-law took place.

“He lost.” Jim said with a casual confidence. “I was a fanatic,” he added. Jim’s brother-in-law must have not had hard feelings because it wasn’t long after that Jim went to work for his brother-in-law’s car dealership. Before this, Jim had been working as a welder for John Deere, but made the switch after listening to older workers at John Deere complain about not following their dreams when they were young.

“That is what triggered me thinking that I should make a change,” Jim said.

Working for his brother-in-law, Jim was now gaining more experience doing what he loved best, mechanical and body work.

“Back then there were no technical schools. I figured I would work in the industry and receive a hands-on education. I was married to Judy in January of 1963, the same day of her birthday. Now, I only had one date to remember.”

In 1965 Jim had gone back to John Deere but was building his mechanical and body shop business on the side in his own garage. Finally the day came when he went full time for himself. His business was growing and he had his own auto shop in the downtown business district. It seemed Jim was living his dream until 1970, when a horrible gas fire at Jim’s shop left him in critical condition for 14 days and incapacitated for 9 months. With no insurance it almost cost Jim his business but, with the help of his wife Judy, one employee and his brother-in-law, the business survived.

121: How were things for you spiritually during this time?

JT: I had grown up devout Catholic. I have brothers that are priests and sisters that are nuns, but it was not a good family situation growing up. The year that I really met the Lord was 1972, when everything hit at once and brought us to an awareness of our vulnerability. Before, we thought we could conquer the world.

I had just received a large loan to start a parts store in addition to the body shop. The first few months went well, but then energy crisis hit and my business crashed. During this time also, my wife almost died because of hemorrhaging with the delivery with our son Jimmy. At one point the doctor had even said, “she’s gone.” It was during these pressurizing times that Jim says he “got saved and filled with Holy Ghost.”

121: Did you go to a Charismatic Catholic Church?

JT: No, we were Charismatic members of a regular Catholic Church. Soon after our conversion experience, our daughter Joie, who was three years old, suddenly became very ill and unresponsive. We took her to the hospital where, after four weeks and many tests, the doctors said she had three days to live due to a blocked liver.

Now, as a believer and man of faith Jim told me how he and Judy cried and prayed there at the hospital, then went into their daughter’s hospital room. Suddenly, Joie seemed fine. She sat up in her bed and greeted her parents.

During the drive back from the hospital that evening, we recognized God’s healing. The next day when we arrived to the hospital, Joie’s doctors approached us. Two of them said ‘We have no idea what happened’ but that Joie was doing fine and had no more signs of illness. The third doctor, with tears in his eyes, said that he could not understand how the other doctors were not believers in Jesus. This had been a true miracle. Joie was able to leave the hospital the next day. That was confirmation that what we believed was real.

Jim and Judy became increasingly involved in their church. With the permission of their priest, they began leading prayer meetings and home group meetings teaching from the book What is a Christian Family? Soon, there began to be a real move of the Holy Spirit within the church. “We started getting magazines such as New Wine and New Covenant,” said Jim.

During this time Jim became the Vice President of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship in his area. It wasn’t long before the news of what God was doing had spread and Jim and Judy were invited to lead similar home group meetings at a nearby Lutheran Church while remaining members of the Catholic Church.

Real relationships were being developed. People were receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and there was cohesion among us. But our Priest left the church and we got a new priest who did not approve of our being involved outside of the church. He insisted that all church needs were to be met within the church.

Jim decided it was time to leave. Not long after, at a Christian Fellowship conference in Chicago, Jim received encouragement from Pastor Hap Arnold to continue working with those that God had joined to him through the home group meetings. Jim returned to Bettendorf with the desire to let God establish whatever would happen next. Bettendorf Covenant Community Church began with Jim’s family, two other couples and a few friends who looked to Jim for spiritual leadership.

When the Postmaster told me that our church name would be shortened at the post office to “Bettendorf Coven,” we decided to change our name to River of Life Church. In 1997, we were able to purchase our own church building. Today Judy and I are really just Mom and Dad encouraging them to build one-to-one relationships. We must walk in a way that brings them into that same way of walking; my wife and I must be a model. We try to have a spirit of helping . You can get by saying tough things if you say it with compassion.

121: Give us an update on your business. What are the challenges you face?

JT: Besides the body shop we expanded into the industrial line, painting custom colors on backhoes for example, and powder coating for custom lighting. This business, located in Davenport, is facing lean times. In recent years, fifteen companies who did business with us have gone bankrupt. Besides losing their business, a substantial amount of money they owed us could not be paid.

121: When your business is in a downturn, what is the best way to respond?

JT: Every day trust God and work the best you know how. God asks us to over come depression and unexpected change. I’m not talking about losing 10 pounds. Being the boss, I am in the shop. If someone is sick, I do their job . My employees say “I have never seen a boss work like you do.” I also had to get rid off all dead wood. God just gave me one talent; he didn’t give me ten. I want to give him some return on that talent.

God is going to test our faith…it’s not going to be a written test. It will include loss. Don’t look at the circumstance and lose sight of the big picture. Go to war and go to the Cross. I listen to many people today who think that God wants to fulfill their dreams. I’ve been reading Hebrews 11 recently…what about those who were cut in two? We can’t make the world into heaven.

The energy crisis was a world situation that affected me personally. When the parts store collapsed during the energy crisis, it took me seven years to pay back the loan, but God was in that. What would I be like if I had gotten “my dream”? I was capable to be blind to what God wanted and wide eyed to what I wanted.

121: Do you think your sense of humor has helped you face adversity?

JT: You have to be able to laugh in the middle of adversity because it helps break the tension. Remember, adversity does not have the final say, God does.

121: In your body shop you have been able to apprentice several men. How did you know when they were ready to be promoted?

JT: It’s pretty easy to see. They have to carry within themselves a desire to accomplish, not just put in time. That is a commodity that many people don’t have. They have to understand, not just do it because they are told. They must have the right attitude, to be able to think through the situations and do the small things well. Everybody working for me understands, you don’t get paid because you are here. And should they get promoted, they can’t get the “boss syndrome.” To be a good boss you must be a good servant.

Even when adversity comes, stay encouraged as you run the race!

Scripture Reference: Isaiah 30; Hebrews 11

About the Author:

Jonathan Simpson

JONATHAN SIMPSON is a frequent contributing writer to CSM’s Marketplace Exchange.