Wednesday, June 7, 2017

When God Called Us To Go West!

In 1976 Joel left the Air Force and began attending Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN.  We moved with our 4 kids and 2 cats near Como Park not too far from the seminary, living in a big, old house that we bought contract-for-deed.  After two years of study, Joel would be sent on an Internship, where he would be given a church to work in for his third year.  The pastor there would be his supervisor and mentor. After Internship he would return for his final year at the seminary.

 At that time there were not many second career seminary students, so there were only 3 locations available to a family of six for Internship.  One was a very small town up in Northern Minnesota, another was in my home town in southern MN and the third was located in Malta Montana.  We ruled out my hometown right away, as everything would be too easy....too familiar with family there.  The northern MN Internship did not feel right for us either, so we chose the Montana Internship, heading out West for a new adventure.  It was the best thing we ever did, but it almost did not happen.

Joel was dragging his feet about leaving the financial security of the home we owned.  I had no ties to the house that harbored a professionally estimated 250 bats in the attic.  I also strongly believed that if we were going to learn all we could from the Internship available to us, we needed to take this Internship and head West.
 Joel had a list of logical reasons why we should stay, worrying about where we would live when we came back for his final year.  It took quite a bit of persuading by his cousin Luther and myself to get him looking at things differently.  It was when I challenged him about his reasons for staying put, that his fear lost the battle.  I reminded him of his calling, and that if he really wanted to be a minister and go to new places, he needed to trust God and GO.  I believed God was guiding this decision and selling our house and moving West was the right thing to do.  God moved in his heart too, he agreed, said yes to the Internship, and we sold our house, and headed West.

So that summer of 1978 found us driving through Minnesota and North Dakota and into the middle of Montana for one of the greatest adventures of our lives.  Because we did not let fear or worry get in the way,  and because we said YES to God's plan for our family, our lives were richly blessed with all He had in store for us.

Malta was a small town of about 2,000 in northwest central MT.  The Malta Lutheran Parish consisted of 4 churches in a 150 mile radius, with services also being conducted at a hot springs and at the small mining town of Zortman up in the Little Rockies.  Joel was assigned the two churches farthest north in Whitewater and Loring MT.  He/we would drive up north 75 miles into beautiful scenery with eagles and deer in abundance.  Often we would never see another car.  Whitewater was off the beaten track on gravel roads and people came from over 50 miles away to worship.  A skunk lived under the church, so at times the aroma was a bit overwhelming, and often church started "when people got there".  Loring was located right off a paved highway, a bit bigger, with a cafe and bar in town!  Once a month he served the churches of Malta and Dodsen.   He had a great mentor in Pastor Merv Olson who became, along with his family, long time friends.

We moved into what we affectionately called "The Internage" which was next door to the Parsonage.  It was an older house they had moved in from a ranch, and it had an add on kitchen.  When you walked from the dining room to the kitchen you went down about a foot on a slant.  There were not enough bedrooms so our oldest, Bethany, slept in the large hallway on a twin bed.  She liked that since she could read by the downstairs light at night when she was supposed to be sleeping.  There was a makeshift shower in the basement and a lime green claw foot tub in the upstairs bathroom.  A porch made for a nice place to sit on summer days when mosquitoes were in abundance outdoors. There was always a warm feeling in that house that held so many memories of the families that had lived there.

Joel was involved in every aspect of ministry; preaching, teaching, counseling, and more.  The only part of ministry Joel did not have any prior experience in was officiating at funerals, but early that fall tragedy struck with 8 funerals taking place in less than 3 weeks.  Three were murder victims from the northern churches Joel served.

Three men from California were trying to escape the crimes they committed there, and while driving through Loring to the Canadian border they went into the bar where they raped and murdered a woman, then killed her husband and another man who was in there at the time.  It was devastating to the town, and when they were caught the men were kept under 24/7 armed guards in Malta by many officers because there was some fear of vigilante justice.

One of the first weekends we were there the fair and rodeo was going on, so Joel went with Pastor Merv to help at their Sunday "church".  It was a bit chaotic with bull riding going on nearby ~ one rider being knocked unconscious, a cat chasing a rabbit, a small plain flying overhead,  and the train making itself known as it traveled through.  Joel was definitely not in the Midwest anymore!  He  rode horseback with a wagon train and preached at their Sunday service where a drunk cowboy came through on his horse.  He also participated in a round up while we were there, and as a family we helped new friends brand cattle.

Joel in the red hat

Our favorite Christmas service has been written about before...........Christmas Eve at Zortman in the Little Rockies where we climbed a hilly path up to the church.  A pot bellied stove was our only heat source on a bitterly cold night as we sang familiar hymns with lantern light reflecting off the walls.  Beautiful memory.

We learned so much there about serving a congregation.  We were the 19th Intern the Parish had welcomed into their community, they knew how to take care of their Interns.   It was one of the best experiences of our entire lives, and we are so grateful that God led us to this small town in Montana.  It is a reminder that when we listen to His voice, and heed His calling, amazing things happen!

And Joel's concern about a place for us to live during his final year?  We received a phone call a couple of months before going back to the seminary from a student who was going on his Internship and he wanted to know if we wanted to rent his house while he was gone.  He told us he would share the profits when they sold their home, for the year we were there.  Only God!


Debbie Huffaker said...

I feel God led me to read this post, sweet Lady. I have a friend who is struggling with a move and I want her to read what you've written...just maybe it will help give her some insight. Thank you for writing this!! HOPE you're doing well.

Renee said...

Love when God leads us, don't you Debbie! Hope it helps your friend.