From Manhattan to Utah, My Call to Ministry, part 2

My first semester of Bible college in the Spring of 1997 was going well. I had made some friends, I had become head editor of the college yearbook, and my grades were great. I knew that God had called me to Manhattan, and that he had a plan.

During that semester, a ministry called A Christian Ministry in the National Parks gave a presentation during one of our chapel services. They were looking for students who would join their ministry, providing interdenominational church services at the national parks across the country. Students would work for the ministry, but their actual job would be working for the park companies who ran the hotels and restaurants. I thought that this sounded like a great way to get my feet wet for ministry, so I signed up.

I ended up being assigned to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah as the Student Minister. There was to be a team of 3-4 students, and I would be primarily responsible for the preaching duties. I was hired to work housekeeping during the week and provide the worship services on the weekend. I wasn’t too excited about the housekeeping part, but I knew it would be a great opportunity, so I went.

Right before I left I was informed that the other 3 members of the team had backed out and that I would be going it alone. While not overwhelming, it was quite a shock to go from being a member of the team to being THE team.

Nevertheless, that summer I packed my non-air-conditioned blue Honda and drove to Utah. When I arrived, I got assigned a dorm room and was given the key to the closet where all of the ministry items were kept. There were some Bible and some hymnals, as well as a podium and free-standing wooden cross. All that I really had to rely on at that point was my one semester of Bible college and the training that A Christian Ministry in the National Parks had provided.

So the first morning I was to do a sunrise service overlooking the canyon. It was beautiful. The sun coming up over the canyon, with the cross in front of it, was amazing. But I was the only one who would see it on this particular morning. I was somewhat discouraged, but I stayed there, reading my Bible. Then God encouraged me once again in an amazing way.

A group of 7 or 8 deer walked up to the clearing I was in, and walked right up to the cross. They stood there for a moment, and I was in awe of God’s hand in all of it. I was all alone, looking at the sunset, with some of God’s most beautiful creation gathered around the cross for my first sermon. I honestly don’t remember how long they were there, but I remember singing to myself, “As the Deer” for the rest of the day.

Thankfully, the second scheduled service was attended by actual people. I preached my first sermon, led the singing, and collected the offering. After the service, a woman came up to me and said that she believed that she saw the gift and calling of a pastor in me. She said that she had recently been to Jerusalem and had purchased crosses handmade there. As she handed me one of the crosses, she told me that she gives them as she feels God leads her, to those who are called into the ministry.

God again showed his love for me that day by confirming my calling and encouraging my heart and soul. The summer didn’t go as well as I would have liked. I had some issues with the job, and I faced vandalism to my car because I was a Christian. When I got back to college after that summer, my computer wouldn’t work, and it turned out that my roommate had been the source of the vandalism, and had reformatted my computer hard drive before I moved out. But even through all that, I knew that God was with me and that God had a plan.

How a Seattle Kid ended up in Kansas: My Calling

Manhattan: It’s not just in New York.

That may sound obvious to those of you who grew up in and around Kansas, but for me, growing up in the Seattle-area, I only knew of the Big Apple, not the Little Apple! But I jump ahead in my testimony – let me backtrack a bit.

I grew up going to church. We had church on Sunday morning and Sunday night, and then again on Wednesday night. And we were there. We rarely missed a church service, and I grew up learning that church attendance is critical for our spiritual well-being and growth. While I have changed some of my doctrinal positions slightly from the church where I grew up, I’m forever grateful for the foundation that church laid for me.

As with many churches, our church invited missionaries to present to the congregation. Usually they would come with a slide projector, but always they would come with stories; stories about how the power of God was spreading in the world. These stories always excited me in a way I couldn’t quite understand. I sometimes would think that maybe God was calling me into missions, but then the missionaries would get to the part about what they had to eat and I knew God couldn’t be calling me to that!

In any case, as a kid, I told my parents that I would either grow up and be a radio DJ, the President of the United States, or a pastor. While my political interests have never fully subsided, and I still like music of all kinds, I knew God had a special plan for me to be a pastor.

Until I didn’t.

Toward the end of high school, I, as teens often do, began to lose my fervor for the Lord. I sensed God was still calling me into full time ministry, but I wasn’t eager to sign up for that. Instead, I went to Washington State University the fall after I graduated high school.

While I was at WSU, I officially changed my major 4 times in one semester. I started with a double major in English and Math, with plans to be a high school teacher. Then I switched to just math. Then I switched to just English. Then I switched to Management Information Systems (which is basically a combination of Business and Computer Science). God was clearly causing me distress in my choices. I did not feel at ease with any of my majors, and I kept feeling that tug towards full time ministry.

During that first semester, I also faced many of the pressures I had not faced growing up in a Christian environment with Christian friends. I turned away from God’s plan at times, and finally came to point at the end of the semester where I had reached my limit.

At this point I had dropped all but two of my classes (who does English Lit. at 7:30am?!) and I remember sitting in my room wondering what I was supposed to do next. I felt as though I was at a clear milestone of my life. I had to decide whether I would follow myself or follow God. I prayed in my dorm room for God’s guidance, (which probably tipped the scales in his favor!), and I decided to fully surrender my life to God’s will. I didn’t really want to commit to making the sacrifices that I knew would come by entering the ministry, but I knew that my life wouldn’t mean anything if I wasn’t living for Jesus.

So I got online and searched for Bible colleges. I found many listings, but only one that I found had their application online. It was located in the state that I had always wanted to visit: New York. There it was: Manhattan Christian College. It was a clear sign from God – the application was online and it was in New York. How fantastic!

I filled out the application and printed it off. Then I went to address the envelope. “Manhattan, N…. wait… KS?? What had I gotten myself into? At that point I didn’t know anything about The Little Apple – not even that it existed – but I believed that God had gotten me this far, so he was going to get me through moving to the mid-west.

It was Christmas break when I finally got a call from MCC, and all the admissions counselors were on break. I talked with the admissions secretary, and in the course of 3 weeks I had been accepted, been given a scholarship, had a dorm assignment, and was on a plane.

I didn’t know what to expect when I got off that tiny propeller plane in a small airport in the middle of a field, but I knew that God had a plan for my life and that I was in it for the long haul. Certainly there have been times along the journey when I’ve questioned my call, sometimes even doubted my call. But I think back to my dorm room in Goldsworthy Hall and I remember the choice I made that day.

Thankfully, God has given me encouragement and direction many times since that day, but that day was my turning point.

Sometimes people ask me, so do you like living in Kansas? My answer is that I love the people here. Sure, I’d like a few more choices in terms of retail offerings in Hays, but I wouldn’t change the journey God has had for me. I don’t know where tomorrow will lead me, but I know that I won’t be on this journey alone. God has chosen me to be a pastor, and he has my back all the way.