When I think of Grace Evangelical Mennonite Church, I have only happy memories. I’m sure there were negative things that must have happened, but they were apparently not significant enough for me to remember. I loved going to church and being involved in the various activities as I grew up. We had good pastors and very dedicated people who taught the Sunday School classes and Wednesday night youth programs. It was (and still is) a very active church with something always going on.
It was at Grace that I learned my Bible so well. Not only were there Sunday morning services and Sunday School, but also Sunday night service, Pioneer Girls on Wednesdays, youth choir, high school youth group, Bible quizzing, and vacation Bible school in the summers. There were also two camps each year, a week-long summer camp and a weekend retreat in the winter. We drove all the way up to Miracle Camp in Lawton, Michigan. It was a long drive from Morton, so it was an adventure, of sorts, just getting there. There were special services held when a special speaker would come or a video series would be shown with the intent of helping Christians to grow in their faith. Each activity had as its focus the goal of knowing and serving Jesus Christ by learning His Word, the Bible, and living the life He has called us to live.
Grace had an emphasis on missions as well. We were always hearing about and from missionaries in the various countries around the world. We prayed for them, donated to them and attended the special services held for them when they came back for visits. The emphasis was to bring God’s Word and the message of salvation to the world so that all people could know Jesus Christ and accept Him as Savior and Lord. There was a lot of emphasis on recruiting missionaries as well. I think I was one of the few who never went on a short-term missions trip (something I regret and hope all my kids will take the opportunity to do). We were always encouraged to consider missions as a possible ministry. I remember being told, “Aim toward missions until God tells you that’s not where He wants you to be.” We were also encouraged to be involved in the social issues around us: picketing abortion clinics, door-to-door witnessing, ministry at the Peoria Rescue Mission, involvement in Project Angle Tree and many others. All of these things were wonderful and helped me to grow as a Christian, but I don’t think Grace would have had the impact on my life except for the leadership and shepherding of Pastor Milo Nussbaum.
Pastor Nussbaum was one of the first pastors, if not the founding pastor, of Grace. He and his wife Violet were a loving, nurturing couple who truly loved all of us. Vi was like a grandmother to everyone, always smiling and with a friendly word to say. She was energetic and busy with a chatty disposition that she was careful to keep in check. Pastor was calm, deliberate and firm, but gentle in his admonishments. I loved his eyebrows and his hands! I had the joy of seeing him again last spring at Pop’s funeral visitation and he hasn’t changed. Unfortunately, Violet has passed away now, but after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for many years it was a blessing. Pastor said that even though she eventually lost the ability to do anything else or remember anyone, she never forgot how to say, “Thank you.” Whenever anyone did something for her, she would say, “Thank you.” That’s the example I had to study in my pastor and his wife all my most formative years.
Our other pastors were also men of integrity and dedication to ministry. There was usually an associate pastor and a youth pastor who worked with Pastor Nussbaum. As I think of where those men are today, I’m happy to say they are still men of integrity, dedication and leadership. These men and the host of other people at Grace who taught in the various youth activities are, to my knowledge, still faithful to their calling as Christians. They continue to teach others about Christ and teach them His Word just as they did to me as I grew up.
I would not be the person I am today if it had not been for Grace EMC. Having always been a kid who “had to be right,” I was taught at Grace that being right only worked if it was true. My personal responsibility as a Christian to take as many people to Heaven with me as I can was learned there as well. If I started listing off all the things I learned at Grace, I’d be here all day! Grace EMC was one of the greatest blessings of my growing up years.