The Beginning of Ministry

It is somewhat hard to say exactly when we started “ministry” because Nolan and I had always been involved in our home churches.  We each taught Sunday School, helped with youth programs, church camps, etc.  For the first year or so at college we attended Fellowship Missionary Church in south Fort Wayne.  Pastor Dave DeSelm was the senior pastor there and was a powerful speaker who really brought the Scriptures right home to your heart.  (BTW, he is still the senior pastor there.)  That’s probably the only church we didn’t actually do anything in except attend.  However, Nolan was required to do a practicum in an area church and so we got involved with Pine Hills EMC (part of my church conference) which was on the north side of Ft. Wayne.

Pine Hills was pastored by Bryce Winteregg (since retired) and he was a wonderful mentor for Nolan.   Nolan had opportunities to preach and work side-by-side with Bryce to learn the ropes of pastoring and what he might anticipate in the future.  Bryce was very relaxed with Nolan and gave him a lot of freedom.  His vote of confidence in Nolan was very encouraging to us and Bryce, with his wife Karen, have a very special place in our hearts.

While at Pine Hills we taught Sunday School, AWANA, VBS, and helped in other ways.  We got to know lots of people there who loved the Lord and loved us.  One Christmas we received a bag of groceries from someone–and it included steak!  We hadn’t seen steak in a long time and hardly knew when to plan to eat it!  (Hamburger Helper was a staple for us in college which is why, consequently, I can’t stand the stuff now!)  Many people went through difficult circumstances–the battle of MS in two families, brittle bone disease in another, miscarriages, sudden death, heartaches of all kinds.  Two families were foster families and their example of loving the kids placed with them was inspiring.  When you walk with people in their pain and heartache, it draws you together as nothing else does.

Probably the experience that meant the most to us was teaching jr. high Sunday School.  The boys’ and girls’ classes were separated, so I got the easy girls while Nolan got some pretty challenging boys!  We really fell in love with my girls.  One time we took them camping while another time we had them for an overnight and major snowball fight at our apartment!  Those girls were a blast!

It was at Pine Hills that we also got to know some homeschool families up-close and personal.  The Johnston’s girls were both in my class and were just great girls.  We enjoyed their family a lot and also saw in them the example of ministry.  Linda was the church secretary and they were very involved in Pine Hills.  However, they were also involved in ministry in Russia and other places through homeschool affiliations.  They really taught their girls the importance of serving others and that lives on in Rachel and Katy even today.

We were loved by the Pine Hills church and we loved them.  When Nolan graduated and we left for Montana, it was the hardest good-bye we experienced.  It was like leaving our family and only the knowledge that we were called by God to go elsewhere pulled us away from Pine Hills and Fort Wayne.

Summit-part 2

The biggest part of my Summit experience was Nolan.  However, since our courtship isn’t exactly in keeping with the purpose of this blog, I figured I’d put Nolan stories in their own category.  So, if you want “The Love Story,” you have to go check that one out.  I’ll add to it as I get the time.

For those of you unfamiliar with Summit, it may help to know that it was a small school dedicated to training men and women for service.  Whether you planned to be a pastor, teacher, counselor, missionary, etc., Summit was a good place to be educated.  With a small student body of about 400-500 students,  it was also a great place to make friends.  The average age of students at the time was twenty-six, which indicates the number of older adults who attended.   It was a great mix between young and not-so-young that gave a balance to the campus atmosphere.

The professors were committed, faithful Christians who loved teaching.  I don’t remember a grumpy, dissatisfied one among them at all.  They were there because they wanted to be and they treated us students with respect.  At the time, Nolan and I found it interesting that there was represented among them both Armenian and Calvinist beliefs–rather opposing theological views–but it gave us students a wider view of the differences Christians can have and still work together.

Interestingly, at the time, it didn’t make me wonder who was right and who was wrong because I still subscribed to the view that we agreed in essentials and the rest was just to be accepted as differences.  Each view was valid and each Christian should pray, study the Scriptures and discern which one they were in agreement with.  It wasn’t until a few years later that I began to question that idea.

My first year at Summit I was an elementary ed. major, but switched to Biblical Studies when Nolan and I planned to get married.  Since we both agreed that I would stay home once we had children, there didn’t seem any point in running up a huge debt for a college degree I had no plan to use.  In addition, after one year on the el. ed. program, I knew that wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life anyway.  However, I wanted a degree and since that was the one I’d wanted in the first place, that’s the one I pursued.  I graduated in 1992 with an Associate’s Degree in Biblical Studies.

I loved that line of study!  I loved delving into the Scriptures and learning about the deeper meanings and historical connections, then bringing that knowledge into the present-day and seeing how it applied to my own life.  Dr. Wes Gerig and Rev. Ronald Scharfe were the principle teachers, each with different viewpoints and styles in teaching.  It was great!

Although Dr. Wes was a crusty old professor who was picky about how assignments were done, I learned a lot from him.  As any FWBC/Summit grad. knows, you had to list out at least ten answers and if you found more they had to be in increments of five (in other words, you couldn’t list 13, it had to be 15 or leave off the other three you’d found) and always, always in NOUN FORM!  The other area of distinction Dr. Wes was known for was his role in helping with the translation of the New International Version of the Bible.

Rev Scharfe was a quiet, gentle man who was careful with his words.  One phrase he used so much that I have always remembered was, “We do not stand in judgment of the Scripture.  Scripture stands in judgment of us.”  He taught us a respect and awe of Holy Scripture–God’s own words given to us for all people and all time.

Other professors were instrumental in my formation and many of the things they said stay with me to this day.  I remember during a discussion in music class with Dr. Jay Paladi in which he used the symbol of the rainbow to illustrate a point.  He noted that the New Age movement had hijacked the rainbow as their symbol and there were many Christians who would no longer use it because the New Agers were.  He said, “It’s OUR symbol!  I say we take it back!  Don’t quit using something of God just because someone else uses it!”

Class discussions, chapel speakers, special  conferences and oodles of studying challenged me to grow in my faith, understanding and ability to apply the Scriptures to my life.  Those were great years!

Meeting Nolan

The story most people hear me tell about Summit is meeting Nolan on Day 1 (August 25, 1990).  As I said before, I went to Summit to get an education and to serve God, not find Mr. Right.  So, of course, once I set my mind in one direction, God does a switcheroo and sends me in another!

Nolan and I were on brother/sister floors.  That first evening our RA’s took us all out around Fort Wayne to see the “sites” (those of you who have been to Ft. Wayne can chuckle here!).  I don’t remember if they even drove us by the Fort itself, but we did got to Power’s, Coney Island and the Hill (which, it turns out, was in a bad part of town!).

When I first climbed into the van and introduced myself and asked who everyone was, Nolan was just a guy in the back who said, in a distinctive accent, “I’m Nolan Spenst from Nort Dakota and I’m a Pastoral Ministries major.”  (No, I didn’t misspell “North.”  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a North Dakotan say, “NorTH.”  It comes out as “Nort.”)  My response, “Oh.”  (He told me later he was not impressed with me either–just another face.)  However, by the time we’d reached Coney Island near the end of the evening, I was definitely interested but concerned about how old he was.  Y’see, my first boyfriend was 9.5 years older than me, so dating a younger guy just didn’t appeal to me.  Somehow I managed to get the conversation around to asking him how old he was.  “Twenty-three.”  YIPEEE!!!  I was a happy, happy camper!

We started hanging around together and immediately had people coming up and asking us if we were dating.  The answer, “No.”  Labor Day weekend I had to go home for a wedding, so I rented a car.  When I needed to return the car, I asked Nolan to give me a ride back to campus.  On the way back he said, “Y’know, you’re wondering about me and I’m wondering about you.”  “Yeah,” I replied, “And the whole campus is wondering about both of us!”  We both agreed we were not interested in playing dating games and would strive to be honest with one another.  We also decided we didn’t want other people feeling awkward around us as a couple, so we wouldn’t hold hands, etc. on campus and make others feel like third wheels.  By the time we got back to campus, we were officially a “couple.”

 

Summit Christian College (part 1)

College.  The question asked of every high school senior, “Where are you going to college?”  The line on an application you want info. for, “Level of education?”  That great place where you’ll meet your lifetime friends, stretch your wings for the first time, study for your future and maybe even meet your future spouse.  College!  Ah, how we high school seniors counted down the days until we were FREE from compulsory education and ready for voluntary education!  (Never considered that aspect, have you?)

For me, I’d known since I was a freshman in high school that I wanted to go to Fort Wayne Bible College.  Actually, it was more of a thing that I “knew” I was to do.  If you’ve ever felt God lay something specific on your heart, than you know what I mean.  And I was thrilled to be directed to Fort Wayne Bible College.  I even loved the sound of it!  It sounded so…grounded.  Sort of like a no-nonsense school that would train young people to take on the world for God with the Bible in one hand and our diploma in the other.  It would be a place of stimulating discussions on world and theological topics with other young adults who were dedicated and focused on the Lord.  Sure, I knew it wouldn’t be that every student was like that, but most probably would be or they wouldn’t be there.  (After all, there are a lot cheaper places to get a degree than a private, Christian college.)  All through high school I looked forward to going to FWBC.  Then came reality.

The reality was simple: I couldn’t afford to go without taking out a horrendous loan.  It was one of those that would incur interest from the date it was taken out even though you didn’t have to pay on it until after you were through school.  Then, if you hadn’t paid anything on it when it came due, the interest was added to the principle and that was where you started your payments.  Now, even someone like me without a head for numbers could see that this was financial idiocy.  So, a week before I was scheduled to leave for Fort Wayne, I backed out.  It could have been that it was a lack of faith on my part–that’s always a possibility.  But time would indicate that that  wasn’t necessarily so.  Although I had a rough couple of years, I learned some lessons in humility that were badly needed and did an amount of maturing.  Now that I’m in my forties I can look back and see just how much farther I had to go, but it was a start in the right direction.

My time at AIMM had broadened my scope of the world and made me consider not just my own desires for my future, but also what the needs of the world around me were.  When I finally decided to go to FWBC, it was to become a teacher for missionary children overseas.  Teachers were needed and I was single, enjoyed teaching and was available.  I would note here, however, that that was not the degree I originally wanted.  When I was planning to go out of high school, I wanted a Biblical Studies degree.  I didn’t even know how I would use it, but that was what appealed to me–to study the Bible intensively and know it cover-to-cover.  When I finally got to school, I opted for the el.ed. degree because I felt the Biblical Studies degree wouldn’t be as useful where I wanted to serve.  So, in the fall of 1990, I finally arrived on the campus of Summit Christian College.

“Wait, wait, wait,” I can hear some of you saying, “I thought you were all gung-ho to go to Fort Wayne Bible College.  Where did Summit come from?”  An excellent observation on your part!  I’m proud of you!  Okay, here’s the scoop: Somewhere between my freshman year of high school and the fall of 1990, FWBC changed its name to “Summit Christian College.”  I’m sure there were all kinds of discussions, board meetings, administrative conjectures, etc. about that decision and it was with the idea of helping people to have a broader perspective of the possibilities at FWBC/Summit, but for me, it was disappointing.  I had liked the strong identity of FWBC and its long history of graduates who can sense another graduate just by sniffing. (Okay, so that’s a little extreme, but we had something like that happen at a church function on more than one occasion!  And we were visitors!)  But, my disappointment wasn’t strong enough to make me reconsider, so to Summit I went.

 

Adulthood

After graduating from high school in 1987 I wanted to attend Summit Christian College (formerly Fort Wayne Bible College) in Fort Wayne, IN.  When financing just wouldn’t work out I went to work while still living at home.  I worked retail and in a warehouse for a time, however it was time for me to be on my own and I took a job in Elkhart, IN, at the Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (AIMM) as their secretary.  I worked at AIMM for a year and a half, but, truth be told, I was a lousy secretary!  In addition, I ended up very depressed as I couldn’t find a church to fit into nor any friends my age.

I spent most of my time in my apartment.  The staff at AIMM did all they could and were wonderful people to work with and be around, but since they were old enough to be my parents or grandparents they weren’t people I spent much time with outside of the office.  The few friends I made were older and professionals–definitely out of my league even though they were very kind to me.  Any hopes of a dating life were not great either.  I dated a guy for awhile, but it ended up nowhere.  I wanted to get married and have a bunch of kids, but that seemed like a crazy idea after awhile.

The hardest part , though, was the church-hunt.  I tried the church most of the staff attended, but really wanted to branch out on my own instead of working all week with the same folks and then going to church with the same folks.  I found another Bible-believing church and tried to find a niche there–no luck.  I went to a charismatic Mennonite church (yeah, go figure!) and found that one waaayyy outside my comfort-zone!  And, to be honest, extremely distracting from worship.  Everyone was just sort of doing their own thing–walking around with arms raised, kneeling in prayer, sitting and listening, whatever.  It wasn’t what I thought of as worshiping as a corporate body of believers.  I did find a church eventually, but it turned out to be soon before I ended up moving home before finally going to college.

I came to the conclusion that what I really wanted was to go to college and no matter what kind of funding it took to get there, I was going.  At the time I was dating a guy who thought it would be a waste of my time to go and, for whatever reason, that irritated me and I left!  Sometimes God works in weird ways…

August 25, 1990, I finally arrived at Summit Christian College in Fort Wayne.  I was glad to be there, but ready to forget chasing dreams and finding Mr. Right.  I was there to get a degree in elementary education and work as a teacher for missionary children.

(Does it seem strange that I remember the exact date I arrived on campus?  Not really, you see, I met Nolan that night!  It seems that whenever I give up on my wants, God finally has the chance to direct me to where He’s been wanting me to go.  And, obviously, His ideas have been far superior to mine!)

My next post I’ll talk about Summit.