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.