Recently I reviewed my life and concluded the best three consecutive years of my adult life were the ones we spent in North Dakota. I have had wonderful experiences and innumerable blessings in every season of life. I have enjoyed every place where I have lived but without a doubt the overall most wonderful season was my time in North Dakota.
We were young; I was still 22 when I began teaching at Northwest Bible College. When I was offered my first contract in the spring of 1976 I told Dr. Dan Jessen, my professor at Wheaton, that I wouldn’t hire me to teach at a college. He responded with a word of wisdom, something to the effect that it was a good thing Jesus didn’t depend on me to determine the limits of my abilities and opportunities. He suggested that when God opened a door of ministry we should step through it.
North Dakota included a series of firsts for us: our first teaching positions, our first child, our first house, our first pastorate. I loved teaching, but it stressed and stretched me. In three years I taught 27 different courses and several of them multiple times, everything from all of the Christian Education curriculum to Old Testament Prophets, Acts, and my personal favorite, Business Math.
Our house was an old Victorian that we gutted and remodeled. Our first pastorate was the Butte Assembly of God, a wonderful congregation of farmers. We found the people of the Plains warm and accepting if a little distant at first. I was never officially asked to be the pastor of the AOG. A former pastor arranged for me to preach for a couple of weeks while the church looked for a pastor; I knew I was an unofficial candidate. After a couple of Sundays George, the church Treasurer, approached me and said “Pastor, will you just keep coming back until we ask you to stop?” That was my invitation to be their pastor. It was a wonderful two years.
Our time there wasn’t without some struggles. Finances were very close. My first year I was paid $7,200.00 for the ten month academic year. I had it distributed over 12 months making my gross salary $600 per month. We paid the College $300 a month for rent on a mobile home. Our car payment was $137.00. There wasn’t a lot left for life. Cheryl taught part-time that fall but was dismissed for the spring semester; it might not look good for a pregnant woman to teach the Bible. (Mary should have known better than to carry the Word of God in her womb.) Cheryl was hired full time the next year and we began pastoring as well.
I was not wise in my relationships with the school administrators, especially the President. I was a little too open and straight forward and probably a little too pushy. I think they wanted a 22 year-old who would be a little less opinionated. By the beginning of our third year we felt impressed it was time to begin looking into doctoral programs. The administrators seemed happy to endorse that plan.
Let me offer a more complete picture of our activities. For the last two years we both taught full time at the college, we pastored a church (and a second church simultaneously the final year), we bought and remodeled a Victorian house, we were Family Training Hour Directors at the Campus Church of God, where I also served on the Church and Pastor’s Council. It was the best three consecutive years of my adult life. I was fully alive, challenged and abounding in hope. Busy hands are happy hands.
It was not any single event that made my time there great. It was the gestalt of it and the excitement of everything new. I am not naive enough to think that season could ever be recapitulated. Nor would I want to even try. But I am convinced the best is yet to come and I am thankful for the warm glow of what has been.
July 4, 2010