As many of you know from the Annual Meeting, a mission trip to The Happy Church in Jackson, Kentucky, in June of this year, is being planned for the FCA Community Youth Group. As I was writing a letter to the parents of those youth expressing interest in going, I reflected on my connection with the congregations we would encounter during our trip.
When Nancy and I got married in 1986, we chose Psalm 40:5, as a verse we would claim for our marriage. This past Valentine's Day, I reminded Nancy of that verse: “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, The things you have planned for us no one can recount them to you; were we to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.” As the years go by, we are finding this more and more to be true. So, without being too thorough, as Nancy accuses me of frequently, let me share with you some snapshots from the photoalbums of our life that have led us here, and specifically, how this little church in Kentucky, plays into our story.
Nancy and I met in Colorado Springs, Colorado, at the Navigators’ Glen Eyrie Leadership Development Institute (LDI). A major impact of that experience was the conviction that I wanted to be involved in “making disciples” for the rest of my life. We got married at the end of that program and God directed our steps back to Lancaster, Ohio, where I was born and grew up.
We ended up at the Lancaster Grace Brethren Church, a Home Mission church plant my post-college roommate was attending. My love for my pastor’s preaching style--expository verse-by-verse preaching through a book of the Bible--was matched by his love for the way I connected people’s experiences with the Word in our small group Bible study. Soon, a symbiotic mentoring relationship developed. One week we would get together and he would teach me Biblical Doctrine, going through Ryrie’s Basic Theology; and the next week I would teach him about discipleship methods using the resources I gained from the collegiate Navigators ministry and my time at the Glen Eyrie LDI.Over the following months, our love for discipleship and doctrine grew.
During one of our sessions, Pastor Greg asked me, “Keith, have you ever considered pastoral ministry?” Up to that point, I had not. That question resulted in a trip to Winona Lake, Indiana, and Grace Theological Seminary (where we met Jeff and Wendy Freisen a year later). We decided to attend the church fellowship’s national conference the summer of 1989, which was in Winona Lake, and planned on checking out the seminary at the same time.
Not having a lot of money, we brought our orange pup tent, and set it up in the Mobile Home/Trailer Park associated with the school. In the RV next to our little tent were Sam and Betty Baer. Sam was pastoring Victory Mountain Grace Brethren Chapel in the deep woods of rural Kentucky, just two whoops and a holler from Clayhole and Jackson. When he heard Nancy and I were looking into attending the seminary, he spoke with someone in the recruitment office and by nightfall, we were in a luxury room (to us anyway) of the nicest hotel in town. This was the first time we had slept in a king-sized bed, but I’m getting sidetracked! Sam and Betty instilled in me a love for rural ministry that would see it fruition not in the mountains of Kentucky but the cornfields of Nebraska.
Forward to 1996, when I received my Master of Divinity degree, along with Pastor Jeff; he headed back to Lincoln, and I set my sights on Kettering (Dayton), Ohio, and later Centerville. It was while serving these Grace Brethren churches in Ohio that I learned of a new church-planting opportunity in rural Kentucky.
I visited The Happy Church in 2002, and met Pastor Mike Tabor and his young children, one who gave up his bedroom so I could have a place to sleep while I was there. I also met their bearded dragon, but I digress. Mike had a ton of energy, and he made me tired just watching him. Over the years, the church grew, despite being in the poorest county in the state. He is still the pastor there, and his now grown children serve at the church as well.
We didn’t end up moving to Jackson, Kentucky, being led instead to Taos, New Mexico, a rural ministry of a different kind. I served as the senior pastor and Christian school administrator. Nancy continued to homeschool our girls but eventually we enrolled them in the school and Nancy taught kindergarten.
From Taos, we moved to Jefferson City, Missouri, Nancy’s home-place, and attended the church she grew up in. After a pastoral change, we started attending the Grace Evangelical Free Church in town; they would eventually change their name to “The Living Hope Church.” We called this church home for the next fifteen or so years. While there, I led small groups, taught Sunday School, served on the Elder Board, and preached on occasion. We continue to have a close connection with this church family where we worshiped and served until being called to Zion Countryside Church two years ago this past February.
The Living Hope Church will be hosting our youth and adults who go on the mission trip in June, as this is a good halfway point traveling down to The Happy Church. The church in Centerville, Ohio, was instrumental in me finding out about the flood in Jackson last year. Victory Mountain Chapel introduced me to rural ministry, and the Lancaster church spurred me on to pursuing pastoral ministry in the first place.
So yes, “Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you have planned for us, no one can recount them to you…” I pray you can look over the snapshots from your own lives and see God's fingerprints everywhere. And as you look ahead, to the bright future God has for us at Zion, may you see yourself in the pages of that photo album as well as you choose to follow Him in obedient trust. May we all trust in his faithfulness knowing that if he brought us to this moment, he will lead us through it.
This is our story, this is our song; praising our Savior all the day long….
Pastor Keith Feisel