Where did you grow up? How did where you grew up contribute to preparing you for life in small-town pastoral ministry?
I grew up in a suburb of Denver, Colorado and really was a “city girl.” My sole claim to “rural” experience was a high school boyfriend who was from a small Nebraska town and was raised on a ranch. I visited their home/ranch occasionally and “experienced” ranch life when I knocked my boyfriend off a tall stack of hay bales trying to back up his pick-up for loading — the clutch was not my friend! Tom tried to teach me to ride horseback — that horse knew I was no ranch-hand and proceeded to gallop away with me only to stop on a dime in front of a fence, pitching me across. Fortunately, only my ego was hurt.
Where have you served in ministry? Can you describe the particular culture in those areas and how that affected your ministry there?
We served for 16 years in Springview (population 300), which was the only town in the county with a total county population of less than 1000 people; cows outnumbered humans probably 10 to 1 or more! The primary “industry” was ranching, with several big farms mixed in, too. It was 180 miles in any direction to the nearest Walmart or mall. Since it was so small and quite isolated (30 miles between very small towns), Springview was a very close and cohesive community, with life centered around the school and several churches. Everyone knew everyone and knew everyone’s children and what they should/should not be doing. They really did watch out for one another! Someone there gave me a coffee mug that says, “The nice part about living in a small town is that if you don’t know what you’re doing, someone else always does!”
The church we served had a great group of fairly mature people – ranging in age from young families with babies or toddlers to families with teens to older retired couples and even several widows and widowers and a couple of never-married older ladies — who were willing and qualified to serve as leaders, teachers, servers, etc. Since the community was so close, it was pretty easy to get involved in school and community activities and it didn’t take long for us to get to know lots of people. (Longer for me, an introvert, than for Sam who is VERY extroverted! Since we lived in town and I was available, I did a lot of babysitting, some full-time and others part-time and many “Can the kids come to your house after school, till I get back from . . . ?” times.
Our current place of ministry is very different – both the church (less mature, with not much leadership or commitment to ministry other than Sunday mornings☹), and the community. We live just 50 miles east of the Denver metro area so many people live in Deer Trail but work in Denver. It’s not a cohesive community at all and that makes it harder to meet people from the community and get involved in their lives. We’ve been here five years and are beginning to make more in-roads toward reaching out to the lost.
One thing I learned quickly in both places of ministry, and that really helped when I felt out of place in such a different culture from the one I grew up in, is that people are people wherever they live. They have the same kinds of joys, sorrows, fears, loneliness, hurt, and pain as people in big cities or across the seas and they all need the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How did God bring you to a place of serving in small-town/rural ministry? Did you have any sort of “calling” in this? If so, describe the circumstances.
I met my husband, Sam, in 1972 at Denver Baptist Bible College (merged with Faith BBC in Ankeny, Iowa several years later) and we married in July of 1974. I knew when I met Sam that he felt called to pastoral ministry and had a real desire to pastor a rural congregation because that’s the environment in which he grew up in rural Minnesota. However, the Lord didn’t see fit to allow that to take place for many years. We served in lay ministry in the Denver area for almost 25 years, raising four daughters along the way. In 1997, God brought us into contact with Village Missions. We wondered why God had waited so long to direct us to this organization because it was exactly what Sam had always desired to do! I always felt like it was my calling to be Sam’s helper—whatever “job” he was doing or in whatever capacity he was serving the church. I taught Sunday School, Awana, Ladies’ Bible Studies, and was active in music ministry, etc., but I don’t know that I ever felt “called” to be a pastor’s wife in particular. I felt called to be Sam’s wife.
How did God bring you and your husband together to serve in this way?
When God directed us to Village Missions, we both were of one heart and mind that this is where God wanted us to serve. It truly was not a difficult decision. I did struggle a bit with the idea of leaving my elderly parents in the Denver area without us, because I had no siblings nearby. A friend reminded me that we were leaving three grown (one newly married, another soon to be married) daughters in the Denver area who were well able and willing to see to their grandparents’ needs – which they did wonderfully till God called both parents home to heaven.
Did you have any particular areas of ministry in which you served in your church and community and what led you to those decisions?
My main ministry was probably in the area of music and worship planning, playing piano, and leading worship (with Sam) for all our years in Nebraska and now in Deer Trail. Those skills and desires also were used as we served as “camp pastor” and lead counselor at our local rodeo Bible camp for 14 years. I have also facilitated many Ladies’ Bible studies, and taught Awana Cubbies and pre-school Sunday School classes for 20+ years.
In our current place of ministry, I have also found ways to go outside the immediate community of Deer Trail to be involved in ministry along what is known as the “I-70 Corridor” – several towns along the Interstate east of Denver which makes up the larger “community”. I have served now as a volunteer at a crisis pregnancy/women’s resource center in a neighboring town. There I get to work with lots of women and families who are struggling in various ways from unwanted pregnancies to poverty to lacking parenting skills and life-management skills, etc. It is a great joy to help ladies make the decision to keep their babies to term and learn to parent them and provide for them. I am currently teaching a parenting class for 4-6 young women and seeing them grow in their abilities to be good moms.
What has been one of your greatest challenges in this ministry context and how did you persevere in it? What did God teach you through it?
People are the greatest joy and the greatest challenge! People problems can bring the greatest joys when they respond to spiritual ministry and the greatest heartache and deepest hurt when they are thoughtless, or deliberately hurtful or critical. God has taught me to continue trusting Him, to be quick to acknowledge wrongdoing when needed and to do everything I can to make amends, and to never say never about God’s ability to change people’s hearts and minds and bring reconciliation and great joy and friendship with difficult people.
For me, living in an isolated community was difficult for all of our 16 years there. Access to “culture” (other than rodeos ☺) was very limited and I missed being able to go to zoos, museums, concerts – even movies.
“Sharing” my husband is sometimes difficult and since he is a genuine people-pleaser (mostly in very positive ways☺), his tendency was to please everyone but me! God brought a book called “Dangerous Calling” by Paul Tripp to our attention at a critical point in our marriage and used it to bring about some very necessary changes that have “stuck” (well, mostly! ☺) since then. DON’T NEGLECT YOUR MARRIAGE AND DON’T LET YOUR HUSBAND NEGLECT YOUR MARRIAGE!!!!!!
What has been one of your greatest blessings in this ministry context and how has that affected your perspective of small-town and rural ministry?
Interestingly, the greatest challenges have also been the greatest joys. Seeing God move and work in people’s hearts and transform their lives —using me to be a part of that transformation — is the most wonderful blessing. Also being treated with great honor as the pastoral couple has been so humbling and encouraging over the years.
If you could give a piece of advice to other rural and small-town pastors’ wives, what would it be and why?
We love Village Missions’ motto: Preach the Word and Love the People! When I simplify my thoughts and feelings, testing them in the light of that mandate, I can let go of sometimes petty feelings of discouragement or frustration and just seek to remain faithful in doing those things, letting God do the work of transforming and maturing His people.
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