July 23, 2022. 10:00 a.m. The grill is heating up. Everything is ready to go for Backpacks and Burgers in Kalispell, Mont. People start walking past our pavilion in the park, and the core group kicks into gear. “Good morning! We’re North Valley Lutheran Church, and we’re here trying to show some love for our community. We’ve got backpacks. We’ve got burgers. We have face painting and crafts. Come on in and take a look around!” We’ve come a long way to get to this pavilion in the park.
Our work in northwestern Montana really began over ten years ago. A group of WELS members who had moved to Kalispell reached out to the pastor at Living Savior in Missoula. Missoula is 100 miles away from Kalispell, but out here in Montana, that’s the closest WELS church they could find. From that point on, the pastor from Missoula would drive up once a month to lead a worship service with Holy Communion.
Kalispell has changed a lot in the last ten years. The secret of Montana’s natural beauty has gotten out, and people are moving in. The latest United States census identified Kalispell as the fastest growing “micropolitan” area in the country. The city council is constantly approving new housing developments. Old hotels are being torn down and replaced with apartment complexes. In all of this, God has given us an opportunity!
Over the last couple years, the core group has intensified its efforts. The group meets for weekly worship in a hotel conference room. They also meet online for midweek Bible Study. I drive up two Sundays a month with one overnight stay so that I can spend Monday connecting with prospects. There have been challenges. When the next closest WELS church is 100 miles away, it can feel isolating. But God’s blessing has been immense. Last summer, we welcomed volunteers from four different congregations across the state of Montana for a weekend of canvassing. This summer, a dozen teens came from the Twin Cities to help advertise for Backpacks and Burgers. And it was an absolute joy to see the results that God brought about!
At our pavilion in the park, we gave away 40 backpacks and 80 burgers. We had a chance to welcome all kinds of different people. Fifteen new families expressed interest in learning more about our church. These families are not only from Kalispell, but also from nearby Whitefish and Columbia Falls. Some are new residents to Montana. Others have been here their whole lives, but have never been connected to a church. Still others have been attending big mega-churches, but are looking for a place where they won’t be overlooked – a place where they will be served with God’s Word. What a privilege we have to introduce these people to their Savior!
Way out here in Montana, we are so thankful for the prayers and the support of our brothers and sisters across the country. We are thankful for our partnership in the gospel. As our synod begins its ambitious goal of 100 Missions in 10 Years, we are praying that Kalispell, Mont., will be part of it. Next time you’re planning a vacation to Glacier National Park, make sure you keep Sunday afternoon open. We’ll be so happy to see you.
Written by Rev. Noah Willitz, pastor at Living Savior in Missoula, Mont.
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