After a couple rejects religion, two postcards serve as their call to Christ.
Preparing for retirement, Joanne, also known as Joni, and Bob Gruber moved to Madison, Alabama. After settling into their new home, they received a postcard from Lamb of God Lutheran Church inviting them to come to worship. The Grubers agreed that they didn’t need to waste their Sundays by going to church, but Joni didn’t toss the card. Instead, the card sat on her desk for nearly a year. Finally, when tidying up a bit, Joni threw it away.
But the day after Joni threw it away, a new card appeared in the mail. It seemed to the Grubers like a good time to change directions. Because of that card, Joni and her husband started on a new path of faith.
No need for organized religion
Joni was raised in a devout Catholic household, attending Catholic school in Wausau, Wisconsin. In high school, she told her parents that she didn’t want to attend Catholic school anymore, because she didn’t believe in the Catholic religion. To Joni, there were fundamental things wrong in the church; the leaders allowed bad things to happen without making corrections. After a little discussion, her parents allowed her to go to the public high school. “If I didn’t believe in the Catholic religion, they didn’t see the point in spending the money for it,” Joni says.
In 1966, Joni married her husband, Bob, at a Lutheran church in Chicago. Although they were married in a church, both already had made the decision not to join a church or attend worship. Joni and Bob agreed that they didn’t believe in religion. They thought that religion caused the major wars and turmoil in the world. “Religion seemed to be disappointing to us,” Joni says. “Religion as we knew it was not as important as they were trying to say that it was.” Their lives continued without Catholicism, Lutheranism, or any other faith. Although they still prayed to God and trusted in him, they believed that religion was something human-made and it was used to suit the needs of humans. Their lives seemed to be fine without organized religion.
It wasn’t until after Joni and Bob received the second postcard from Lamb of God that they changed their minds about religion. They discussed the idea of going to church and decided it wouldn’t hurt to attend just one Sunday.
When they arrived at Lamb of God for the first time, their experience was a lot different than they both expected. “There were greeters at the door, and they were very nice,” Joni recalls. “Everybody was very interested in talking with us, which was very welcoming.”
After that day, Joni and Bob regularly attended services at Lamb of God, and the pastor led the couple through Bible classes. “He answered every question we had, and, of course, we had lots of questions,” Joni remembers. It wasn’t long, though, before the pastor took a call to the state of Washington.
About the same time, Joni officially retired from her business and decided she needed to fill her time with something new. She thought that being a church secretary would be a perfect fit for her, but with the pastor leaving, she found it unlikely that an opportunity would arise. Still, she prayed to God, asking him to guide her.
Soon another pastor accepted the call to serve Lamb of God. As he began his new work in Alabama, he asked the church to budget for a part-time administrative assistant. The church agreed to hire a secretary and put an ad in the weekly bulletin. That Sunday, as Joni sat in her pew and read the bulletin, she was stunned to see the ad for the position. It was exactly what she was praying for. She nudged Bob and showed him the ad, and he encouraged her to look into the job. She thought about it for two weeks until she finally put in her resumé for consideration. She got the job. “We were both very happy with my opportunity,” Joni says.
Valuable ministry partners
Joni met the new pastor, John Roebke, on her first day of work, starting a friendship that continues today. She says she enjoyed working with him all the years she was there. He helped train her the first year, including teaching her about computers and how to create bulletins. Roebke says Joni had a willingness to learn and be trained, asking important questions and always troubleshooting problems. “She was a very valuable ministry partner,” he says. “God certainly got the right person in the right place at the right time.”
The job came with some unexpected important benefits. Joni learned new information about the Bible. One of her favorite parts of the job was finding Bible passages and information to incorporate into the church bulletin. She found ways to integrate the Bible into her daily activities. “I got the best part of the deal because not only did I come to church, but I got to see my friends, and I learned more about my religion than I probably would’ve learned otherwise,” Joni says.
Her pastor became much more than just a boss to Joni. He also provided the support of a friend. When Bob was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Roebke became the couple’s spiritual shepherd and offered them counsel. Trouble and trial drove them both to the promises of God. From those promises, their faith grew stronger. Roebke remembers, “That is definitely what I saw with Joni. I’ve really seen her faith mature.” When Bob passed away, Roebke answered Joni’s call at two in the morning, offering words of encouragement that her husband was with his Savior.
Joni worked at Lamb of God for several years, even after she had a stroke. As her mind was healing, Roebke was there, patiently helping Joni relearn certain tasks. “I give her credit because she didn’t quit. She kept it up,” he says. She eventually started a card playing group to help with her memory. That also had some unexpected benefits—it grew into a strong fellowship group.
Joni retired from her church work a year ago but still maintains her church relationships and volunteers when she can. She hopes that her story inspires others to keep their hearts open. “Keep yourself open to different things in life because you never know when the best is going to come,” Joni says.
Gabriella Moline is a member of Zion, Crete, Illinois.
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Author: Gabriella Moline
Volume 104, Number 7
Issue: July 2017
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