Hope in North Dakota

I’ll never forget the day I met Dan.  It would have been hard to forget since it was Easter Sunday in 2015.  But it was even more memorable for a different reason.  After an inexplicable struggle with my text, I delivered what I genuinely felt was an excellent sermon.  The law was striking, the illustrations were spot-on, and the gospel hit home with the incomparable message of hope in Christ’s resurrection.  Of course, it helped to have the Holy Spirit’s flawless work through my preaching that Sunday.  It would have been a total dud otherwise.

Yet, when I had a chance to talk to Dan after the service, it felt like a total dud.  On a day where everybody else reflected that Easter joy, you could almost see a storm cloud following Dan.  Can you imagine?  Even after a morning focused on Christ and on the resurrection, Dan felt empty.  Easter’s certain hope was lacking for him.

Dan wasn’t the kind of person in whom you’d have expected to find this.  He grew up in a very church-going, Pentecostal family.   The air force had brought him to Minot, but had avoided ensnarement in the temptations that some young airmen face.  All in all, he was a good kid with a good head on his shoulders.  But somewhere along the way he lost his spiritual moorings.  He completely doubted his faith. It produced an opportunity: one of our members invited him to Easter Service.  While he continued to struggle that morning, I extended a feeble invitation to take Bible information class with him and try to answer some of his questions. Dan was looking for hope, so he came.

It’s one of my favorite classes I have ever taught. Dan started the class unable to answer the question, “How can I get to heaven?”  But every week as we dug into God’s Word, I could see the Holy Spirit working on him.  I remember discussing infant baptism with Dan, assuming this would be a sticking point given his background.  We went through Scripture’s evidence for it.  My jaw dropped when he simply said, “It’s hard to understand because I’ve never heard this before, but it’s pretty clear… this is what the Bible says.”  With this simple approach, Dan found hope in a purer way than he had ever heard before: in Jesus, his full and free Savior from sin.

Hope’s rays finally broke through his dark storm clouds.

At the end of that summer, Dan was baptized.  Then, just as quickly as I came to know him, the air force took him elsewhere.  I’ve stayed in touch with Dan over the last two years.  He’s doing great.  Recently, he met a wonderful Christian woman and is getting married.  Someday, he wants to make it back up here so he can take her to church here.

And I just marvel.  I marvel at how the simple message of God’s grace in Christ dispels life’s darkest storm clouds, even if it does take some time.  I marvel at how hope is still needed even in places like Minot where there are almost 20 Lutheran churches and 80 churches total.  I marvel at how God put Dan in the right place at the right time to find the right hope.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 3:3)

What other hope would have helped Dan?  None, but this!

By: Rev. Nathan Walther, Grace Lutheran Church, Minot, ND

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