Moments with Missionaries: Sparks, Nevada


Steven M. Hillmer

Growing up in the mid-1960s, Greg said his mom would drop him off at church on Sunday, but she did not attend. Greg learned about Jesus in a general way, but inconsistencies made it difficult for him to connect with Jesus in a personal way.

Things changed when he was 14. The offering was taken, and the plates were brought forward. The pastor received them and announced, “You can do better,” so he passed them back to the ushers for a second round. That was the last time Greg attended church.

Fast-forward 42 years. Greg’s wife, Joloyce, began attending The Springs, a WELS home mission in Sparks, Nevada. At first Greg did not attend. He drove her to church but stayed in the car to read. Eventually Greg joined her for worship and attended congregational meals.


Joloyce and Greg, The Springs, Sparks, Nevada

About six months passed. It was time to invite Greg to join the new Bible information class, but Greg wasn’t feeling well. He was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer.

But while cancer was doing its thing, the Holy Spirit was at work doing what he does. At the services Greg attended, he heard the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit created faith in his heart. Greg now warmly welcomed visits and devotions. He discovered the love of other believers, expressed through their phone calls, cards, and compassion.

On Pentecost Sunday, Greg was too weak to come to worship, so an afternoon visit was in order. I began by reading the Pentecost account. We talked about how Peter didn’t sugarcoat his message. When I asked Greg if he knew how many people were baptized that day, he instantly replied, “Three thousand! We just read this in our morning devotion.”

Then Greg said, “I want to get my house in order. I want to be baptized.”

We filled a bowl with water and rejoiced. With God’s Word, the water became a wonderful water of life. The Holy Spirit bestowed upon Greg the blessings of Baptism—forgiveness of sins, salvation, and the assurance of eternal life. It was an incredible moment.

Greg’s health declined rapidly. One morning, we stood by Greg’s bed reading Scriptures, praying, and singing hymns. Then we sat around the kitchen table. A few minutes later, Joloyce walked back to Greg, and his labored breathing had ended. His eyes were closed. Greg was home with Jesus.

I stayed with Joloyce into the afternoon. We closed with a devotion on Psalm 130, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope” (v. 5). Greg’s waiting was over. Now Greg’s new day had dawned. No more cancer. No more pain. Just Jesus and the joy he promises.

I left with several bags of pennies. A few weeks earlier, Greg had mentioned that he wanted his coins to be put in our congregation’s building fund. My sons counted the rolls—9,650 pennies, or $96.50. The next day, Joloyce said that they found the rest of Greg’s coins. This time it wasn’t just pennies, but nickels, dimes, and quarters too. The total rose to $516!

The following Sunday’s Gospel lesson was the story of the sinful woman who poured oil on Jesus’ feet. She knew she had been forgiven much, and she wanted to express her love. Near the end of the sermon, I shared Greg’s story and placed his envelope in the offering plate. Greg had been forgiven much. Greg loved much, and he wanted to share what he had to help others know of Jesus’ love.

This is why we plant missions and share the gospel. Some might say this happened just in the nick of time for Greg, but it was all in God’s timetable. We at The Springs were privileged to be God’s instruments, sharing his love and grace.

Steven Hillmer serves as a home missionary at The Springs, Sparks, Nevada.



Read more about how WELS missionaries are working to spread the gospel in the U.S. and around the world on the WELS Missions blogs.


Learn more about WELS missions in North America.




Author: Steven M. Hillmer
Volume 103, Number 9A
Issue: September 2016

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