A funeral. It’s not an uncommon sight in a church. In fact—and I don’t mean this in a negative way—it’s something you just take for granted. If the unthinkable happens and a loved one dies, you know your pastor and your church will be there for you.
Now, imagine that situation without a church home. It was a shadow that Debbie’s family lived with for years. Debbie and her husband had left their WELS church behind a decade ago when they moved to Minot, North Dakota. And while Debbie’s faith remained, it slowly weakened until she reached a breaking point. Three years ago Debbie had a stroke. It changed everything. Complications from the stroke prevented her from continuing in the work she loved. She soon wrestled with depression. Over the next year her life took an ugly turn for the worst.
As God would have it, this was exactly when Grace Lutheran was established as a mission church in Minot. Debbie, along with her husband and daughter, were among our first new members. It was exactly what Debbie needed. Amid her newfound struggles, Debbie loved coming back to church. The message of her Savior Jesus kept her going.
One day will always especially stand out to me. We were sitting together at Panera Bread. I listened as Debbie shared some of her inner demons. I remember thinking that I didn’t know what to say. How could I possibly help with such deep pain?
Yet, there was one thing I could say. “Debbie, this is why we believe what we believe . . . Jesus is the only answer! This is all going to go away someday. When you rise, he will wipe these tears from your eyes.”
There was a pause.
“I know that, Pastor.” And she did. “It’s just so hard.”
Of course it is.
I had no idea this was the last time that I would see her alive on earth. On July 4, 2016, Debbie suddenly passed away at the age of 63. Even with her medical struggles, nobody saw it coming.
The next week was very difficult for Debbie’s family. There were many unanswered questions. But we didn’t have to ask one question: we knew where Debbie was. I gladly attested to her faith in Christ, which I had heard myself!
After the funeral, a former mission pastor told me that it doesn’t quite feel like a church until you have a funeral. That is when it all becomes real and when you realize how much this all matters. This thought magnified what one of Debbie’s daughters told me, “I can’t imagine what we would have done if Grace wasn’t in Minot!”
What if God hadn’t put Grace here? What if Debbie’s faith had continued to crumble? What if she had no place to hear the sweet gospel? These are questions we never had to ask. It reminds me of what was once said about our Savior: “A smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3). I marvel at how Christ kept his promise to Debbie through my feeble hands.
It’s quickly become one of my favorite things about being a mission pastor. What an incredible blessing when a mission church sees growth and new people come to faith! Yet, it’s no less a bless-ing to serve those saints with battle scars who would otherwise have no church.
Nate Walther serves as a home missionary at Grace, Minot, North Dakota. He was assigned from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., in 2014 to serve as Grace’s first pastor.
Learn more about home mission opportunities at wels.net/missions.
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Author: Nate Walther
Volume 104, Number 1
Issue: January 2017
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