When I graduated from high school, I contemplated the possibility of going to Bible school versus going to Montana State University and pursuing an engineering degree. My girlfriend (who would become my wife) had graduated a year earlier and was attending Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta. As much as I would have liked to be at the same school to be near Kathy, I made the choice to attend MSU in Bozeman, Montana, partly because I knew it would be a good test to see if our relationship was meant to be a life-long commitment. I knew if it could withstand the separation of 1,000 miles, that it was strong enough to make it in the future as well. We wrote lots of letters! Kathy graduated from PBI and worked a year in Libby at a newspaper and then we were married between my junior and senior years at MSU, and this past June 16 we celebrated 50 years of marriage!
After graduation from MSU, I took several interview trips and ended up taking a job for Hyster Company in Portland, Oregon where I worked for a little more than five years. During that time, God really worked in my life, helping me with assurance of salvation and allowed me to get involved on a lay basis with Campus Crusade for Christ. I also had the privilege and joy during that time of introducing my boss, Ron Farrell, his brother Mike, and our secretary, Vicki, to Christ. I was then transferred to our proving grounds at Troutdale, OR to write test procedures. There I met a couple strong Christians, Norm and Gary, and we started having a Bible study at work during the lunch time. I had the opportunity to share Christ with a number of the employees there as well. We also started a home Bible study.
While I really enjoyed my work at Hyster and had developed a number of close friendships, God was at work redirecting our path. We could see that teaching God’s Word and sharing Christ was something God wanted us to do on a full-time basis. We interviewed with Rocky Mountain Bible Mission back in our home area in Montana, were accepted as missionaries and came back to Montana in April of 1974 to work under Kathy’s dad, Pastor Clarence Kutz, who, after retiring from the pastorate in Libby, had joined the mission. In the fall of 1975, Pastor Kutz was diagnosed with a very aggressive leukemia and went to be with the Lord that October. Suddenly, I was thrust into the ministry full bore. For awhile I had nine Bible studies and youth meetings a week! One of the Bible studies had grown to the point that they decided to start a church. Pastor Kutz was there while we poured the foundation and walls and then passed away. He was literally in on the foundation of Three Lakes Community Bible Church near Troy, Montana, where I was then, unexpectedly, the pastor!
Pastor Kutz was an amazing Bible teacher and excellent pastor, so I was very intimidated and felt very inadequate to fill his shoes. But I realized that God makes no mistakes. I just had to depend upon Him and be who He made me. I thought, “Oh, if I had only gone to Bible school instead of engineering school!” I had even planned to take night classes at Multnomah School of the Bible in Portland, but hadn’t been able to do so before we left. I did take a number of correspondence courses from both Moody and Prairie Bible Institutes, but my training was in Industrial and Management Engineering! How had that prepared me for the pastorate?
Well, I came to realize that God doesn’t waste anything. I thought about how God’s preparation for the big job He had planned for Moses involved his spending 40 years tending sheep. I’m sure as he led the nation of Israel out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, he saw a lot of similarities! I thought about how God prepared Joseph to one day become the heir to the throne in Egypt to be there to provide help to save his family during a famine. The preparation involved being hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, arrested on a false rape charge, and being forgotten in prison for a couple years. In my case, my training in engineering led me to a place where I got to share Christ at work and see God transform lives. After his trusting Christ as Savior, my boss, Ron, started reading his Bible before work each day and then throughout the day would say, “Dave, what does this verse mean?” He had lots of questions which made me really start digging into Scripture for answers. My engineering training had given my the discipline of knowing how to study and research and now I could apply that to spiritual things. Probably nothing helps us grow more than teaching and discipling others. And this was in a real-life, work-place scene, not just a Bible school or seminary classroom.
My lack of formal Bible training also caused me to really depend upon the Lord when I unexpectedly found myself the pastor of a newly formed church. I realized, as did the apostle Paul, that “we are not adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (II Cor. 3:5), and that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4: 13). Over the 37 years that I pastored Three Lakes Community Bible Church, I saw God work in many lives and situations. We also had the opportunity to start both a Bible camp and a Christian school. Due to the economy we had to close our school after 13 years, but the camp, Elohim Bible Camp, is still ongoing, run by Rocky Mountain Bible Mission. It has a full-time director and even hosts a Bible Training Center for Pastors. God truly blessed the ministry of Three Lakes.
Also, a number of our friends in Portland, including my boss Ron and his brother Mike, helped support the ministry of Rocky Mountain Bible Mission and Three Lakes. Ron passed away in 1993, but Mike continues to faithfully support our ministry.
So, were my years spent at MSU wasted? Goodness no! God used that training to put me in the place where He reached a number of those He had “chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4). And while there, God was equipping me for the ministry He had also planned out for me back here in Montana. I am reminded of the truth that Solomon shared in Proverbs 16:9: “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”
When my boss, Ron Farrell, became a believer, his immediate response was, “My wife and daughters need to know Christ too.” He had a burden for them so also shared the gospel with them. Next week I will share with you the testimony his daughter, Debbie, shared as a tribute to her dad.