(In Loving Memory of John Ring…April. 23, 1940—Sept. 1, 2020)
On one occasion, Jesus took His disciples into the district of Caesarea Philippi which had been built by Herod Philippi, son of Herod the Great, at the base of Mount Hermon near the mouth of an enormous cave, a center of Baal worship. Baal was thought to descend through the cave to the center of the earth until spring when he emerged to have sexual relations with Ashserah . From their union, the world was supposedly blessed with fertility.
It was there that Jesus—likely standing on the large rock outcropping overlooking the cave— asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Mt. 16:13). “And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, and others say Elijah, but still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (v. 14). Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” (v. 15). Simon Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Jesus told them that Peter had not figured that out on his own; only God the Father could reveal that to him (v. 17). Then we have Jesus’ statement and prophecy: “…you are Peter (a small stone), and upon this rock (feminine form for a large rock outcropping) I will build My church and the gates of Hades (powers of spiritual darkness) shall not overpower it” (v. 18). Jesus was not saying that He would build His church on Peter or upon his successors, but upon this divine revelation and Peter’s profession of faith as to who Jesus Christ is. “I will build My church…” indicated that the formation of the church was still in the future. It began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection and ten days after Jesus ascended back into heaven, when God sent the promised Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:26; 15:26,27; 16:7; Acts 1:5) to permanently indwell believers, immerse them into the body of Christ—the Church (I Cor. 12:12,13)— and empower them to spread the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection to the far corners of the world (Acts 1: 8).
Little assemblies of believers began springing up all over as the Gospel spread. Many of these assemblies of believers (ecclesia = “called out ones”) met in homes. When the Apostle Paul wrote a letter from prison to Philemon, he greeted him this way: “I Paul,. a prisoner of Christ Jesus…to Philemon, our beloved brother and fellow worker…and to the church in your house” (Philemon 1:1,2).
In Libby, Montana, as a result of a Youth for Christ rally in 1954, a number of folks got saved and some began meeting for Bible study in the home of Lou and Nora May Auge. The group grew and decided to begin a church, calling Pastor Clarence Kutz (my future father-in-law) to come and be their pastor. They rented the Grange Hall and then bought property and built Faith Bible Church.
A similar thing happened a few years later as missionaries with American Sunday School Union came from Pennsylvania to western Montana and started a rural mission called Rocky Mountain Bible Mission. One of the first missionaries, Gary Walker, was instrumental in introducing a number of folks in the area of Savage Lake, Schoolhouse Lake and Milnor Lake (on the north end of the Bull Lake Road…Highway 56) to Christ. Gary started a Bible study in September 1972 in a cabin near the home of Marvin and Bernice Kates. When the Walkers moved to Hot Springs in 1973, the Bible study was resumed by Pastor Clarence Kutz who, upon retiring from Faith Bible Church, had also joined RMBM. In September of 1974, the Bible study moved to the trailer home of John and Lottie (Kates) Ring.
Ray and LuRee Sampson had recently moved to Little Joe, Montana which is a very small community located ten miles south of the Rings’ trailer. Ray had retired as a fireman in Seattle. He was not yet a believer, but LuRee, a Christian, had prayed that they would locate near a church for her to attend. There were no churches near Little Joe, but she heard about the Bible study at Rings so tried it out. She found out that John Ring and some of the other men enjoyed hunting, especially elk hunting, so she told Ray—also an avid elk hunter—that he would enjoy these men since they also liked to hunt. On that basis Ray came. Pastor Kutz was teaching from John 4 about the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well and ended up believing in Him, leaving her water pot and running back to tell her village about her encounter with the Messiah. Well, that night Ray went back home and got on his knees and “left his water pot,” turning his life over to the Lord.
After resigning from my engineering job at Hyster Company in Portland, Oregon, Kathy and I and our two children, Heidi (age 4) and Grant (age 2), returned to Libby in April 1974, having also joined RMBM. I was to work as an understudy to my father-in-law, Pastor Kutz. While he taught the adult Bible study in the Rings’ living room and Kathy and her mom taught a children’s class in a bedroom, I taught a youth group in the shop.
In March 1975, the Bible study group had grown to about 40 people and they decided they needed to start a church so took up an offering that evening to begin “Three Lakes Community Bible Church.” Articles and By Laws were drawn up. The initial executive council was composed of John Ring, Ray Sampson, Ivan Varner, George Jordan and myself. Construction on the church building (by men of the church) began in April 1975.
Pastor Kutz suddenly was diagnosed with Leukemia in September and went home to be with the Lord in October of 1975. I had the frightening task of filling in for someone I still consider one of the best Bible teachers and pastors that I have even known. Kathy and Mrs. Kutz continued teaching the children’s class and Rocky and Mary Zaic became our youth leaders. Sunday services began in the church basement on February 6, 1977 with Bible study, youth group and children’s classes held mid-week. TLCBC was officially incorporated in the state of Montana October 10, 1977 and the first service in the superstructure was on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1978. In the spring of 1979, TLCBC built Elohim Bible Camp on the Bull Lake Road on property donated by Ellis (Al) and Ida Stewart. Camp began in July. That fall, “Three Lakes Christian School” also began at the church for K-6, expanding eventually through grade 9 with up to 70 students. The school continued until 1983, having to close because of the loss of local mining and logging jobs and many people having to move.
As I think about the impact that TLCBC has had on our community and now throughout the world as those who have moved on have taken the Gospel with them, I think about how the faithfulness of John and Lottie Ring and their zeal and passion for the Lord made it all possible. When I retired from pastoring TLCBC in May 2011, Kathy and I made a list—to the best we could remember—of all the folks who had attended TLCBC and we came up with about 650! Add to that all the young people who attended TLCS and have gone to ELohim Bible Camp, and there have been several thousand people influenced for Christ because of the dedication of John and Lottie Ring (and the Kates) to building the Kingdom of God.
John Ring had a compassion for the souls of others and had a very sensitive heart. Anytime he started relating what God had done in his life, it brought tears to his eyes. He loved his Savior very much. Whenever we had opportunity to visit at Three Lakes after we retired, we always got a big hug from John. I look forward to when we get to join him one day in heaven. He was truly a faithful servant and will be greatly missed here. But I also think of the greeting when he arrived in heaven. There to meet him were the many who attended Three Lakes, and were influenced by its ministry, who got there ahead of him. I am so grateful for having had the privilege of knowing John Ring and for the influence he had on my life and that of my family and our church. I am thankful for the patience he had with me as a young “green” pastor who had huge shoes to fill when, by default—but God’s plan—I became the pastor of the church which began in the Ring home.