A Call to Ministry

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I would like to introduce you to two very dear friends of our family, Don and Laura Gotham. I believe my family and their family became fast friends the day he became the minister of our church. Despite the fact that he has been transferred on to bigger and better things, we have remained friends. He was the minister for all 3 of my girl’s weddings. This picture of from my daughters wedding in Atlanta, GA!!! We have made so many memories and had so many laughs. I do have to admit, Laura is the fun one though!!! (Little inside joke!!) These two are just fun loving and happy people who truly love the Lord and have devoted their lives to serve them. My youngest daughter and their daughter Elise were the little ones tagging along at youthgroup. Like I said, so many memories. I asked Don to share his story of his call to ministry. I have found it pretty inspiring and I think you all will too. The Utica, Michigan United Methodist Church is very fortunate to have this family serving them. Read, and enjoy!!

Peace,

Julie

The Fleece was Elise

Jeremiah 29:11-14a; Judges 6:36-40

The Bible is filled with stories of how God and the people of God have interacted.  I would like to share with you some of the story of how I have interacted with God, and how it is that God called me into ministry.

When we began our marriage more than 26 years ago, we prayed for guidance.  We prayed for guidance in how our lives were to flow.  I assure you, we had very different plans than God did.  We had imagined our lives lived out in Saginaw.  God, on the other hand, had a very different journey in mind for us.

Working in retail management, we learned what it was to relocate for work.  Laura likes to comment that we moved more when I worked in retail that we have in ministry.  While I worked for CVS, we were moved to a far off place called Dowagiac.  Neither of us could pronounce the name of the town.  We had no idea where we would live, but we were pursuing the common track of making money, so we moved.  We were so intent on achieving our dreams, we were willing to live in a house we rented on a Hog Farm.

After we settled in Dowagiac, we ended up at the United Methodist Church.  The pastor there thought it would be good to have me get involved in ministry.  The church owned an adjacent house and they were interested in cultivating a college student ministry.  Southwestern Michigan College was there, and no one was reaching out to the college students, so Laura and I got involved.

At the church, there were members who began asking me if I’d thought of being a pastor, and the pastor would tell me something about the goings on at church, or his plan for something church-related, and would comment that I would need to know these things when I pastured my church.  I was convinced we had wandered into the Twilight Zone.  The people at the church barely knew me.  I was baffled as to why the people would say those things to me.  I was still pretty intent on making money, and everybody knows, if you are looking to get rich, the pastorate is not the place to pursue that dream.

Now, every year, for as many years as Laura can remember, she has spent about ten days of her summer at Simpson Park Camp in Romeo.  She introduced me to the camp while we were dating.  We have made it a part of our summer each year of our marriage.

We moved to Dowagiac in May, and that summer at camp, I felt God calling me to something new.  Every year at the Thursday evening service, there is a call to come forward if you feel called to vocational Christian service.  I didn’t go forward that year, and I didn’t confess to Laura my wonderings about what God might be calling us to.

We worked at our jobs, and were involved at church, and the people kept making those comments to me about what they saw in my future.  I kept telling Laura these people were nice, but obviously confused.

June of the next year, we moved again.  This time, we were moved to Grand Rapids, and quite unexpectedly, in a little more than a month, I was let go from my job.  I felt set adrift.  Laura and I were driven to seek the Lord, and his guidance even more earnestly than we’d done before.  In a strange city, without a job, and feeling our dependence on the Lord as we’d never before, we experienced God’s grace and provision.

You see, we’d moved to Grand Rapids for my job, and Laura had given up hers to make the move, and that meant we were without a source of income.  God’s incredible care for us still energizes our faith today.  We had rent to pay, car payments to make, and all that was taken care of, and neither of us will ever forget the multiplying sausages.  We had bought some bratwurst and each time we went to the freezer to take some out to cook, it seemed as if we’d never taken any out the time before.

That year, we headed off to camp again.  It was a very different experience.  I was feeling led to the pastorate.  That year following camp, I’d heard the comments of the folks from the church in Dowagiac, and I had wondered about what it was that God was leading me to do.  I knew the path of pursuing a fortune was not for me.

That Thursday evening at camp, I didn’t have the courage to go forward at the time of commitment.  I bargained with God.  I told God, “I’ll go to Africa, I’ll be a missionary, just please don’t ask me to be a pastor.  When the time of commitment came, I stood in my pew and trembled, but I didn’t go forward.  All in all, my bargain with God was pretty safe.  I knew God had not called me to Africa, so my surrender wasn’t all that magnanimous.  I just couldn’t go forward to acknowledge a call to ministry if it meant I was doing that instead of finding employment.

I had come to the point where it was more important to do what God wanted than what I wanted.  I didn’t want to be a pastor, and I surely didn’t want to do it if that wasn’t what God wanted.

So, while walking on the grounds at camp that week, I prayed a simple, honest prayer.  I prayed, “Lord, if it is your will for us to serve you in the pastorate, give us a child.”  We had decided to start our family, and some months had passed with no baby on the way.  I had not even read the story of Gideon at that point, and I hadn’t really considered the consequences of asking for what I did.  For sure, it had to be a prayer guided by the Holy Spirit, for had I thought it through, I would have asked God to provide the funds to pay for seminary.  Well, Elise was born 9 ½ months later, two weeks overdue.

When Laura started having the classic symptoms of pregnancy, I told her she was pregnant.  She thought I was confused, and when I told her why I was sure she was pregnant, she told me she thought it was a bit overreaching on my part to not tell her about my fleece before I laid it out.  It was then that she told me, God had spoken to her while she was in the tenth grade in high school, and told her she would someday marry a minister.  Laura had felt sure about marrying me, even thought she thought me not to be minister material at the time (Hmmm…is he leaving out some details here?????).  She thought maybe she had misunderstood God.

When I shared with the pastor in Dowagiac about my prayer, I told him I hadn’t been very practical, and that perhaps I should have asked God to provide the money upfront, but he told me I had indeed prayed for the right thing, as children are a gift from God, and meeting financial needs is something God does in time.

We moved back to Southwest Michigan, and Laura returned to her job, and I found new employment and had even more success with the new company.  I was manager of the year and my supervisors had me headed for advanced training.  I was asked if I wanted to go for the training, and the promotion, and I politely turned it down.  The human resources manager called me in to her office, and told me the big boss was still planning on my going, and asked if I would consent.  I confessed my plans were to go to seminary that fall, and that I would not be going to the training.  To my surprise, she told me she understood, as she had wrestled with a call to ministry herself, and when I told the big boss, he told me of his own call to ministry, and then pointed to his own seminary degree hanging on the wall behind his desk.

God had been so gracious, for I left my career in retail having again achieved success, and was able to leave with the understanding and appreciation for what I was pursuing, on the part of my superiors.

Ultimately, we were still moving to another state to go into debt, and neither of us had a job waiting for us when we arrived.  In a very short amount of time, Laura had a job, and then shortly after that, I had one.  I had committed to Laura that if she were accepted for her master’s degree program at the University of Kentucky, we would stay until she had completed her degree.

Laura waited a year before applying to grad school, so she would quality for in-state tuition.  She was accepted into the advanced standing program, and even though she started her program a year after I did, she finished a semester before me.

I finished my seminary time on a different note than most.  I had torn cartilage in my left knee, and needed surgery to repair it.  My surgery proved more difficult than had been expected, and I developed a staph infection in the knee.  The infection took me back to the hospital where I had some five surgeries over the course of 32 days.  The infection was so serious, I had become septic, and was close to death and the amputation of my left leg.

Why God would lead us this far with so much care and so much grace, only to leave us in this situation, was beyond my comprehension.  What was to be gained from this I wondered?  In my despair, I cried out to God, and while he didn’t speak words of comfort in my ear, he reminded me that I was never left, nor was I ever forsaken.

At one of the times I met with the Board of Ministry, I asked why they kept asking me to recount my call to ministry.  One very wise person responded that there would come a day in ministry when the call would be the only thing that keeps you there.  I have always been at peace in knowing I am called to ministry, and there have been days when truly remembering that call is the only thing that has kept me serving.

If you find yourself in a place like I did, where you need some guidance from God, and you want an answer so that you may follow where God would lead, put out your fleece.  And be cautioned, if you do this in an effort to follow where God wants for you to go, there is a blessing to be had, but if you do this just to test the Lord, you risk earning the wrath of God.  God knows the plans God has for you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

Comments

  1. How funny! Don is the pastor at my church! LOL What a small world!