Chapter 12: Getting Those Feet Moving

Getting Those Feet Moving
First Bible Training

This all may sound like we had a morbid life, having all these concerns, but that was not the case. We were happy, as well as concerned. A few days later we went to Fresno to visit the Pacific Bible Institute, which was only in its second year of operation. We talked to the Dean, Mr. Sam Goossen, whom we knew personally. We inquired whether it would be possible for me to come to the Bible Institute.

I was thinking of getting two to three years of Bible training, perhaps, and then going to work among the migrants. I had no idea, no intention of becoming a pastor of an stablished church. I told the Lord that I would go where other people didn't want to go, because a place might be undesirable or they might be unable to go because of the lack of financial support.

With that in mind, we asked if it were possible for me to come to school, even though I did not have a high school education. Mr. Goossen said they were accepting people who had returned from the military who hadn't finished their high school, because it had been interrupted by the war. He said, "We accept them on the basis of having experience and you have had a lot of experience; so you can come. If you can't make the grade, we can't give you a diploma, but you will have had the training."

With that agreement, I planned on starting school in the spring semester. To be able to buy a house in Fresno, we sold our other farm. Our neighbor, Bill Wuest, who had his own packing plant, rented our place, to enlarge the scope of his operation.

I worked hard to get the winter work on the farm done before starting school. On February 1, 1945, I started classes. We stayed in Fresno during the week and went home for weekends, so on Friday evening and Saturday I worked on the farm. On Monday morning, we went back to Fresno again.

In April, while traveling to school, I had an auto accident. The car was badly damaged, but I suffered only a couple of fractured ribs. I was able to continue my studies, and we were able to replace the car. We decided that it was too difficult going back and forth with the family, so for the next year, Kathryn and the children stayed on the farm, and I came home twice a week and on weekends.

I didn't know how to study, but somehow I learned. I praise the Lord for enabling me to acquire the skills needed for academic success. At the end of a year and a half of school, it was evident that I was going to be able to do the required studies, so we "burned some bridges" behind us, rented the farm and moved to Fresno.
Dad's Eager Helper

Jim started school during the year when Kathryn and the children stayed on the farm. He started at Smith Mountain School, less than a half a mile from home, so that he was able to walk to school. He was always very interested in helping daddy on the farm. He was only three when he first steered the tractor along the row in the vineyard, while I was picking up wood and hauling out fertilizer, etc. One morning during his first year of school, after attending only a short time, he said, "I don't think I'll go to school today."

"Why don't you want to go to school today?"

He replied, "Daddy, don't you need somebody to drive the tractor when you haul grapes out of the vineyard?"

I said, "Yes, I need somebody to drive the tractor, but we'll get a man to do that; you go to school."

Driving the tractor was obviously much more fun than going to school. However, he certainly enjoyed reading. During the first grade, he read 20 books, with a little help from his mother. We moved to Fresno the next fall, where he started second grade and Paul started kindergarten.
Seeds of Ministry

From the very day we moved to Fresno, I was asked to take over a Sunday school in the migrant area. It had been meeting in a vacant, unfinished house. During the Christmas vacation I took some students with me and nailed cardboard throughout the house to keep the wind from blowing through cracks in the walls. Someone donated an oil heater. Whenever we got it going, the temperature got quite comfortable. When it did not work, we were chilly. Finally a few adults started coming, and we held morning and evening services.

One rainy Sunday, I was just about to say we wouldn't have an evening service when a youngster said, "My mommy is coming tonight." So I gave the invitation to everybody for the evening service. His mama did not come, but five teenage girls came that evening, and four of them prayed to receive Christ as their Savior.

After about three months, a vacant church building became available in the same migrant area. One of the older students, Albert Enns, a farmer from Shafter, came to me and suggested that he and I buy the building so that it would not fall to a cult. I said I would like to do that. We made an offer and bought the building for $1,900, including an adjoining vacant lot.

Onto the extra lot, we moved another small house we'd had on a business property that Enns and I owned jointly. This became a residence for a student couple that could look after the property. This newly acquired facility was turned over to Pacific Bible Institute to operate. They, in turn, appointed me as pastor, and Albert as song leader because of his musical talent. We named it "Samson Avenue Chapel."

I remember the first session that we held. We had two Sunday school pupils, two little girls—and four teachers, students from the Bible Institute. We did much calling. Many times on Saturday afternoons, I went to the chapel and prayed for God to direct me. Then I went door-to-door and invited people to come to the service. I wasn't always inclined to do that, but I thought, "If I am to work for the Lord, I've got to get these feet moving."

God blessed the work. It grew until we had an average of eighty people attending. Albert Enns and I did not feel comfortable in owning a church building. That had not been our intention. We just bought it to prevent some cult group from using it for their purposes. We hoped to hold it until the Home Mission Board could take it over, but it became evident that they did not want to venture out in that direction, so we offered it to the Bethany Mennonite Brethren Church in Fresno. We offered to sell it for the same price we had paid. Albert Enns donated his share to the church, since he was returning to the farm. I felt that I could use that same money in some other place where I might be serving someday. However, I gave them three years to pay my share back to me.

After that, the population and racial composition in the area began to change. As black people bought individual houses, invariably the neighbors' houses went on the market. The people of this community had recently come from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, or from other parts of the South. They felt uncomfortable in a mixed society. The whole area changed.

I, of course, wanted to be very impartial. I went out among the new people and invited them to come to church. Once in a while, a few ventured out and came. We always had black children in Sunday school, but the adults who came didn't return very often. Later on, a black congregation wanted to buy our building. A deal was negotiated, and the Bethany Church sold the building to them with the intention to build in another area. Subsequently, the Mission Bible Church was built just off Highway 41, south of Fresno. In the interim after the building was sold and before the new one was finished, our congregation met in the backyard at the home of one of our families.

Finishing the Task Assigned

This was the summer of 1950. In June, I had graduated with both an A. B. and Th. B. degrees. The Bible Institute had become a Bible college during the time I was there. I had applied to continue my education at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and was accepted. But before we had actually made the decision to pack up and go, one Sunday night I stayed up alone to pray after the family had gone to bed. I came to the conclusion that I could not leave this little congregation sitting in someone's backyard without a roof over its head and just move on. I decided to delay my further education for one more year and stay in Fresno. Hopefully, the new building would then be finished, and I could go on.

I stayed that year, completed the building south of Fresno, rebuilt the congregation to about eighty people regularly attending, and then moved on to seminary. I did not go to Southwestern, as I had formerly planned, but rather to California Baptist Theological Seminary at Covina, California. Here again, we saw God's leading very clearly. We were glad that we had kept the farm, because all of my service as a student pastor was done as volunteer work. We received no remuneration for the entire period of four years.
Ordination to the Gospel Ministry

During that last year in Fresno, I worked with our church, but also found some time to take courses at Fresno State College. I'd often had a little suspicion that since I was a bit older than most of the other students, the professors may have given me grades that, perhaps, I hadn't fully earned. Now I went to Fresno State, where no one knew me, and did the same studies as the other college students. I found that I was able to maintain the same grade level that I had at Pacific. This gave me confidence in myself.

I then considered working for a degree at Fresno State, but a counselor there suggested that if I could go to seminary with the degree I already had, it wouldn't be worth my time to stay around earning another degree. I appreciated his honesty.

After I had served more than three years as a student pastor, the Dinuba Mennonite Brethren Church, my home church, offered to ordain me for the gospel ministry. The process was set in motion. Sam Krause, a missionary to Japan, and I were the first to come under a new ruling of our Conference: that candidates for ordination were to pass a written and oral examination by the Board of Reference and Counsel. This was a more difficult examination than what had been required before, but it gave considerable satisfaction to have the approval of the Conference Board.

The joint ordination was performed under the direction of Rev. B. J. Braun, our pastor. I also appreciated that the pastor under whom I had grown up, at least spiritually, the Rev. John H. Richert, retired pastor of the Dinuba Church, was able to participate in the laying on of hands and prayer. This was a very meaningful experience for me, and for Kathryn at my side.

Contact Information