Chapter 13: God's Guiding Hand upon Us

God's Guiding Hand Upon Us
Providence in Covina

We drove to Covina for a weekend to look for a house. We invited a builder, John Kliewer, for whom I had worked off and on in construction, and his wife, to go with us and help us pick a house to buy. We arrived in Covina on a Saturday afternoon. We looked around and found a house we liked not far from the seminary. That night we went to Los Angeles, to visit some relatives of the Kliewers and to attend the Hoover Street Mennonite Brethren Church on Sunday. On Monday morning, we again drove out to the Covina area and looked around, but then returned to West Covina to see the house we had seen on Saturday. By noon we decided to buy it, and by three o'clock in the afternoon the papers were signed, and we were ready to go home.

We had prayed that God would direct us, and so we believed He had. We had bought the most expensive house of the three we had considered, for the price of $14,900. The flagstone fireplace and the overall arrangement of the rooms suited our tastes.

We went back home to take care of our remaining business, then moved just before the start of school in early September, 1952. While we were moving into our newly acquired home, we had another confirmation of God's leading. We had just unloaded the truck when a man walked up the driveway and said, "You have moved into my house."

"How so?" I asked. "I thought we bought it."

"Yes, but I wanted to buy it before you did," he said. He had been delayed because he needed to make some financial arrangements that required more time.

Our realtor also told us that the people who eventually bought the house next door had called sales office the very next day after we had signed for it. They said, "We'll take the house." When the agent asked which house, they answered, "The one with the flagstone fireplace."

The realtor replied, "Sorry, I sold it yesterday."

In all our operations and dealings, God had been leading us, and it is really great to have not only a good human advisor but to have divine direction in these important steps in life. The continuation of my education, of course, also meant a change for my family. Our boys had to change schools. Jim, in seventh grade, attended Sunset School, and fourth-grader, Paul, attended Cameron School in West Covina.

I graduated in two years from the Seminary because I'd already had one year of advanced work at Fresno. Then I stayed on for another year to do some advanced studies and to teach German in the college division connected to the Seminary. The college had always advertised that they would teach foreign languages upon request, and now the request came from the students to study German. I was handy, so I was asked to teach the class.

This gave me an opportunity to get experience in teaching. During the years at seminary I also served as a speaker with the Gospel team representing the seminary. A male quartet provided the music; I did the preaching, and a field director promoted the school. We traveled to many churches in a wide range over Southern California.

After that year, Jim had completed one year of high school in Covina. Paul had one year of Christian school, his sixth grade, in a new venture of Bethany Baptist Church of West Covina.

A Dubious Prospect

We received a call to see if I would be interested to serve as pastor in Sawyer, North Dakota. Our first impression was to forget the idea. To go from Southern California to North Dakota was just a bit too drastic. But we were reminded of the pledge that I had made: "Lord, we will go where others can't go or where others don't want to go." This congregation told us that they had been trying to get a pastor for a year and had not been successful. So now, open-minded, I went there for a week of meetings.

The weather was cold; when I arrived in Minot it was ten-degrees below zero. I did not arrive on the train on which I had been scheduled to come, so there was no one at the station to meet me. Everything seemed so bleak and cold. I would just as soon have taken the next train west and gone home.

Gus Faul, the leader of the church, had no telephone and lived ten miles outside of town. I found another Mr. Faul, a William Faul, in the phone book and called him. I told him who I was and modestly asked when the next bus from Minot would go to Sawyer, fifteen miles away. This was about eleven a.m. He said at five p.m. I thanked him and told him where I was.

About an hour later, while I was sitting in the bus depot, a man came in and walked straight over to me and asked whether I were John Block. Upon my reply, he said he was William Faul from the Sawyer church. When he'd hung up the receiver after my call, his wife told him that John Block was the minister who was coming to their church. She said, "You should go and get him—don't make him wait for the bus." So he'd left immediately. After meeting those friendly people, and after a delicious meal in their home, the situation looked much better to me.
A Difficult Decision

I served there for a week and enjoyed the people in spite of the difficult weather. Fortunately, by the end of the week, warmer air moved in. It was the last week of February; the snow started melting before I left to go home. I gained confidence that maybe someday all that snow would be gone from there. Of course, I was unavoidably reminded of the weather in my native Siberia, and felt that I could handle it; I just didn't know how my California family would fare.

Before leaving, the church leaders asked if they should vote then as to whether they would extend a call to us to come and serve them as pastor, or whether they should vote later. I replied that I did not care when they voted. "I'm not sure we are going to come," I answered. "I'm going home, and we are going to pray and ask God for direction."

They called right after I arrived home and said they had voted unanimously to ask us to come serve as pastor. We asked them for two more weeks' time to pray. We prayed, considered the facts, and naturally we took the boys into consideration, too. We asked them if they would like to go there. They liked the idea of a move to the country again, with the prospect of perhaps having a horse. But we did not talk very much beyond that.

When the two weeks were almost up, Kathryn asked, "Have you written those people yet?"
       I said, "No."
She then asked, "Well, what are you waiting for?"
       "Just for this," I said. "For you to be ready."
She said, "I am ready."
Thus it was that we concluded God was leading us to that assignment. We wrote that we accepted their invitation.
To the Northern Plains

We pulled up stakes in Southern California and moved to North Dakota in June, 1955. We shipped our goods in a van and drove two cars. On the way, we included some sightseeing. We stopped at Hoover Dam in Nevada, Zion National Park in Utah, Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, and Glacier National Park in Montana.

We were overwhelmed with the beauty of Zion. We spent a night and a day in Yellowstone Park and were awed by the geysers. Glacier National Park in Montana with its tame bears gave us a great lesson about God's order in establishing relationship in nature. Overall, we marveled at the greatness of God's Creation.

The driving itself was a challenge. Paul and I drove a new Dodge, and Kathryn and Jim followed in a 1948 Chevrolet. Jim was only fourteen and had just gotten a learner's driving permit—he made good use of it.
Sawyer Hospitality

When we arrived in North Dakota at the end of June, it was beautiful. A light rain had cooled and refreshed the air just before we arrived at about four-thirty in the afternoon. We went to the parsonage where the interim pastors, Henry and Mary Wiens, were staying. They informed us that a reception was planned for us that evening. This meant we had to unload our cars, clean up and get ready by seven o'clock. But we made it on time.

And where were the boys? They had already taken off to the river to explore their new home territory. They did get back in time to clean up and go to meet our new friends. These people were so accommodating that we soon felt right at home. Sawyer, North Dakota, is a little town just fifteen miles southeast of Minot, and there we began our ministry on July 1, 1955.

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