Chapter 14: God's Hand of Blessing

God's Hand of Blessing
Our First Winter in North Dakota

By the time September was past, the lovely colored fall leaves were blowing off the trees, and on Halloween we had our first snow. We Californians started thinking of "back home." But God gave grace and we continued to work. The boys learned to enjoy the winter activities even though it was cold. The first snow fell while Paul was in class at his new school. All the students ran to the window to watch, but the teacher called them back to their lessons, "Come on, you've all seen snow falling before…." But, in fact, Paul hadn't, and he was fascinated. Paul enjoyed the first snow so much that he put on his new parka and rolled in the snow. Both boys learned to like outdoor winter sports.

Sawyer was a small town. The church was six miles out in the country. The people were warm-hearted, and the ministry went well. Kathryn and the boys took over the cleaning of the church building for a few dollars a month. This was my first position as a paid minister at $225 per month. On Saturdays, we often drove out to the church to clean and warm up the building. It seemed like it was colder inside than outside. But, as I said, we loved the people and it was good work.

The heating in our home, an old house, was somewhat difficult to get used to for a California family—heat came from an old coal furnace in the basement. We knew nothing about coal heating, but we noticed that whenever we returned home after being away, the house had an odor of coal. We did not like it, but thought that it must come with the territory.

In the second year we had a guest in our home, Rev. John G. Berg, an evangelist from Minnesota, whom I brought home from the train station about four o'clock in the morning. I showed him the room where he would sleep, and I went back to sleep in our room.

When we arose in the morning he said, "I did not sleep a wink, I didn't dare! Do you people know that you have a deadly gas in your home?"

 We said, "Of course not, how do you know?"

 Then he explained to us that coal gives off gas, and if the heating system has a leak, it can accumulate in the house and people have been known to die in their sleep!

No time was lost in asking the trustees to check the furnace. They found a leak and were amazed that we had not noticed it sooner! The necessary repairs were made. We thanked God for sustaining us with no apparent ill affect to our health.

The Church Moves Forward

There was talk of relocating the church and moving it into town. Some people wanted to go to town; some wanted to build in the country, and, of course, there were some who wanted to do nothing. It was difficult to determine what to do. After a little more than a year, I felt established enough to venture out in leadership and suggest that we have a potluck supper—share a meal together, and deliberate with one another.

Before that came about, I worked with the trustees and the church council on the whole idea. We separated the two items of decision: 1) whether to build and 2) where to build. We presented the plan to the people. It was beautiful to see how God led. After I presented a message from the Word of God on how we determine the will of God collectively, the votes were cast. The result was 96 percent in favor of building and, on a second ballot, 84 percent voted to relocate to the town of Sawyer.

The die was cast. During that winter we made preparation. Finding a suitable lot proved more difficult than we had imagined, but we finally secured one. It was so interesting to watch God at work.

There was an old corner house next to the parsonage, where the church also owned a small vacant lot. It was too small to build on, but with the lot on the corner that had the old house on it, the new church building could be ideally located. The problem was the house on the corner was not for sale. When the elderly occupant had to go to live with her children in another part of the state, the family became willing to sell.

Our people were hesitant to conclude the deal until they could figure out what they could do with the house. One day I was at the Post Office only a half block from our home. The lady postmaster said, "Mr. Block, I hear that you want to buy the corner place."
I replied that we were in negotiation for it.
"What would you do with the house?"
"That is the problem." I said. "We'd like to sell it."
"How much would you want for it?"
I told her I would have to check with the committee.
Then she offered $600 for the house, if it were moved to her lot a block away and set on a block foundation.

I couldn't believe my ears! The total asking price for the place was $1,000. I said, "You shouldn't pay more. Our men will want to know that you are serious and will stand by your offer. Would you be willing to put some money down?"

She replied, "Walk home with me, and I'll give you a check for a hundred dollars. Will that be enough to indicate that I want the house?"

I walked home with her, and she gave me the check. That was on Friday. On Saturday, I told the Chairman of the Deacons about it, but he was not impressed because of all that would be involved in moving the structure and making a foundation for it. But on Sunday noon after the service, I told the building committee that I had a check for a down payment on the house. They were surprised, especially the younger men who asked, "How did you get that much? Why did she offer so much?"

I said, "Don't ask me. The lady just wanted to know whether we would sell the house if we bought the lot."
They said, "Well, what made her ask that?"
 I said, "I don't know."
Second Thoughts

We had been praying, and God was at work. We accepted her offer. We bought the place, moved the house, set it on a foundation according to her specifications, and erected a new building on our new property.

It was not easy, though. During springtime, the men were busy in the fields and couldn't build. At the official groundbreaking, when all the people were gathered, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees came to me and said, "Pastor, our people are not all that sure they want to build."

 "How many times must we decide?" I asked. "We have decided once, and God is leading. How many more times must we decide?"

I knew of nothing else to do but to go forward with the service. The people did gain a heart to build. It was all done with volunteer labor, with the exception of a few procedures that required professional skills, like electrical wiring, plumbing and stuccoing. All the rest was done by our own people, and they were proud of it!

When it was finished, there was never a lack of guides to show visitors around, showing what they had done. God had blessed.
New Growth and Momentum

While meeting out in the country, it had looked like the church was going to die. Now there was new enthusiasm. New people started coming—not great numbers because there weren't that many people in the area. Yet, attendance rose higher than it had been. We eventually reached a membership close to one hundred. For many more years that church continued to do well. Unfortunately, the population in the area decreased, and thirty-eight years later, in 1993, the church closed its doors.

Another Step of Faith

After three years, Jim graduated from high school and matriculated at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas. One day he said, "Dad, don't make Paul finish in this high school. Kids from larger schools have studied about things I have never even heard of."

I felt so sorry, but I had always believed that if the boys lacked anything, God would make it up somehow. I believe He has. They both are doing well. Jim went on in college, majoring in business administration.

After we had been in Sawyer four years, and Paul had two years to go in high school, we resigned our ministry and began looking to God to see where He would lead us next. Before leaving the church, we were able to help the congregation find a new pastor. Abe Klassen was young, energetic, and a recent graduate of seminary.

God led us to a temporary assignment, again a difficult one. It was in Enid, Oklahoma. We were glad that Enid had a high school with high academic standing where Paul could study. During his junior year, he decided he either wanted to be an engineer or a doctor. After he had joined an engineering club and got an insight into what that might be like, he came home one day saying, "If that's what it's like to be an engineer, I don't want to be one." And from then on he started looking toward medicine. He worked hard for his grades. He knew that now he would have to achieve.
A Perplexing Problem

My temporary assignment in Enid consisted of becoming pastor of another country church, two miles from town. There was also a Mennonite Brethren Church in town, and the people of the country church did not quite know what they wanted to do. It was obvious that they could not continue as they were. Their facilities were outdated. Some members wanted to relocate into town and build another separate church, and some wanted to join the church that was already there. This dilemma had been going on for some time. They needed a little more leadership to help them find direction.

About the same time, the church in the city decided to relocate and build a new facility. Eventually it became evident that it would be beneficial to bring the two congregations together, and jointly pursue the task God had for them in that city. But just how to accomplish this was a difficult question.
Problem Resolved

Under other leadership, they had previously voted several times to merge the two congregations, but the vote had not carried with 75% affirming the decision—the requirement they had set for themselves. They pooled the votes from both congregations, so as not to have one congregation approving the move, and the other rejecting it. In desperation, they had decided not to consider merger again. Therefore, it was up to the leadership to come up with new ideas about how to proceed.

It was evident that the more progressive people in both churches wanted to merge. But since they could not even consider it, I got the idea of asking the city church to invite our whole congregation to join them as a body—instead of ours leaving a few at a time and causing discouragement.

And, so that my congregation would not feel defeated, we would combine both sets of committees and the boards of the two churches for the rest of the current year. In other respects everything would be operated under the constitution of the city church. At the end of that church year, they would choose members for the various committees and boards from the whole body of the congregation without distinction.

I asked my church council how they felt about the idea. They gladly embraced it. I then presented the plan to Wesley Gunther, the pastor of the city church, for his consideration. He also liked it and presented it to his church council. Upon their approval, the proposal was placed before both bodies and was passed. A few hitches developed along the way, but they were overcome.

Finally, as a festive occasion, the two churches were joined and began to operate as one body. A small group from the country church dissented and met separately for a short time.

Some of the members of the city church congregation indicated that a decision should be made regarding who was to be the pastor of this newly formed church. I was clear on that point, I said, "No, that is not a problem or question for consideration. You have a pastor, and we have completed our work. We will move on. The Lord will have something else for us to do."

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