Last week I shared how God has sometimes led us in a very specific way, such as calling us to serve at the Pulaskiville Community Church.
This is Pulaskiville Community Church’s building.
The addition to the left of the original building has been added since we were there.
This little church was the best seminary I could have attended at that time. So many precious memories from those seven plus years are ours to cherish because God gives the best to those who leave the choice to Him. Below is a picture of the interior of the little white church on County Road 98 in Morrow County, Ohio.
Back in 1969, there wasn’t much about Pulaskiville would attract a stranger to move there. The little village straddled County Roads 109 and 98 ten miles east of Mt. Gilead, Ohio.
Nothing—and I do mean nothing—warranted stopping for a second look. When we accepted the call to serve as the pastor of a small community church, there were seven or eight houses, a vacant store building (more like a souvenir from decades past), and a couple of trailer homes that had seen better days. Another vacant, dilapidating church building anchored the north edge of town beside an old cemetery. Dogs or an occasional chicken meandering in the road would be the only reason to stop. There were no streets, because every home faced one of the county roads.
When Mary and I reminisce, like old people tend to do, we both agree that some of our fondest memories are from those seven-and-a-half years in Pulaskiville. In last week’s blog I shared about the call to become the pastor of a small congregation. Freshly graduated from Moody and in our third year of marriage, we moved our few earthly possessions into the parsonage, an old farm house near the church. I was 24 years young.
Looking at old pictures I always ask, “Why would they call me to be their pastor?” I looked like a kid. I was a kid.
We experienced a lot of firsts in that place: our first pastorate, first parsonage, first child, first sermon, first hospital call, first funeral and first wedding. Oh, yes, also our first front porch swing.
Saturday nights were tough. Not being an extrovert and actually hating public speaking, I would be restless and often awaken Sunday morning feeling a bit ill. I can’t describe the symptoms except they were caused by stress. Sunday nights weren’t much easier, because I would replay the mental tapes from the morning sermon and evening Bible study.
A few Sunday mornings stand out in my memory. Once, after a difficult week and not feeling comfortable with the sermon I had prepared, I wrote an entirely different sermon Saturday night. Sunday morning, I was still in a quandary as to which message to preach. The congregation had sung hymns, and the offering had been gathered when our song leader (that’s what we called them back then.) began to sing a solo, “The Love of God,” as the special music.
Suddenly I began to write furiously. I preached my first extemporaneous sermon from a few sketchy words on the back of the church bulletin. John 3:16 became the text for a new sermon entitled, “The Greatest Love Letter Ever Written.”
There is another Sunday that stands head and shoulders above all the rest after seven plus years at Pulaskiville. I was presenting a series of messages about knowing our enemy, the devil. That Sunday, everything that could possibly go wrong seemed to happen. The electric organ didn’t work. The sound system went south. I felt a little sicker than usual.
None of this should have surprised me.
The night before I had walked to the church to review the message. It was February and a lightning storm was brewing—not the usual Ohio weather in the dead of winter. (As I write this, I feel goosebumps on my neck.) Windows in the old church building opened and closed as I stood alone in the worship center. Lights flickered on and off. There was an eerie, dark and frightening presence in the building. So much so, that I feared walking back to the parsonage in the dark.
Preaching the sermon the following morning felt like trying to push a heavy rock up a steep hill. If ever a pastor was weak, it was me that Sunday morning. But upon closing the sermon and offering an opportunity for a response, a man stepped out into the aisle and walked forward with his wife and three teenagers trailing. Then another man followed with his wife and family. (As I type these words, tears cloud my vision.)
Within seconds, almost half the congregation stood before the pulpit as testimony that God’s Spirit was moving among us. Mary and I both say that was the closest we have ever come to experiencing true revival.
In hindsight, that was the beginning of the transformation of Pulaskiville Community Bible Church. Word spread throughout the region. People from surrounding areas began to drive to our little crossroad village to hear God’s Word proclaimed. Sunday nights became celebrations of what God was doing in our church. The congregation rapidly grew till attendance often topped 200.
The youth group grew exponentially. Over a dozen young people attended various Christian colleges. Some of the guys became pastors. One girl became a missionary to the black community in Chicago.
Two men from the congregation, Bruce Bowman and Jim Rupp, eventually served as pastors of Pulaskiville Community Bible Church.
So, yes, I thank God for preventing me from attending Dallas Seminary like I had planned. That little white church on County Road 98 was the best seminary I could have attended at that time.
When I finally did attend seminary ten years later, I chose Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon where God thrust me into another dying church.
It’s all His Story.
The rest is His Story.
I am standing behind the pulpit with Jim Rupp. Jim was saved under our ministry and years later served as pastor of the church. Shirley, Jim’s wife attended the church first. I visited their home, and after I left Jim said to Shirley, “I don’t like him..” Today we are brothers in Christ.
Meet Don and Joan Bowman. This picture was taken in their home in Kalamazoo when we visited them two years ago. Don was the first prson who responded to the invitation on that blessed Sunday. Joan and three of their children (Bruce, Sharon and Susan) followed Don to the front of the church. Bruce went on to attend Moody and also served as the pastor of Pulaskville Community Bible Church. Bruce died of a brain aneurism and today is in the presence of his lord and savior whom he served.
Meet Dan and Kathy Bowman. Dan, Don and Joan’s oldest son, was a student at Ohio State when we were at Pulaskiville. It seemed like every time we entered the front door of the Bowman’s home, Dan slipped out the back door to avoid “the preacher.” Dan became a follower of Jesus. He no longer slips out the back door. Dan and Kathy welcomed us when we visited his parents in Kalamazoo.
If you have experienced a time when God clearly led you by opening or closing doors, please share it with us.
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