An old friend of mine, Kevin Geer, recently became the lead pastor at my first church. It’s brought back a flood of memories as I’ve watched him dive into understanding and appreciating the history of Kalispell Christian Center. That’s MY beginning, that’s MY church, that’s MY family…and I haven’t been there in 18 years. Nonetheless, that piece of my story, although brief, means everything to me.
It began in 1986 when I was 10 years old. My friend invited me to summer camp and we met in the parking lot of the church. I had no idea what to expect and it was the first time away from my parents. I only briefly walked through the doors of the building for an orientation. We loaded up and rolled out of the parking lot a short while later. I had no background with Christianity, but the second day of camp I decided that I wanted to give my heart to Jesus. I vividly remember walking out of the chapel at Hungry Horse Bible Camp that night and staring up at the stars. They looked so different! I can’t explain it, except to say that I understood that God, the creator, was also my living Savior.
I wouldn’t step foot back in the church for another year. It would be summer camp again, now as an 11 year old, and I loaded up my belongings in the church van for another adventure. Once again, God spoke so clearly to my young heart. He had a plan, purpose, and destiny for me and I knew it without a shadow of a doubt. And yet again, another year passed.
After camp in 1988, I started having my mom take me to youth group on Wednesday nights. My youth pastor, Mark Stromberg, became a lifeline in my faith. Nearly everyone else in my friend’s circle came from a Christian home. They had heard the Bible stories a million times, but for me, it was incredible. God chose David! God saved a nation by parting the Red Sea! Jesus HEALED people…and not only that…if I pray, He’ll heal people through MY life! I loved to learn about the Bible and did everything extracurricular that my youth pastor scheduled. I can remember being CHANGED by a Bible study on the book of Judges. That’s how desperately I wanted to know the Word of God!
At 15 years old, I got my driver’s license. (In Montana, they think 15 year olds should have the privilege of driving a several ton weapon…) It was then that I could go to church on Sunday mornings, too. I met Pastor Bob Ross. He was at Christian Center for decades as the Senior Pastor. He wore a suit, tie, and cowboy boots and he had a deep, gruff voice that bellowed out of the microphone. He spoke with an authority that left you riveted. For the next three years, I listened to him on Sunday mornings and Mark on Wednesday nights.
Looking back, I am sure that Pastor Ross and Mark had no idea that this little girl from a non-Christian home was hanging on to every word with a death grip. They probably wondered many times if their ministry was worth it. They probably sat in board meetings and fretted about how to pay the bills. They probably fought wrong thinking in people’s lives and went to bed many nights feeling defeated. They probably had dark moments where they questioned their call to ministry and their ability to lead.
And there I was. On the left side of the sanctuary, about three rows in. Every week. I would go on to graduate from Bible college, get my license to preach, and start a church. I would grow up to love Jesus and believe I could change the world. I would grow up…changed.
So, thank you. Thank you to my pastors, thank you to the board who made the right decisions, thank you to the congregation who wrote tithe checks, thank you to the volunteers who served. I had no idea that a fleet of people were sacrificing so much for me, but rest assured, it was worth it.
And to Kevin…there’s a little girl in your audience somewhere. Don’t stop. Don’t question. Don’t quit. She’s hanging on every word, too.