Easy paths and an absence of trouble are not always the places where believers are called to travel. Often difficulty and struggle come to our lives, bringing heartache, disappointment, and pain. Sometimes those trials come at the most unsuspected time. But as we look back, we can see the hand of God and the guidance of His grace, in shaping and directing our lives.
Sixty-four years ago, just after my 16th birthday, I remember my dad taking me for my driver’s license test. Little did I know that within weeks he would be taken to heaven through an airplane crash. Just before he died I remember him telling me that a new college was opening that September in Owatonna, Minnesota. I was vaguely aware of the existence of the old Pillsbury Academy in that town because dad had served on the board of that institution when we lived in Minnesota.
After his death, the remembrance of that conversation was like a message from heaven to tell me to enroll in Pillsbury College following high school. Dad was a wise and principled counselor. He never tried to intrude into the leading of the Lord in my life, but he faithfully provided guidance and encouraged me to pursue the Lord’s leading.
These thoughts swirled in my head this September in 2021 when Connie and I returned to the Owatonna campus of the former Pillsbury College that closed in 2008. We had the privilege of joining about 450 folks who were former students, faculty, staff, and supporters of the college for a reunion. Together we remembered what God did on that campus where many of us were trained to be servants of the Lord.
My college years were filled with wonderful experiences. There were friends, all kinds of activities, classroom learning, and opportunities to serve the Lord on weekends. But I must confess I was not the most diligent student during those years. My lifelong friend Gordy Lovik, who was ultimately my seminary professor, had to deliver the message to me from the seminary faculty that they were not impressed with my college grades. Even that was a gift of God’s grace to motivate me to achieve a much improved academic record in my graduate studies.
The journey through the years has provided me with some unusual twists and turns in my relation to the various epochs of Pillsbury College. In the second decade of the college’s history, I was drawn into the controversy that gave rise to the emergence of Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, Wisconsin. Because my family was intertwined through a close friendship with the two personalities at the center of the conflict, it was my lot to endeavor to navigate respectful relations with both men and schools.
Later, in my professional involvement with the American Association of Christian Colleges, I was placed in a position to help and encourage both institutions. It was the presidents of those two schools that provided the impetus for the launching of the AACC in 1985. Even later, I was given the daunting challenge of taking the presidency of Pillsbury at a very stressful time in the history of the college. My one-year presidency was not a successful venture in the short term, but it provided me a rich experience in learning and living lessons that I now fondly recall as part of my Grace Journey.
At the recent reunion, I was able to speak briefly, along with two of the other former presidents, about my experiences as president. I’ve often referred to that ten-month tenure as my suicide mission. It was a difficult time, but it was a grace-enabled period in my ministry. I brought to the reunion a notebook full of student pictures that were prepared for me that year. The picture book was our daily guide and means of remembrance to connect with the students and pray for them. One of my great joys since that time has been to meet some of those students in our travels and learn of God’s gracious work in their lives.
God meant all of this for good. Looking back it is easy now to see God’s grace evident through the entire process – even the painful parts. It was a special blessing this past September to join a grateful crowd at the Pillsbury campus to give glory to God. We remembered God’s goodness and recounted His faithfulness and sustaining grace. It is truly all about His grace.