Some years ago several of us from our adult fellowship at church spent the weekend in Cambria, CA. Over dinner at The Sow’s Ear one of the sisters reminded me that we both came from the small town of Hospers, Iowa. That set off a stroll down memory lane about the summer vacations we both used to enjoy at Arnold’s Park, an amusement facility nestled in the Iowa Great Lakes Region.
The feelings and memories that conversation brought to life fit well with something I’ve been contemplating for a long time now. Who I am in my adult years is basically who I was in my childhood. I don’t mean to say I haven’t grown in the ways people do, and spiritually as a Christian. But I have noticed that the things I came to value as a kid are still in there – sometimes deep down – and surface regularly throughout the daily activities of life.
So, if you’re in the mood, I’d like to share with you a handful of things I continue to value in my ministry today as a family man, professor and active member of our local church. You might like to make your own list as you read mine. Who we are and what we cherish has a huge impact on how we live our lives. I’m only focusing on the good stuff here, which makes sense since I’m an optimist at heart. Here we go:
Small town life requires that one get along with people. My teachers in school and leaders in church were our neighbors, and quite often close relatives. There was no option to ‘drop out’ and still function successfully in any endeavor. Making and caring for friends and colleagues was taught and modeled throughout my childhood. I watched my dad and mom befriend all kinds of folk and genuinely care for them as individuals. They didn’t know it, but they gave me a rich heritage of relational skills that have continued to be a blessing as the Lord has privileged me to be one of his under shepherds.
Iowa has four distinct seasons. I didn’t know how much I loved that until we moved to southern California. Here it’s mostly warm, or kind of cool – that’s it – that’s all we get. We raised corn, oats and alfalfa, crops that depended on a cycle of hard, cold winters, sloppy springs, hot and humid summers, and dry, cool falls. Each season had its unique activities, which gave variety to our work. Winters made us slow down, stay home near the fire, and marvel that the trees, grass and flowers would once again be resurrected come spring. People we minister to often expect instant and sustained growth through our efforts. I can manage such unrealistic expectations better when I think of how the world really works.
Growing up in one place for the first several years of my life was better for me than I knew. My great grandfather was among the first to plow the Iowa prairie in the late 1800s. I grew up visiting my grandparents on that very 100 acres. Being in the same area for generations not only helped our extended immigrant family establish economic security, it also gave me a place to grow up where everybody knew me, cooperated with my parents in raising me and instilled in me a sense of security about life, those who love you and the role you play. So many people today move about so frequently that they miss these blessings of stability. We probably should be more prone to stay put and grow deep, rather than chase that dream of bigger and "better" ministries.
I grew up praying for rain. Hardly a prayer before a meal or bedtime left out that request. Farmers where I come from do not have irrigation systems. It’s called "dry farming." You trust God to provide what the plants need - and for the harvest. Faith was so much a part of my childhood that I didn’t have a concept of living without it. My parents took huge risks with machinery and livestock purchases. Dad told me he once worked hard all year only to realize a loss of over $3000. And that was in the 1940’s when money was worth something. Ministry in any context demands faith. Working amidst the uncertainty of people’s lives and the world in which we live tests it daily.
My folks had a lot of fun together. Though times could be tense due to the seriousness of the farming profession, they ended almost every day laughing themselves to sleep. All us kids could hear them from our second story bedrooms. I’ll never forget the occasional food fights at the dinner table, either. And every once in a while dad would get up and play-act some old farmer he once knew, complete with no teeth. We’d laugh so hard the food would fly out of our mouth! The more we and the people we serve are exposed to all the bad news of this world, a little fun can go a long way. I truly believe Jesus enjoyed the humor in life and even laughed until he cried sometimes. Life’s realities are sobering, to be sure. But enjoying the lighter side is something I cherish. Thanks, mom and dad.
I couldn’t wait to move to Huntington Beach, CA. when I was 17. That family adventure brought me to the West coast where I’ve lived ever since – and I love it here. But I sometimes do miss the wide-open spaces of the Iowa plains. When you sit all day on a tractor in the open air, with views that extend seemingly to the ends of the earth, you have lots of time to think, pray and muse about life and your place in it. There were no cell phones, and we didn’t have radios on our equipment (too dangerous). So I was free to just be and take it all in. Living in the city or suburbia, as most people do, makes space less available. But we need it in our lives. Ministers are rejuvenated by some time away from people. Sadly, too few make the effort to find it.
The Boersma family has always enjoyed the arts. Our farmhouse echoed with the sounds of the piano, accordion, guitar, harmonica and various brass instruments, not to mention spontaneous vocal ensembles. Mom was into oil painting, weaving, sewing, food preservation and all kinds of crafts. Dad enjoyed woodworking, and could play the guitar and harmonica at the same time! I suppose it’s no wonder I majored in music in college. Throughout my life I’ve enjoyed how art has enriched my soul. For me, ministry is an art. We have the privilege of seeing God create beauty in individual Christians and the fellowship of believers. Our work reflects the heart of God as we live together and serve in His name.
I trust that as you to look into your own life experience you can identify some core values that have made you who you are, and have helped form your unique approach to ministry.