June 1st, 1990. The date is forever etched in my memory. We had earlier gotten a call from a man named Vic in Astoria, regarding the need for someone to fill the pulpit at his church. In a thick Norwegian accent he used two messages on the message machine to relay the details. I called him back and agreed to be there the upcoming Sunday.
On that particular Sunday we loaded our three kids in the car and made the two hour trip from Columbia City to Astoria. Upon our arrival I noted that the previous pastor was at the parsonage, packing up his vehicles to move away. I would later learn that he was one of four pastors that had served in the precious decade, and that the church had a reputation for being a “difficult” ministry for pastors.
We made our way to the sanctuary…that huge sanctuary…and found the place mostly empty. There were a dozen people there. They greeted us. We sang some songs and I preached way too fast from Colossians chapter one on the supremacy of Christ.
A couple of things are stuck in my memory from that day. There was some sadness in the air. Another pastor was leaving the place. A new pastor has come. The people were no doubt thinking, “How long will this one last?”
In addition to that, one couldn’t help but notice that the building wasn’t yet finished, though it had been built in 1974, and that the building and yards looked uncared for. Later we would face the reality of trying to care for that place with a monthly budget of about $1000 per month.
All that being said, I did not doubt as we left on that day that God had called us to serve at Lewis and Clark Bible Church. Two months later we were called by the church to serve. And we stayed there for 27 and 1/2 years.
So what happened? God, the One who is the very best at fixing things, turned things around. Those folks, discouraged as they were on that first Sunday, became so incredibly dear to us. Bickering and strife gave way to unity and cooperation and teamwork. That woefully deficient budget, gave way to God’s plentiful provision. Especially once we began to expend ourselves in service to our good friends in Uganda. God used a big storm, which ultimately cost $900,000 in insurance repairs, to finish and remodel that church building. And when I retired, in 2018, we left behind a wonderful church family, possessing much love for Jesus and for one another.
How did it happen? I could speak to various things like commitment to the Word, or the quality of the leadership, or the servant-mindedness of the people, etc., but the bottom line and the truth of the matter is, it happened by grace, God’s grace. His grace was more than abundant.
Before that June 1st Sunday, two men, Vic Albertsen and Jim Thompson, had met to pray. They feared they would have to close the church, but they didn’t want to do that. So they prayed that God would somehow intervene. And He did. And that’s the rest of the story. The Bible says “God gives grace to the humble, ” and so He did. And so He does!