This past Sunday at Renovation Chuch, Dave Greenlee shared his testimony as part of the service. He graciously sent me the manuscript and gave me permission to share it on my blog – it is below!
To the People of My Church
Renovation Church – Garretson, SD
Sunday, July 8th
People my age have a term for my testimony today. It is called “lay witness”. Lay as in layman, as in I’m not an expert and certainly not a Bible scholar; and witness because it a story about my own personal experiences.
I especially want to point out some special times in my life when I have experienced God’s grace in helping me make a decision or to get me through a difficult time. God’s grace is something that I haven’t earned and am not worthy to receive. Nonetheless, I am convinced that these times are real and they are special. Often, I observe them in my rear-view mirror. If I recognize God’s hand when a special time happens, it makes me want to do a better job of “listening”. As I describe these special times I’m going to raise my hand as we sometimes do to praise God in our music. What I am saying is “this is not just lucky. This is from God”.
For example, I was born in the US, where we can be Christians without being persecuted. This is lucky, but I don’t think it is God’s intent for only some of us to be exposed to Christianity. I was raised by two wonderful parents who took me to church from an early age. It was First Baptist Church of Sioux Falls. In those days, First Baptist was a group of people who were shepherded by Dr. Roger Fredrickson, my friend and pastor. <raise hand> The people of First Baptist started the Firehouse Ministry, Glory House and Sunrise Manufacturing, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for SD. Books have been written about these people and their times. I accepted Christ as my Savior and was baptized when I was 11 years old. For as long as I can remember, I have known that there was a God, and that Christ came to die for our sins. Sunday school was OK, but I especially benefited from the Scouting program at First Baptist. We went camping at Lewis and Clark, Newton Hills, and Lake Shetek. When I was 15, I got to go on a wilderness canoe trip in the Boundary Waters through the Sommers Canoe Base, near Ely, MN. God in nature was all around me, and this was huge in my life.
The next summer later, I got a job at the Canoe Base. I worked on the “base staff”, and also received swamper training so that when I turned 18, I could join the “trail staff” as a Wilderness Guide. Scouts came from all over the country, and we took them out on 10-day trips. Over a summer we might take out 5-6 groups. It was hard work but exhilarating, as we paddled hundreds of miles on the lakes, and portaged all our gear between the lakes. There are no roads, no boats, no airplanes, no buildings, no electricity, no cell phone coverage. <raise hand>
In 1969, three of my guide buddies and I took a couple Scout crews out and then left on a trip of our own – the trip of a lifetime. We drove to Winnipeg, took a float plane to Norway House, paddled the Hayes and God’s Rivers, met a few Cree Indians in small settlements like God’s River Narrows and Shamattawa. We eventually got to York Factory, an abandoned fur depot on Hudson Bay. Then we paddled around Marsh Point in the ocean waters of the Bay, and back upstream on the Nelson River for 5 days where we came to “mile 352” of the Canadian National Railroad. In the middle of the night, we flagged the train returning from Churchill, and took it back down to Winnipeg. The trip took us over a month. I felt a strong sense of God in my life, but I was also pretty full of myself.
Back in college at the University of Redlands, I worked on my degree in Environmental Science, and protested the Viet Nam war. At least part of me thought God was guiding me. I applied for a draft deferment as a Conscientious Objector, and Dr. Fredrickson wrote me a letter of support. In those days, Quakers were generally respected as pacifists, but Baptists, not so much. One of the elders from First Baptist sent me a quote, “War will exist until that distant day when the Conscientious Objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the Warrior does today.” John F. Kennedy
I was worried about the draft, and my number was 40, so I was going to be called as soon as I graduated and lost my 2S deferment. At my college was a Physics professor named Dr. Albert Baez. His daughter was and is Joan Baez, a folk singer involved in Viet Nam protests, and who married David Harris, and activist who was in jail as a draft resistor, that is, for refusing to be drafted. Looking back, I guess because I knew that since Dr. Baez was a real person in my life, maybe Joan Baez would be a real person who would let me ask her for some advice. So, I drove to the Los Altos hills, found a commune and worked for a couple hours with some people who were digging a cistern. When I asked about Ms. Baez, a guy told me she was often around but not today. He gave me directions to her home. When I got there, I walked through a gate and found her out in the yard on a blanket with her son Gabriel. She was kind enough to talk with me about my concerns. She told me going to jail was not a good solution for anyone. As it turns out, I didn’t have to make a difficult decision for jail, Canada, or the military. I got the 1-O (conscientious objector) deferment and before I could perform “alternative service” the draft and the war ended. <raise hand>
That same year, I got married to a girl I met in college (University of Redlands), and started an internship with Jack Dangermond and his Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI). I worked there four years, and along the way, graduated with a BA in Environmental Science. I picked up skills in making maps and geographic databases with the computers of the day. When my oldest son Tad was just 6 months old, we decided to leave California and get back to the Midwest. I had no job prospects – just a very strong feeling that the Midwest would be a better place for my family and the confidence that everything would work out. I went to job interviews where I showed people my maps and they gave me a blank look – ahead of my time? It all seems pretty naïve and very risky in retrospect. After a couple weeks staying with my parents in Iowa, the importance of a job became clear. I set up an interview at the EROS Data Center, where I met Dr. Fred Waltz. Fred looked at my high-tech maps and told me “the people here don’t know it yet, but they need the skills you have.” He offered me a job as a “machine operator” that started at $6.05 / hour. <raise hand> The machine turned out to be a million-dollar image processing computer in Dr. Waltz’ Data Analysis Lab. I got to work with Geologists, Foresters, Soil Scientists, Hydrologists, Land Planners, and Atmospheric Physicists – we learned how to study the earth using newly developed tools for Satellite Remote Sensing and Digital Image Processing. It was an exciting time.
Over the years, I went to church once in a while, mostly to give my kids an example of how good people live and what good people do. There were a few “special times”, often during our canoe trips to Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park. If God was talking to me, I wasn’t being a very good listener. A recurring theme in my life was that when I felt God’s presence in my life, I would say “OK, Thanks. I’ll take it from there” as if I don’t need God to help me. That is, until I do…
My wife and I separated, and were divorced when the kids were 10, 13, and 16. It was not my finest hour, and my kids were disappointed in me to say the least. On the plus side, my ex-wife and I did a good job focusing on the needs of the kids, and that helped us all to get through a difficult time. After the boys graduated from high school and had gone to college, and Meghan was finishing high school and living with her Mom, I married the love of my life, Sue. This time I got it right. Sue is smarter than me and has a wry sense of humor. She can more than match my dominating personality. She has filled our life with Arabian horses, Afghan Hounds, free range chickens, and a big garden. Our kids, her two and my three, are grown up and flourishing. We are truly blessed. Now in our mid-sixties, we have dumped our day jobs to grow cold-hardy grapes and make award winning wine. We built a winery up on the hill, and I even got to help my son Chet as he laid tile, painted, and trimmed out the building.
About 5 years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night. On the night-stand was a flyer that had come in the mail. It was from the Rescue Church and it said there would be an organizational meeting to discuss a new church in Garretson. Talk about a wakeup call. I remember thinking, and maybe saying out loud “OK, I get it. I’m supposed to do this.” We met in the back of Annie’s (now Omar’s) and the rest is history. <raise hand>
In 2016, Pastor Tyler baptized me in a stock tank across the street at the Legion. These days, I often find myself saying “we are blessed” (e.g. by the view from our winery, by the rain we just got, by our health, by our sons and daughters, by our grandkids…). When someone asks me how I’m doing, I usually say “better than I deserve”. This time I think I got it right.
Help us to listen for those special times, and to respond to them by submitting to your plan for us. Help us to do your work, even if is outside our comfort zone.
In Jesus name,