5. I Will Build My Church

5.1 Where Two or three are gathered

The first church building in Eagle Rock was completed in November, 1884.[1]  Yet believers in Jesus had been meeting together in His name in Eagle Rock before then around campsites, in homes and in businesses.  Jason Lee, a missionary sent from Boston to Oregon, preached on the banks of the Snake River near Fort Hall in 1834.  Circuit riding preachers stopped at Eagle Rock in the 1860’s and 1870’s.[2], [3]  Historian and mayor of Idaho Falls Barzilla Clark mentions an early preaching service held at the Eagle Rock river crossing by Methodist pastors Rev. F. A. Riggin and Rev. T. C. Iliff,[5] and notes: “These gospel itinerants also acted as newspaper correspondents, and were clearing houses for news of people, places, mines, livestock, transportation and politics.  They had personal contacts with nearly every man, woman and child in their territory and were welcome visitors in any home or any group.  They were a well-educated lot of gentlemen and were in much demand as orators and speakers for many occasions besides preaching.” [taken from p 183 in Edith Lovell’s Bonneville County, - look for original source]

 

The lack of buildings and ordained ministers didn’t stop believers from meeting together.  The first meeting of St John’s Episcopal Church was held on August 12, 1881 in the dining room of the James Richle residence.[4]

 

Throughout the history of Idaho Falls, small groups have been an important component of Jesus building His church.  Whether connected with one of the churches in town, or more informal gatherings of neighbors, co-workers or friends, believers have met in Jesus name and He has been present and at work.

Add stories of small groups - Bible studies, fellowship groups, discipleship groups etc.

 

[1]  Post Register Golden Jubilee Edition, September 10, 1934.

[2]  Edit Lovell, Bonneville’s County, p. 183.  Circuit riders included Rev. W. W. Van Orsdel, known and Brother Van, Rev. F. A. Riggin, T. C. Iliff, Father Imoda, Father DeRykerie, Bishop Marvin, Rev. Frazier, W. H. Stoy, L. B. Woolfolk, and Bishop Daniel Tutle. These traveling preachers lived a strenuous life, journeying from outpost to outpost to remind frontiersmen of Christianity’s message, and to officiate at christenings, weddings, and funeral services.

[3]  W. L. Shattuck, in “The History of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church,” 1926, mentions that around 1866 Rev Van Orsdel, Rev. Riggin and Rev Iliff, while camped at Eagle Rock, gathered folks on a Sunday for a worship service.

[4]  Post Register Jan 8 and Jan 15, 1982 [confirm this reference]

[5] Rev. Riggin was stationed in Montana and later helped in the planning of the Methodist Church building in Idaho Falls, see the Idaho Register, May 1, 1886, p. 5; Rev. Iliff  established churches in Missoula, Montana and Salt Lake City, Utah when missionary to the Northwest, later he was Superintendant of Utah Missions.  Dr. Iliff preached in Blackfoot in 1871 (Idaho Republican, July 10, 1908, p. 2) and may have preached in Eagle Rock on the same trip.

Rebecca Brown Mitchell came to Eagle Rock from Illinois in 1882.  Rick Brown came to Idaho Falls from Pocatello 111 years later, in 1993.  Rebecca Brown Mitchell visited every home in Eagle Rock to share the gospel of Jesus.  Rick Brown shared Jesus with anyone who heard him preach over the 24 years he was in Idaho Falls, at his church or through his radio and television broadcasts.  Rebecca Mitchell organized the first church in Eagle Rock.  Rick Brown started and has led the fastest growing church in Idaho Falls.  Rebecca Mitchell started the first school in Idaho Falls.  Rick Brown started a school in Idaho Falls, part of which now meets in the building where the church that Rebecca Mitchell started met for more than 50 years.  Rebecca Mitchell started a reading room with Christian materials that evolved into the Idaho Falls Public Library.  Rick Brown opened a Christian bookstore.  Over the years Jesus has been at work building His church through many people.  But these two who had/have the same last name are good examples.

5.2.1  Glimpses From My Life by Rebecca Brown Mitchell[1]

 

The pictures of ideal characters in fiction even under the most artistic hand, or the power of the greatest imagination, can never surpass in portraiture or characteristics the reality of individual experience.  Thinking people are loath to give out to the world their sacred experiences, hidden away within the Holy of Holies of their lives, where none dare intrude.

 

What busy days they were, spinning the wool to be woven into cloth for the winter’s clothing, caring for the lambs of the flock, driving in the sheep and cows at night, no idlers, nor drones, but each did his or her share of the daily work. Behind the farm house was the blooming orchard, laden with its perfume, or rosy with fruit, which was a never ending source of delight.

 

The country was new and school privileges scarce, while but few books were available, but Scotch-Irish blood and convictions in a deacon’s household made all the family Bible students.  From this Christian home I went in my nineteenth year to be a farmer’s wife, but only a few years passed when death entered the home and took the husband and father from my side.  Though I was but a child in experience, yet now I must take a woman’s responsibility with a world to face alone.  It was at that time when coming in personal contact with existing conditions, that I was awakened and took in the legal restrictions of my sex, which has been as a fire shut up in my bones, permeating my whole being and making me what I am along the lines of independent thought, and willingness to endure hardness, that citizenship for women might be won. 

 

According to the law of the State, the Court appointed appraisers, who came into my house, overhauled trunks, drawers and closets, putting a price on my own goods which I had brought from my father’s house, with one exception, my Bible and hymn book, which they handed me, saying, “These are exempted by law.”  Thus I had to buy back that which was my own by personal right.  But if I had died, my husband would have gone on in full possession of all the property, to use or to keep as he liked regardless of the rights of the children.  This unjust discrimination of the law against women, seeing that they were not consulted as to birth, having no choice as to sex, color or country, was to me in the light of my new experience, heathen and not Christian in any sense of the word.  This was to me a violation of the sacred rights of self-government and of the oneness of the marriage relation as taught in the Bible.  I was like a prisoner in the iron cage of the law, while I studied and tolled, ever lifting my face upward to a Father which I could never believe cared less for His daughter than His son.  The voice of God and of humanity was in my soul, but I chafed in silence, for at that time women were to be seen and not heard, but still the cry from the great mission fields was ever sounding in my ears.  I sought the path of duty and opportunity along the lines of the church, but was hedged out by public opinion and sex prejudice from active service into which the Lord called me. When my two boys were grown and married, I went to a missionary training school in Chicago for a few months, in preparation for work, and in June, 1882, turned my face toward the Great Unknown West, not knowing the whereabouts of my final destination, but was led by God, and so I found myself in Idaho, in the town of Eagle Rock, now Idaho Falls, coming as a self-supporting missionary of the Baptist Church.

 

What this new territory was at that time can hardly be understood by people in the Old World, a part of the Great American Desert as given in our geographies of forty years ago, but the kiss of nature has transformed the desert into fruitful fields, dotted with thousands of homes, and many schools of high grade as well as primary.  Through this wild country, the home of the Redman, came a few trappers and hunters, who were largely squaw men, and miners heading to the great mining country to the North.  This road crosses the Snake River at this point.  The banks of the river are solid walls of lava rock, and the river looks like a great crack in the earth made by an earthquake while in some places it is claimed that the bottom cannot be found, the current is very swift, dashing the water upon the rocks with such force that it lashes into foam and roars like the sea.  The town was then a row of company houses, built by railroad employees, with shanties here and there, besides a few business houses and the ever-present saloon plying its trade.

 

It was the morning of June 5th, 1882, when I stepped from the train and into the new world.  No hotel or furnished room could be found where I could find shelter and rest.  All day long I waded the sand shoe top deep in some places, going from house to house, where I found a welcome, but no room.  Late in the afternoon I found a shanty that I could rent, which had been used for a saloon, into which my daughter and I gladly moved our trunks and were at home, amid such surroundings that a change of world could hardly be greater.  I bought a candle, and for a candlestick used an empty beer bottle.  After sweeping out the room, I spread a comfort on the bare floor for a bed, and committing our souls and bodies to the care of the ever-present Father, we slept the sleep that faith alone can give.

 

I found no church or church organization on this line of road from Ogden, Utah to Butte, Montana, a distance of four hundred miles.  Neither tree, nor grass, nor bird was to be seen on the streets, but sand, sand everywhere.  But when the sandstorms came, it was beyond description.  My first work was a day and Sunday school, which I named Providence Mission, because by unexpected and unplanned journeys the Lord had transplanted me into this needy field.  As nothing better could be found, I transformed my shanty into a chapel and schoolroom of the most primitive kind imaginable, having no furniture save two benches, which served at night for a bedstead and by day for seats for the larger pupils, each having a box in front for a desk.  The smaller children had two boxes, one for a seat and one for a desk.  But how those children did study, making progress not withstanding the want of everything needful in the way of equipment.  I never halted, doubted or hesitated, accepting every privation without murmuring or looking back to the world left behind with regret.  My motto was “all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 8:23).

 

Before the end of the first month my purse was empty, the cost of living was much more than expected.  I had sent home for funds, but the expected remittance had not arrived.  My daughter had been sick and craved some pickles.  I had given her the last nickel with the assuring promise on my lips, “The Lord will provide.”  That very day at noon, a prominent railroad man and a patron of my school, (Frank Reardon) who had laughed at me for saying “Providence Mission” came and handed me the tuition for his boy.  I said with choked emotion, Mr. Reardon, why did you do this?  Did you know that I had spent the last cent, and now you come and pay your tuition before it is due?  What do you call this but the Lord’s direct provision for our need?”  He said, “It does look like it,” and ever after while he remained in this country, he and his family gave me many a comforting word, and more substantial help.

 

Early in November winter set in, with deep snow and severe cold, which made it impossible to live longer in the shanty.  But by this time, a better place, though very small, was secured, which served me to the end of the first year’s work, after which reasonably good accommodations were opened for my school and home.  I began at once to raise money by writing letters to people in the East who were interested in Home Missions, to build a church.  I was greatly aided by Rev. Dwight Spencer of New York, Superintendent of Baptist Missions in the West.  In this work I happily succeeded during the third year, and in November, 1884, the little chapel was dedicated.  It was the beginning of a new era in Snake River Valley when the bell rang out the hour of prayer.  The Sunday school had prospered; good attendance and faithful co-workers had made the school a landmark to be seen afar.  By this time people were coming into this new country to take land and make homes.  It was slow work, but year by year the population increased as emigrants realized the fertility of the soil and the healthfulness of the climate.  In 1886, a national organizer of the W.C.T.U. came to Eagle Rock and organized a local union of which I was president. Some months later a convention was called at Boise City, when the unions were organized into a territorial union.  I was a delegate to that convention, and took my first lesson in convention work.  I still followed my school work, but in 1891 I was elected State organize and Superintendent of the Franchise, which put the legislative work in my hands.  My daughter being now married, a pastor of the church located, and a public school running, I was free to drop the school work and enter this open door, which gave such opportunities not only to come in contact with people, but to learn much of the social, political and religious condition of the State.

 

My first legislative work was securing the passage of a Bill raising the age of consent for girls, from ten to eighteen years, at the same time working for an amendment to the constitution granting the right of suffrage to women.  In this I failed at first, but kept on knocking until the bill passed the next session of the legislature.  The amendment aroused many women outside the ranks of the W.T.C.U., and much help was given by them, writing letters and personal interviews with the members.  But the great battle was to be fought at the Polls at the next general election.  In the meantime, earnest prayerful work was to be done.

 

Thus step by step a whole humanity is now being lifted by the Law of Righteousness and truth out of the deepest degradation and moved upward toward the perpendicular. 

But as yet there is not a nation in all the world, Christian or non-Christian, that gives to the daughter the same moral, legal, educational and parental rights that the son claims for himself and keeps.  But Election Day dawned upon us, with all its momentous possibilities, cold and stormy, but the club women and W.T.C.U. were abroad at work.  Coffee rooms were opened, and by every means courteous, we urged upon the voters the justice of our cause.  In one place the women hired two boys to go out with placards on their breasts, with this petition “Vote for your Mothers.”  A day of deep anxiety and trial to many of us.  As I stood as near the polls as possible, speaking to the voters as they went into vote, I said to one of the old pioneer citizens of our town, as he was passing in, “Mr. A., won’t you vote for the amendment?”  “It’s not my ticket, it’s not my ticket,” he replied and pushed on and left me.  Afterwards a colored man, who was servant in a household opposed to the amendment came along, and I said, “You will vote the amendment, won’t you?”  “I don’t know, Mrs. Mitchell, I don’t understand it.”   “Do you understand the rest of the ballot?” I asked.  “I think I do.”  “Well then why can’t you understand this?  It is just doing for us what was done for you.  You must be willing to do that.”  “Don’t know, Mrs. Mitchell, don’t understand,” and so he went in and voted.  Some men said, “Women have too many rights now,” and some said other things cruel and hard to bear, cutting deeper than the cold wind.  But we won by a good majority, though the opposition tried to claim that it must be a two-thirds vote to amend.  So the matter went before the Supreme Court, which decided that the majority carried and the battle was over.

 

When I first asked for the position of chaplain in the Legislature, the men said, “We never heard of such a thing,” but I said, “Why not Idaho do the unheard of thing and set the example for other States?”  But by the next Session I had learned how to work along this line.  So I wrote letters to the members elect urging my claims before the opening of the session, was nominated in joint caucus by the Democrats and Populists and elected in open session by unanimous vote.  Was re-elected the next session in the same way and by the same political parties.  The members and officials have always treated me with all due respect, except in a very few instances where prejudice overruled courtesy.  One of the most interesting events occurring while I was chaplain was when the Idaho legislature accepted an invitation from the Utah Legislature to visit them in a body.  We were very kindly received and toted around with much honor, receptions and speeches with a band concert at Fort Douglas was Saturday’s program.  On Sunday, I found my way to the State Prison, where I talked to the prisoners, went to the Tabernacle in the afternoon, and in the evening out to Fort Douglas to preach to the soldiers.  Monday morning went to Garfield Beach, and in the afternoon a joint session of the two State legislatures was held to play at lawmaking, but had the opening rollcall as usual.  To my surprise when all was ready, Idaho’s chaplain was called to open the session with prayer.  I rose and went forward hardly knowing where I was, but I opened my mouth and the Lord filled it with large petitions, as the hush of the vast assembly was something to be felt.  The after comments were all on the side of the woman chaplain.

 

During all the years given to legislative work, I have held service in our State Prison at Boise, and often between sessions when in the city.  The service was always favorably received by the men, winning the attention and the hearts of some to receive the truth and strive for a better life.  One man in a letter said, “I am glad I am here, for I have learned about Christ and to read and to love His word.”  The “boys,” as I called them, were especially grateful for the parole law which I had helped to secure, they always manifest great pleasure when I visit and preach to them.

 

My own women were astonished at the boldness of my forward movement in seeding the position of Chaplain, but when they saw that I could fill it all right, they rejoiced with me in the victory.  Letters of congratulations poured in upon me from all over the United States, and worn as I was with the long battle for citizenship, I was cheered by the honor given me in my old age, a kind of compensation for long weary miles of stage travel and storm and cold.  The jeers of men were forgotten, the haughty looks of women who had all the rights they want, faded away as a cloud before the sun.  Not for myself did I care so much, for I had learned to labor and wait, but for womanhood was the victory dear to my heart.  History will record that work done for humanity, the helpless and unprotected legally or otherwise pays a dividend far greater than any other investment, even though the recipients may not at the time appreciate the sacrifice and labor which it cost.

5.2.2  Rick Brown and Calvary Chapel/Watersprings

 

Rick Brown grew up in Filer, Idaho.  Though he didn’t come from as far away geographically as Rebecca Mitchell, in his spiritual journey he started much farther away.  Growing up, Rick’s world was anything but Christian.  He’ll tell you that his family was like a nightmare.  His mother tried to raise her four kids by herself, but they didn’t make it easy, fighting with each other much of the time. 

 

In his late teens Rick hung out with bull riders that went to bars most nights.  He got drugs for his friends.  They wouldn’t think of going to church.

 

But the Lord changed him.  His grandmother’s prayers likely had something to do with it.  When the Twin Falls roller rink, Radio Rendezvous held a Christian Rock and Roll concert in early 1984, he and his friends went. Later that year Calvary Chapel in Twin Falls had a concert that they went to.  He and his brother Scotty and their bull-riding friends became regulars at the church, filling a pew.

 

For Rick, the road from Twin Falls to Idaho Falls went through Pocatello and then San Jose, California.  He nearly went to England in service of the Lord.  Each step was directed by the Lord.

 

While Rick was an assistant pastor of the Twin Falls Calvary Chapel, one morning during his devotions he was thinking about planting a church.  Idaho Falls crossed his mind.  A couple weeks later, someone called from Pocatello, expressing the desire for a Calvary Chapel there.  The following week a different couple from Pocatello came to the Twin Falls service and afterward made the same request, and then a third request came.  Rick was not eager to go to Pocatello, but he was willing to obey the Lord. 

 

Confirmation of the Lord’s will came through another source.  While making calls regarding invoices for radio time, Rick called the Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa.  In the course of the conversation, the man on the other end of the line told him that during the night he had had a dream in which he moved to Pocatello and helped someone plant a church.  Three weeks later Lou Phelps did move to Pocatello, and Rick started commuting from Twin Falls. It was May of 1991, and together they started the Pocatello Calvary Chapel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Twenty-two people came to the first service, on September 19 [confirm day], 1993.  On the second Sunday there were 66.  Finding a suitable meeting place was difficult, and the first year they moved five times, as buildings were sold or agreements fell through.  For a short time they were allowed to meet in a church building on Sunday evenings, but there attendance plummeted.  For 7 or 8 months they met in the Church of God building on Lake Avenue, putting up tents for Sunday school classes.  After a year attendance was around 100.  A growth rate of nearly 100 per year was then sustained for the next 20 years.  As of early 2013, approximately 1800 people attend each weekend.  Commensurately with the size and needs of the church, the Calvary Chapel church and school staff has grown to over 100.

....Continue and expand story of Watersprings.....

 

[1] Written sometime before 1908, reprinted from Snake River Echoes, Volume 3 Number 4, 1974.  Minor changes made in punctuation.

[2] Calvary Chapel of Idaho Falls changed its name to Watersprings Church in 2013.

5.3 Stories of the Early Years

The first eleven churches organized in Eagle Rock/Idaho Falls were:

 

          Church                                    Organized

          First Baptist                              1882[1]

          Trinity Methodist                      1883[2]

Catholic                                     1890[3]

          First Presbyterian                    1891

          Swedish Mission                      1895

          St. John’s Episcopal                 1895[4]        

          First Evangelical Lutheran      1898

          Swedish Evangelical Mission  1899

          Salvation Army                         1903[16]

          St. John Lutheran                     1909

          First Christian                           1915

          .

Prior to completion of the first church building, groups of believers met in homes.  People of all denominations attended Rebecca Mitchell’s Sunday school, even Mormons.[5],[6]  After completion of the Baptist Church building in November, 1884, it was used by several church groups, and that practice was repeated as other church buildings were constructed and new churches formed. By 1900 there eight churches meeting in the Idaho Falls area, by 1915, eleven, and by 1934, fourteen.

 

This section contains a few stories of some of the early churches.

 

5.3.1 Samuel Wishard

 

Samuel Wishard was a pastor and missionary of the Presbyterian Church. At the request of eight people in Eagle Rock, he came to organize the First Presbyterian Church, with their first meeting on April 29, 1891.

 

Samuel was born in Johnson County, Indiana in 1825 and grew up on his family’s farm.  Reflecting on his childhood, he wrote, “The summers were spent in juvenile efforts to be useful on the farm; the winters were passed in the old log school house, then a dreaded place of imprisonment, now a cherished memory.” Of his family he wrote, “(My) mother of nine children[7] and wife of a toiling husband was for many years the only praying soul in the family.  Her prayers were heard and an altar of prayer was erected that kept the fire burning until that home was dissolved.”

 

At twenty-one years of age, Samuel Wishard was converted through the preaching of evangelist Rev. James McCoy.  “In the solitude of a great forest, after hearing McCoy preach, I faced the question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ and answered it by ‘believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.’”  The evangelist had remarked that he hoped some of the young men who were converted would hear the call to preach, and that became a personal question to Samuel, “Why not you?”  The young convert seriously doubted his talents and argued with God.  But “He set before me the preciousness of one soul and the privilege of winning the poorest wanderer to Christ.  That settled the question sweetly, joyfully, forever.”

 

The next year Samuel went off to Wabash College with $20 in his pocket he had borrowed from his brother and all the exceeding great and precious promises of the God he loved and trusted.  After six years of college he went to Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, where he heard and was greatly influenced by Charles Finney.  Graduating three years later, he was ready to preach.  But he found closed doors.  He traveled to Rock Island, Illinois, “making no discoveries except my own embarrassment.” Then he walked across the ice of the Mississippi River and tramped through deep snow to call on a pastor-less congregation in Iowa, but was told they did not intend to employ a minister. 

 

With the help of an older minister he was engaged as a pastor in Rushville, Indiana on New Year’s Day, 1857.  The following month he married his longtime friend and sweetheart Sophia Evarts, a teacher and musician.  In the next 18 years, Samuel and Sophia had eight children.

 

Samuel served four and a half years at the church in Rushville, then six years at a church in Michigan, from which 50 men left to fight in the Civil War. After two more pastorates, he spent three years working as a traveling evangelist in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, three years as a pastor in Chicago, four years as Synodical Missionary in Kentucky, three years as pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, Iowa, and then 16 years as the Synodical Missionary in Utah and surrounding areas.  During this period he made frequent trips into Southeast Idaho. 

 

In 1901, at age 76, he travelled 375 miles in the dead of winter to conduct a week of meetings and establish a church in Salmon.  The last 75 miles were by a sled pulled by six horses. One day, going up a pass, the sled became unstable, and Samuel jumped off, ending up being dragged through snow by a rope to the summit.

 

Three years later he made 66 visits, travelling a total of 4,000 miles, to Pocatello to arouse sufficient interest to start a Presbyterian Church there.  In his 16 years as missionary to Utah he was instrumental in organizing 34 different churches in Utah and Idaho, travelling a total of 346,372 miles by rail, stage and mail wagon.  According to an article in the Post Register on the 75th anniversary of the First Presbyterian Church in Idaho Falls, 15 of these 34 churches were in Idaho, including churches in Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Rigby, St. Anthony and Salmon.[8]

 

His remarks about his ministry at a meeting of the Salt Lake City Ministerial Association in 1903 included the following:

 

“The first lesson learned in (my) ministry was this: Any servant of God whom He has called into the ministry can do the work that God has called him to do, provided he counts God in, goes where and as He leads.”

 

“Some things were settled in (my) early ministry, among them this – God hears prayer, not only, but He delights to answer prayer.  It is His glory and pleasure to hear the cry of His people.”

 

“Another discovery was made – God can use small men. It is nothing with Him to help, whether with many or with them that have no power.  I think we are in danger of not being small enough for God to use us.”

 

At age 81, he travelled to New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburg to seek funding for a Presbyterian College in Salt Lake City.  With funding secured, he retired, but continued to travel and preach.  Shortly after retiring to Los Angeles in 1906, he and his wife spent several months with their missionary daughter in China, who had served there with her husband for 30 years.  Another one of his daughters was a missionary in China for 40 years.  In Los Angeles Rev. Wishard was active in evangelism and preaching up to his death at age 90, in 1915.[9]

 

5.3.2 The Swedish Mission Churches

Throughout the history of Eagle Rock and Idaho Falls, Jesus has been worshiped in this community in different languages. Several of the most recent church plants in Idaho Falls have been Hispanic churches, and naturally they use Spanish in their services to worship the Lord.  Three of the first eight churches in Idaho Falls used Swedish, and a fourth used German.[10]  The Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Gustaf Adolphus Church, which began in 1898, begin switching to English about 1910, while the other two Swedish-speaking congregations, started in 1895 and 1898, continued to worship in Swedish for several decades.

In 1894 the Great Western Land and Irrigation Company was formed by four men of Swedish descent to develop lands to be irrigated by the Great Western Canal and Improvement System west of Idaho Falls.  The company promoted this development to Swedish communities in the Midwestern United States through presentations and advertisements in Swedish-American newspapers.  In large part due to the drought in the Midwest in 1893, the Panic of 1893, and the resulting national depression, many farmers in the Midwest were receptive, some might say vulnerable, to these promotional schemes.

The first Swedish-American immigrants arrived in New Sweden in the summer of 1894. By 1900, 31 families had settled in New Sweden, taking most of the available land.  The immigrants were primarily young couples, most in their early 20’s, some in their teens.  On July 30, 1895, a meeting was held in New Sweden to discuss organizing a Swedish-language church.  Within a month the Mission Church of New Sweden was incorporated, and consisted of 34 charter members (17 couples). In September of that same year plans were drawn up for a church building, which when completed was also used for community meetings and as the New Sweden school until a separate school building was completed in 1901.  Thus the church was constructed while many of the settlers were still living in temporary housing – lumber shacks, dugouts, and a few lava rock buildings - all without electricity.  Building a church was more important to them than building permanent homes, barns or the other outbuilding needed on their farms. The first service in the new church building was held on Christmas Day, 1895. In 1896 15 more member were added to the church, and that same year J. E. Johnson became the first pastor, being paid $20/month.[11] 

A second Swedish-speaking congregation, the Swedish Evangelical Mission, began in Idaho Falls on March 10, 1899 with 18 charter members.  The group purchased a small wooden chapel on Western Avenue for $175, which had been the first LDS meetinghouse, constructed in 1885. After purchasing the chapel, it was moved from its original site along the river to Western Avenue. With a membership of 36 in 1906, the church purchased property on 6th and Boulevard.  The following year the church voted to seek membership in the Mission Covenant denomination.

As early as 1901 these two congregations discussed merging, and also considered having a common minister.  Services continued in the New Sweden church until 1928, when the building and land were sold, debts paid and the remaining balance given to the Mission Covenant Church in Idaho Falls.

The Mission Covenant Church discussed holding services in English rather than Swedish as early as 1921, but decided they would remain in Swedish, although English was being used by then in the Sunday school and youth meetings.  Swedish continued to be used until March 27, 1934, when English was used in the minutes from board meetings for the first time.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5.3.5 A Church in Idaho Falls Planted by a Student Missionary Pastor from Squirrel, Idaho

Several churches in Idaho Falls, most notably Shiloh Foursquare and Calvary Baptist, have planted churches in the surrounding smaller communities of Southeastern Idaho.  But one early church in Idaho Falls was begun by a young missionary pastor while living in Squirrel, Idaho.  Squirrel is about 7 miles east and 3 miles south of Ashton.  The following is extracted from the 1934 Golden Jubilee Edition of the Post Register,[13] and Mary Jane Fritzen’s Idaho Falls, City of Destiny.[14]

In 1902 the Reverend E. P. Meyer of Squirrel, Idaho, a student missionary, sensed the opportunity and realized the necessity for a beginning a mission program in Southeastern Idaho, including Idaho Falls. He organized German Lutherans in Squirrel and Twin Falls in 1903, and started visiting Idaho Falls in 1904. In 1909 he was officially installed as a Missionary Pastor to Idaho Falls and to the surrounding vicinity. He built up the congregation to a communicant membership of eighteen by the time he accepted a call to Memo, South Dakota in 1911.

 

[1] Rebecca Mitchell started the Providence Mission and a Sunday school, supported by Baptists in the Eastern part of the country, in 1882; the First Baptist Church was officially founded in August, 1884 with eight members.

[2] According to Edith H. Lovell, Captain Bonneville’s County, 1963, p. 206, Rev. E. B. Elder organized the Methodist Church in Eagle Rock in 1883, with six charter members.  They initially met in a school building on the street east of Water Avenue. In 1886 the church was incorporated.

[3] According to the Post Register Sept. 10, 1934 Golden Anniversary Edition, the first Catholic service in Idaho Falls was conducted by Rev. Father Cyril Van Der Doncht in 1890; prior to this time he would travel to Idaho Falls from Pocatello every two months to hold services in the homes of Mrs. Ed Fanning and Mrs. A. V. Scott.  According to Mary Jane Fritzen in Idaho Falls, City of Destiny, in 1884, land in Eagle Rock had been procured for a Catholic Church and visits once or twice a year were made to Eagle Rock by Father Nattani of Hailey and Father Edward Morrissey.

[4] Episcopalians began meeting in homes in Eagle Rock in 1881, from at least 1891 to 1894 they met in other church and public buildings under the name "Protestant Episcopal Church."  The date of 1895 corresponds to completion of their first church building and going by the name St. John's..

[5] Post Register, Golden Jubilee Edition, September 10, 1934, “Churches Play Large Part in Community Life.”

[6] According to the Post Register Sept. 10, 1934 Golden Jubilee Edition, Latter Day Saints began arriving in Eagle Rock in 1880 and attended the Baptist Sunday school for three years.  Since their first building was constructed in 1883, and Rebecca Mitchell started her Sunday school in the summer of 1882, these statements in the Post Register, if correct, imply LDS continued attending her classes for about two years after their chapel was built.

[7] Two brothers died in infancy.

[8]  Post Register, "Presbyterians Observe 75th Anniversary of I. F. Church," October 30, 1966.   

[9] The primary source for the life and ministry of Rev. Samuel Wishard is “A Sermon on the Life of Rev. Samuel Wishard,” given by Dr. Joseph I Gulick on December 13, 1931 at the First Presbyterian Church in Idaho Falls, which in large part was based on Rev. Wishard’s autobiography, The Story of a Pilgrim, published in 1912.

[10] E-mail from Calli Griffel, office manager at St. John Lutheran Church, forwarding note from Pat, a long time member of St. John Lutheran Church. The church switched from using German to English in the 1930's.

[11] Equivalent to about $574/month in 2015 dollars

[12] From “A Historical Statement of First Christian Church, Idaho Falls, Idaho,” compiled by Jane Arnold, Feb. 11, 1979.  Based on a percentage of the Idaho Falls population, 107 in 1916 would equate to more than 1,000 people now.

[13] Post Register, Golden Jubilee Edition, September 10, 1934, “Churches Play Large Part in Community Life.”

[14] Mary Jane Fritzen, Idaho Falls, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society, 1991, Chapter 6, Early Churches.

[15] Sources for information about the Taylor Evangelistic Meetings:  Idaho Register, Dec. 21 & 24, 1915; Jan 4, 7, 11, 12, 20, 21 & 24, 1916 and Feb 1 & 4, 1916; and Idaho Falls Times, Jan. 6, 13 & 27, 1916.

[16] Idaho Falls newspapers show that the Salvation Army first rented the old Methodist Church as a "Barracks" in Idaho Falls in July of 1900 to hold evening salvation meetings, and opened a "Hall," a reading room with meetings each evening, in 1903 (Idaho Falls Times, Kuly 10, 1908, p. 8).

5.4  Nine (or however many we eventually find) Who Came Home

Over the history of Idaho Falls, the average length of time that pastors have served their church in our city has been between 4 and 5 years, a value not much different from national averages.  By a perhaps unfair comparison, the average tenure of a company CEO was 8.4 years in 2012.  Jesus, as permanent CEO and Chief Shepherd of His church, can certainly move his junior shepherds around as much as He wants, for their own good and the good of His church.  But there is something admirable about pastors who stick with a church for the long haul, who remain faithful and committed to a community and a congregation through all their ups and downs, year after year.  And it’s even more notable when that place that they serve is their hometown.

Jesus Himself pointed out that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown (John 4:44).  But in the history of Idaho Falls, at least nine men and two women have come back to their hometown to serve Jesus as pastors.[1] 

The earliest was Rev. Donald Austin.  His father was born in England and came to Idaho Falls as a teen, sometime prior to 1905. Donald was born in Bonneville County (Payne) in 1913; he grew up on farms about four miles north of Idaho Falls.  At age 9 he lost an eye in an accident involving barbed wire, and later in life had trouble with his other eye as well.  While attending Bible school in Oregon, he married Evalyn Kissler.  After graduating, he and with his wife pastored Pentecostal churches in Fruitland and Albion for a few years before coming back to Idaho Falls in the late 1930’s. With the help of his father and brothers, he built the church building on Gladstone Street, and served as pastor for 50 years, from 1941 until 1990.  A member of his church recalled that he was one of the kindest ministers she ever knew - he loved people and would help them any way he could. She also remembered him as a man of prayer and fasting. On Saturday nights, Donald led evangelistic street meetings in downtown Idaho Falls.  Most every Sunday, his church would eat together after their worship service.  Rev. Austin occasionally filled the pulpit or led special meetings at other churches in Idaho Falls. He was a leader in the Idaho Falls Ministerial Association in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and occasionally was called on to help with revival services in other communities. Like many pastors in Idaho Falls, he was bivocational and for many years ran a second hand store, initially called Circle Dot Furniture and later Fay’s Market. Rev. Austin died in 2003 in Idaho Falls and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Ron Dugone and Mike Stearns served as back to back pastors at New Life Assembly of God over a period of 26 years.  Ron was born in Oklahoma but moved to Idaho Falls at a very early age; on his blogs and Facebook page he lists Idaho Falls as his home town.  Ron graduated from Skyline High School in 1973 and Mike a year later.  Both grew up going to the Assembly of God Church on Holmes Avenue.  After high school, Ron enrolled in Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. Mike studied for a year at the University of Idaho, but then transferred to Northwest University.  After graduating from NU, Ron took a youth pastor position in Porterville, California, while Mike became the associate pastor of the Idaho Falls Assembly of God Church.  Before a year was out, in 1980, Mike found himself filling in as the senior pastor of the church, a position he didn’t feel qualified for.  After six months, and with Mike’s encouragement, Ron and Jodi Dugone came back to Idaho Falls to fill the pastorate.  This was a time of revival and growth for the church.  Four lots on 12th street had been donated to the church, and construction of a new building was completed in May of 1984.  The church name was changed to New Life Assembly of God, and a kindergarten through Junior High school started.  Ron and Jody stayed until 1988, and then Mike Stearns, who had been pastoring churches in Challis, Payette and New Plymouth in the mid 1980’s, came back to lead the church, staying until 2006.

Don Patterson pastored the Community Church of God in Christ from 1993 until his death in 2017.  Don was born in Idaho Falls and grew up attending the same church he later pastored.  Prior to becoming its pastor, he served as youth pastor, choir director and Sunday school superintendent. Don graduated from Bonneville High School in 1966 and Idaho State University in 1972, with a degree in Business Administration. In both high school and college, Don was a member of school choirs and a frequent soloist. He will tell you that he always felt that he would someday be a pastor, and at age 33, while working for Mountain Bell Telephone in Idaho Falls, Don experienced a call to ministry, and began to prepare. Since taking the helm at Community Church of God in Christ, Don has continued working in telecommunications - for many years for Idaho National Laboratory contractors, and later for the University of Idaho in their offices at University Place.  Don is committed to Idaho Falls: “I have never had the desire to live anywhere else.  This is a positive place to live.” He has spent many hours in prayer for the welfare of our community, and given many hours volunteering in community activities and organizations, including serving as president of the Eastern Idaho Chapter of the Urban League, being on the board of the East-Central Idaho Planning and Development Association, being a member of the Mayor’s Cultural Awareness and Human Relations Committee, a member of the Idaho Falls Symphony Chorale, leading Bible studies at the City of Refuge men's shelter and sharing in events held in Idaho Falls on the National Day of Prayer. Don points to two verses that he says governed his walk with the Lord: Nehemiah 8:10 - for the joy of the Lord is your strength, and Ephesians 4:3 - endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Don passed away on August 25, 2017, in Idaho Falls.

Don Casper was born in Sacred Heart Hospital on South Boulevard.  His father had also been born in Idaho Falls and served as pastor of Assembly of God churches in several communities in Utah and Idaho, including, from 1965 to 1980, Firth.  In his teenage years Don went through a rebellious period, leaving home and leaving church.  Through his sister and niece, he came back to Lord and was introduced to a small Apostolic church that was meeting in what had once been a garage.  Don felt called to preach in 1997, and began a rigorous time of preparation through his church.  He has been the pastor of New Hope Apostolic Church since it began in 2004.  The church initially met in the Idaho Falls library, moving in just after Berean Baptist moved out into their own building.  The church moved to its present location on Yellowstone Avenue in 2006, and now, in 2015, is looking for a larger facility.  Like Don Patterson, Don Casper is bivocational and is currently the lead instructor of computer networking at Eastern Idaho Technical College.  If you ask Don about how God has worked in the people of his church, he will tell you story after story of how God answered prayers.  The people of his church have learned to pray, and when they encounter problems they connect with each other to pray, and they expect God to answer.  He will also tell you the reality of God’s love in his life and the life of the members of his church.

Todd Wood was born in the LDS hospital on the banks of the Snake River in Idaho Falls in December of 1969.  Reared in a Christian home, his parents enrolled him in Gethsemane Christian School in 1974.  Mrs. Sue Lovegrove, the wife of Gethsemane’s pastor, was his four-year-old kindergarten teacher.  His family attended Gethsemane Baptist Church throughout his days as a youth.  During a high school week at Red Cliff Bible Camp near Pinedale, Wyoming, the Lord directed Todd’s heart towards Christian ministry.  He graduated from Skyline High School in 1988 and went to Bible college in South Carolina.  After obtaining his undergraduate degree in Christian missions in 1992, he married his high school sweetheart, Kristie Ann Grothaus.  Born in Idaho Falls as well, she was finishing her nursing degree from Boise State University in 1993.  Todd and Kristie then went back East so that he could obtain a Master of Divinity degree.  After school, Todd did a church internship in Elko, Nevada, before settling once again in Idaho Falls in 1997 to pastor the new church plant of Berean Baptist Church.  He resigned as senior pastor of Berean Baptist Church in 2014 and ministers currently as interim pastor.  Todd loves the people of Idaho Falls and the great outdoors.  His desire is to see multiple, thriving, small church fellowships in the city in future years for the glory of God.  He enjoys hiking and leading Bible studies. One of his favorite passages in the Bible is Isaiah 61:1-3.

Like Don Patterson, Nathan Swisher knew from an early age that he was called into the ministry.  Having parents who were very involved in music and other ministries, Nathan grew up going to many church services and activities.  As a teen he became disenchanted with church, but not with God.  At age 18, while watching the movie Brave Heart, God gripped Nathan’s heart with the desire to serve Him.  Following graduation from Idaho Falls High School, Nathan took off to Scotland to attend Youth With A Mission’s Discipleship Training School.  As part of that training, he was involved in missions in Amman, Jordan and in northern India.  After being in the Himalayas about a year, Nathan was asked by his family to come home to Idaho Falls to help with his sister, who had a kidney disease and needed a transplant.  Nathan, who by this time was leading the outreach in India, struggled with the decision and didn’t want to come back to Idaho, but became convinced it was the Lord’s will.  Back in Idaho Falls in 1997, Nathan and a friend, Zach Blickens, founded Freedom Ministries, a citywide youth outreach that focused on using music and the arts to reach and equip young people for Christ.  As their ministry grew, they met in different venues at different times, and for several years saw 150 youth come weekly to a former theater by the old Fred Meyer building. After Zach moved to Cedar Rapids in 2000, Nathan shifted the emphasis of Freedom Ministries to discipleship. In 2001 Nathan became the youth pastor at Shiloh Foursquare Church, and later became Associate Pastor.  Since joining Shiloh he has taken on ever increasing responsibilities, including developing teams that work with youth of all ages, leading worship, organizing youth camps, helping with the Mountain River Bible Institute in Idaho Falls and leading mission teams from various Foursquare churches in Eastern Idaho in ministry in Mexico.  In early 2015, Nate accepted a call to pastor a church in Virginia.

Cathy Chisholm grew up in Indiana but made Idaho Falls her home in 1977 when her husband took a job with Westinghouse.  She says the congregation of First Presbyterian Church “nurtured me and my children, called forth gifts for ministry, and offered so many opportunities to learn, grow and serve.”  Her service in the church included volunteering as secretary, serving as elder and, for five years, as director of adult ministries.  Realizing a call to pastoral ministry while in Idaho Falls, she left in 1990 to pursue a degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  After seminary, she led congregations in Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, and California.  With her 4-year contract with a church in the Los Angeles area coming to a close late in 2014, she took time off for a trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons in September, and stopped in Idaho Falls to see friends from First Presbyterian Church.  They not only told her that that very day was their pastor’s last Sunday, concluding his 14 years of ministry at the church, but they encouraged Cathy to apply for the newly-opened position of Transitional Pastor.  Cathy did, was given the position, and moved back to Idaho Falls in early January, 2015.  She viewed her role as helping the church “reflect on the past, come to terms with the reality of loss and change, celebrate joys, prepare for what’s next and be moved by the Holy Spirit to use God’s gifts to glorify Jesus Christ through service, worship, teaching and celebration.”  Cathy remained as transitional pastor until August, 2017, when the church called Rev. Dr. Phillip Hagan as their pastor, and Cathy retired.

 

Growing up in Idaho Falls, Katie Trent had a desire to know the truth about God.  Her father was a Catholic, her mother had an LDS background.  Katie met her husband James in 2003 while attending Boise State University, and accepted Jesus into her heart in 2004.  She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work in 2006 from Boise State and Master’s Degree in 2011 from Northwest Nazarene University.  She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and since graduating has worked as a counselor and program manager of a mental health clinic in Boise.  She is passionate about ministering to people, and helping them know and become like Christ.  She and her husband James moved to Idaho Falls in late February 2015 to plant a new church, Grace Falls, in Idaho Falls.  Grace Falls first service was help in September of that year.  Two years after establishing the church in Idaho Falls, the Lord called James and Katie to expand their ministry to Nampa.

We have no doubt God has called and used many other men and women in Idaho Falls, some who stayed for decades and others who were here but a few years, some who came from other parts of the country, others who grew up in nearby communities in Southeast Idaho, and many who, like these nine, grew up here and served the Lord in ways other than pastoral positions.  Yet this brief summary provides a glimpse of the lives of the pastors that Jesus sent to serve in their hometown of Idaho Falls. 

[1] Two pastors who returned to their home town of Idaho Falls declined to have their stories included in this section.

Who have we missed?

 

5.5 Revival of the 1970s

 

The Post Register of June 17, 1977 contained an article entitled “Poll shows US in early stage of profound religious revival.” 

The roots of the revival of the 70’s are many.  One was the “Jesus Movement” that started quietly in the late 1960’s gained attention and momentum in the early 1970s.  Another has been referred to as the Asbury Revival. In early February 1970, a chapel service on the campus of Asbury College scheduled to last 50 minutes kept going nonstop for 185 hours and intermittently for weeks, and then spread across the country.[1]  In the fall of 1971, revival broke out in Baptist and Christian and Missionary Alliance churches in Saskatchewan, Canada.  A group of 25 men from these churches formed the Canadian Revival Fellowship, sending teams across Canada and the United States to testify to what they had seen God do, His power to save, heal and deliver.[2]  Explo ’72, a youth gathering held in Dallas drew 80,000 youth from across the country, including some from Idaho Falls.  

Various evidence and expressions of this revival can be found in the history of Idaho Falls.

Here is a brief story of one man God brought to Idaho Falls who was affected by the revival and then greatly used by the Lord to affect the lives of others - Dewey Wilmot and the Christian Home Fellowship.

Dewey Wilmot grew up on a farm near Boise.  He was a high school student when Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941.  Dewey was so angry with the Japanese that he joined the Navy, and was given the job of fireman on the USS Wasp aircraft carrier.  About the time the ship reached Japan, atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought about their surrender.

Shortly after coming home to Idaho, Dewey married Virginia McCullough, a girl he had known in high school. A few years later the couple moved to Idaho Falls where Dewey began a long career working for local television stations, including Channel 8 and Channel 3 in Idaho Falls and Channel 3 in Pocatello.  And in Idaho Falls Dewey and his wife raised their three children.

The Wilmots were involved at First Christian Church in Idaho Falls, and were faithful members there for many years.  In the early 1970’s Dewey started attending a Friday night Bible study in the home of Ben Lunis, an INL project engineer and program manager.  One reason Dewey was attracted to the group was the diversity of people attending, people of all ages and from walks of life, from church goers to former drug addicts.  Ben had started the group as a chapter of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMI), and it was here that Dewey became exposed to the teaching of the charismatic renewal movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  It wasn’t long after he started attending this FGBMFI Bible study that Dewey was sharing in teaching the group.  He says that after he received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, his teaching improved.

The Friday night group grew too large for Lunis’s house, and so they moved it to the Wilmot’s house, at 227 11th St.  This house had a very large combined dining and living room, and it wasn’t long before they were consistently seeing over 70 people come each week.   At this point, Dewey and four other men in the group felt led to look for larger facilities and transition from a Bible Study to a church, which was named Christian Home Fellowship.  Over the years they met in several buildings, and at their peak had grown to about 275 people.

Dewey is still amazed at the people the Lord brought to him to minister to in the 1970's.  With faith that Jesus could help each person, Dewey sought the Lord’s direction, whether to counsel, lead to Christ, pray for healing or deliverance or whatever.  Because of his job, most of this ministry took place in the evening, and Dewey shared with me that no matter how late into the night his counseling sessions went, he never got tired.  Seeing how God could use him, Dewey trained a dozen other men to do what he was doing.  Also, he also became responsible for starting FGBMFI Fellowship groups in Wyoming, Utah and other towns in Idaho.

One of the men Dewey helped was Jim Spencer.  In Jim’s Through the Maze Newsletter of November 2000, he reflects, “I consider Dewey Wilmot to be a ‘Father in the Lord.’” Just after Jim was born again, he learned about the Bible study in Dewey’s house.  Referring to Dewey and other leaders, Jim writes “They saw me struggle, just hoping my wife would be saved.  When she was saved, they saw us struggle to hold our marriage together.  During those early years Dewey and Virginia Wilmot counseled us into the wee hours.’

While the Christian Home Fellowship disbanded in the mid-1980’s (the last reinstatement of its incorporation was in 1985), Dewey’s local ministry has continued, as have those of people he influenced.  Turning 90 later this year, he currently (early 2017) leads a weekly Bible study at Cornerstone Assembly of God,  studying the atonement of Christ.  His final comment to me was, “Anyone can do what I do, but you have to do what He (Jesus) wants.”

 

[1] “A Revival Account Asbury, 1970,” Lexington Herald Leader,  March 31, 2008, available at http://www.forerunner.com/forerunner/X0585_Asbury_Revival_1970.html

[2] See Erwin W. Lutzer, Flames of Freedom, Moody Press, 1976.

 

 

 

This is true in all stages of civilized society, even under the most prosperous conditions, and much more so, when bitter disappointments and bereavements over-shadow the best years of life.  So we shut in our heartaches and give out our sunshine to our fellow-passengers along our Pilgrim journey. 

 

On a bleak January day, in the year 1834, a third daughter came as guest to a farmer’s home in central Illinois.  There Rebecca Brown Mitchell grew to womanhood; it was a lovely place in which to grow.  On one side of the farm house  a beautiful forest of young timber grew up to the door where grapevine swings and wild flowers abound, so dear to every child of nature, while singing birds charmed them through the duties of the day.

The National Suffrage Association sent to our aid some of its best speakers, clubs were organized, the wings of enthusiasm kept the question in the air, our feet were like hind’s feet, and convictions of the right of our cause made us strong.  As president of the state W.C.T.U., I canvassed the state for the amendment, reaching many places where the other workers did not go, and coming in contact with the leading men and women who were approachable on the subject, but some were not willing to hear it discussed.  One of my strong illustrations in this work was a blackboard lesson, in which Justice as represented by a perpendicular column, resting upon a cubic base on which was written “truth and right.” One standard of morals, legal, civil and person rights for all without discrimination.  The light of the golden rule shines upon this column from all directions. Justice is inflexible, does not lean to the right or left.  Justice and truth are fixed eternal principles.  But the world of mankind has leaned away from this tower, until the standard of right in heathen lands lies prone upon the earth at right angles with justice.  The will or the passions of men being the recognized law.  Thus the man holds the life of his wife in his hands as absolutely as the life of his beast, or as any tyrant the life of his meanest subject.  Women are bought and sold and driven like cattle or even worse.  Then this Heathen Standard moves up a little place, where a man may not kill his wife, though he can sell her.  She may eat in his presence and speak to him.  It moves again, the woman is consulted as to her husband, though a slave in every way afterward.  

5.2 Rebecca Brown Mitchell and Rick Brown

Possible additions to this section: 

 

Key’73 in southeastern Idaho… 

 

Annual Idaho charismatic conferences including one in Idaho Falls in 1977....

 

Sunshine Coffee House...

 

Tim Marsh and the Christian Center 

 

The ministry of the Agape Book Store and associated Bible Study...

5.6 From the 1970's Revival to Multiplication of Churches in the 1990's

 

From 1960 to 1975, only two new churches were started in Idaho Falls, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in 1960, a deliberate plant of Trinity United Methodist, and Christ the King Catholic Church in 1967, reflecting the growth of the Catholic community as the city population grew.  But the next 15 years, 1975 to 1990, saw 16 new churches form in Idaho Falls.  One of these was Christ Community Church, initially known as Community Bible Fellowship.  Another was Family Bible Church. After 1990 this growth in the number of churches in Idaho Falls continued to accelerate, as in the next 15 years, 33 additional churches were started.

5.6.1 Community Bible Fellowship/Christ Community Church

5.6.2 Concerted Promotions for Revival

5.7 To Every People

5.8 New Churches in the 1990's & More Recent Church Plants

5.9 One Body, One Lord

 

6.1 Called to Idaho Falls

6.1.1 Donald Austin

 

While mentioned in Section 5.4, the 50-year ministry of Donald Austin in Idaho Falls deserves a more complete treatment.  The following was written by his son Ken.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6.1.2 Dr. Joseph Gulick

 

While the pastor with the longest record of service in Idaho Falls is unquestionably Rev. Donald Austin, the pastor with the second longest period of service in Idaho Falls is Dr. Joseph Gulick, who served here from 1923 to 1959.  Here is a brief account of his story, taken from his autobiography, a copy of which is available in the library of the First Presbyterian Church.

Joseph Isaac Gulick was born on a farm near White House, New Jersey in 1890.  One of his earliest memories, before he turned three, was seeing his mother frantically trying to revive his father, who had come into their house from farm work and collapsed onto the floor from heart failure.  Following his death, the family, with 4 young children, moved to his grandparents’ farm.

Joseph writes that when he was about 12, “I became tired of school and decided to quit.  I could see no use in ‘wasting time’ on such things as grammar, learning to phrase and diagram.”  So he went to work on neighboring farms and later learned the blacksmith trade.  After several years working as a blacksmith he was overcome with the desire to go to college, and prayed to God for months to make it possible.

God answered his prayers when after a church service, the minister pulled him aside and told him, “Joseph, I can’t understand it, but something has been working on me, pushing me, telling me that I ought to talk to you about going to college and preparing for the ministry!  Have you ever thought of it?” So Joseph started the long process of finishing grade school, completing high school, and going on to college and finally seminary.

His college years were interrupted by a year of sickness.  Joseph came down with a severe case of typhoid fever, and was cared for by his mother and brothers.  At one point his heart stopped, and his mother dropped to her knees and prayed desperately for God to give him back to them.  Another time when he was sinking low, he sensed he was floating through a tunnel.  He writes, “At the end of the tunnel, light was shining.  I floated slowly toward a ball of indescribably beautiful colors!  Around about were equally beautiful sounds!  Instinctively I knew I was drawing near a theophany – a manifestation of God!”

His illness left him weak from a loss of weight and angry with God for now being even farther behind in his education and also because of a broken engagement.  He writes, “God was letting me pass through the furnace so I would understand lives of people who later came to me for help.” 

He also had an experience one Sunday afternoon when he went out into the woods to “wrestle with God” and “while there, I had a dramatic ‘conversion experience’ – not unlike St. Paul’s on the Damascus Highway.”  Many years later he wrote of it, “What a powerful evangelist I might have become had that Pressure of God’s Presence remained with me as I felt for some days after that experience of joy and inner illumination in the woods.  But though it gradually faded, I had been given both new conviction and a new life direction by it!”

Prior to his final year in Princeton Seminary, he took a summer assignment in Soda Springs, Idaho.  Back at Princeton he received many letters from individuals in Soda Springs asking him to return, and Joseph tried to persuade other students at Princeton Seminary to go.  Finally he prayed to the Lord for guidance and had an immediate answer, “Go, and I will go with you!”

Borrowing money for the trip West, Joseph arrived in Soda Springs on May 31, 1920.  In the nearly three years he spent there, the congregation grew from 36 to 105, and for the first time in their history, became self-supporting.  He began raising funds for a new building, but ran into opposition within the congregation and the community, and sensed it was time for him to move on. Soda Springs’ loss was Idaho Falls’ gain. However, just before coming to Idaho Falls, Joseph married a member of the Soda Springs congregation, Winifred Louise Ferebauer, and gained a family, as she had two young sons.

On an earlier visit to Idaho Falls, Joseph had been impressed by the architecture of the newly constructed Presbyterian Church.  He writes in his autobiography, “As I left the sanctuary, a sudden prophetic insight swept my soul, ‘This is yours!  God will call you to this church to serve it!’”

In 1919, Idaho Falls was in the midst of the post-World War I boom, enjoying a period of prosperity.  The town was growing and churches were flourishing.  The First Presbyterian Church had been organized in 1891, and that same year they built a small building at Shoup and A Streets.  They met there until 1917, when they had grown to about 260 members and were cramped in their building.  Temporarily meeting in a building hastily constructed on Eastern Avenue south of the present Museum, they began construction at their current location in 1918 and dedicated the building on April 11, 1920.  Then the depression of 1920-1921 hit.  Jobs were lost, people were leaving Idaho Falls.  The congregation of First Presbyterian, which had grown to 366 by 1920, was reduced to 155 in 1923.  Pledges that had been made toward funding the building were not being fulfilled. 

According to the history of the First Presbyterian Church, “Dr. Joseph Gulick came to the church in 1923 on a starvation wage, supplementing his income by teaching history at Idaho Falls High School.”  Joseph Gulick actually taught three history classes and one English class, and for it received a salary of $150/month.  Still there came a time when he needed to withdraw the last cent from his bank account to buy groceries.  Many years later he reflected, “This was to be the story of our years of ministry in Idaho Falls – through daily prayer attempting to secure God’s guidance, and in every crisis, going into the sanctuary at night, lifting our eyes to the beautiful dome above and beseeching God for help!”  He also wrote that his time teaching at Idaho Falls High School “caused me to be favorable known by both Mormons and Gentiles.” 

Rev. Gulick served at the First Presbyterian Church of Idaho Falls for 36 years. 

“The first thing that needed to be done,” he wrote, “was to encourage a very discouraged congregation and to make them aware of God’s presence with them.” 

One of the first needs he focused on was building a youth group.  When he came to the church there was none, and the “Old Guard” had no interest in teens.  Within three years, over 70 were coming to the youth group meeting he started.

One of the next needs he saw was to pay off the debt for their building.  In January 1925, after his sermon he invited all the men who wanted to be part of a campaign to reduce the debt to come into his study. Nearly every man showed up; many couldn’t get in.  Both men and women took up the challenge, and Joseph later reflected, “It was a demonstration of the presence and power of God in the life of His Church.”

In January 1929, Rev. Gulick began broadcasting worship services over KGIO radio (which later became KID).  According to his autobiography, it was the first religious broadcast in Idaho.

Two of the goals of the church in 1931 were: (1) a 25% increase in average attendance and (2) a new experience of the Presence of Christ in our lives, and a new loyalty to the church and the Kingdom.  The church made that year, which was their 40th anniversary, a year of prayer.

In 1932, Joseph asked for a year of leave, in order to work on his Master’s Degree.  He took his family to Washington DC where he and his two sons all studied at George Washington University. 

Coming back to Idaho Falls alone, while his sons continued their studies and his wife stayed with them, he threw himself into his ministry.  “One thing that contributed to the work pressure upon me was my inability to delegate responsibility to others.  It was my custom to pitch into every project and do everything possible that I myself could do.”  One Sunday night he discovered a leak in the church roof. As he worked to minimize the damage, he became angry at the church trustees for not repairing the roof, and an elder and his wife who were leisurely visiting with his wife instead of helping him.  The following day, as he was walking to Emerson School to give an address to the Parent Teachers Association, he became disoriented.  He eventually got to the school but as he began his talk, he felt weak, sat down, felt sharp pains in his cheeks, and then collapsed.  It was the beginning of long days of both mental and physical pain and depression.

In his words, “It was a jagged, wounding, storm-covered mountain top experience in my life, but God was in and throughout it all, hammering and tempering His instrument as the blacksmith tempers his metal in the heat and cold.”  He gives much credit to his wife for getting him through this period of weakness.  He also came to understand that because of it he could better minister to people with mental problems, and it taught him not to try to carry so much responsibility on his shoulders.

In 1947 Joseph completed his Doctor of Divinity Degree through the College of Idaho.

Remembering the years 1947-50, Dr. Gulick writes, “If certain important events were like mountain peaks on the skyline of Idaho Falls Presbyterian Church history, the ‘New Life Movement’ launched by the General Assembly in 1947 was the Mount Everest of them all!  It was the period in the Idaho Falls Church’s history when the Holy Spirit’s directing Presence and Power, like that reported in the Book of Acts, was felt more vividly than at any other time.” 

Prior to this date, for many years the church had not been adding more than 20 members annually.  And over the years Dr. Gulick had become sort of a “Community Pastor,” with an increasing load of funerals, counselling sessions and community demands. [He was also called “The Fishing Preacher,” as he spent one day, and sometimes two days each week during fishing season on the river.]  One focus of the New Live Movement was personal witness.  Following a 5-day training session at a Regional Conference and a sermon series focused on an individual’s relationship with Christ, teams were ready.  On Monday, November 17, 1947, 18 men went out in pairs to share the gospel.  Though 16 of the 18 men had never spoken to anyone about a relationship with Christ before, that day the teams led 21 people in decisions to become followers of Christ.  The following Sunday 50 people became new members of the church, and over the next 13 months more than 175 people found Christ.  Dr. Gulick writes, “Though I had always relied upon the Holy Spirit, I needed to realize that the Holy Spirit can work through others as well as myself, and it is wisdom to involve others, especially the men, in the work of church visitation.”

After 30 years of ministry in Idaho Falls, Dr. Gullick took a sabbatical in 1953 to study for six months in Israel, Egypt and Europe.  After getting home he showed slides of his trip 96 times and gave 21 lectures based on what he saw and learned.

Dr. Gulick’s final Sunday in the pulpit at the Presbyterian Church in Idaho Falls was June 28, 1959, but his ministry was not over.  The first year of his “retirement,” Dr. Gullick served as the District Governor of Rotary.  During the next seven years he led churches in Swan Valley, Ririe and Rigby.  In 1967 he entered into complete retirement in order to devote himself completely to the care of his wife, who was suffering from declining health, and passed away in September, 1969.   Joseph Gulick died in Idaho Falls on March 3, 1972.

 

6.1.3 Alipio Amaral

 

Alipio Amaral came to Idaho Falls in March, 2014, and is the discipleship pastor of Watersprings Church.  Alipio’s excitement for inductive Bible study is contagious, as is his enthusiasm for ministry in Idaho Falls.  You can hear him share much of his testimony in a sermon he preached at Watersprings November 30, 2014, “A Life of Impact,” available from the webpage http://calvaryif.org/tvMedia/guestSpeakers.php.

 

Alipio grew up in Hawaii.  One day when he was five years old, he was hit by a truck while riding his bicycle.  The truck that struck him was going twice the legal speed limit, and sent him flying twenty-five feet in the air.  Landing head first into the base of a stop sign, he cracked his head wide open, and bit off his tongue.  He was flown inter-Island to the capital city of Honolulu, where at Queens Medical Center he was put on life support.  He had slipped into a coma, and his entire right side was paralyzed.  His church flew his mother over to the hospital where she commenced a vigil of prayer.  The doctors explained to her that Alipio’s worsening condition would render him immobile, inoperable, and incapacitated for the rest of his life, and recommended that she have them pull the plug on the life support equipment.  Believing that God had already healed him, his mother told the doctors “no” and waited and prayed for nine days until the night that Alipio woke up.  When he awoke, his mother asked him if he remembered anything, to which he confidently responded with his tongue that had grown back, “God told me He wants me to tell people how He healed me.”  He walked out of the hospital two months after he entered, on a Christmas day.

 

As Alipio continued to grow up in Hawaii, the hedonistic culture of the Islands began to influence him, and he walked away from the Lord.  His family life was focused on God, but by high school Alipio had become a rebellious teen. Yet during those teen years God did not forsake him.  Alipio was involved in 15 car accidents, some in which he could easily have been killed, and he walked away from every one. The nearness of death in some of these accidents, plus a friend’s remark about his self-centered behavior, brought him to a point of clarity about the direction his life was going, and one day at home, alone, he rededicated his life to the Lord.  From that time on, Alipio has had an insatiable desire to understand God’s word, to study it and to teach others how to study it. 

 

When he was 18, his family moved to southern Oregon.  Alipio attended Southern Oregon University for two and a half years, and then Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California for a year and a half.  He has skill painting murals, and used that skill to finance trips to Israel and then Austria.  In Austria he was taking some training that included a mission trip into Hungary and Serbia, a few months before NATO started bombing the country.  When sharing his testimony in a high school in Serbia, he saw how the Lord can work, as every student in six consecutive classes accepted his invitation to receive Christ into their lives.  Yet what impressed Alipio just as much was the willingness of two Christian teachers in that school who were risking their jobs to allow the gospel to be preached there.

 

For the next 13 years, Alipio served the Lord in Europe, sharing the gospel, planting churches and starting a Bible college.  Most of those years were spent in southern Portugal, and he will tell you that the soil of people’s hearts there is very hard.  The Lord also sent a girl, Ashley Carlyle, to Portugal whom Alipio had first met in Hungary, who happened to be from Idaho Falls, and who would later become his wife.

 

Less than a week after returning to the States in 2010, Alipio was asked by his church to go to Brazil to take charge of a Bible College and Conference Center.  While willing to go wherever God would send him, Alipio wasn’t eager to go to Brazil immediately, and stayed in Oregon a year while Ashley went to Bible College.   Shortly after getting married, Alipio and Ashley went to Brazil, and were there for two years.  However in July 2013 when his mother was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer, they returned to the States to take care of her.   His mother passed away on October 14, 2013.

 

A few months later, God opened the door for Alipio to join the staff of Watersprings.  God is using his love for studying His Word in various groups he’s leading and teaching here.  Also, Alipio set up and is leading Watersprings discipleship school that started in  September of 2015. 

 

6.1.4 Anthony Manzanares

 

Anthony Manzanares is the senior pastor of New Destiny Ministries Church of God in Christ in Idaho Falls.  The church has its office and meets for worship in the historic Rogers Building downtown, and Anthony has a burden to reach people who live (or are homeless) in the downtown area.  There was a period of his life when he was homeless.

Anthony’s earliest years were spent on and near the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming; his mother is Native American.  Some of his earliest memories are of the Saint Stephens Mission, which is near Riverton on the Reservation.  When he was four or five years old his parents divorced and he went to live with his father in Lander.  There he did well in school, so well that twice he was moved up in grades, one time by two years.  However, at age 14, while in high school, he got in trouble.  Caught smoking with a friend by the school principal, he and his friend were expelled from school.  Given an ultimatum by his father of two options that both seemed impossible, Anthony found himself on his own.  So he left Lander to come to Idaho Falls where his mother lived.  But he didn’t fit in with her life of alcohol, drugs and partying.  So Anthony was on the streets in Idaho Falls.  Complicating his life was the fact that he left Lander carrying no identity papers, which made getting a job in Idaho Falls nearly impossible.

Anthony will tell you that he was born again when he responded to an altar call at a Jehovah’s Witness church.  Growing up he had had some exposure to the Catholic Church and Assembly of God churches.  Though his father quit going to church after his divorce, he insisted his kids still go, so they often went wherever someone would give them a ride.  A Jehovah’s Witness lady was doing that.  When Anthony went forward one Sunday to receive Christ, and was kneeling at the altar, he sensed a shadow come over him that became a huge bright light.

In Idaho Falls, Anthony was influenced by the people he hung out with, and unable to make money any other way, he turned to illegal activities.  He knew what he was doing was wrong, but justified it to himself by thinking, “No one is taking care of me.”  In fact he got so sick once from the guilt he felt that his aunt called an ambulance.  Yet he needed money to live, and without identification papers, could not hold a job permanently. 

By age 18 there were warrants out for his arrest in Idaho and Utah.  But when he got word of it, he turned himself in, first in Idaho Falls and then again in Utah.  Facing two 5-10 year sentences, and having an incompetent lawyer, things did not look good for him.  But he had the Lord, and the Lord provided an opportunity in the courtroom for Anthony to explain to the judge the circumstances of his case.  The judge, who had been ready to sentence him to prison, upon hearing his testimony dropped one charge, reduced the other from a felony to a misdemeanor, and pronounced a withheld judgement. Anthony is thankful for God’s hand in this because if he had been convicted he would not be able to minister in the Youth Center in St. Anthony as he has been doing.

It wasn’t long after Anthony’s legal problems were cleared up that he met his wife, Laura.  Laura grew up in an LDS family, but found Christ through the Awanas program at Calvary Baptist Church in Idaho Falls.  After getting married, they moved to Las Vegas where they both attended a trade school, Laura in a medical assistant’s program and Anthony in business management.  Getting away from Idaho Falls, Anthony was looking to start a new life.  While in Las Vegas, Laura went with some girlfriends to midweek revival meetings of RW Shambach, and invited Anthony to go with them to the Friday night meeting.  Anthony didn’t really believe that his wife had been going to religious meetings that week, and wasn’t interested in spending his Friday night with several women, but agreed to go just to see if his wife was telling the truth.   There he responded to an invitation to rededicate his life to the Lord.

After finishing their studies, Anthony and Laura returned to Idaho Falls.  They were starting to look for a church to attend when they saw a flier about a new church, meeting at the Westbank Hotel.  They went to the first service and continued to attend Westside Assembly, later named Cornerstone Assembly.  Anthony’s first sense of calling into the ministry occurred when a Native American group made a presentation at Cornerstone, and Anthony heard the Lord tell him to bring his family to Christ.  Later he understood that to mean his aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.  Anthony helped with Royal Rangers at the church and was asked to be a deacon, but didn’t sense it was the right time.

Then in 1994, his brother-in-law was killed in a car accident and the following year his younger brother died of a drug overdose.  Anthony struggled with why the Lord allowed these deaths and he turned away from the Lord.  He poured his heart into his work, which grew to three businesses – a very successful landscaping business, an interior and exterior remodeling business and selling steel buildings.  He was putting in long days working, and to stay awake started taking amphetamines.  Then to fall asleep he would use alcohol. 

Though Anthony was not seeking the Lord at this time, the Lord was at work drawing him back.  Two business deals that fell through left Anthony deep in debt.  Compounding his financial problems were three accidents that happened in a period of six months, totaling two vehicles and badly damaging a third.  Somewhat miraculously Anthony escaped any serious injuries in all these accidents.  Also during this time period his stepmother died and his father asked him to go to the funeral at the Saint Stevens Mission in Wyoming. The night before the funeral, Anthony had a dream about what would happen the next day, and the events of the day unfolded just as Anthony had seen in his dream.  After this Anthony started seriously asking the Lord to take away his need for drugs and alcohol.  Years earlier when Anthony had prayed this, the Lord immediately took away his desire for drugs and alcohol.  But this time the Lord responded that He had done it once, and now Anthony would have to overcome his addictions himself.  For a couple months it was rough.  With pain throughout his body that made him yearn to stay in bed all day, Anthony would get up and go to work only because of his wife’s insistence. 

All of these things got Anthony to seek the Lord deeply in prayer.  When he asked the Lord how he could get out of debt, the Lord told him to do what seemed illogical – not to accept every job that came his way, and to bid jobs much higher than he had been doing.   The Lord told him to trust that He would bring him the jobs He wanted.  Anthony did take on fewer jobs, cut back from running three crews to only one, and it wasn’t long before he had paid off his debts and obtained a good truck, something he didn’t have after the accidents.  

At this time Anthony and Laura were still attending Cornerstone Assembly, and Anthony was teaching the Jr. and Sr. High youth as well as continuing to be involved in their Royal Ranger program.  But he sensed the Lord had more for him to do. 

One way that the Lord has used Anthony and his wife has been as foster parents.  Over the years they have opened their hearts and home to 18 kids, 15 of which stayed for considerable periods of time.  Three of these they adopted, one from birth.

About 2004 Laura met Bishop Taro Golden when he brought a client to her office, and after a second visit a connection was made.  Anthony and Laura visited New Covenant COGIC once, and then again, and they both sensed the Lord leading them to become involved there.  Over the next four years Anthony was trained to become a minister and then an elder, which in the Church of God in Christ denomination is essentially equivalent to being a pastor.

As Anthony prayed more about how the Lord could use him, he sensed the Lord was leading him to plant a church in Blackfoot or possibly Pocatello, and made numerous trips to Blackfoot to look for possible locations.  He was offered pastoral positions in several places, including Boise, which would have been convenient for his wife to remain employed with the same company she was working for in Idaho Falls.  But in the summer of 2013, Bishop Golden invited Anthony to lunch, and asked him to take over as pastor of New Covenant.  While Anthony had been focused on Blackfoot, he did remember that three years previous he had told Laura that one day he would be the pastor of New Covenant.  Bishop Golden also recommended getting a fresh start by finding a different meeting place and changing the name of the church.  By November of that year, New Destiny began meeting in the Rogers Building.

Anthony has seen the Lord bring him through a lot, has learned to seek Him, listen to Him and obey Him.  He desires to see God use him to bring healing, deliverance and growth.  And just as important, Anthony wants New Destiny to send out capable servants of the Lord to minister wherever God leads them, whether in other churches in town or other places.

6.1.5  Thana Singarajah

While Idaho Falls has always had a small population of foreign-born residents, in recent times most have been Mexican, Central American or Canadian.  Likewise the few foreign-born men and women whom God has called to serve in Idaho Falls have predominantly been from either Mexico or Canada. Thana Singarajah is the exception. Bentong, Malaysia, where Thana was born and raised, is 8,600 miles from Idaho Falls and is located in a hot, humid, tropical, predominantly Muslim country.  Yet God called Thana to Idaho Falls. 

Thana Singarajah studied at the Vanto Academy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and then at Leeds Beckett University in England. While there, he experienced a complete change in his life. During a moment of despair over his life and career choices, he was miraculously delivered from this despair through faith in Jesus Christ. As a result of this rather sudden transformation, he completely changed the course of his life, abandoning the counting of numbers for the care of people. Heeding the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he moved to the United States and attended Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Oregon, and upon completion of his studies, he left for American Falls as a Christian missionary. While in American Falls, Thana did post-graduate studies in Pocatello, graduating from Idaho State University in 1984 with a Master’s Degree in Counseling, and in 1988, with a Doctor of Education degree.

Affectionately known to everyone as Dr. Thana, he started his professional career in American Falls in 1983, when he founded Family Care Counseling Center, initially under the auspices of the Bethany Baptist Church, where he also served as the senior pastor. Meanwhile, members of the Board of Directors of the YMCA made an urgent plea for Dr. Thana to come to Idaho Falls to counsel troubled teens; Idaho Falls then had one of the highest rates of teenage suicide in the United States. Through this association, the Family Care Center was reorganized and incorporated as a nonprofit organization. The organization grew to be one of the largest counseling centers in the State of Idaho.

Dr. Thana had a vision for serving the underappreciated.  In the late 1990’s when there was no men’s homeless shelter in Idaho Falls, he opened his home to as many as 5 men, often young men recovering from mental illness that had nowhere else to go.  So when he was approached in August of 1998 by Paul Meigio and Don Schweitzer with plans to create a men’s shelter, Thana was instrumental in making those plans a reality, and brought the City of Refuge for Men under the oversight of his organization.  Thana was also involved in the expansion of homeless shelter ministries in Idaho Falls, namely the ARK Transitional housing for men and Ruth’s House Shelter for Women.

After many years of finding blessings and challenges in nonprofit work, Thana founded the Pearl Health Clinic, PLLC, in 2008, where he continued his client-focused efforts, treating persons through the entire life spectrum.  Being a man of vision and faith, while running the clinic, he also founded Pearl Group Homes, Pearl Properties, and University Study Abroad.

Active in adolescent counseling throughout his career, Thana was also involved in the Idaho Foster Care system since the mid-1980s. He fostered 55 sons through the Health and Welfare system as well as through the judicial system. He adopted four of these children.

Dr. Thana also found time to be one of the major supporters of the orphanage, Esperanza Viva in Puebla, Mexico and Lighthouse Children Welfare Home Association, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for many years.

For a number of years, Dr. Thana served as a full-time minister. He was ordained pastor in the Foursquare denomination and led several congregations. First, he was the pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, American Falls, Idaho, from 1982 to 1992. He subsequently served as interim pastor at: Alliance Covenant Church, Idaho Falls, Idaho, from 1993 to 1994, Eagle Rock Baptist Church, Idaho Falls, Idaho, from 1994 to 1995, and finally at Alliance Covenant Church, Idaho Falls, Idaho, from 1995 to 1998. Subsequently, he continued to fill various pulpits and taught at various Christian seminaries around the world throughout his life.

Thana was a man whose love for Jesus drove him to love others deeply and serve others tirelessly. He strove to see the very best in each person with whom he came in contact. Whether in business or the church, Thana was a man who lived out Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 25:34-36: "Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’"

6.1.6 Theone Maupin

6.2 Called to – and sent from – Idaho Falls

6.2.1 Jim Spencer

Jim Spencer pastored Shiloh Foursquare Church in Idaho Falls (and its predecessors Shiloh Chapel and Shiloh Christian Center) from 1980 to 1989.  He left Idaho Falls to devote his full time to the ministry he founded to win Mormons to Christ, Through the Maze.  

 

Jim was born in Basin, Wyoming in 1942.  After service in the Navy, he worked for an electronics firm in Southern California, and according to his book Beyond Mormonism, An Elder’s Story, his life at this time was filled with women, gambling and booze.  Yet he knew he was searching for something more in life.  That search took him to Alaska, and then back to California.  Through testimony of a close boyhood friend and numerous visits from LDS missionaries, Jim was persuaded to become a Mormon; he was baptized in Santa Ana in 1964.  Over the next ten years he served in numerous positions, including stake missionary, youth worker and, for five years, gospel doctrine class teacher.  In 1966 he married Margaretta Long in the Idaho Falls Temple.  In early 1969 the family moved from California to St. Anthony so that Jim could attend Ricks College for two years, where he majored in journalism.  After a year at Arizona State University, the family moved back to Idaho and Jim worked at the Rexburg Standard Journal.  Reflecting on this time in his life, he wrote:

 

"A nagging sense of emptiness haunted the nooks and crannies of my mind.  Something within me, in quiet moments, cried out that my life was shallow and unfulfilling.  What could be wrong?  What was missing?  For one thing, I was beginning to feel genuine disappointment in the Church.  I was becoming convinced that something basic was missing.  I had tried, God knew, to fit into the organization.  In fact, I had fit in – so successfully that no one knew I was dissatisfied.”

 

So Jim’s personal search continued.  He took his family on a trip to Illinois and Missouri to visit historic LDS sites, and on the trip had contact with various Mormon splinter groups that raised more questions in his mind.  He began an investigation of LDS Church history.  And he probed various people – the Presbyterian pastor in St. Anthony, a childhood friend who had become a Baptist, a man he thought was a Catholic priest – with his questions, and they all pointed him to a relationship with Jesus.   These conversations led up to what Jim would later refer to his experience on the “Sugar City Curve,” while commuting between Rexburg and St. Anthony.

 

“I entered the curve a self-centered intellectual failure who, after ten years on a treadmill of religious performance, was about as far from knowing God as I had been when I joined the Mormon Church.  I was sick of myself. Sick of religion. Sick of life … ‘God,’ I said ’where are You? Where am I going? What am I supposed to do?’…

 

Well, Jim, came the response, let’s start at the beginning.  The problem is, you are doing things your own way.  You say you want to find Me. O.K., here’s how to do it. Turn your life over to Me.

 

I must be crazy, I thought, I’m having a two-way conversation in my head.  But Mike had said I needed to talk to God.  Fred said I needed a personal experience with Christ.  Maybe this was it.  Just in case it was, I wasn’t about to pass up the chance.

 

"O.K. God," I said, "You say I’m supposed to what?”

 

Give Me your life.

 

"Yeah, right. But what do You mean?"

 

You don’t seem to be listening.

 

"I am listening. I’m just not understanding. Do you mean do what those radio evangelists tell you – give your heart to Jesus?"

 

That’s it.

 

"But I don’t even know what that means."

 

It means that you give Me permission to do anything with you that I want.

 

"What do you mean by anything?"

 

Anything means anything…

 

"I had no idea of the full implications of the talk I had with God that day.  It would take weeks for me to recognize the deep significance of those sixty seconds when I said yes to Him on the Sugar City Curve.  That afternoon I felt an irresistible desire to read the Bible.  So after supper I found a copy of a New Testament called Good News for Modern Man (I had no idea where I go it) and went down to the basement by myself.  What I read put the finishing touches on the contact begun earlier in the day.”

 

This was 1974.  Pockets of revival were springing up in Idaho Falls and other places in Eastern Idaho.  Through these Jim found fellowship and encouragement, and in Christ he found the answer to his deepest needs.  It took two more years before his wife -  who at first was ready to send Jim away and seek a divorce, but then started seeing the change in Jim’s life, experiencing love in Christian churches, reading materials Jim had, and for whom a lot of people were praying -  responded to an evangelist’s invitation at the Community Presbyterian Church in St. Anthony.

 

In 1980 Jim and his wife came to Idaho Fall and planted Shiloh Chapel, which merged five years later with the Christian Center and renamed Shiloh Christian Center.  Like many other pastors in Idaho Falls, Jim was bivocational and ran the local Electrolux vacuum sales office.  While pastoring in to Idaho Falls, Jim wrote his first book, Beyond Mormonism, An Elder’s Story, and also founded Through the Maze newsletter   He later wrote eight other books, as well as hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles.  After leaving Idaho Falls in 1989 to spend full time in his Through the Maze Ministry, he travelled extensively, holding seminars in local churches.  In 1996 he and Ed Decker presented a seminar on Mormonism in Idaho Falls that was sponsored by fifteen churches.

 

Jim passed away on July 31, 2016 in Boise. His obituary described his passion for Christ:

"He wanted to know what was out there – and when he found Jesus it answered his biggest question. This answer burned in him every day of his life after he found Jesus – and his generous nature combined to make him a walking, talking salesman for Jesus Christ. He wanted every single person to know what he knew, and he wasn’t ashamed or afraid to tell it to as many people as he could – in stadiums, small congregations, people’s homes or even a stranger in line at the grocery store." 

6.3 Sent from Idaho Falls

 

6.3.1  Dr. J. Christy Wilson, Sr.

 

Samuel Zwemer, who has been called The Apostle to Islam, is known in the world of missions on par with William Carey, Hudson Taylor and Adonirum Judson.  While Samuel Zwemer had no connection with Idaho Falls, a man who followed in his steps, who wrote Zwemer’s biography as well as two other books about him, who was his protégé as a missionary, and who succeeded him as professor of missions at Princeton Seminary, was an Idaho Falls resident. 

J. Christy Wilson came to Idaho Falls as a child with his parents, brother and sister sometime between 1900 and 1906.  The first mention of Christy in Idaho Falls newspapers was on June 26, 1906 when he was riding a horse and got kicked in the knee by another horse.[1]  A week later, still with his knee in a cast, he was reported to be able to “go about a little.”[2]  That fall he entered high school in Idaho Falls, which was then called “Central”.  Evidently his knee had healed, as in his freshman year Christy quarter-backed the high school football team.[3]  Besides playing football, he played baseball, tennis, competed in boxing, and went fishing with his friends, some fishing trips lasting several days.[4]  As a junior he was the editor-in-chief of the school paper; Central that year had a record attendance of 130.[5]  Graduating in 1910, Christy delivered the “Third Honor Oration” at his high school commencement.[6]

Besides being a leader in school, Christy was a believer in Christ from an early age, and felt God’s call on his life.  Years later he told his own son that he had read the entire New Testament by age 12, which inspired his son, also named Christy, to best his father by completing it by age 11.[7]

 

While still in high school, Christy spoke at regional student Christian conferences, known as the Christian Endeavor Union.[8] Upon graduating from high school, Christy began work on a ranch near Gray’s Lake, but after about a month found a better job working as a highway surveyor.[9]  That fall he began studies at Park College, a liberal arts college near Kansas City affiliated at that time with the Presbyterian Church.[10]  After two years he transferred to the University of Kansas, where he earned a degree and also where he met fellow student Fern Wilson, a native of Twin Falls, Idaho, and who a few years later would become his wife.[11]

Returning to Idaho Falls after graduating from college, Christy first took a job with the Idaho Falls Child’s Welfare Club, managing playgrounds.[12]  When his family had first moved to Idaho Falls, his father worked as an assistant post-master,[13] but in 1914, the year that Christy graduated from college, the family purchased The Daily Post, one of the three Idaho Falls newspapers.[14]  One of the competitor papers reported that “C. C. Wilson and Associates” purchased the Post; C. C. was Christy’s father Charles, the “Associates” included Christy’s mother, his brother, himself and one unrelated man, S. Clyde Idd.[15]  Once the Wilson family took over the paper in August of 1914, Christy worked as a reporter and editor of the newspaper.[16,17]

After two years of working at The Daily Post,[18] Christy could no longer postpone God’s call to ministry, and so he left Idaho Falls for New Jersey to attend Princeton Theological Seminary.  A short time later, he proposed to Fern by telegraph, and she traveled to Washington D. C, where they were married in the home of Idaho Senator William Borah.[19]

During his years at Princeton, Christy had several professors who provided backbone to his faith and conviction to his theology.  “They straightened me out,” he later admitted.  He had previously picked up liberal ideas, but these respected professors brought him to a thoroughly evangelical position.  Benjamin B. Warfield and J. Gresham Machen left the most notable handprints upon the heart and mind of this young seminarian.[20]

 

In 1918 Christy was ordained by the Lehigh (Pennsylvania) Presbytery[21] and in 1919 he completed both a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Master of Arts degree from Princeton University.[22]

 

Returning to Idaho Falls for a brief visit, the Idaho Falls Times reported:

A union meeting of the congregations of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches was held Sunday evening, the address being given by Rev. Christy Wilson, who is visiting his parents here for a short time before leaving for a mission to Persia.  Quite a large gathering turned out to hear Rev. Wilson, who made an excellent address.[23]

Shortly after arriving in Persia, Fern wrote to her home church in Twin Falls:

We are very near Mount Ararat which is a majestic peak with a great crown of shimmering snow, and long blue slopes.  The situation here is ideal for a city but poor Armenia is in awful misery.  We have been helping the workers of the Near East Relief [a relief organization] during the two weeks we have been held here.  We see the poor people come in, just shades of humanity almost in the death grip of starvation.  Their clothes are just poor dirty shreds of old patches.  The Americans are caring for just as many of them as funds will allow.  They come to the refugee camps and get two warm meals a day and as fast as possible they get a bath and an outfit of old clothes sent from America.  They are different beings after they have been fed and clothed, the hope that was gone comes back and gives them a higher tone physically and morally.  We expect to start for Tabriz tomorrow.  We must pass through the hostile lines of the Armenians and Tartars who are unofficially at war.  We go in company with an American army officer, Colonel Shelly.[24]

The Wilson’s journey to their mission in Tabriz, Azerbaijan province, took two months and two days.  Fern provides a more complete description of their trip in another letter, this one to friends in Twin Falls:

We did not get to stop in Constantinople for which we were very sorry, typhus and cholera were raging there and we would have had to wait some time for a boat across the Black Sea to Batum.  We stayed on the “Black Arrow” and went up to Novorossick, Russia, stopping first at Constanza, Romania.  From Novorossick we went to Batum on an English freighter; it was a new boat and we had two cabins and the dining saloon for our party of nine and were quite comfortable.

Our first experience with Russian railroads was from Batum to Tiflis.  Their Pullman differs from ours in several ways; there are four or five coupes in a coach and you can shut yourself up in your coupe and be away from the others.  That part of it is very nice, but the berths have springs or mattresses and you are supposed to have your own bedding.  We had our steamer rugs and were quite comfortable in that way but when we tried to sleep the bugs almost ate us up.  We made very good time on that train and passed through some wonderful scenery in the Caucasus.

We were very much surprised when we got to Tiflis; it is a big city with wide paved streets, automobiles and street cars.  The American Relief Commission had a Ford at the station to meet us and took us to the mission office where we met a number of American army officers, mostly majors and colonels.  We liked Tiflis very much and stayed there several days.  We were sorry we could not speak those three languages.  Tiflis is the capital of the Georgian Republic.

From Tiflis we went to Erivan, Armenia where we stayed for almost three weeks waiting to get through the country where the Armenians and Tartars are fighting. Christy helped with relief work while we were there.  He was at the first refugee camp where he had a chance to see the horrible condition of the refugees when they first arrived from their destroyed villages.  The Americans are doing a wonderful work all through the Caucasus; they feed as many as 17,000 a day at Erivan.

Erivan is the capital of Armenia and is in the shadow of Mount Ararat. That ancient mountain is one of the most beautiful peaks we ever had the opportunity to see…all pink and gold at sunrise and sunset, and again glistening by moon light; it has a great crown of snow always and rises so high above all the other mountains that it dominates the whole country.  Colonel Shelley, an American army officer, took us from Erivan in a car to Nakhichevan through the Tartar country about a hundred miles; that was a very exciting ride.  We were stopped several times by fierce-looking Tartar guards who demanded our passes which we had received from the Tartar governor.  The two chauffeurs, one driving the Dodge in which we were riding and the other a Ford van with our baggage, were Russians, but some of the guards thought we were Armenians, but we finally got through without any trouble except some American swearing from Colonel Shelley, which they seemed to understand perfectly.

We were two days and nights coming from Nakhichevan to Tabriz, arriving here on Thanksgiving Day.  Tabriz is so different from any city we have ever seen, the streets are about a third as wide as ours at home and crooked and dirty.  Some of the main ones have sidewalks about two feet wide, but most of them have no walks and we walk right down the middle of the street and dodge camels, ox carts, horses and donkeys.  There are high mud walls on either side of the street so one cannon see the houses and harems.

We have three mission compounds here, the girls’ school and a place for two teachers to live.  The boys’ school compound includes the school, three residences and the dispensary, also dormitories, and the hospital compound, including the hospital and three residences.  We can understand Turkish a little and can say a few things.  Our teacher is an old Persian who has taught the missionaries the language for over30 years.  We will take up Turkish first and later Armenian and Persian.[25]

In time Christy and Fern did master all three languages;[26] Christy preached in all three and wrote several books in Persian [now called Farsi].  In addition, he picked up some Russian from daily interactions.[27]  Perhaps learning Latin, French and German earlier in his life[28] helped him learn languages on the field.  He also studied the cultures of the peoples of northern Iran and became a recognized authority on Iranian art; he was commissioned to by the Iranian government to write a text book, History of Iranian Art, for use in the country’s schools. [28] Ken Wilson writes that Christy “loved having people from various backgrounds – Muslim, Jewish, Armenian and Nestorian converts – all take communion together.”[29] 

 

The early years of the 20th century were times of great turmoil and change in Iran. The Persian Constitutional Revolution lasted from 1905 to 1911 and resulted in limiting the powers of the Shah, a dynasty that had begun in 1796.  The Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 divided Persia into spheres of British and Russian influence, for the most part ignoring national sovereignty. The discovery of petroleum in 1908 by the British intensified their interest in the country.  World War I in Iran lasted from October, 1914, when Ottoman Turks attacked Russian positions in Iranian Azerbaijan, to Reza Khan’s coup in 1921. During the war, Russian, Ottoman, British, French and German military forces freely roamed the country.  Autonomist minority movements – Kurds, Assyrians and others - destabilized Iran’s already weak political structure.  Besides a high mortality due to armed conflicts, the War interrupted food supplies and epidemics spread.  Perhaps one-quarter of the population died of starvation, exposure, dysentery, typhus, typhoid fever, cholera, smallpox, malaria or influenza.  Mortality was highest in the north, the area of American Presbyterian missionary activity. The power struggle was mostly resolved through a military coup in 1921 which established Reza Khan, an officer of the Persian Cossack Brigade and later to be known as Reza Shah Pahlavi, as the dominant power.  After being prime minister for two years, Reza Khan became the first shah of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1925.[30]  

The Wilsons arrived in the midst of this conflict.  About a year after arriving in Tabriz, Christy and Fern were forced to evacuate the mission at Tabriz and march under the protection of British troops to Hamadan, Persia, where they continued their work as missionaries.[31] However, their stay in Hamadan was short and they were soon able to return to Tabriz.[32]

Christian missions in Iran has a long history, but work among Muslims has nearly always been met with hostility by Islamic authorities.  Early American and British missions in Iran had the goal of educating Nestorians to take the gospel to their Muslim compatriots.  By 1887 American missionaries had established 81 schools with 1,823 pupils.  The door was also open for medical missions.  Missionary doctors were especially in demand among the Kurds in Iran.  The first American hospital opened in Urmia in 1882 and trained native nurses and assistants. Frequent famines and epidemics in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s kept the door wide open for medical and humanitarian missions in Iran.  And, as mentioned in Fern’s letter above, during and after World War I, Azerbaijan was a battlefield between Ottoman Turks and Russians, with thousands of Nestorians driven out by the Turks and Kurds, and they sought refuge in the American mission compound in Urmia.[33]

By the time the Wilsons arrived in Iran, the Presbyterian mission had given up their strategy of teaching Nestorians to evangelize the country’s Muslims, and so Christy’s primary occupation was evangelism of all ethnic and religious groups – Nestorians, Armenians, Muslims, Jews and Zoroastrians. He was one of more than 100 Presbyterian missionaries in the country at that time, and they counted Muslim converts at a little over three thousand.[34]

The following are excerpts he contributed to a pamphlet, “Open Doors in Persia:”[35]

Skirting the north of the great city of Tabriz is a brick-red range of hills.  On the very summit we can see a little Moslem shrine, where two saints of ancient time lie buried.  Local tradition has it that thirty visits to this tomb are equal to a pilgrimage to Mecca.  One day we made the steep climb and asked the old, blue-turbaned keeper if we might go into the shrine.  He granted our request, only stipulating that we remove our shoes before we entered.  Inside it was dark, but as our eyes became accustomed to the shadow we made out two large wooden sarcophagi. On the top of each was a copy of the Koran.  That book of Islam, like the old saints, is dead and in the shadow.  In Christ we have a message of life and light. The Word of God is living and active, and has through nearly a century been penetrating the darkness of Islam in the northwestern part of Persia.

 

We expect soon to celebrate the centenary of the establishment of mission work in Persia.  When the first missionaries arrived there was not the slightest possibility of work among Mohammedans.  They began in Urmia to work among the Assyrians or Nestorian Christians in hope of bringing a new spiritual life to this ancient church and outpost of Christianity in Asia.  From the first they looked forward to and prayed for the time when direct evangelism of Moslems would be possible.  That time has come, their prayers are answered! Today we can preach the message of salvation in Christ all over Persia and we see the foundations of a church growing out of Persian Islam….

Most Persians are Mohammedans of the Shia faith and have been noted as among the most fanatical people in the world.  According to their doctrine all others are unclean.  Some twenty years ago Christians were not allowed on the streets when it rained, a dry Christian was bad enough, but merely brushing against a wet Christian was awful defilement.  Today, Christians may go out where and when they please without one eye on the weather, this fact is symptomatic of a changed mentality.  The former almost complete dominion of religious ecclesiastics has passed and the old controls of Islam are in large measure removed. People are beginning to think independently in matters of religion.  Many voices come to their ears.  There is propaganda for Bolshevism, since Russia joins us on the north; there is a widespread wave of materialism; there is a reformed Islam; Bahaism and other sects are making a strong appeal.  In this clamor of voices it is the work of our mission to make the loving call of Christ heard just as widely as we can…

…Mission schools have led the way in education all over Persia and have been a great influence in the enlightenment and desire for progress that is so pronounced today.  They have consistently kept before them the ideal of leading students to confess Christ as their Savior.  We think of one girl here who was the daughter of one of the most powerful religious and political leaders in this part of Persia.  She became a Christian in school and then began a battle for her faith.  Her family were all against her and, from a worldly standpoint, it seemed she could not possibly win out.  But she was supported by a great body of prevailing prayer, both here and in the home church.  She suffered, but she and her faith conquered!  Now she is married and has a little girl.  It is generally known that she is a Christian and this fact is shown most of all by the beauty of her character, which seems more and more to partake of Him for whom she was glad to face awful odds.  Because Christ was the Great Teacher the educational work of our missions must minister in His name to the children and the youth of Persia.

…In spite of the leading place of mission schools in educational advance, and in spite of the thousands who are healed in the name of Christ, our work would not stand unless Christ was being presented as a personal Savior and unless we were doing our utmost to found a church in Persia.  There is probably no place in the world where it is so difficult for people to accept and confess Christ as in Moslem lands.  The penalty for apostasy from Islam is still death, though mercifully this rule is seldom enforced. Faith in Christ does mean in Persia social ostracism and possible imprisonment and the loss of family and property.  Certainly in Persia the word of the apostle to new converts is true, “We must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God.”

One of our young men who is a convert from Islam has just returned from 22 days spent in a jail reeking with vermin.  He went to the village where his father is a Mohammedan priest; he wanted to visit his family after a separation of several years.  At first he was received very kindly, but when he refused to follow the forms of Islam and confessed his faith in Christ he was beaten and delivered to bribed guards who cast him into prison.  While he was there he was busy writing out plans for the advancement of the local group of converts from Islam.  Other prisoners marveled that he could be so happy in such a vile place.  He told them the reason.

There are more and more of them who are glad and willing to be partakers with Christ in His sufferings, they are founding the church that the Master is calling out of this Mohammedan land.  What a privilege it is for us who are followers of Christ in America to cooperate with them.  We should be willing to share in the travail as well as the joy to see a new church born.

Rick struggled with the idea of living the rest of his life in Pocatello, until the Lord assured him that it was a temporary assignment, and that he would start the church but not pastor it.  After nine months, the new church included 30 people, a 4,000 square foot building and a radio station, and Rick was ready to move on.  Willing to move his family into Sunday School rooms in a struggling church in California, Rick spent the next 18 months learning how to be a pastor.

 

After coming back to Pocatello, four separate couples asked Rick if he would consider coming to Idaho Falls to plant a church.  He made an initial visit in August, 1993 praying that God would show him whether there was a need, and staying in a motel.  God’s answer came in the form of the people staying in the neighboring room at the Comfort Inn.  At 2 am Rick could hear them arguing and also heard guys beating up on a girl.  He called the police, and was about ready to enter the situation himself when the police came.  After a fruitless effort to get back to sleep Rick realized the Lord had just showed him that there truly was a need for him in Idaho Falls.

The story of Calvary Chapel in Idaho Falls is a story of church growth. Some churches in the city have had comparable growth rates over periods of a few years, but none have sustained high growth rates for as long as Calvary Chapel/Watersprings[2] has.

6. Called and Sent by God

5.3.3 “Church-Going Day” and Church Growth in Idaho Falls in 1914-1915

 

From the Idaho Register, March 3, 1914: CITY TO HAVE “CHURCH DAY”

 

Sunday, March 29th, has been named and set as Church-Going Day for Idaho Falls, and everyone will be asked and urged to attend at least once on that day…Church Day has proven a success in practically every city in the United States from coast to coast, and on that day hundreds of people who ordinarily do not attend any church service attend, and in hundreds of cases continued the attendance….While Idaho Falls may be a little late in getting in line, it is hoped to make up the difference by an unusual interest….At a meeting of the Women’s Missionary Union of Idaho Falls, composed of the membership of all the churches of the city, it was decided to set the day named….

 

And here’s the report of what happened on Church Day, according to an article in the Idaho Register, March 31, 1914:

 

CHURCH DAY A SUCCESS – All Churches of the City Experience Large Attendance

 

Church-Going Day in Idaho Falls met with the success here with which it has been met the country over where the attempt has been made, and every church in the city experienced the largest attendance outside of some special occasion in the history of the city.

 

In several instances it was found necessary to make special provision in order to accommodate those who wished to attend, the seating capacity being taxed beyond the limit.  At all churches, a special musical program was made a feature and this part of the service was greatly enjoyed.

 

Church-Going Day has become a spontaneous national movement the country over, and wherever it has been tried has been successful.  Those in charge of the churches and religious organizations of the city feel particularly gratified at the response.

 

Another Church-Going Day was held in Idaho Falls on January 3, 1915.  An article describing preparations reported, “The entire community has taken the matter up, with the result that a great deal of interest has been aroused.  It is safe to say that many will attend church on that day who have not been in a place of religious worship during the past year….”  And increased attendance and overflowing buildings were again reported.  Did the results last?  Apparently so, for I found the following two articles that confirmed growth of churches in Idaho Falls:

 

From the Idaho Register of December 24, 1915:

 

The annual roll call and church day of the Baptist Church was held Wednesday evening.  The reports from the different officers and departments were given, which showed that a marked advancement had been made over the previous year.

 

And in the Idaho Register of October 12, 1915:

 

Church attendance is increasing in our city, markedly.  This is a very evident fact in the Presbyterian Church which has outgrown its present church edifice.  It will no longer hold the congregations that assemble.  As a consequence, services were held in the American theater last Sunday evening, and the house was practically filled…The Sunday school [also] is too large to be accommodated in the present building and some other arrangement must be made for them.  Some plan will be carried out to accommodate this church and Sunday school through the coming winter, when it is very evident that the church people must get ready to erect a building that will seat at least 600 to 800 people. 

 

This will be a necessity, and must be done for the credit of the city.  It is very encouraging to see this lively interest in church matters manifested by the people of our city.  With proper encouragement the interest will continue to grow until not a church edifice in the city will hold the congregations…

 

 

5.3.4 The Start of First Christian Church and the Taylor Evangelistic Meetings 

 

Nearly 60% of the churches that presently meet in Idaho Falls have fewer than 100 members.  First Christian started in 1916 with 107 charter members![12]  At that time it was the 11th church in Idaho Falls, yet the fourth largest.

 

Like many Christian denominations, the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ traces its roots to a movement, actually two separate movements, that began in Pennsylvania and Kentucky in the early 1800’s.  These movements united in 1832.  Objecting to practices in churches that expressed denominational exclusiveness, the founders of the Christian Church hoped to restore Christian unity by returning to New Testament faith and practices.

 

A few years prior to the founding of the church in Idaho Falls, Frank Jones, corresponding secretary of the Southern Idaho Christian Missionary Society, sought to organize a Christian Church in Idaho Falls, but after a few meetings the people he gathered disbanded for lack of a pastor.  However, the Ladies Aid Society of this fledgling church continued to meet, and purchased a lot on South Boulevard.  On November 1, 1915, the South Idaho Missionary Society sent Rev. D. B Titus to Idaho Falls.  He held meetings over a two-week period in New Sweden, which resulted in a number of people becoming interested in forming the church.  A service was held in the Star Theater, and following the service, a meeting to discuss building on the lot purchased by the Ladies Aid Society.  About 30 were present and unanimously voted to authorize Rev. Titus to select a building committee.  Excavation began the following day!

 

In January 1916, the Taylor Evangelistic Company of Los Angeles conducted an evangelistic campaign on the corner of Elm Street and Eastern Avenue.  According to a written history of First Christian Church, “This was of much value in helping to discover members of the Christian Church as well as adding new converts.”  During this time, First Christian held services in the rooms of the Gem State Business College at the corner of B Street and Park Avenue.  By February 6, sufficient work had been completed on the church building that a two-week evangelistic campaign was held there.  On February 20, the building was dedicated.  Following a sermon preached by Rev. Titus entitled, “God’s Portion,” he announced the building had cost $3,200 and $3,000 of bills were outstanding.  After

the afternoon and evening services, $3,900 had been collected.  The surplus was used to finish the basement and buy a piano. 

In late December 1915, daily prayer meetings began in ten or twelve parts of Idaho Falls, seeking God to work in evangelistic meetings that were planned for the following month.  Organized by a committee from several of the churches of Idaho Falls, the meetings were led by Dr. G. W. Taylor and his family of Los Angeles, and held in a temporary building erected on Elm Street between the Methodist church and the City Library (now the Museum of Idaho).  That building, which could seat over a thousand people, was erected by about 75 volunteer carpenters and other helpers. It was built in a single day, December 29, 1915, a day in which the Idaho Register reported “as severe a winter storm as this area ever experienced was raging with the snow piling in deep drifts and the thermometer ranging well below zero.”  The weather did not discourage the workers, as the newspaper reported that they were making jokes about the winds and snow as they cycled in shifts between working in the cold and warming up in the Methodist Church.

Nightly meetings in this building, called the “Tabernacle,” were planned from January 2 through January 30, with additional meetings on Sunday mornings and afternoons.  However, toward the end of the month, the response was so great that the meetings were extended two additional days.  Newspaper reports of “attendance, by actual count” indicated 1,100 were present on each of the Sundays and also on some week days toward the end of the month.  [1,100 in 1916 was 17% of the population of the city.]  On Sunday afternoons, men’s meetings were held at the Tabernacle while women met in the Methodist Church. The unusually severe winter weather continued all month.

Dr. Taylor’s son, Paul, was a tenor soloist and directed a city choir that varied between 75 and 100 each evening, while another son, Lawrence, organized a children’s choir that sang some nights.  Dr. Taylor’s wife joined in the music, playing her coronet.  A newspaper reporter compared one of Dr. Taylor’s sermons to those of Billy Sunday.  Titles of some of his messages included: “Prayer,” “God’s Promises,” “Liberty and Truth,” “The People’s Savior,” “The Price of a Soul,” “Shoot or Give up the Gun,” “The Robbers of Idaho Falls,” and “The Last Call.”  The day before the final meeting, the Idaho Register reported that 284 people had come forward, making decisions to become followers of Jesus.[15]

 

 

Donald Austin’s father, Herbert “Bert” Austin, came to America in 1887 with his parents and 12 siblings from England when Bert was 2 years old.  At age 19, he and a younger brother came to Idaho Falls.  They both worked land on the west side of the Snake River on various farms and at the Frank Reno Ranch in the Birch Creek area.  Bert married Clara Elizabeth Smith in Idaho Falls in 1906.  They lived at the Charles Wilson Ranch where he was employed. They bought the Eagle Rock Ranch in 1921, which sits eight miles north of Idaho Falls on the river road. They farmed there until 1946.  Bert and his wife Lizzy, as Bert called her, had six children, four boys and two girls.

The Austin children started school at the Payne school on the river road.  In the winter they would ride to school in a sleigh driven by their brother William. They also attended school in Idaho Falls. Growing up, the children attended the Methodist church in Idaho Falls with their mother and grandmother, Malinda Bell Smith.  Charles and Malinda Smith were of the shouting Methodist persuasion from Kansas. Malinda heard a Pentecostal preacher on the radio and was filled with the Spirit in her home. She was a very strong influence on the Austin children as they were growing up.

While working in the field, Bert and his second son George got into an argument that sent George running to the house for the protection of his mother.  George filled a suitcase and headed for central Oregon to work in the mills. There he met the love of his life, Phebe Adams. They became members of a Pentecostal mission in Bend, Oregon of which the pastor had been influenced by the Azusa Street mission in Los Angeles.  In time, George got his older brother, William, (Bill), to come to Oregon to work. Bill became of member of the same Pentecostal mission.  He became the pastor of a mission church in Redmond, Oregon for a short time, later pastored of a mission church in Toppenish, Washington and for many years was a traveling evangelist preaching all over the country.

Donald Franklin Austin, the fourth son, was born in Idaho Falls in 1913.  He accepted the Lord at a tent meeting on the property that is now the Hawthorne Elementary School. He moved to Oregon in his later teen years and met Evalyn Mae Kissler at the same Pentecostal mission his brothers attended.  They married in 1934. Don attended Bible School at a church in Caldwell, Idaho and while there worked on a dairy farm. In time Don became the pastor of a church in Fruitland, Idaho, later moving to Albion to pastor a church there for a short time.

By the late 1930’s, all of Don’s brothers were farming along the Snake River on the river road. Bill was farming on the west side of the road, just north of the Holmquist farm.  George was farming the old home place, called Eagle Rock Ranch, north of Bill’s farm on the east side of the road. Don’s twin sister Dorothy and her husband, Axel Sorenson, were farming the place across the road from the Eagle Rock Ranch. John was farming further north on the east side of the road by the original property farmed by their grandfather, Charles Smith.  The brothers asked Don and Evalyn to move to Idaho Falls and open a church in town, which they did at 260 Gladstone Street.

The Austin farm boys brought their tractors into town and dug the basement for the building. Together with their father, they built the building that still stands at this address. All of the family attended church there until two of the brothers, George and John, moved to Salmon, Idaho to ranch.

While in Idaho Falls, George was the Sunday School Superintendent and a Bible teacher in the church. Bill was an evangelistic teacher with great depth in the Word and great energy for the Kingdom of God. Don was the pastor, with a strong evangelistic message. Many times Don preached in various churches as he held revivals in other parts of the northwest.  In Idaho Falls he was a member of the Ministerial Association and spoke at many of their Union services on Thanksgiving and during week before Easter.

Bill was a minister of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ and Don was a minister of the Pentecostal Church Incorporated. These two church organizations came together with other small groups to create the United Pentecostal Church in 1945, headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. Don was at that merger conference and remained a member of the United Pentecostal Church until October of 1963. He had served as an official in the United Pentecostal Church a number of times for the Northwest district. In October of 1963 he left the organization to broaden his outreach and preached in many Pentecostal churches around the country.  In Idaho Falls he formed a church called the New Testament Way, the whole congregation staying with him in this effort.  Don was pastor of this church until it was sold in 1990.

Don and his brother Bill were praying men. It was very common for them to fast and pray for a week at a time.  It was also very common to hear Don in prayer in the church building, at any hour of the day. He was also very instrumental in holding street meetings over the years in downtown Idaho Falls.

Don’s ministry was instrumental in producing a number of ministers or their wives. Don and Evalyn’s daughter, Donna, married Douglas Sargeant; they opened a number of works in the United Pentecostal Church in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Illinois and Iowa.  Don and Evalyn’s son, Ken, traveled in Evangelist work for a number of years, also working as an assistant minister in Idaho Falls, Great Falls, Montana and Redwood City, California.  Ken came back to Idaho in 1972 and opened a work in Boise, the Boise Bible Assembly.  Ken has spoken all over the United States, in Canada and in Haiti.  He is currently working as a Bible Teacher, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching those things that concern the Lord Jesus Christ.

Ken looks to his formative years by his father Don Austin and his Uncle Bill Austin with great fondness. These two dynamic preaching Evangelistic Teachers, his father and his uncle, instilled in him his love for the Word of God.

Don passed away in 2003 and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Idaho Falls.

Christy and Fern spent five years in Persia before coming back to the United States for their first furlough.  By then his parents and brother had left Idaho Falls and moved to California and Oregon, but they still had many friends in town. The Times-Register reported:[36]

A capacity house of home folks greeted the Rev. J. Christy Wilson of Tabriz, Persia, at the Trinity Methodist Church Tuesday evening.

 

Rev. Wilson is an Idaho Falls product, son of Mr. and Mrs. C. C. Wilson, for many years residents of this city.  Mr. Wilson was educated in the Idaho Falls public schools and after graduation here served several years in newspaper work on the Post and the Times-Register.  He entered the Presbyterian theological seminary at Princeton, N. J. in 1915, and after graduation was given the missionary post at Tabriz, where he has served, without variation, until the present…. Before his big audience last night Rev. Wilson brought forcibly to the attention of his hearers the great crying need for help in the Far East.  He has had varied experiences in his work in the Persian field and told his audience of some of them.  That his heart is in his work, and that the pressing need of missionary work in the Mohammedan countries is paramount with him, was evidenced in his convincing address to his old home folks.

Besides speaking at Trinity United Methodist Church, Christy filled the pulpit for six weeks at the Presbyterian Church while their pastor, Joseph Gulick, took leave to study at Princeton Seminary.[37]  During this time Christy also travelled to Portland, where he spoke to more than eight thousand delegates of the International Christian Endeavor Convention.[38]

During Christy’s year of furlough, magazine sections of newspapers across the country published pictures of him.[39]  They reported, misleadingly, that he was “director general of Near East Relief, Persian Commission.”[40]  Near East Relief was an organization formed in 1915 to address the catastrophic consequences of the Armenian genocide, and later focused on orphans and other humanitarian efforts.  The news reports added, “Mr. Wilson refused to accept the medal presented him for good work.”[39]

[I have found insufficient sources to develop a chronological account of the next 15 years of Christy’s ministry in Iran, nor his subsequent 22 years as professor of missions and dean of Field Service at Princeton Theological Seminary.  The following offers a few glimpses into his life and ministry during these years and attempts to touch on two questions – (1) Why did he and most other missionary pull out of Iran around 1940-1941? and (2) What was the impact of the Presbyterian mission in Iran during the period Christy was there and what were Christy Wilson’s greatest achievements in his life.]

According to Ken Wilson, “While (Christy’s) primary ministry was that of an itinerant evangelist, his servant’s heart also led him into a variety of other roles that others did not want.  During a season of unusual suffering, Christy smuggled wheat across the Russian border to feed starving Armenians.”[41] He also helped in the Tabriz hospital.[42]

Another role that Christy assumed while in Persia was heading up mission collaboration in the Middle East, part of which was coordinating the work of the Presbyterians and Anglicans in Iran, who had agreed to work in different sections of the country.[39]  While living in Iran, Christy also participated in archaeological expeditions in Afghanistan, and later while a professor at Princeton Seminary,[39] he joined Frank Laubach[43] on two literacy campaigns in Afghanistan, serving as interpreter and linguistic aid.[44]

While in Persia, for some period Christy was in charge of recruitment for the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church.[45]  He also appeared with American writer, newscaster and film maker Lowell Thomas on his broadcasts on several occasions, telling of events in the Near and Middle East.[46]

As to why Christy and many other missionaries left Iran around 1940, the best explanation that I found is the following:[47]

 

By 1940 the point had finally been reached at which the Iranian government was able to provide the necessary educational and medical services for its people.  The missionary role had been absorbed by the state.  Though restrictions were relaxed following the 1941 abdication of Reza Shah, the main force of the missionary work in Iran had been spent.  A few remained to continue their work though no foreigners were allowed to work independent of government control.  With such restrictions most felt the time had come for them to withdraw from the field and leave the work to the Iranian people.  They had accomplished a great deal and could view their work as a stimulant to the progress made in Iran during the 20th century.

Probably the key phrase in the above is: no foreigners were allowed to work independent of government control.

As professor of missions and dean of Field Service at Princeton Seminary following his years in Persia, Christy travelled extensively in Afghanistan, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Palestine and Egypt.[48]  During this time he also wrote several books, including The Christian Message to Islam: Speaking the Truth in Love, 1950; Introducing Islam, 16 editions published between 1950 and 1985; Apostle to Islam: A Biography of Samuel M Zwemer, 1952; Ministers in Training – A Review of Field Work Procedures in Theological Education, 1957; One Hundred Afghan Persian Proverbs, 1961; The Significance of Samuel Zwemer, 1967; and Flaming Prophet: The Story of Samuel Zwemer, 1970.[49]

 

As to his legacy, Thomas Kidd, Professor of Church History at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Professor at Baylor University writes:

(Christy) Wilson’s most enduring work was the pamphlet Introducing Islam (1950), which appeared in at least 5 American editions between the 1950s and ‘80s.  Zwemer’s influence was clear in Wilson’s approach to Islam and the Prophet, as Wilson spoke of the “great truths and high accomplishments in Islam,” yet he maintained that Christianity was spiritually superior.  He also believed that with growing Western influence in Muslim areas, the Islamic world stood at the edge of a dramatic new era of change.  He hoped that the difficulties of Muslim evangelization would inspire a “great spiritual campaign of love.” Revealing a postwar skepticism about state power and missions, Wilson carefully avoided a militaristic tone when describing the evangelistic campaign.  He pointedly noted that “Jesus does not want political power, but does want the hearts and wills and souls of… the whole world of Islam.”[50]

While there may be stories of Muslims that came to Christ through Christy’s ministry in Iran buried in his manuscript collection in the archives of Princeton, as well as stories of the impact he had on students, the full extent of these is known only to the Lord.  However, one well documented story of his impact is that which he had on his son Christy, Jr., who caught from his father the vision of taking the gospel to the unreached, and spent 22 years as a missionary in Afghanistan.[51]

After his retirement from Princeton, Christy served first as pastor of visitation for the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, 1962-1965, and then at the First Presbyterian Church of Monrovia, California.[52]

On April 8, 1973, with his wife, brother, sister, son Christy and daughter Betty with him, Christy Sr. was praying and suddenly his face glowed with radiance.  “I see Jesus, I see the Lord!” he exclaimed.  After they sang the carol O Come, O Come Emanuel, each family member thanked God for all that Christy had meant to them, and then they sang the Doxology.  At the final “Amen,” Christy breathed his last breath, a smile on his face.[53]

1. Idaho Falls Times, Jun 26, 1906.

2. Idaho Falls Times, July 3, 1906.

3. Idaho Falls Times, Oct. 9, 1906.

4. Ken Wilson, The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p. 3; Idaho Falls Times April 20, 1909; Idaho Falls Times, June 9, 1908.

5. Idaho Falls Times Oct. 19, 1909.

6. Idaho Falls Times Feb. 1 1910.

7. Ken Wilson, The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p. 10.

8. Idaho Falls Times May 17, 1910.

9. Idaho Falls Times June 21, 1910.

10. Idaho Falls Times, June 25, 1912.

11. Idaho Falls Times, June 16, 1914, also The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p 4; Following graduating from college, Fern lived and taught school in Burley, Idaho.

12. Idaho Falls Times, June 16, 1914.

13. U.S. Census, 1900, Bingham County, Idaho Falls Ward 4. Enumeration District 292, sheet 613 B, May 11-12, 1910.

14. Idaho Falls Times, Aug 4, 1914.

15. Idaho Falls Times, Aug 4, 1914; (Boise) Evening Capital News, Oct 19, 1916.

16. To compete with the Daily Post, the other two papers merged to form the Times-Register, then in 1932 the Times- Register and Daily Post merged to form the Post Register.

17. The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p 3 states Christy worked as editor of The Daily Post for two years.

18. Ken Wilson in The Life of J Christy Wilson, Jr. states that Christy Wilson Sr. was editor of The Daily Post for two years.  An article in the Times-Register, March 20, 1925, records that he worked "several years” at the Post and the Times-Register. 

19. Idaho Falls Times Apr 12, 1917; Evening Star (Wash. D. C.) Apr 8, 1917.

20. This paragraph taken verbatim from Ken Wilson, The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p. 3.

21. Ken Wilson, The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p. 3.

22. Trenton Evening Times (Trenton NJ) April 11, 1973.

23. Idaho Falls Times Jul 17, 1919. 

24. Twin Falls Daily News, Jan. 22, 1920. [Letter written November 21, 1919 and received in Twin Falls January 21, 1920.]

25.  Twin Falls Daily News, June 22, 1920, Work of East Missionaries is Fraught with Hardships.

26. Trenton Evening Times Nov 19, 1952.

27. Ken Wilson, The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p. 9.

28. Trenton Evening Times Feb 23, 1941.

29. Ken Wilson, The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p. 8.

30. The two sources for all the information in this paragraph are Wikipedia, History of Iran, and Michael Zirinsky. American Presbyterian Missionaries at Urmia during the Great War, http://www.iranchamber.com/religions/articles/american_presbyterian_missionaries_zirinsky.pdf.

31. Twin Falls Daily News, April 15, 1921

32. Based on no other source that puts him any place in Iran other than Tabriz.

33. Christian Missions in Persia, Encyclopedia Iranica, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/christianity-viii [footnote is for the entire paragraph].

34. Ken Wilson, The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p. 8.

35. Herrick B. Young and J. Christy Wilson, Open Doors in Persia, undated; downloaded from https://commons.ptsem.edu/id/opendoorsinpersi00youn

36. Times-Register, March 20, 1925.

37. Times-Register June 5, 1925.

38. Times-Register, June 10, 1925.

39. Times Register, May 22, 1925.

40. Evening Star (Washington, D. C.), February 26, 1925.

41. Ken Wilson, The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p. 3.

42. Trenton Evening Times, Nov 19, 1952.

43. Frank Laubach, officially appointed Missionary at Large by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, and known unofficially as “The Apostle to the Illiterates” pioneered the “each one teach one” literacy program.

44. Trenton Evening Times (Trenton NJ) April 11, 1973.

45. Trenton Evening Times Mar 20, 1926.

46. Trenton Evening Times, Nov 19, 1952.

47. Linda Colleen Karimi, Implications of American Missionary Presence in 19th and 20th Century Iran, Master of Arts Thesis, 1975.

48. Trenton Evening Times Jan 11, 1959.

49. See http://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-n80149271/

50. Thomas S. Kidd, American Christians and Islam: Evangelical Culture and Muslims from the Colonial Period to the Age of Terrorism, 2009.

51. See Ken Wilson, The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016; also J. Christy Wilson, Jr., Afghanistan--the forbidden harvest : the challenging story of God's work in a resistant land, 1981.

52. Trenton Evening Times (Trenton NJ) April 11, 1973

53. Ken Wilson, The Life of J. Christy Wilson, Jr., 2016, p. 114.

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6.3.2 An INL Manager (name withheld because of the sensitivity of the location where he and his wife minister)

I lived in Idaho Falls and worked for INL contractors for twenty years, from 1974 to 1984 and then from 1988 to 1996.  I was born in Guam, grew up in Southern California, have also lived in Pennsylvania, Washington D. C., Missouri, Louisiana, Michigan, New York, Virginia, Texas, and, from 1998-2000 and since 2004, in East Asia.

I was raised in a family that did not attend church regularly and believed that if you did all the right things you were a Christian and would go to heaven. While in high school I attended a Billy Graham movie at which I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. This occurred on Valentine's Day, 1970 and I was baptized a few weeks later on Easter Sunday. I began attending a Baptist church and studying God’s word via a Billy Graham Bible correspondence course. Although I did receive some personal, one-on-one discipleship from other students, I did not grow much. I really didn’t understand much of what I was reading and, having few good examples of Christian lives around me, I ended up modeling the non-Christian adult influences in my life, which included smoking and drinking.

In high school I was a Master Councilor of DeMolay, VP of the German club, Drum Major of the high school band, and varsity swimmer.  Later, at a military college, as a midshipman officer, I was constantly told to be in control of my life; to be a leader and set an example. I became an engineering manager at Westinghouse Electric by the age of 27 and an operations manager over about 60 employees at age 34. Was I ever in control!  Wasn't this success? Yet, this success was also beginning to cost my health and my marriage.

In 1988, I was on the road to losing my family in divorce or almost certainly my life through an unhealthy lifestyle. While on a business trip to Cincinnati, Ohio to interview for a job transfer with Westinghouse Electric Corp., I began listening to a Christian radio station. I do not remember what was on that station but I found that same sense of peace I had known years before as a new Christian. When I reached the motel outside of Cincinnati at about 10 PM, I sat down and started reading the Bible placed in the room by the Gideons. The habit of reading the Bible every day was started that night and has continued uninterrupted since.

In July of that same year, I attended our annual church conference at Houghton College in Western New York.  During that conference, we were challenged to seek God's will in our lives. At an invitation towards the end of the conference, I went forward to accept the challenge and rededicate my life to Christ. I publicly proclaimed and promised that, "I would seek to discover God's plan for my life, and by His power, I would be obedient to that plan for 'whatever, whenever, wherever.'"

In this same time period, Westinghouse Electric had bid on the contract for the Savannah River Site, and had told me that if they won, they wanted me on the management team.  A few years earlier my wife’s parents had moved to Idaho Falls, and when my mother-in-law saw in the Post Register that Argonne-West was looking for a maintenance services manager, they notified me.  I called, sent my resume, went for an interview and then waited.  Westinghouse was pressing me to accept the position at Savannah River as they were about to announce that they had won the contract.  The job offer from Argonne-West came half an hour before Westinghouse made the official announcement.  I was going back to Idaho Falls!

In Idaho Falls, after considerable prayer and discussion, my wife and I began a process of simplifying our lifestyle. While studying about this in the Bible and other books, the Lord gave us the desire to eliminate materialistic and psychological ties that bind us to this world. The elimination of all debt and the mental attitudes that contribute to incurring debt gave us a freedom in which we could be used by God for anything, anywhere!

Entwined in this period of searching for His will and “down-sizing” was a desire to minister to those hurting around us.  We saw people struggling with day-to-day problems who really needed the Lord.  As we continued to pray, change our lifestyle, and disciple those around us, the Lord gave us the desire to serve Him full time.

In 1994 on a summer bicycle trip through Oregon, as I saw the yuppie lifestyle of other cyclists I got to thinking about how to use cycling for the Lord.  That led to, in 1996, resigning my position with Argonne, joining with a Christian cycling ministry and cycling on a tandem bicycle with my wife across the country – twice – sharing the gospel with people we’d meet along the way and presenting services in churches each evening. 

Another major step in God’s plan of “whatever, whenever, wherever” for me and my wife occurred in 1998.  In the church we were attending in Lynchburg Virginia we heard about the need for Christian English teachers in East Asia.  While in Idaho Falls we had heard a couple who had done this for a year and we felt drawn to it then.  So we went to Asia to teach English, and were there for two years.  We could have continued, but sensed the Lord was leading us into more of an evangelism and discipleship ministry.  So after three and a half packed years back in the US, obtaining Masters in Theology and TESOL degrees, we returned to Asia as members of a mission organization that had church planting and training national leaders as its focus.

During the first three years back in Asia, language learning occupied a large part of our time.  But within a few months of arriving I was asked to be the leader of the team of about 5 families. The Lord used my management skills in this position over the next 5 years, as this team of missionaries grew fourfold.  Yet my heart was still yearning to more directly equip the saints for the work of the ministry. 

New doors opened four years ago for us to do just that, in a variety of ways.  We have a consulting business that provides accessibility, legitimacy, identity, strategic viability, and integrity for living and working in the country, and allows us to build relationships with people, that over time, can lead to sharing the gospel.  We do our business, but we also teach friends who are seekers, and those interested in learning about Christian beliefs and the Bible. Registration of a business in this country is a very costly and complicated process, but the Lord amazingly provided the funds and the help we needed. 

We’re also able to work out our “whatever, whenever, wherever” calling as servants of local church leaders, holding spiritual formation and leadership classes, mentoring classes and leading other small groups.  We mainly work with young professionals and students, equipping them to the work of the ministry in this country that has seen a great harvest for the Lord and has a great need for Christian leadership in the national church.

6.3.3 Teams and a family sent by an Idaho Falls church to an unreached people group in an Asian county

 

Two Idaho Falls churches are currently involved in efforts to bring the gospel to, and plant reproducing churches among, unreached people groups in an Asian country.  The following is a brief account of one of them. Because of the sensitivity of this work, most names  have been omitted.

 

In 1998, one of the larger evangelical churches in Idaho Falls felt burdened to adopt an unreached people group somewhere in the world, with the goal of working among them until, through God's strength and with His blessing, a healthy, functioning group of believers was established.  Joe Mitchell, leading the church missions team at the time, proposed four possible groups.[1]  In 2001, the church elder board selected one of these, a minority group in a large Asian country, having a population of about 2.5 million living in an area about the size of Idaho.  At that time there were only a few indigenous believers in Christ in this group, and these were the result of missions activity 50-some years earlier.  There were no Christian churches; Bible translation into the native language had not been started, nor were there any discipleship or worship resources. The group has had an antagonistic relationship with the majority people of the country, and there has been no effort of Christians in that majority culture to reach them.

 

The initial connection the Idaho Falls church made to this unreached people group was by sending a family from the church to live among them.  A few years earlier, Joe and Kim Mitchell had taught English at a college in that same Asian country for a year.  Now with two young children, they returned. Their initial objectives included getting a feel for the challenges to reach the people with the gospel,  making friends among the people, learning a language in which to communicate with them, and assessing what resources were already in the area for spreading the gospel of Christ.  Over the next few years , the church also formed and sent groups of short-term missionaries who taught English camps during the day, built relationships as best they could, and helped with some community development projects.  As of early 2013, 30 different people from the church had gone to Asia as part of these efforts.  During the 2011 trip, the team was able to attend a festival that culminates with sacrificing a lamb.  This set up the opportunity for one of the team members to present to a small group the redemptive analogy of the Lamb of God. Additional trips have been made most later years.


The church remains committed to reaching this people group.  While churches have been planted, the majority of the people in this group are animists and do not know the God of grace.  When the church took on the challenge, no one knew how long it would take to see God establish a reproducing native church, which is their ultimate goal. They recognized they might not be the only people seeking to work with this group and soon realized they could not do all that was needed themselves.  The Idaho Falls church has supported Bible translation, literacy, radio broadcasts, access to clean water and medical facilities and community development. Over the years the total mission personnel focused on this group increased from an initial 2 or 3 to, by 2017, more than 40, from 10 countries. Through the efforts of these combined missions, by 2017, about 100 churches had been planted, consisting of more than a thousand believers. The translation of the New Testament was competed in 2008, and by 2017, 40% of the Old Testament.  The Jesus film has also been produced in the native language, as well as more that 100 audio discipleship lessons.  Many praise songs have been composed by native believers.  As of 2017, 22 men are enrolled in 2- and 4-years seminary programs, the first graduated in November of that year. 

The Mitchells lived among this people for six years, returning to Idaho Falls in 20xx.[2]  The Idaho Falls church will continue to send short term teams and fund native believers to be trained as pastors and to reach villages as yet untouched by the gospel.  

[1] Joe Mitchell, Mountain Friends - A True Story about Heartbreak and Hope on China's Tibetan Frontier, 2017.

[2] See reference 1, available from Amazon, for Joe's deeply honest, personal, moving and insightful account of his family's time living and working among this people group.

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