Nine who came home

Charles Barnes provides a fascinating window into home ministry here in Idaho Falls with this post on “Nine 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. That value also matches the average tenure of CEOs with Fortune 500 companies (4.6 years in 2013), although if a broader range of companies is included, the average increases to 8 years. 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 seven men and two women have come back to their hometown to serve Jesus as pastors.

The earliest was Rev. Don Austin. His father, Herbert, was born in England, came to America in 1887 and to Idaho Falls in 1903 when he was 19. Along with his brother Joseph, Herbert worked on farms north of town and in the Birch Creek area. He married Clara Smith in Idaho Falls in 1905. Don, the fifth of six children, was born in 1913. Don attended the Payne Siding School about four miles north of town on the west side of the river; he later went to schools in Idaho Falls. When Don was eight, his parents purchased the Eagle Rock Ranch eight miles north of town. The following year Don lost his sight in one eye from an accident involving barbed wire, and late in life lost most of the sight in his other eye as well. Raised in the Idaho Falls Methodist Church, Don accepted the Lord in a tent meeting on the property that is now Hawthorne Elementary School. In his late teens, Don went to Oregon and there met and married Evalyn Mae Kissler. He attended Bible School at a church in Caldwell, working there on a dairy farm. Don pastored Pentecostal churches in Fruitland and Albion for a few years before coming back to Idaho Falls in the late 1930’s. By then all three of Don’s brothers were farming along the Snake River north of town. His brothers asked Don and his wife to move in town and start a church. After purchasing property, the brothers drove their tractors into Idaho Falls to dig the basement of the church, and with the help of his father as well, built the church building that still stands at 260 Gladstone Street. Don served as pastor in Idaho Falls for 50 years, from 1941 until 1990. A member of his church recalls that he was one of the kindest ministers she ever knew – he loved people and would help them any way he could. She also remembers him as a man of prayer and fasting, and his son adds that it was very common to hear Don praying in his church at any hour of the day. It was also common for Don and his brother Bill to spend a full week in prayer and fasting. For many years, Don led evangelistic street meetings in downtown Idaho Falls, often on Saturday nights. Most every Sunday, his church would eat dinner together after their worship service. Rev. Austin occasionally filled the pulpit and 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 over the years preached in numerous churches and held revival meetings in many communities in the Northwest. Like many pastors in Idaho Falls, he was bi-vocational. For about 15 years he ran a second hand store called Circle Dot Furniture, located on the corner of Park and Eagle Rock Avenues. Rev. Austin died in 2003 and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery. His legacy includes the ministry of his two children – his daughter Donna married a pastor and they started churches in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Illinois and Iowa, and his son Ken traveled as an evangelist for a number of years, served as minister in churches in Idaho Falls, Great Falls, Montana and Redwood City, California, opened a work in Boise – the Boise Bible Assembly, and has spoken in many churches across the United States, Canada and Haiti.

Ron Dugone and Mike Stearns served as back to back pastors at New Life Assembly of God over a period of nearly 30 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’s father Joseph worked as an engineer at the INL and was highly regarded in the Idaho Falls Christian community. 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, and 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 Mike found himself filling in as the senior pastor of the church, a position he didn’t feel qualified for. After six months, Ron and Jody Dugone came back to Idaho Falls to fill the pastorate. Mike stayed on as Associate Pastor until September, 1983. This was a time of rapid growth for the church, doubling and then tripling in size. One Sunday afternoon they baptized 72 people. Four lots on 12th street had been donated to the church, and construction of a new building was started in 1981 and completed in May of 1984, with most of the work being done by members of the church. 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 until 2008.

Don Patterson has a heart for the Lord and for Idaho Falls, and has seen a lot of change in the spiritual climate of the city during his lifetime. He has pastored the Community Church of God in Christ since 1993. This is the same church Don attended growing up in Idaho Falls (he lived next door to the church), and prior to becoming pastor, served as youth pastor, choir director and Sunday school superintendent. Don graduated from Idaho Falls 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 more recently for the University of Idaho in their offices at University Place. Don 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, and speaking at events held in Idaho Falls on the National Day of Prayer. Don looks for opportunities to minister for the Lord wherever he is, and the Lord brings people to him, to point them to Christ or encourage their faith.

Don Casper was born in Sacred Heart Hospital on South Boulevard. His father was also born in Idaho Falls and served as pastor of Assembly of God churches in several communities in Utah and Idaho, including Firth from 1965 to 1980. 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 bi-vocational 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 fouryear-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 now serves there as 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.

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 last year, 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 views her role now 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.”

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 prepare to plant a new church, Grace Falls, here. Katie has also started work as a counselor with New Life Counseling, a ministry of the Idaho Falls Rescue Mission. We have no doubt that 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 God brought from other parts of the country, others who grew up in nearby communities in Southeast Idaho, and many who grew up in Idaho Falls and served in Christ’s body in various ways. Yet this brief summary provides a glimpse one of the ways Jesus has been at work in Idaho Falls – calling men and women to serve him as pastors in their hometown.