It was the summer when I was 13 years old. I had a relationship with the Lord but I felt like I was drifting away rather than growing closer. One night at Bible camp I stayed after the evening service and talked with a pastor. We prayed that I would get along well with the new pastor that was coming to our church and that he would be a good influence on my life. I look back with much thanksgiving at how graciously God answered that prayer. That summer Pastor Alvin Grothe came to Astoria, Oregon to be my pastor.
Only my parents influenced my life more than Pastor did. He went home to be with the Lord recently, and it was a time to reflect on the many ways God used him in my life.
Pastor was a humble servant. He wasn’t at all impressed with himself. He didn’t make a big deal about things he had done or sacrifices he had made. He was willing to do whatever would best serve the Lord and people. Not long after retiring as pastor of the church, he became the church janitor. He joked that he was going to try to work his way back up to the top again. Really, though, he didn’t care if he was at what others might consider the top or the bottom. He was just glad to serve, in whatever way he could.
Pastor was probably the most sincere man I have ever known. I had the privilege of getting to be around him Monday to Saturday. He was the same man those days as he was on Sunday mornings. He meant and lived what he preached. He truly believed it.
One year they did a skit at Bible camp and they asked the district pastors to take part. Pastor wasn’t very comfortable doing it, but he was such a nice guy he didn’t want to say no to the other pastors. He wasn’t very good in the skit. In a way that seemed appropriate. He wasn’t an actor. When he was preaching from the pulpit or visiting with people, he wasn’t acting. He was real.
Pastor was a good Norwegian when it came to liking lutefisk and gjetost, but he was different from some old-time stoic Scandinavians when it came to showing his emotions. He said, “God gave us tear ducts for a reason.” He was willing to weep with those who wept. He wept with me when I went through times of mourning.
He wasn’t afraid to let his sorrow be seen, but most of the time what you saw on his face was a smile. He liked to laugh. He liked to tell jokes. The trouble was, he didn’t know a whole lot of them, so he told the same jokes over and over. He would still laugh each time he told them. I would usually laugh too, but not so much at the joke. What I enjoyed more was the joy he had. The laughter was contagious.
Not long after Pastor started serving our church he had us start each service by singing the chorus of the hymn, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” It was refreshing to start the service with the invitation to see the glory and grace of Jesus. The challenges and struggles of this earth do grow strangely dim in the light of His grace.
Hebrews 11 tells of different ones who have gone before us and lived by faith in the Lord. It is followed by Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses … let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Pastor Grothe is a big part of the cloud of witnesses for me. His witness has been one of the biggest encouragements for me to run the race with perseverance. For almost 50 years he faithfully encouraged me, built me up and supported me in prayer.
An old song by Dan Fogelberg says, “The leader of the band is tired, and his eyes are growing old, but his blood runs through my instrument, and his song is in my soul. My life has been a poor attempt, to imitate the man. I’m just a living legacy, to the leader of the band.”
After 96 years on this earth, the “leader of the band” got tired, and his eyes grew old. But his witness runs through my instrument. The Jesus he called us to turn our eyes upon is in my soul. I’ll continue to make a poor attempt to imitate the man, and I’ll continue to give thanks for how God answered my Bible camp prayer.