THE STORY OF MY LIFEby Iver Walker – 2012 Edition
I was born to Jacob & Rosina (Opp) Walker in a SD farm house on a Sunday morning on March 18th 1928 - the youngest of 11 children – Samuel, Pauline, Adolph, Leah, Welentina, Edwin, Oliver, and Clarence (2 other brothers unnamed died in infancy).
When I was 6 Clarence became very sick with pneumonia. I can still see him, lying on top of the sewing machine which the doctor used as an operating table. The Dr. punctured his lung to relieve the pressure. He died a few days later. He was 11 years old.
Life was very crude on the farm in those days – no electricity or running water – two miles from the nearest gravel road and another mile or so to our mail box – no car or tractor. Our only transportation was a horse drawn wagon in the summer and a bobsled in the winter.
These were the dustbowl years in the mid 1930’s. People were often talking about the end of the world. My dad saw a cloud which looked like the face of Jesus and thought it was a sign of the Lord’s return. I remember sitting on the kitchen table watching my mother hand sew a little jacket for me. I asked her “why are you making this jacket? Jesus will be coming back soon.”
Every morning after breakfast Dad would read from his German Bible after which everyone would kneel down and pray out loud at the same time. Our family faithfully attended a little rural German Baptist Church about 8 or 9 miles from our house. Here, too, everyone would kneel and pray out loud at the same time.
In those days a German Assembly of God preacher, his wife and son sang and preached in farm homes all around our part of the county. They wanted to rent our little Baptist Church building to hold revival meetings, but were denied. Instead they were offered to use the church horse barn. What happened in that horse barn dramatically impacted our family for years to come. My oldest brother and three sisters received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and along with other families became the founders of the first AG Church of that whole area.
I attended a one room school a half mile from our home. Our neighbor lady was the teacher, teaching all eight grades. I only spoke German and had to learn English like everyone else in that German-Russian community. On nice days I walked to school and on cold snowy days my brother Edwin would give me a ride in a horse drawn two wheeled (iron wheels) manure dump-wagon. The schoolhouse was heated with a coal-burning potbellied stove.
My mother told me, “If you don’t want to be a farmer you will have to go to High School.” So it was decided that I go to Leola, about 20 miles east of the farm. I boarded at a home near the School. The next year my parents and I moved in with my widowed sister Tina in Ashley, ND and I attended school there. (I am the only one in my family that went to school beyond eighth grade.) During those years I went the way of the world – smoking – drinking and things like that. My bed was separated from my parents’ bed by only a drape and I could hear my mother weeping as she was praying for my salvation. It irked me at the time to hear my name in her prayers.
I graduated from High School in 1946 and enlisted in the army in order to be entitled to the GI Bill of Rights. I was inducted at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, MO and then sent to Fort Belvoir, VA for basic training. From there I was shipped overseas to serve with the US Occupational Forces in Italy. While in Italy I had the unique experience of meeting Pope Pious the XII at the Vatican in Rome – arranged by my commanding officer. While our platoon was in the reception room the Pope came in – made a few remarks in Latin and then walked between the ranks making remarks (in English) to each man like “How are you today?” “Is the mail coming through?” etc. The Catholics bowed while the others just stood there and looked at him.
After my discharge I attended an Electrical Trades School at Wahpeton, ND. While there I got a Dear John letter from my girl friend back in Ashley. I also had just lost money and my wrist watch in a card game. That night I found myself weeping in bed. My world seemed to be crumbling. I cried out to God, “Is this what my life is going to be?” I went home and tried to patch things up with my girl friend, but she had made up her mind, it was over.
God’s timing is perfect! The Ashley Baptist Church had scheduled Evangelistic Meetings which were to start in a short time. Somehow, I just knew in my heart – this is the time – I was going to be saved! One evening while I was at a bar with my friends, I told them, “This is my last beer and cigarette.” They mockingly said, “Oh sure Walker.” But God was at work in my heart. I have never touched a drink or cigarette since that evening. God just graciously took away every desire for both.
The Evangelistic Meeting at the Baptist Church started on a Sunday night and I sat in the back row night after night. When Thursday night came, and I just knew “this is the night”. I sat toward the front. I don’t remember the evangelist’s message, but when the invitation was given, I went to the front pew. Kneeling down I began to confess to God every rotten thing I could remember that I had done. Nothing seemed to happen so I sat up. The evangelist came to me and asked me whether I was saved. I said “I don’t know.” He asked, “Did you confess your sins to God and ask Him to forgive you?” I said, “Yes I did.” He said, “Then you are saved.” Again I responded, “I don’t know.” He opened his Bible and turned to John 3:16 and asked me to replace the “whosoever” in the verse with my name. So I read, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that if Iver believes in him, he should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It was like a light was turned on. The reality dawned on me, I AM SAVED!! That was in 1949. Several months later I was baptized. In all these years I have never doubted my salvation. A short time after my baptism, our Pastor encouraged me to use my GI Bill of Rights to study for the ministry. That possibility had not seriously crossed my mind. Although I remember, as a youngster, standing on the chicken coop roof “preaching” into the wind.
In January of 1950 I enrolled at Sioux Falls College – intending to enter the teaching field. The college had the tradition of reverse dating for the annual Valentine Party. There was this cute little gal named Donna who felt sorry for this newcomer, and asked him to be her date for the party. The rest is history. We were married eleven months later and moved into our first home, an 8x25 ft trailer house on campus. During my sophomore year I began to sense the call of God to the Gospel Ministry, and changed my major from education to religion. By taking summer classes I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in three and a half years. During my senior year I became student Pastor of a small rural Methodist church.
After graduating from Sioux Falls College I enrolled in the North American Baptist Seminary which was also located in Sioux Falls. I graduated three years later with a Bachelor of Divinity Degree. With one year of college, Donna became an Administrative Assistant at the John Morrell and Company (while I was in my second year of college) and worked there until our son, Dan, was about to be born in my senior year of Seminary. In that same year we got our first call to a full time pastorate from Grace Baptist church in Hettinger, ND for an annual salary of $2,800 and a rent free parsonage.
In July of 1956 we moved from our little trailer home in Sioux Falls to the parsonage provided by the church in Hettinger. As we crossed the Missouri river and headed west through the parched landscape of the Indian reservation (no tree in sight) Donna said to me “Are you sure God is calling us to this place?” Several months later I was officially ordained at that little mission church as a North American Baptist Minister of the Gospel.
As I look back at my schedule at the Hettinger church I don’t know how I found time to prepare for it all. I taught the adult Sunday School Class – Preached at the morning service and again at the evening service – taught a Bible study at the midweek service – had a weekly 15 minuet Radio broadcast and at times preached on Sunday afternoons at a Methodist church 10 miles out in the country. It makes me tired now just to think about it.
One of my favorite memories about Hettinger was about a lady who was saved listening to the Back to the Bible radio broadcast – started attending our church and asked to be baptized. Sometime later while I was parked downtown on main street, the sheriff (her husband who was over 6 ft and heavy set) got into my car and said, “Preacher, your breaking up my marriage! You are not going to baptize my wife!” To make a long story short - we were in the process of having a new baptistery installed. By the time that work was completed, he had given his heart to the Lord and joined his wife in baptism! He became one of our best friends in that church. We served in Hettinger for 5 years, and our daughter Brenda was born during that time.
Our next call was to Trinity Baptist Church in Sioux Falls, SD (our first city church). Trinity was known as the “Seminary Church” because most of the professors of the North American Baptist Seminary and a number of the students were members here. Furthermore, the President of the Seminary was the chairman of the Board of Deacons. While there was a certain amount of prestige connected with pastoring this church it also was stressful to a degree, and probably accounts for the short stay of only three years. Our youngest daughter, Susan, was born here.
From Trinity the Lord called us to Herreid Baptist Church of Herreid SD, a small town church where 3/4ths of the congregation was made up of farm families. The salary was low but the farmers brought us cream and kept our freezer full with the best cuts of meat. One of the ladies from town kept us supplied with the most delicious German kuchen. The Lord blessed our ministry here. We had the privilege of having several baptisms that numbered over 20 adults and young people each time. The Sunday School grew to the point where we had to make room for a class in the parsonage basement. We started a men’s choir, also junior and senior youth programs. In 1997 (30 years later) we were invited back to speak at the Church’s Centennial celebration - the youth programs were still going. We had 5 enjoyable years of ministry at Herreid Baptist.
In 1969 we accepted the call to Cedarloo Baptist Church in Cedar Falls, IA (another city church). We served here for 14 years. In the 70’s the Jesus and Charismatic movements were sweeping the country, and it touched Cedarloo as well. We hosted a fall youth retreat – the weather was lousy and there was a lot of complaining. The youth went to a restaurant for a meal and hear a guest speaker – it was a powerful message. He spoke about living pure lives and it really griped the hearts of the young people. These were the days girls wore real short skirts, and on the way back to the church for devotions, some of them stopped at their room and changed into something more modest. During the devotions the guest speaker asked for testimonies – no one spoke up – not even I, and the speaker’s response was, “What a dead place!” Several days before the Retreat I noticed a young man on a grassy knoll near the church, playing a guitar – he was now in our meeting softly playing and singing, “He’s all I need, He’s all I need, Jesus you are all I need………” People started to weep and repent. One girl who had been resisting her mother’s encouragement to be baptized, now sobbingly blurted out “I want to be baptized!” After a while I noticed some of the boys were missing. I went upstairs and found them kneeling at the front of the sanctuary – one of them was crying out, “Give me more, Lord, give me more!” Other fellows were outside screaming into the night, “Jesus loves you!” The next day was Sunday and I gave the young people opportunity to give their testimonies in the morning service. They popped, one right after the other. The adults were amazed at what they were hearing. We didn’t really understand, but something powerful had touched our lives. I was prompted to write a Gospel track entitled “Smile, God Loves You.” I, and my friends distributed hundreds of them.
A young couple who had been very unpredictable with their attendance, all of a sudden were there every Sunday - with smiling faces - sitting in the front pew. I called on them and again they were all smiley. After a while the wife handed me a tract and said it was very good. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the word “tongues” and pushed it aside. I left without taking the tract. Charles & Frances Hunter were having meetings in town and Donna and our girls wanted to go. But, as a Baptist Pastor, I didn’t think I should be seen there. But, I finally gave in, and who do you suppose we saw there – the smiley young couple and some other people from our church. Donna had been having trouble with her knee, and that night her knee was healed while sitting in her seat in the back of the room. The Hunters were in La Cross, WI the next week. Donna and I went, and were prayed for by Charles – we both were slain in the Spirit. Charles had me pray for people, and they went down. In the next weeks and months I became so hungry for the Lord – I just about wore out 1 Corinthians 12 studying about the gifts of the Spirit. I remember checking out books in the Charismatic section of the Christian Book Store with my heart almost bursting with a desire to speak in tongues, but I held it in. Dan was in Florida visiting friends who attended a charismatic church where he saw miracles happening. He called home and said, “Dad, you’ve got to check into this.” He wasn’t aware of the hunger in my heart. Later in the church study I prayed, “Lord, you are the same yesterday, today and forever, baptize me in the Holy Spirit.” Instantly I began speaking in tongues, and a wonderful sense of peace and joy came over me. Ironically, my Seminary Theses was entitled, “The Various Views of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit” in which I argued that the Gifts of the Spirit were not for today. God has a sense of humor – now 20 years later He opened my eyes. My preaching at Cedrloo focused on the things of the Spirit. Our worship changed – Scripture songs became a regular part of our services. Charismatic’s, and other people from various denominations, seeking the things of the Spirit, filled the church to overflowing. One Sunday morning one of the deacons came into my study, and asked me, “Do you speak in tongues?” When I answered “yes” his face turned ashen gray. Sometime later at a Sunday evening church business meeting the church board proposed that I be dismissed as Pastor of the church – the vote failed. A strong thunderstorm had come up and it was decided we all go down stairs to wait out the storm. After the storm, people went home, and a third of the membership never came back again. After a number of years the North American Baptist officials demanded that the church decide whether it would be Pentecostal or Baptist. Voting to be Pentecostal would mean losing the church property – I resigned. It was 1983.
Around thirty people from the Cedarloo congregation requested that we start a new church. I sensed no clear direction from the Lord on the matter, but felt an obligation to these people who had come to us from various denominations. We rented the Cedar Falls American Legion building and officially organized Jubilee Christian Fellowship. After a while, being independent with no accountability to a larger body didn’t seem the wise thing to do. I had become familiar with New Covenant Ministries through Dan who was involved with one of their churches in Maryland Heights, MO. After checking out their international organization I was pleased with what I learned. So I tried to convince the church to come under the New Covenant umbrella, but these people who came from all sorts of denominational back grounds, just couldn’t agree on New Covenant church government. So after three years Jubilee was disbanded, and most of the people gravitated to Assembly of God Churches.
We sold our house in Cedar Falls, moved to Maryland Heights in 1986 to become involved in New Covenant Church. Donna and I called on first time visitors for several years, and then led a home group Bible Study of around 20 people for 8 years. So if you added up all the years from Seminary days to this point it added up to over 40 years of preaching and teaching.
Through all our years of ministry, Donna faithfully served by my side. A wonderful home maker and cook - meals always on time - she led all of our three children to faith in Christ – typed all the church bulletins stencils – often led the women’s organization – helped with junior youth group. To augment our family budget she sewed clothes - did a lot of canning and worked outside the home after the children were of school age.
In 1998 the Lord led us to worship and serve at West County Assembly of God in Chesterfield. Here we served as Pastors’ Prayer Partners and belonged to a home group Bible study for years and I also briefly served as an Elder of the church. We have been active from the beginning in the Adventurer’s (55 and older group) and helping with the monthly church newsletter mail-outs. In 2007 we started a ministry entitled FOR YOUR ENCOURAGEMENT which consisted of weekly e-mailing of a Bible promise to our relatives and friends. In ’08 we set up a FOR YOUR ENCOURAGEMENT website (a blog) on which we write a devotional based on the Bible promise e-mailed out that week. These e-mail mailings (with a link to our blog) are now mailed out monthly to around 500 different addresses. By God’s grace we will serve Him as long as He enables us!!
Some years ago before we moved to St Louis, my oldest sister Pauline, shared a total surprise with me. She told me how terribly embarrassed mother was over being pregnant with me at her age (she was 48). She was so embarrassed that she attempted to abort me by jumping off a chair. I’m glad she didn’t succeed!! My sister also told me that later in my childhood mother began to pray that I would enter the ministry. I knew she prayed for my salvation, but had no idea she prayed about my life’s calling.
God is so gracious in answering the prayers of imperfect people, when they are made according to His will. Not only did He call me and Donna into the ministry, and given us grace to serve, but He also called our son, Dan, and his wife Carol, to pioneer Life Church – St Louis. They home school their 7 children – all of whom have given their heart to the Lord. He called our daughter, Brenda, not only to teach math but to teach God’s Word to new believers – to be involved in home Bible study and serve on her church council. Her generous heart blesses many people. Our youngest daughter Susan, and her husband, Virgil, who is a commissioned youth Pastor, are working with youth in their church. Their son, Ryan, is attending Bible School, preparing to do ministry with youth.
There is no greater joy on earth than to pass on a Christian Heritage to our children, and then see them pass it on to their children!
The Story of my life is that God has a plan for me – Plans for good and not for disaster, to give me a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11 NLT).