(Appeared first in April 2013, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
My friend Chuck Neufeld is one of the most missional leaders I know. He constantly scans the horizon for evidence of God at work, then joins God in that work.
Furthermore, he’s good at telling stories about what God is doing, particularly in the Illinois Mennonite Conference, where he serves as conference minister.
Because he exemplifies what I hope to accomplish in this column, I’ve gained Chuck’s permission to share two of his stories, just as he shared them with the leaders of Illinois Conference. The first took place at Berhane Wongel Ethiopian church in December 2011:
I’ve got to tell you about what I’m claiming as the miraculous leading of the Spirit. Although I had originally planned to preach on a different passage, as Sunday approached I felt strongly directed to John 14:15-31. My sermon title was, “Because I live, you will live.”
The congregation had not been informed of my text or sermon title ahead of time. After the service, two women came running up to me. With great joy and amazement, one of them shared how she had awakened in the middle of the night and had felt the Holy Spirit direct her to read John 14:15-31. She received that passage as a gift and shared it with the other woman present. Earlier that morning the two of them had claimed the passage as their theme passage for Berhane Wongel. They were totally amazed when they came to church only to hear me preach on their theme passage.
We were all amazed at such obvious and profound leading of the Spirit. I guess we shouldn’t be that surprised—we were, after all, promised the Advocate, who would “teach and remind” us of all such things. Thanks be to God.
The second took place in February 2012 while driving to Canada:
This morning I picked up a man who was hitchhiking with a gas can in his hand. Assuming he was in need of a ride back to his car, I stopped to pick him up. Before he even got in, he confessed, “Sir, this gas can is a trick. It’s the only way I can ever get a ride. Forgive me.”
I just laughed and told him to get in. He asked if I could take him all the way to Fargo. “Sure,” I said. “That’s not too far to go” (bad pun intended).
Turns out it took only a minute or two for him to learn that I was a pastor and a Jesus follower, which then resulted in him sharing how he believed in Christ but also the extent to which he had been living in denial of God’s saving grace. After his confession—a long litany of offenses that resulted from much brokenness—he was able to receive God’s forgiveness and commit himself to following Christ in steps ordered by the Holy Spirit.
Pray a prayer of thanksgiving with me, for today there is yet another forgiven brother, Jerry is his name, who has accepted the unconditional love and forgiveness of our loving Savior.
He wept bitterly for the sins he named, but you should have seen his smile when I assured him of God’s love and forgiveness. Amazing joy. We ended in a time of prayer. I prayed for him, and he prayed for me—a tender coming together of two brothers who had not known of each other an hour earlier.
Hmm, here I assumed I was driving up to Manitoba to speak at a retreat, which I was—but might this meeting of Jerry and Chuck have been God’s ordered priority? If so, I am honored to have obliged.
Thanks be to God for the way Chuck shares his God sightings all around the Illinois Conference. And may there be many more.
Note: These and other stories are available through Neufeld’s weekly column, “Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength,” athttp://illinoismennonite.com/page1/index.html