In 2010, president George W. Bush published a memoir of his life entitled, Decision Points. In it he recounted the major decisions that defined his life and his presidency. All of our lives are made up of “decision points”- moments that crystalize the direction of our future and define who we will become.
Just over five years ago I had the privilege of being welcomed into my wife’s family. One of the very first family members to open their arms to me was my wife’s grandfather, Kenneth Stetler. It did not take me long to realize that grandpa and his wife, Jewel, were the rocks around which the Stetler family was built. I observed a family that was tightknit, loving, caring, loyal, and LOUD. Most of all, they were a godly, Christ-centered family; and, grandpa and grandma were the reasons why. As I listened in on conversations and the recounting of family anecdotes I began to pick up that there had been key moments in the lives of grandpa and grandma Stetler, decision points, that defined, and continue to define, their family.
This past weekend our family laid grandpa to rest. As people passed by his casket to pay their respects I saw first hand the impact of those decision points. There were three defining moments in grandpa’s life that made all the difference in the trajectory of his life and the life of the three generations that have followed.
1. Grandpa Was Genuinely Converted
Grandpa Stetler was raised in the Free Methodist Church. It was there that he had seen deep piety modeled and had been trained in a humble and methodical pursuit of holiness.
However, upon graduating from high school in 1947, grandpa went to work as a farm hand on the Liptrap Family Farm near Boswell, Indiana. Those first few years away from home proved to be dangerous years in his life. Out from under the nurturing care of church and family he quickly fell into several sinful vices, including smoking two packs of cigarettes every day. He had forsaken the careful and clean lifestyle that he had been trained in.
Yet, his church family had not forgotten their son and they were praying for him to return to the Lord. Finally, in the summer of 1948 grandpa surrendered to the dealings of the Holy Spirit and was saved. Thanks to his oldest son, Daniel Stetler, and his brother, Monte Stetler, the details of his conversion were recounted to me in this way:
In the summer of 1948 Kenneth was working as a farm hand on the John Liptrap farm in northwestern Indiana. One day as he was riding the tractor, plowing corn, he came under deep conviction for his sins. The Holy Spirit had been dealing with him for some time. As he plowed that day he felt such conviction that he began to weep until he couldn’t see to plow straight. He stopped the tractor and went over by the side of the field and knelt in the horse weeds. He told God that afternoon that if he would allow him to live until he got back to the house that evening he would serve him. Indeed, the Lord spared him and that evening, in the northwest, upstairs bedroom of John and Ella Liptrap’s home he gave his heart to the Lord and served him faithfully from that day forward.
That fateful day in his bedroom at the Liptrap’s home proved to be the most important moment of his life. On that evening Kenneth Stetler turned from the path of sin and was made new in Christ. His decision to serve the Lord forever changed the course of his life and his family’s life.
2. Grandpa Answered God’s Call
Grandpa was born to farmer parents during the Great Depression. They worked hard and sacrificed. The family never had much in the way of earthly possessions. Yet, the land was sufficient to provide for the family. Having grown up farming it was grandpa Stetler’s dream to own his own farm one day. He loved the soil, and he had the knowledge and the work ethic to make a go of it. However, shortly after he was converted he began to sense that God had different plans for his life. Throughout the year after his conversion he began to sense that God was calling him to ministry.
He had become acquainted with a Bible college in Cincinnati, Ohio through a publication called The Revivalist, which his aunt would often bring by the house. As he began to sense God’s calling on his life he considered moving to Cincinnati to attend God’s Bible School. His decision to move to the city was not an easy one. First of all, he had a dream of owning his own farm where he could do what he loved most, being a man of the soil. Second, no one in his family had ever gone to college. It was expected that after high school he would settle in his hometown where he would live and work. Yet, in January of 1949 grandpa laid aside his dream of being a farmer, forsook the comforts of home, broke the expectations of his family and neighbors and moved to God’s Bible School to study for the ministry.
Grandpa’s decision to answer God’s call to ministry took him far from the countryside that he loved. He never did get to operate his own farm. He lived in the cramped quarters of the big city where he ministered to the down and out and gave his days to training young people for ministry. While he never realized his own dreams, he found that God’s plans for his life were much more meaningful, fulfilling, and profound.
3. Grandpa Forsook All
Grandpa’s younger brother, Monte, said, “Once Kenneth went to school things really started moving for him.” At God’s Bible School he met his life long love, Jewel, and they were married by the next year (1950). In 1951, they welcomed their first son, Daniel, into their home. Within the next few years grandpa began working at the Proctor and Gamble factory in Cincinnati. Because of his work ethic learned on the farm grandpa did well at the job. For the first time in his life he was receiving good wages. With his new job he was able to buy a new car and grandma was able to buy clothes off the rack for the first time in her life.
Because grandpa was a good, hard worker he was approached by his supervisors at Proctor and Gamble and was offered to be sent to management training school. This would have been a very lucrative promotion should he accept.
At the same time he was also approached by God’s Bible School to return and teach at the college. Unlike the offer from Proctor and Gamble the position would have been a significant reduction in pay.
In his providence the Lord was dealing with with grandpa and grandma at the same time. Unbeknownst to grandpa, the Lord had begun to ask grandma if she would be willing to give up buying her clothes from the store and return to homemade clothing. Grandma recounted a day in her kitchen when she was wrestling with this issue. As she stood at the sink, weeping, she told the Lord that he had done so much for her and she was willing to do anything for him.
A few days later, grandpa came in to the kitchen and explained to grandma that he had been offered a lucrative promotion at the factory, but that he had also been asked to return to the Bible college to teach. Grandma’s response was quick and decisive, “I already know what we need to do! Tell them we’re coming!” And with that, grandpa and grandma Stetler gave up their chance for wealth to live on a meager salary and train young people for ministry.
These three “decision points” in grandpa’s life were unequivocally the watershed moments of his life. They profoundly shaped his future, his character, his relationship with God, his life’s impact, and his family. As literally hundreds of people passed by grandpa’s casket this weekend I was overwhelmed by the impact of his life and the impact of those “decision points.” There is so much more that could and should be said about Kenneth Stetler. I had the privilege of hearing many of those things said this weekend. However, I believe his legacy can be summed up best in the words of the Apostle Paul, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).