The Lord’s Church in the Upper Midwest (3)

By Steve Wolfgang

South Dakota

While traveling through South Dakota last year, a stop near Rapid City, the Badlands, and the Black Hills provided a delightful visit with Jerral Kay and his wife, and an opportunity, to preach at the Box Elder congregation. This is, so far as anyone seems to know, the only congregation in South Dakota opposing the institutionalism which has swept so many churches in the upper Midwest into unscriptural teaching and practice. A native of Louisiana, Brother Kay was converted while living in Rapid City in 1972. Returning to Texas with the intention of enrolling in a “school of preaching,” Brother Kay met, and was taught the way of the Lord more perfectly, by Brother Bill Lavender (recently added to the Truth Magazine staff): Brother Kay began preaching and returned several years later to the Rapid City area to work with the Box Elder church. He provides the following information, regarding that work.

“Box Elder, South Dakota has been incorporated for 14 years with a population of 650 people. Box Elder is six miles east of Rapid City on Interstate 90. Ellsworth Air Force Base is one mile north of the city limits. We are the only church in the town, but because of our rapid growth, other denominations are now taking a closer look at the town. As of June, 1978 there were 47 members, but because of Air Force transfers to other bases there will be a reduction of about twenty members. The one acre of land that the building sits on is paid off, and the building will be paid in full as of October 1, 1978. The church contributes $400 a month support to their preacher Jerral Kay; the rest coming from faithful churches, such as Imhoff Avenue, Port Arthur, Texas; West Orange, Orange, Texas; Pruett and Lobit, Baytown, Texas; Studebaker Road, Long Beach, California; West Washington Street, Indianapolis, Indiana.”

“Rapid City, located in the western part of the state has a population of 50,000. The only other city of any size is Sioux Falls, located in the eastern part. We have hopes of establishing another sound work in Rapid City in the near future. If any zealous, energetic man is willing to work and sacrifice for truth to be established in South Dakota, please contact Jerral Kay, P.O. Box 834, Rapid City, S.D. 57701, phone (605) 348-8884.

There is a great need for a church to be established in west Rapid City (located in the mountain forest), and growing too fast for home builders to keep up with the influx of people moving to that area from all over. There is also a need of a church to be established at Gillette, Wyoming, one of the fastest growing towns in America. One of the largest coal mines in the world is located there.

Next year, in the southern Black Hills town of Edgemont, S.D. there is an expected growth rate of 5,000 a year from the largest uranium mines in North America. Edgemont is being rebuilt from a ghost town which was abandoned by the army in 1958. There are no churches there at this time, except a small Catholic congregation, but all denominations are keeping an eye on this uranium center of the free world. Land was selling for $400 an acre last year, but has increased to $2500 a lot this year. There is much need for men to come to the northwest and labor, for this will be where the growth will be the next twenty-five years.

(This ends the report given me by Jerral Kay who will be leaving Box Elder in the summer of 1979.)

Some Concluding Observations

It is. my feeling that some comments are needful and in order regarding the support of preachers in these areas, though I realize that what I am about to say will not increase my popularity in some quarters. First, I do not style myself as an “official clearinghouse” for information on these areas, and it would be wrong were I to do so or for anyone else to so consider me. Neither myself, Steve Ballou, nor others such as Ron Howes (a friend and former school-mate now living in St. Paul, Minnesota, who has written frequently in this paper, including an excellent article last year surveying the work in the upper Midwest) nor anyone else, whether living in or out of the areas discussed is anything more than a local preacher for a local church. Occasionally I hear remarks to the effect that “So-and-so is the only sound preacher for X million people in three or four states” or something akin to that. Nonsense-he is the local preacher for a single congregation of saints. It may be true that due to the circumstances of geography and the lack of faithful churches in some places that a man may be looked to for influence and guidance by those who may not be in his immediate vicinity – and there is nothing wrong with that, or with any of us extending and using whatever influence for good we may have in every right way. But sometimes we may allow geographic circumstances to blind us to scriptural truths and practicalities. No one – regardless of age, experience or any other consideration – should become a “bishop” figure for anything more than a local church. When we find ourselves thinking, even subconsciously, in such terms, correction is needed.

Second, the matter of supporting preachers, and the related issue of “soundness” should be addressed. Here again, I have no desire or intention of becoming a “control agent” in such matters, though I have been happy to share whatever first-hand information I have with responsible persons or churches inquiring about support. Churches need to develop the practice, if they have not already done so, of making their own investigation of the men they plan to support instead of relying heavily just upon a second party’s say-so. Sometimes this may not be possible or practical, but in all too many instances churches will take a second-hand report without inquiring directly at the source. Face it, just as with anywhere else in this country or the world, there are some unscrupulous preachers and false teachers in the upper Midwest (though it should be evident that none of the men mentioned in this article fall in either of those categories, so far as I am able to ascertain). There are such individuals, however, and churches need to cultivate care about whom they select for support, even as they would take care about selecting a man to do local work with them. At the same time, while there may be some scoundrels and others who are in these areas because some of their teachings and or antics likely would not be tolerated where churches are stronger, there are a good number of men, some of whom are mentioned in this article, who are in these places by choice. These men could, if they chose, move where circumstances would make it easier for them and their families; in short, they could do outstanding work at any church, wherever they happened to go. For instance, the entire Diestelkamp family, Leslie and sons Karl, Al, and Roy, and others have distinguished themselves through the years with work in these and other needful areas of labor. Such men should be well supported and in my estimation there is almost no level of support which could be considered “too high” for men (and their families) of such character and quality who are willing to sacrifice that the cause of Christ might grow and prosper in these areas. To use an illustration Expressway’s support of Brother A1 Diestelkamp in Davenport, Iowa, the elders here selected a man in whom they have the utmost confidence and about whom there is no question of ability or dedication and, after careful and prayerful investigation of the potential for the work, committed a large amount of support to go to that man for that work, rather than doling our $25 at a time to a dozen or more men, some of whom we might not know, in scattered places. Mark it well, I am not saying that the elders here in Louisville become “overseers” of a work in Iowa or any such thing, but through business contacts and frequent trips to that area in connection with their business, and through having children in school in the area, contact is maintained and suggestions can be made so that the work there can be strengthened. This is as it should be.

My broader point is this: The work of men such as Leslie Diestelkamp speaks for itself through a record of more than thirty years; of men such as Al Diestelkamp I can speak with utmost confidence because of the knowledge gleaned in the process of deciding to support him in the work in Davenport; men such as Gary Hargis who has worked in Rochester, Minnesota and Grand Forks, North Dakota; and young men such and Carl McMurry in Sioux City, known to me through repeated contacts and work together, I gladly and willingly commend as faithful and diligent workers. However, this does not mean (and this article should not be taken as) a blanket endorsement of every single person working in this area or even of all the men mentioned in the article. Neither should this comment or anything else in this article be taken as a blanket condemnation or reflection upon all or any of these men. It should be taken as a caution and admonition to churches who are not already in the habit of so doing to make their own careful study of men they support and the work they do; it seems to me this is the only sane, reasonable and scriptural policy. Some of these men I know well, and some only through a day’s or an afternoon’s acquaintance and conversation – and I have no intention or desire of being placed in the position of a church supporting or declining support for a man simply on the basis of my analysis of the situation.

There are some additional related problems of communication which should be discussed – but often are not. As an illustration, on one trip in these areas we encountered a man being used, through past personal acquaintance and contact, in a gospel meeting. This particular man now writes regularly for R. L. Kilpatrick’s quite liberal paper, Ensign Fair – no stranger to the readers of Truth Magazine. The brethren at that place indicated when questioned that they were simply unaware of the problem and that it would not be repeated nor would it have happened in the first place had they been aware of the situation. As is often the case, the “brotherhood papers” are simply not read by many in the area (and, though I do not wish to be accused of trying to line up the churches in a “Truth Magazine faction,” a charge I have heard before and will no doubt hear again, let me suggest that anyone who desires to send a subscription to some good, informative paper such as Truth Magazine or Searching The Scriptures to someone in these areas could be performing a valuable service for these brethren). Though I have met some brethren there who are reluctant to admit it, the same problems faced by churches elsewhere (divorce remarriage, law grace, faith works, institutionalism, etc.) are problems in these areas, too – and sound informed, teaching needs to be done on such issues.

Finally, it should be noted that there are some brethren there who (like brethren elsewhere, I suppose) do not take well to criticism even of the constructive sort. It is alright with them for you to leave your family and a local work which needs attention and come and preach for awhile, expecting – and more often than not, receiving – no financial support at all, even for expenses, and then return home to plead with other churches to send support. But you had better not open your mouth to make any criticism whatsoever or, as another writer has said in another context, “You will get blasted!” We have encountered a few brethren who view parts of these areas as their own personal bailiwicks and seem to resent anyone coming “up from the South” to do any work, at least without consulting them first! But on the other hand, there are a good many brethren who gladly invite any kind of assistance or advice and welcome with open arms anyone who will come to the area to assist in the work. The few of the other kind should not deter anyone else from going to work for a week, a month or a lifetime if they so choose, and selfsupporting churches elsewhere in the country who have capable preachers working with them could do a great service by making arrangments to send him, at the church’s expense, to work for a designated period of time in these needful and widely-scattered places. It would be a good experience for that church, the preacher, and the brethren in the area in which he is sent. Do not brush off lightly such requests and other requests for support to go to these areas. Good work is being done, doors are opening; truly, the harvest is great and the time is now.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 17, pp. 277-279
April 26, 1979