Remembering the reality of God’s call
By Gerald A. Klingbeil
Iwant to become a professional musician,” my drummer friend Georg told me matter-of-factly as we contemplated the future in our last year in gymnasium (the German equivalent of high school). There was no hesitation—Georg definitely had a plan. Alejandro, another close friend, wanted to study philosophy and literature at the University of Freiburg. Others had already mapped out their career paths in business or information technology. I wasn’t sure.
Two and half years earlier I had been baptized and joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I had grown up inside the church community and had never run away—but this decision on a Sabbath afternoon in January of 1981 had been special. I consciously wanted to give my life to God. This was not just my parent’s faith—it had become my faith too.
As the only Adventist in my class (in fact, there were only two committed Christians in our entire grade), I had to often maneuver moments challenging my faith. While fully integrated in my school and extracurricular activities—I knew I was different.
Following my baptism, I had spent three weeks during the summer vacation participating in a mission youth camp. For three weeks we had studied the Bible in new and engaging ways. We had written music and lyrics and had practiced for a series of concerts for the final week. Every day we had visited with people on the crowded pedestrian zone of Lindau, a town on the shores of Lake Constance. Music, pantomimes, and pamphlets—we had found many avenues to people. We had prayed together and had marveled at God’s often-immediate answers. There was a feeling of Acts in those three weeks. This experience had changed my walk with Jesus. Following that summer, my brother and I had invited others to begin a music ministry that lasted for nearly 10 years and touched thousands of nonchurched people.
Three years later I was finishing my Abitur. What would I do with the rest of my life? Should I serve my Savior full-time? I felt torn. I loved music and thought of music therapy. I was interested in service and contemplated medicine. Both my grandfathers as well as my father had been Adventist ministers. I knew the life of a PK (pastor’s kid) but was not sure if I wanted to take over the family “business” of pastoring. My mother, a staunch supporter of my involvement in ministry, counseled against pastoral ministry: “Life in ministry is tough,” she told me. “It will eat you up.”
Since our summer mission camp, the youth department director of our conference, Werner Renz, had become a close friend and mentor and a strong influence in my life. As I shared my big question about God’s plan for my life and the intersection of ministry, he made an important suggestion: “Gerald, I know that God is interested in your future. He knows about these questions. Why don’t we pray together every day that God will show you the right way? His arm is not too short.” That prayer covenant began over two years of waiting—and praying.
In the Real World
In 1984 Germany still required an obligatory military service of all able-bodied young men, involving 15 months of basic training and service. Most Christians, including Adventists, opted to be recognized as conscientious objectors. This meant an 18-month stint serving in a civil capacity in different contexts. However, those studying theology were exempted from this requirement. Since I wasn’t sure about God’s call for my life and did not want to study for the ministry just to avoid civil service, I began my stint in the real world two months after my high school graduation. I had opted to work as a nurse’s aid in a hospital close to home. After years of classroom learning I suddenly found myself in the real world with shifts, tiring (and at times, draining) work, all kinds of colleagues, and the daily brush with death.
I was still very engaged in our local church and in our music ministry—yet I was waiting. Every time I saw Werner he looked at me questioningly. I always shrugged my shoulders: no answer yet. It seemed that God took His time, helping me to develop spiritual endurance. This was not a 100-meter dash—this was a marathon. We kept on praying—and waited.
Into the Mountains
Fourteen months down the road I was still waiting. I had spent hours thinking and praying about my future—alone, with family, and with friends. God seemed to be silent on this issue, and I wondered why. I had nearly finished my civil service and had two weeks of vacation coming my way. It was early October—autumn in Europe—and my best friend Mathias and I had decided to climb and hike in the Swiss Alps. We had little cash, but equipped with two full backpacks, an old tent with iron poles, and plenty of enthusiasm we hitchhiked our way to St. Moritz in Graubünden, Switzerland. The first week was pure bliss: blue skies, sunny days, cold nights, icy water, and high mountains to scale. We spent the week climbing and hiking at the 3,000-meter (c. 10,000-foot) elevation.
Friday afternoon, as we huffed and puffed up a steep path to the location where we wanted to spend the Sabbath, the weather suddenly changed. Clouds rushed over the mountains; a cold wind reminded us that this was autumn. We reached our mountaintop location, close to a small and shallow lake full of glacier water. Soon our old tent, iron poles pointing to heaven, had been set up and our sleeping bags unrolled. A refreshing and icy dip in the lake, together with some warm soup, and we were ready to welcome the Sabbath. After five intensive days of hiking and climbing we were ready for a restful Sabbath and soon fell asleep.
When God Speaks
I woke up in the middle of the night and in the middle of a horrific storm. Our exposed location was precarious. Rain pounded the small tent. Lightning and thunder chased each other through the sky. Counting the time lapse between lightning flash and thunder, I noticed that the thunderstorm was right above us. I was terrified. I could not move in my sleeping bag. For the first time in my admittedly young life I was afraid of dying. I knew that we were close to the mountaintop in a tent with iron poles pointing into the sky—a perfect magnet for a lightning strike. I could imagine what the area would look like after a lightning strike. It was dark. It was pouring—there was nowhere I could hide.
I don’t know how long I lay there motionless. Somehow I could not pray; fear had locked me down. It seemed as though hours passed—most likely it wasn’t more than 15 minutes. Then something inside me clicked—and floodgates opened. I poured out my heart to the Lord, the Creator of heaven and earth and thunderstorms and rain and life and beauty. I considered my life and weighed my thoughts and actions. I confessed all that separated me from the Sustainer of all life. And then it happened: Without much reflection I cried out to God: “Lord, if it is Your will for me to serve You full-time, please make this storm stop when I say amen.”
Where had this come from? I hadn’t thought about the big question for weeks; I had been enjoying my vacation and the exhilarating feeling of climbing a mountain. But there I was—and I closed my prayer with the A word. Amen.
A deep silence engulfed our little tent. Lightning, thunder, and rain stopped as if somebody had turned a light switch. I guess Somebody did! As I lay there in the Swiss Alps at nearly 10,000 feet I began to realize what had happened. I shook my friend to tell him what God had just done for me. The Creator of the universe had heard the desperate cry of one of His children. He was interested in my future; He had given me my marching orders.
The Two-Phase Miracle
We spent a wonderful Sabbath on that mountain. A soft misty fog surrounded our tent, and we spent hours talking and praying together. The next morning we continued our hike. The weather had changed. Winter was arriving, and snowflakes touched the mighty mountain peaks around us. Nights were colder now. We made it back to civilization and found kind drivers who didn’t mind taking home two smelly backpackers.
I was nervous. I highly valued the counsel of my mother. Her perspective mattered—and I knew her opinion about studying for the ministry. How would she react to my mountain experience? What would she say? As I made my way to our third-story apartment and rang the bell I prayed a silent prayer. The door opened, and my mother embraced me excitedly. (Only a mother could have hugged this smelly mountaineer.) “Mama, I need to tell you something. God did something really incredible for me,” I blurted out. My mom hesitated for a brief moment, and then plowed on. “Gerald,” she said, “I have been praying so much about your future. You have less than two months before you will finish your civil service.” She looked straight at me now: “I don’t know why, but it seems as though God has been telling me that you should study for the ministry. You know what I have been telling you, but God seems to have a different plan.”
There it was! My mouth dropped open. I hugged my mom and told her my experience on the mountaintop. We laughed and cried together. The Master of the universe had come through. Realizing the magnitude of the moment, we both knelt down and prayed; a prayer of gratefulness and a prayer of dedication and commitment.
Here’s the Reason
God’s marching orders did not resolve all issues before I started studying theology at Seminar Schloss Bogenhofen in Austria 10 months later. Yet in spite of many challenges, I knew where I was going. I knew where I was going when I went to South Africa to finish my degree. I not only got a degree but also met a wonderful life partner there on the campus of Helderberg College. Studies, finances, ministry opportunities—God took care of them all.
When my wife and I began our teaching ministries at Universidad Peruana Unión in 1995, there were times I needed to remember God’s call to me. In the nearly two decades since, serving in different cultures and contexts, I had many occasions to revisit my mountaintop mentally. Every time as I struggled and wondered I received a reminder that I was at the right place—His place, doing His business, extending His kingdom one little step at a time.
God is still calling today. He needs those who are willing to listen to the soft, small voice and are not afraid when He speaks out of the thunder. As I see my teenage daughters grow and struggle with finding their place in God’s plan, I remember some of the lessons I learned from that long process.
First, as you pray and wait upon God’s guidance, remember that you are not alone. Find a spiritual mentor whose prayers will amplify your prayers. Involve your larger family, if at all possible. Search for an experienced prayer partner who is willing to hold up your arms.
Second, take your time and discover your gifts. My 18 months of working in a hospital changed me and helped me discover some of the gifts God has endowed me with. They also showed me some of my limitations. As you wait, be productive for God and relax. I hope that one day my girls will take advantage of the opportunity to serve as student missionaries somewhere—hopefully a place that is far outside their comfort zone. They will not only return changed, but will also have learned invaluable lessons about the power of answered prayer.
Third, once you hear the call, go for it. Don’t get distracted or despondent if not everything works out on the first go. Be patient but persistent. Remember God’s voice and let it guide you as you find direction in His Word.
Finally, as you face difficulties and dry patches in your walk and service (and you will!), know that you are in the right place. In the midst of turmoil and wondering how in the world you got where you are, be assured of God’s presence. He is not only in the business of calling—He will maintain your balance and bolster your courage when times get tough.
You Are Mine
Long ago the prophet Isaiah reminded his people of God’s special call: “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior’” (Isa. 43:1-3).
I wonder how Samuel felt as he witnessed the repeated mess-ups of King Saul or Israel’s ostensibly constant lapses into idolatry. Did he remember the moment when he had heard God calling, “Samuel! Samuel!” (1 Sam. 3:10)? What did Matthew, former tax collector and disciple, feel when he remembered that moment on the shores of the lake when Jesus had stood by his booth and invited him: “Follow Me” (Matt. 9:9)?
I cannot speak for Samuel or Matthew, but I know that God’s call in my life has been truly life changing. It’s the reason I am still here. It keeps me focused on the task and helps me look beyond our human shortcomings as we rub shoulders in church. It reminds me of the many fields that still need harvesters. So as you climb your mountain, as you cross your river, as you brave your fire, listen to God’s call—and go!
Gerald A. Klingbeil still enjoys climbing mountains and loves listening to God’s voice. He currently serves as an associate editor of Adventist World and lives with his wife, Chantal, and their three daughters in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.