“I’m alive! Do you want me to get up on this table and dance?” His eyes light up.
At 60, Sam is a passionate, loving man full of energy. He’s got gray hair and a full gray beard. He comes from a long line of pioneers. His wife, Brenda, sits quietly at the table, hands folded in her lap. She’s wearing a long skirt and a thin pair of glasses, her blackish-gray hair pulled into a soft bun. If anyone exudes kindness, it’s Brenda. She is modest, soft-spoken, and sweet. At times she smiles a smile that lights up her whole face.
Both Sam and Brenda were born into Amish Mennonite families. In 1983 they spent four years in Belize as missionaries, an experience that opened their eyes to the bigger world. Around 2003, they moved to Kansas with six other families as a church plant.
“We moved out of an 80 percent Amish or Mennonite neighborhood to 0 percent, and from a church of 250 to a church of 35,” Sam says. For the first time, he had constant contact with people outside the Amish church. “That move took us out of the pressure cooker.”
This was just the beginning of a series of events that would jumpstart their hunger for more of God. Among these was a profound longing for purpose and fulfillment, the growing realization that God does talk to us, and their children’s life decisions. Eventually they got their hands on various books from Bethel Church authors. “I would ask myself, “What would it be like to live in a culture like that?'” Brenda says.
It’s been said that revival starts with the family. They have seven children. With one daughter already attending BSSM and a son and daughter at BSSD, Sam and Brenda set out to attend their daughter’s graduation in May 2013. They went to Bethel Church that Sunday. “I ended up standing there in church and bawling for 20 minutes. I felt like I had come home,” Sam says.
After church was over and Sam was walking to the parking lot, he turned to his wife and said, “I made up my mind! This is where it’s at, and we’re coming here. Come hell or high water, we’re coming! We’re just gonna come!”
And that was it for Sam. It has been quite some journey for him and his wife, of course. He stepped out of the family business and the home his father gave him. And then leaving the Amish community is a heavy thing, a big deal.
“There were a lot of factors involved in us becoming desperate enough to do something so radical,” Sam says.
“The enemy was thinking he’s got this thing contained. But then I ended up doing the unthinkable – I parachuted out of my culture and now I’m here at Bethel!” he says, jumping out of his seat. “So we’re here. We have life!”
Would they have ever imagined this for their family? “No,” Brenda says, smiling.
“At first it was overwhelming for me to be in a more youthful culture where there’s rock music, and it’s loud. I’m still getting used to it,” Brenda says, laughing.
“Even to this day, the volume of the music and the undress of the women is still scary for us,” Sam adds.
“But there’s life here. There’s life here!” he exclaims, pounding his fist on the table.
“We’re learning that you cannot judge a person by how they dress,” Brenda says.
“I came to Bethel, and I’ve been looking all the while – ‘Okay. Where’s it at? Where’s the missing ingredient?’ And I can’t find it! What I was taught in many ways I still believe. But there’s something missing [back there] that’s here. And it just seems so unfair that God’s here in this heathen culture.”
At this, they both laugh.
“It’s just not fair . . . I think God likes the craziness,” Sam says, thinking it over. “Some of the early believers were probably scandalized that pagan Gentiles were accepted by God without all the Jewish cultural trimmings.”
What does that tell you about God? “Oh . . . you cannot put Him in a box,” Brenda says.
He looks lovingly at Brenda across the table. “Brenda’s walk with the Lord is amazing. She prays, she talks to Jesus. Jesus is her friend! I mean, do you understand what it was like for that woman to leave her culture? It took tremendous courage.”
“But it was God,” Brenda says. “It’s a God story. It’s not about us.”
Sam nods in agreement.