During this next season of the Heritage blog we will be celebrating individuals in our church body that are on mission for the glory of Jesus, both in our local community and even to faraway places in the world. At Heritage, we desire that the body of Christ seek ways to BE the hands and feet of Jesus to people that would otherwise be unlikely to attend our church. The individuals featured in this blog series are doing that! We pray that their stories encourage and inspire the people at Heritage to be on mission as well. If you are involved in being on mission here in the Rogue Valley, or to the world in any capacity, let us know. We would love to celebrate that, encourage that, and allow your story to inspire the body of Christ.
Heritage family, we want to highlight the grace of God in Eric’s life. Eric and his wife of 43 years, Mary, have been attending Heritage since the day Heritage was planted in 2008. Eric was born in Boston and spent his formative years in New Jersey and Norway. His parents were Norwegian. His dad was a professor in Boston and his mom was a nurse. Eric didn’t learn to speak English until preschool. For years the family would often return to Norway for summer harvest time on his dad’s family’s farm.
Eric served in public safety positions for 37 years, moving to Medford in 1998 to serve as the Medford Police Chief. As he “retired” from MPD he moved over to SOU where he taught for 5 years in their Criminology Department.
When did you give your life to follow Jesus Christ?
As I look back, I cannot pinpoint a time when I gave my life to Christ. Jesus was woven into our family’s life and world view. Jesus was clearly real and present in daily life. I had a grandfather (my mom’s father) whose influence on me was profound. He was a Norwegian sea captain and later a maritime pilot whom I adored. I would hang out with him at every opportunity. Sometimes we’d be out at sea fishing. Other times we might be high in the mountains in his tiny cabin. No matter what, he lived like a believer. He encouraged me to pray about any and everything and to seek the Lord in every step of life. He was the main person who discipled and encouraged me in my faith.
You have subjected yourself to quite a bit of training in multiple arenas. How has the Lord used that training vocationally and also in what you do today?
It seems like I have always had a sense that I wanted to serve God in my life. Vocationally, the Lord used me in EMS and law enforcement. However, even as a kid, I contemplated serving in some form of vocational ministry. By the time I got to college I was still waffling about what to study and what I wanted to do with my life. Some of my courses included Biblical Greek and theology but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with those kinds of classes. My dad died during my sophomore year and I needed to find work while staying in school. I ended up going into law enforcement even before I graduated, and the work suited me well. After about six years as a police officer the question of what I was called to do was still not entirely clear. I left police work, married Mary, and started seminary all in one fell swoop. I enjoyed the academics in seminary while also finally “getting it” that being a cop could be and was my ministry calling. Mary and I returned to the police world (she was a long-time dispatcher).
Tell us about Bee World.
Bee World (Biblical Education by Extension) started in Vienna in 1979. Originally BEE focused on eastern Europe, bringing reproducible courses to pastors in places under Soviet control. We serve in many places in the world, but we concentrate on closed or restricted places that have limited access to biblical training. When the Soviet Union collapsed, we handed over BEE duties to Ukrainian pastors. BEE Ukraine continues our work in many places even today. For the past 20+ years we have been in East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Recently, we turned over many training responsibilities to BEE Korea and we have moved more into Africa and the Middle East.
One of our main distinctives is that we offer seminary-level courses in local languages. We do not lecture or teach, per se, relying instead on the printed courses to give groups of students the course content. We then meet regularly with those groups, facilitating their understanding of what they are learning. We go through every lesson in a course, reviewing what is being learned and working with student groups on how to teach others in their churches accurately and completely. We also require that every student become a facilitator for succeeding generations of BEE students. The idea is that training pastors and leaders will become the responsibility of local church leaders who will multiply the training across their respective countries and cultures.
How did you get involved in Bee World?
Right about the time I retired from my public safety career, Mary and I went through the Perspectives course which gives a comprehensive survey of Christian missions. I ended up connecting with Wycliffe Associates as the course ended and was asked by them to go to Cameroon Africa as a coordinator supporting linguistics and translation. That sounded good to me; my dad had lived and worked in Africa for many years before I was born. I’d always had a strong pull to go there to see and maybe understand that continent. When I got back to Oregon after four months, Bee World saw my training and asked me to apply to serve with them. Twenty-seven trips to Africa later, here I am. I also still work with Wycliffe Associates when they need a short notice team member for translation projects.
What exactly is your role with Bee World?
My main task is to serve as a course facilitator. I get to spend a few years with groups of students, returning two to four times each year to train and encourage them. I kind of wear both a coaching and a referee hat – sometimes getting our class members to practice teaching interactively (rather than lecturing) while also being a linesman, keeping the class on track theologically. After a few courses each student is expected to begin a new generation of BEE students even while they continue through our 30+ course offerings. A core premise is that we require indigenous groups to be self-sustaining, locally supported, and willing to multiply the training in their own areas using BEE courses while being led by local leaders.
I also serve as BEE World’s crisis coordinator. We have missionaries scattered all over the world. We stay as prepared as possible to respond to the bad stuff that can happen on the mission field. People can get sick, kidnapped, hurt in traffic crashes, or caught in the midst of disturbances. We need to train our colleagues to be well-prepared for those eventualities. We also maintain partnerships with public and private agencies if we need help with medical care, repatriation, rescue, or similar matters.
You were intentional to be missional in the workplace. Speak to the importance of living on mission for Christ where you are working.
For me it has been as much about how I work alongside others as it has been about using words alone. How I treat others, hear their stories, and walk with them through the stuff of life opens lots of doors. I have worked in jobs that were sometimes difficult and messy. Whether I was able to calm a bad situation or spend time with someone after a devastating experience I had an in to talk about now and eternity without getting pushy or preachy.
We live in an American culture that celebrates retirement as a license to live selfishly. Speak to how you want to live out your retirement days.
I never retired and likely never will. I’m fortunate to have been well-taught by my parents, in-laws, and Mary about the need to save wisely and stay debt-free. I listened to their counsel. Now I am able to travel and maintain long-term relationships with the groups I serve in Africa. I don’t think of myself as retired, at all, but rather taking on a new career. I feel bad for the sometimes bored, self-focused, unhappy people I meet as they seek to feel good and laze away their latter years with no real reward or satisfaction.