The Horstemeier family: “I know this is where I belong.”
It’s quiet in the morning when I unlock the door of the shop and greet my crew. As we go over our tasks for the day, it strikes me again what a miracle it is that I’m actually responsible for the upkeep of Prairie’s entire campus. There was a time when no-one would ever have seen that coming. When I look back on so many wasted years as a young adult, my destructive attitudes and habits, and the way I ran from God, I see a grace at work in my life that is more than amazing.
Years ago my parents moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to the small First Nations village of Chipewyan Lake, AB, as LAMP missionaries with the Lutheran church. There they operated a general store and bought and sold furs while running programs for the children of the community. I was only six when Dad died, leaving my mother to raise me and my older siblings alone. Her faith was strong and she shared it freely with her children, taking me to Sunday school and encouraging my confirmation at the age of twelve. But after my father was gone and I hit my teens, faith was replaced by a party lifestyle and all that went with it. A heavy metal rock band consumed my interest and alcohol became a way of life. As a child, I had loved building and fixing things but in spite of that early passion to create and repair, my personal life was falling apart.
Respecting authority never sat well with me, whether toward my mother or teachers or eventually my bosses and the police. It had also been a long-standing joke that our family was never on time and I took it to the extreme, even failing classes in school for chronic lateness. At my job in a steel shop later on, the habit continued. After two and a half years I was still in the lowest position, a direct result of my attitude and poor work ethic. One day the boss called me in and laid down the law: “Show up late one more time and you’re gone!” Then he assigned me the 6:00 AM shift. That threw me because I was sometimes barely finished partying by then!
About this time Jesus slowly began making his way back into my life. With the help of a friend, my behavior at work was changing for the better, and as my mother and sister challenged me, I started reading my Bible and went back to church. Prairie College was hosting a booth at a festival in Edmonton and it intrigued me to discover that they had an aviation program. School had never been my favorite place but now I wanted to learn, so after a visit to the campus I decided to enroll. My life was being made new, but not because of my own decision to become a better person. If God hadn’t been at work, it never would have happened.
It soon became evident, however, that the battle for my heart was far from over. Shame about my past and the lure of old friends soon had me drinking again, not yet convinced of the truth that Jesus had made me a new creation. When I arrived at school, I was sure someone would spot me as a phony and ask me to leave. But that never happened. Even though being part of a Christian community was totally new to me, peace came to my heart and I soon felt at home.
Registering for general studies allowed me to transfer to aviation in my second year. Eventually, though, the money ran out and I had to leave school and find serious work. My construction experience, knack for fixing things, and automotive background landed me a job with Prairie’s maintenance department where I was soon doing everything from fixing doors and windows to repairing vehicles and driving equipment. I loved the variety and learned so much from the other men on my crew. It was the perfect job for me. There were other benefits too. Every day we took our break in the campus coffee shop and it didn’t take
me long to notice the cute server behind the counter. I began going to her church and as we got to know each other, I finally got the courage to tell Kristy how I felt. In 2011 we were married and began building a family together. Our home was lively but happy with two little ones and I never suspected that this ideal life was about to be shattered.
Son number three, whom we planned to name Luther, was almost due when my wife began to feel sick. I came home for lunch one May day in 2017 to find her going into labour, so I called her sister for help and took the boys to their grandparents. When Kristy collapsed trying to get to the car, we sent for an ambulance and followed them to the local hospital. I was scared, yet excited to meet our baby, and couldn’t understand why the delivery room doctor seemed to linger over the ultrasound machine for such a long time. Finally she turned to us and delivered the blow: there was no heartbeat. Tears began to flow as I begged God to change what was happening and spare the life of my son. I had never felt so helpless.
We were rushed to a city hospital, unaware that Kristy was experiencing severe internal blood loss. The placenta had detached prematurely and our baby’s supply line had been severed. He would be delivered, but not alive.
Labour was an excruciating process for my wife and I will never forget the stark contrast of Luther’s birth with that of our other boys. The room went silent as his tiny body finally appeared, limp and lifeless. As the nurses quickly began setting up blood transfusions for Kristy, it finally dawned on me that her life was in danger as well. I was in shock over the loss of our son, but this stunned me all over again.
Once things were stabilized, we were joined by family and our pastor and his wife. We bathed Luther, dressed him, held him and wept over him. Every cry from a healthy newborn elsewhere in the hospital that night broke our hearts. A few days later, with the loving support of family and friends, we gave him back to God.
There were so many gifts of kindness and encouragement during that time, but we were devastated, and for once in my life I was faced with something I simply could not fix. We learned that mourning can take many forms. You can be crying one day and laughing the next. Or you waver from utter disbelief to thanking God for his mercies because he is the only one you have to hold onto. There have been some very dark periods, but we’ve realized that it really is ok to be angry and to let God know how you feel. Lament is in the Bible for a reason. God weeps with us when this broken world brings pain, but because of Jesus, death does not have the final word. Our little boy is in his presence and that brings me joy, even if it was born out of great sorrow.
God had not forgotten us and on September 24, 2018, we welcomed the gift of another son, Shepherd, to our family. In spite of what we went through, I will always be glad that Luther came into our lives and look forward to the day when we will all be together.
Another thing I’ve learned is that relationships are more important than a job. It’s not about pipes and wires, tunnels and roofs, but about learning how to face issues and challenges, about serving faithfully in all things the way Christ would. The mission field is people, not places, and we can view our interactions, even with contractors and suppliers, not just as business but as open doors for God to impact their lives. Our focus needs to be on the people he brings our way and how we represent him.
In 2016 I became Prairie’s Physical Plant Manager. On any given day we can be setting up for an event, repairing a broken water main, working on a vehicle, or starting a painting job. You name it, I’ve probably done it. One of my favourite parts of the job is that we get to participate in the spiritual life of the school through things like chapels and conferences. As I share my life with the students and staff community, it helps me to keep growing and walking closer to Jesus. God took an irresponsible renegade and is making him over into a trustworthy servant. Ephesians 2:10 tells me that God actually has good work that he’s prepared for me to do and I know this is where I belong. He has taken my passion for fixing things and turned that gift into something I can offer up to him with a thankful heart.
I guess God understands this “fix-it” guy pretty well because he keeps on “remaking” me and he hasn’t given up yet.