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Tribute to a Servant Pastor

Feb 08, 2016

Pastor Marshall peered through the windshield of his old 1936 Dodge as he drove from Spirit Lake, Iowa to Battle Lake, Minnesota in a snowstorm.

The dangerous winter conditions made him glad that he had left his wife and baby son back home. He was unaware that farther to the north in Canada a new move of the Holy Spirit had just begun, which would become known as the Latter Rain Movement. It began Saturday, February 14, 1948. But the Holy Spirit was not limited to the north parts and would guide Marshall to his destiny.

He was traveling to Battle Lake about 250 miles away, where he had been asked to candidate as the next pastor of the Alliance Church. He was supposed to preach the next day, Sunday, but the snowstorm had made the roads nearly impassable. When he got to Fergus Falls, he was just 17 miles from his destination, but he could not find Highway 210 which would take him to Battle Lake.

When the car finally got stuck on the road, he looked around in the darkness and could see no lights at all. He bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, if I am to get to Battle Lake, you must make a way.” When he raised his head, he saw an enormous bright light coming toward him. As the light approached, he realized there were actually two huge lights coming his way. They were from two snow plows, one behind the other, clearing the highway of the deep snow.

They stopped when they saw Marshall’s car stuck on the road. “Where are you headed?” they asked. He told them he was trying to find Highway 210 that would take him to Battle Lake. “You are going the wrong direction,” they said. Then they helped him turn the car around, and he followed them to Highway 210, only to find that that highway was not plowed either.

The pastor stopped at a filling station at the intersection and got a hot cup of coffee. Once again, he bowed his head and prayed, “If I am to get to Battle Lake, you must make a way.” As he looked up, he saw another snow plow coming on the main road through Fergus Falls. As he watched, it turned onto Highway 210 and began plowing its way toward Battle Lake. He jumped up and ran to his car, following the snow plow. There were several towns along the way, along with three crossroads, but the snow plow did not turn aside.

Battle Lake was a half mile off the highway. He wondered if he might have to walk that final half mile into town hotel, where the church people had reserved a room for him. But at the turnoff to Battle Lake the snow plow turned off the highway and headed straight into town. For many years afterward, Marshall wished he could ask the plowman what made him turn to go into Battle Lake. Yet he knew the answer. It was God.

When Marshall found the hotel, he went in and identified himself to the clerk. The clerk was surprised to see him and said that the room had been cancelled. They assumed he would not be coming that night, due to the storm. Furthermore, all the rooms were filled with travelers who had been stranded there.

Marshall then walked across the street to the furniture store, which was owned by Dr. Lawrence Halverson, chairman of the Church Board. He was the town dentist, funeral director, furniture store owner, and also owned the real-estate business. Selma Halverson opened the door and was aghast at seeing the young pastor standing in the snow storm on her doorstep. “How did you get here??” she asked. It was a long story, but one that had a simple answer: It was the Lord.

There were several bedrooms above the furniture store, so he spent the night there. It is not likely that there was a shortage of quality beds in a furniture store! Selma’s sick sister Jenny was already staying in one of the rooms so that Selma could take care of her. Jenny was also the secretary of the Church.

Jenny’s brother-in-law, Rev. E.C. Swanson, had been the first pastor of the Battle Lake Alliance Church in 1917. The Church had been started largely as a result of the preaching of a gifted evangelist from Winona, Minnesota, who was known as Uncle Morgan. He came to Battle Lake in 1914 and held revival meetings in the Evert Township Hall just outside of the town.

Of course, the two Sunday meetings the next day had already been cancelled, due to the snow storm. But Pastor Marshall unexpectedly arrived by the grace of God, and so they were rescheduled. Most of the farm people could not get out of their long driveways, but the townspeople volunteered to drive down the main roads and pick them up at the end of their driveways.

The next day, Sunday, was a beautiful, brilliant-white day. Some joked that they had come to church by dog sled. The meetings were well attended in spite of the weather. After the morning meeting, the people wanted to hear about Marshall’s trip to Battle Lake, so everyone had a late noon meal. He shared how God had answered prayer so quickly at the most critical points on his journey.

He also shared his testimony from many years earlier, how the most influential person in his life had been his father, “Grandpa A.” He said that his father was the most consistent person he ever knew who had lived a Christ-like life. In fact, he had praised his father so much while preaching in his first church in Spirit Lake, Iowa, that his humble but embarrassed father finally told him “kindly but sternly to back off.”

Marshall told about his first direct and real encounter with God, which had occurred while he was attending St. Paul Bible Institute in the 1940’s. (Later, the Institute became St. Paul Bible College, and in 1970, when they moved out of St. Paul, Minnesota, the name became Crown College.)

He recounted how all of the men lived on the third floor in the Old Main building. Marshall was in Room 76, rooming with a young man named Jerry Conn, from Toledo, Ohio. Jerry and his wife Carol later spent most of their life working as missionaries in Ecuador. But one Sunday afternoon, when Jerry was out of the dorm room on assignment, Marshall was reading the Scriptures and praying alone in the room. The curtains were drawn to give him further privacy. All at once the room lit up as if the noonday sun had just broken through on a cloudy day. He heard a voice say, “You are to be a servant pastor.”

Marshall testified later that he could not tell if the voice came from outside or from within, but the message was so clear and definite that from that moment on he never doubted his calling to the ministry. It also described to him the type of pastor he was to be—“a servant pastor.” He was to serve God by serving others. This, then, became the foundation of his life’s work.

While at SPBI, Marshall had been interested in a fellow student, a young woman named Ruth Brueckner, whom he had met earlier in Wisconsin. They were both attending the Bible Institute at the time. Though courtship at the Institute was very restrictive, they managed to break a few rules and see each other as often as possible. In fact, the Chairman of the School Board, who was also the pastor of a nearby influential Alliance Church, tried to prevent quite a few marriages that summer, as he believed they should wait until they finished school. His wife had just divorced him, and “he was a disturbed man,” Marshall noted later. Nonetheless, the Chairman was opposed by other officials, one of whom officiated at another couple’s wedding in the Institute Chapel when they decided to elope. Marshall noted wryly, “He became party to that transaction in the Institute.”

Marshall and Ruth were married in the summer of 1944 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They borrowed $100 from a bank to cover expenses. After finishing school, Marshall and Ruth were appointed by the District Superintendent, Rev. C.J. Mason to become pioneer workers at Spirit Lake, Iowa. Life was simple there, living in an 8x11 foot, one-room cottage with no running water and having an outhouse in the back. They did have electricity, however, so they counted their blessings, knowing that “all things work together for good.”

While they were there, their son, Gary, was born to them in 1947. He was just two months old when Marshall made the trip in the snow storm to candidate as pastor of the Alliance Church in Battle Lake.

After telling the suspenseful story of his trip to Battle Lake, and how God had led him through the storm, the Chairman announced that the Church Board would meet after the evening service. As they met, Marshall walked back to his room and visited with Jennie. After a while, all the Board Members filed into Jennie’s room with tears in their eyes. Marshall wondered what this was about.

They told him that they wanted him to be their pastor, but first they needed to consult with Jennie, who was the Secretary. More than that, protocol made it necessary for them to write to the District Superintendent for confirmation and approval.

However, they could not wait so long to get an answer by mail, so instead they phoned the D.S. and told him their unanimous decision and how this came about. For the first time in their history, the D.S. approved their decision on the spot without the need for a written letter.

So a trucker with a grain truck volunteered to move their belongings from Spirit Lake to Battle Lake. Of course, moving ALL of their furniture out of that one-room house did not take long. “Two kitchen chairs, a small table, and a baby crib was the extent of our furniture,” he chuckled. “It took up only a little space in front of that bed on the truck, but it was OUR things.”

The Church people at Battle Lake furnished the pastor’s house before they arrived. The church grew, and soon they bought the Lutheran Church building after the Lutheran congregation outgrew their facilities.

Marshall and Ruth had sat under the teachings of Dr. Karlson, who was an expert in Hebrew and Greek. He had shown them the meaning of Genesis 1:28, “be fruitful and multiply,” telling them that the first meaning of “multiply” is best described by our English word “to duplicate or replicate yourself.” In pondering this, Marshall and Ruth came to the conclusion that to do this, they wanted to have one son and one daughter.

So far, they had only one son, so they prayed for a daughter. And so, a few years later, in 1951, a daughter was born to them at the nearest hospital. It was in Fergus Falls, the place where Marshall had encountered the snow plow as an answer to prayer a few years earlier. They named her Darla.

Two years later, another pastor came with his two young boys to visit them before going to the Philippines as missionaries. Marshall and Ruth had known Tom and Doris since their days at St. Paul Bible Institute where they had all been students. Also, Pastor Marshall had attended Pastor Thomas Jones’ ordination in 1951.

Tom and Doris Jones had two rambunctious boys, Philip, who was four, and Stephen, who was three. Many years later, Stephen and Darla met at the same school in 1969, which was then known as St. Paul Bible College. When they became interested in each other, they discovered that their parents had known each other many years earlier.

They were married in 1971 and lived happily ever after.


We celebrated Ruth’s passing on March 16, 2008. Marshall was anxious to join her and never understood why he had to remain on earth for so long afterward.

For many years we knew that we would be restricted in our travel (the Open Door Ministry) as long as Marshall was alive, since Darla and her brother were responsible to visit him as the assisted living home. A month ago (early January) I had the distinct discernment that Marshall would die before our New Zealand trip, much like my mother's passing in 1983 allowed me to make an important trip at that time. I discussed this with Darla, and the discernment that this might happen on January 27, at the end of that cycle.

On January 27, 2016 he was taken to the hospital, and at 11 pm, February 7, 2016, at the age of 93, God’s faithful servant pastor finished his course triumphantly. Walking to the Judge’s platform to receive his crown, his spirit returned to God who had given it, and he entered into his final rest.

Darla's brother Gary called early this morning to tell us the news, just as we were getting up to go to the airport. God's timing is perfect. As Ron says, "Marshall Law" and its travel restrictions have now been lifted. We go in peace.

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Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones