The rusty, scratched and dented shell of a school bus sounded as if it would barely make it around the corner. Yet it always ran if Pete was at the wheel as he drove the “Sunday School Express” in our rural neighborhood, picking up all willing (and some not so willing) children within a 6 mile radius.
This was the only way these children would get to attend Sunday School at Wiser Lake Chapel. The bus was the cast off donation that made the pick up routine possible. Pete provided the fuel for the bus and, along with his wife and a few other steadfast volunteers, was one of the teachers of the classes. This was a mission effort to reach the local kids, most of whom were growing up poor. Their immigrant and Native American parents were too weary from a week of working the fields, logging or fishing to get to church themselves, so were grateful for the two hour respite from their noisy children offered by the Sunday School Express.
The chapel was a humble destination. It was a boxy building with flaking paint and loose shingles, with a squared off steeple and a large bell to ring in the belfry. The children would take turns tugging on the rope inside the front door each Sunday, announcing the clarion call to all within a ½ mile that once again the Word of God was being proclaimed in this little building.
Pete made sure these hungry children were fed from the Word along with a lunch that would carry them through the day. He taught them the old hymns and made sure each one received their own Bible by age eight. For years, he and his family spent their Sunday mornings at this little chapel, not attending a church service with a preacher or a sermon, except when it came time to do the rounds of local congregations to ask for continued financial support for the mission outreach he was doing.
He came to know the children well as he picked them up in the bus and then delivered them back to their homes and would occasionally stop briefly to chat with their parents, to ask about any needs they may have and encouraging them to consider coming to one of the larger churches in town for worship. As he traveled about his Sunday morning bus route week after week, he’d sometimes discover the children’s homes abandoned, suddenly dark and empty, with no way to know or find out where the family had gone. He would pray they would find another home and another church would find them.
His unique ministry continued for almost a generation. As Pete’s own children grew up and moved away, he and his wife Esther helped recruit a pastor for the little chapel, and it grew to become the vibrant worshiping community it is today, to include some of the adults he had taught when they were young. They had been fed to the point of being able to feed others and a number of them became Sunday school teachers themselves.
Pete passed away several years ago, a beloved and respected father to his own children and teacher to many hundreds of others’. His funeral service was a simple service befitting a devout and faithful servant. What made it most remarkable was the overflowing chapel sanctuary, filled with people who he had picked up and delivered over the years in his rickety Sunday school bus, picking them up from their humble surroundings and delivering them into the grace and glory of God. He had fed them the Word and he had fed them lunch. And they returned in the fullness of their gratitude.