Friday, February 22, 2013

Religion of reconciliation

The Rev. Gerald Reinke takes over ministry at Valley of Peace Church

Express Staff Writer

Third-generation Twin Falls farmer the Rev. Gerald Reinke is the new pastor of Valley of Peace Lutheran Church in Hailey. Earlier in his life, he preached out of a Ford truck in remote towns in Idaho. Photo by Roland Lane

The Rev. Gerald Reinke says there’s a difference between espousing religious doctrine and living in spiritual faith. 

Realizing that God has love for him marked a turning point in his life when he was a young man. Today he works to share that experience with others.

“When a person reconnects with God, a spiritual thing happens,” he said. “We learn to understand ourselves in a new way. It helps us to find direction in our lives.”

Reinke will be installed as pastor of the Valley of Peace Lutheran Church, at the corner of Woodside Boulevard and Wintergreen Avenue in Hailey, on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. The public is invited.

“A lot of people these days live very materialistically,” Reinke said. “They don’t think about religion very much. But I think when this is the case, there is a hole in their lives. In spiritual terms, the winner is the one who has integrity, who cares for people and lives for a higher purpose.”

Reinke and his wife, Karen Ruhter, went through big changes in the 1980s when, after three generations, their 500-acre family farm in Twin Falls was lost during the farm crisis. 

“That was during the Russian grain embargo,” Reinke recalled.“One year I was selling 100 pounds of pinto beans to Mexico for $11. The next year I couldn’t sell them for $2.”

The Reinkes responded to the tragedy by transforming their lives. They sold their life insurance policies to pay for college studies. Reinke graduated from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo., when he was 47, serving for a number of years a large congregation in Arlington Heights, Ill. 

Reinke and Ruhter, who have two grown children, also served ministries in Russia and South Africa. In 1999 they returned to Idaho, serving as “circuit rider” missionaries in small and remote Idaho towns.

For two years, the Reinkes traveled in a Ford F250 truck, researching Lutheran records for lapsed church members and talking to anyone who may want to hear his ministry.

“Our call was to go to small remote communities in Idaho and see how we could help out,” he said. “The Mormons were big, well-financed majorities in the towns we visited. The other Christian denominations typically gathered together under one roof because there were not enough members in any one of them to survive on their own.”

After two years on the road, the Reinkes could afford to buy a semi truck with a 48-foot trailer, equipped with a sound stage and climbing wall. They set up in city parks during summer, recruiting local musical talent for concerts and conducted vacation Bible schools.

Reinke said he has seen lives changed by religious conversion, recognizing what once took place in his own heart and mind during his teenage years. 

 “I have seen this change in people,” he said. “It’s what is most exciting about my work. I spend a lot of time in hospitals and have seen that when people do not have a religious sensibility, they tend to be scared and lonely.”

Reinke said that while he was growing up in Twin Falls, the Lutheran Church was very strict and “law oriented.” 

“I was not so much taught as I was indoctrinated,” he said. “Eventually I went through a re-learning process. The key for me was in the New Testament in the Gospel of John, where he says ‘God is Love.’ You see it again in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when he says ‘Without Love I am nothing.’

Reinke draws a distinction between two different doctrines in the Bible, between what he calls “the law” and “the Gospel.” 

“The law is what God requires of us, the Gospel is what God does for us and in us. We think some churches muddle the two,” he said. “We are saved through the Gospel, the fact that Jesus died for us. This church is not a self-help program.”

Reinke said further subtleties should apply to expectations regarding the cultural divide between Christianity and Islam.

“The tension between Christianity and Islam goes way back. Mohammed taught that Jesus did not fulfill his mission, that his death on the cross was only a tragic mistake. I have doubts as to whether this can be easily resolved, but we can still learn to treat one another as human beings.

“There is a difference between conflict resolution and reconciliation. Resolving conflicts so that both sides agree is not always possible, but reconciliation is possible if we can accept that our truth is not proven by another’s demise. After all, that is how God is with us. God had every reason to obliterate us, but instead he chose to reconcile us to him. God really does care for us. We are not just specks of dust in the universe.”

Reinke said God works in ways that we could never fully understand, and within other faith traditions that we may know little about.

“There are stories out there about people suddenly becoming Christian on their own, even in strict Muslim countries, without the benefit of missionary work. Mother Teresa is a better example of God’s love for us than some churches out there who preach against the world, churches that preach white supremacy or gay hating.

“God works to present the truth in the midst of evil.”

Tony Evans:

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