To area pastor, challenges are an opportunity for growth in faith
Faith isn't always a smooth road, but for some people, the bumps in the road offer opportunity, not obstacles.
Jeff Broom, pastor at Lakeside Baptist Church in Backus, has been guided by faith since he was a young boy in Illinois.
"I came to faith as a very young boy at 6 years old. That is as vivid to me today as it was then," Broom said.
The path from Illinois to Backus was fraught with sudden changes, but he has ultimately chosen to accept those changes as divine guidance. That philosophy has helped him through unexpected challenges.
Some challenges were small. Broom was a child of two first generation Christians, raised with a younger brother, a younger sister and an older sister.
"Being both first generation believers, it was a unique situation where they were really pursuing God's work in their lives. With that we were raised in a very devout Christian atmosphere. Not one that was traditional so much, but a matter of experience. They had experienced Christ and they wanted us to experience that," Broom said.
In that setting, Broom was exposed to life-changing experiences, such as a missionary trip to Canada around his junior year in high school, where he first thought he found his calling.
"With that, I initially was a missions major in college. It's interesting how the Lord takes your willingness to follow him and changes things up. I felt after that experience in Canada that God wanted me in missions, so I majored in missions in college," Broom said. "The only difference between that and pastoral theology was all your electives are missions classes."
Though he planned to go into missions, Broom was open to following a different plan.
"If that (mission work) was where God had opened doors, that would have been fine, but the Lord opened doors to become a youth pastor," Broom said.
Broom answered a call to become a youth pastor in small-own Backus under the guidance of the Lakeside Baptist Church's pastor. When he moved from Chicago to Backus in June 1982, he was in for a surprise. Broom's first Sunday at the church was the head pastor's last. He had resigned just before Broom's arrival.
That July, the permanent pastor position was offered to Broom. Following what he saw as God's will, he accepted, and he has been the Lakeside Baptist Church pastor ever since.
Broom has raised a family in the Backus community. When he first became pastor, he brought with him his wife, whom he met in college, and his first child, a daughter.
Since that time the family grew and changed. He and wife Terry had four more sons in Backus, one of which is a sophomore at Pine River-Backus High School. His wife opened a daycare in Backus to help them finance the growing family. This offered Broom a unique ministry opportunity.
"That opened the door to a lot of opportunities in ministry with young couples, and we saw a lot of them coming into the church," Broom said.
For more than 30 years Broom built relationships and served the faith community of the Lakeside Baptist Church. All the while he faced the regular ups and downs of life, sharing in events like baptisms, marriages and funerals within his congregation. Life continued as usual until about three years ago when Broom experienced a life-changing event that rejuvenated him when it could have done far worse.
"I was having voice issues, which I would normally have in late spring and early fall due to allergies and so forth. It had gone on for a number of weeks. I knew it was something different. I knew it wasn't the same thing," Broom said.
A biopsy revealed that Broom had a rare, aggressive form of cancer in his right vocal cord. The battle to overcome his ailment was long and trying. Treatment started with surgery at the hands of a specialist. While some doctors may have removed his voice box completely, Broom came out of surgery missing much of his right vocal cord, but he could still speak. Cancer cells were found in one of his lymph nodes, so Broom went through chemotherapy and radiation treatment as well.
Broom only missed a few Sunday church services. The effect of treatment on his voice, which was now quiet and raspy, made him somewhat uncertain about his continued ministry. Support from his wife, who found experts who knew how to treat his cancer through Livestrong, and from his congregation made all the difference in the world.
"Things continued to function according to normal, with exception of the uncertainty that clearly affected the church, and myself. Their support level throughout all of this was beyond anything I would have expected. That highlighted what I experienced through the church throughout all my years in ministry here," Broom said.
With that support, Broom came out of the experience with a weaker voice, but a stronger faith. With a microphone, the voice wasn't really a problem.
"Those two years especially, that were very much treatment oriented, were two of the best years of my life. I can't tell you how much closer I became to the Lord. There were challenges I faced spiritually that it was like I kept butting my head into a wall," Broom said. "I still have a long way to go, but I was able to overcome a number of those things and get some closure on those things in my life spiritually. It's brought me closer to the Lord. I think I would have only experienced that with going through the type of challenges that caused me to become more dependent upon the Lord. In that way it was great. Terry and I got much closer in a way we probably never would have if not for this. There are a lot of very positive things. I even had the opportunity to do ministry."
Throughout his experience, Broom prayed with his doctors, he met and prayed with other patients and he even learned through his own experience how to better minister to cancer victims.
"It clearly changed my whole approach to how I address people who attend my church and are going through physical challenges," Broom said.
Since his latest checkup, Broom is still in the clear and healthy. On his 60th birthday he was able to run 10 miles. Broom's experience is an extreme story of making lemons into lemonade, but that's just a testament to Broom's ability to roll with the punches.
"Just seeing how God was working through so many of the coincidences in all of this as far as treatment, as far as people I came in contact with, so many were people of faith. It just reassured me that in spite of something that could have been seen as just complete tragedy, I see it now as a clear indication that God is in control," Broom said.