Greetings, to the United Methodist saints in the area of New Philadelphia. My name is Mickey Gerald Foster, oldest of six children born to Joseph and Dixie on November 14, 1950. My partner in life and ministry is Rebecca Sue Falls Foster, the fourth child of 6 born to David and Kathleen.
We are both from Scio, Ohio and both grew up on the Harrison and Carroll County line. My parents moved from New Athens, in southern Harrison County, to Scio, when I was five years old.
My dad worked forty-five years for Hanna Coal Company, which was later bought by Consolidated Coal Company. He was the day-shift cable man for the Mountaineer and later the Silver Spade. At the time of their construction, both were the largest coal shovels in the world. Mom was a full-time homemaker during the years that she didn’t work for the Scio Pottery or TRW in Minerva.
Becky’s dad was the foreman of the handle bench and casters at the Scio Pottery Company. He also took care of one hundred eight acres of farm- to give him something to do in his spare time, urged on by his father-in-law. Becky’s mom worked on the handle bench for her husband when she wasn’t a full-time homemaker.
The Scio Street Fair was one of the highlights of the year for me growing up: the parade, rides, games and food. Trouble was, I wanted to spend more than dad gave me. I decided to make some money.
Selling raspberries and apples wasn’t profitable enough so I asked the Harrisons, over the hill from us, if they had some work for me. They did. I wasn’t big enough yet to toss a bale of hay or drive a tractor but they kept me busy in the yard, garden, and barn at fifty cents an hour. When I could handle a bale they gave me a quarter raise.
I learned how to work on the Harrison farm and wouldn’t trade those years for anything. They had five or six Oliver tractors, a dozer, a couple trucks, two steam engines, and a sawmill. We would also help other farmers fill their silos. It was a three hundred seventy acre dairy farm.
When we would fill silos, we’d use the big steam engine to drive the belt. Neighboring farmers would come and the old-timers got the privilege of operating the old Russell. I tramped silage in the silo and couldn’t wait to hear the steam whistle blow, echoing up and down the valley, announcing time to eat. We ate very, very well. Thank you Lord for my boyhood years.
My earliest memories of church were at the Methodist VBS in New Athens, sitting below stained-glass windows. When we moved I made my first new friends at the Methodist VBS in Scio.
Even though mom didn’t attend church much herself back then, she made sure my closest sister Gay and I got to Sunday School. My other four siblings were a good bit younger, so they followed suit later. Dad never went to church until he retired.
I served as an acolyte, went through membership class, joined MYF, sang in the cantatas, and took part in other church activities.
When I was in tenth grade mom said I was old enough to decide for myself whether I wanted to go to church or not. I chose not to and didn’t get back to church again for years. As I look back now I realize that to me God was “up there,” unreachable and impersonal. I didn’t know Him, and didn’t know my need for Him. I didn’t understand His plan of salvation. I wasn’t saved.
It wasn’t that my pastors didn’t preach salvation or that it wasn’t taught through other church ministries; I know today that it was. The problem was that I didn’t hear the Gospel. I wasn’t listening. It went right over my head. I didn’t realize my need for forgiveness.
I became a member without becoming a believer. When Mom said it was up to me whether I went to church or not, I quit going.
I finished high school well, and most people probably thought I was a pretty good fellow: playing baseball, golf, football, some basketball, concert band, class plays, National Honor Society and president of my senior class. Some evenings and Saturdays of my senior year I worked at the Scio Pottery. I didn’t get into any trouble, but I didn’t know Jesus.
Then I went to college. I did just enough to get by because I was enjoying the party life at Ohio University.
I remember guys from my dorm gathering in my room discussing just about everything, including God. There were Jews, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, agnostics, and even a set of twins who worshiped Satan. Most of them seemed sincere about what they believed. Who was I to say any different? I came to believe that the human mind and spirit were so powerful that whatever anyone believed would be true for them, even after death.
After college I went back to Scio and decided to settle down there for life. I liked the small town and country life but there weren’t many good jobs for a young guy like me. I worked a couple of years for a small plumbing and heating contractor, sold some stocks, and then joined the Equitable Insurance Company. I brought the party life from college home with me and introduced it to many around me. God wasn’t even a passing thought at that time in my life.
Becky and I had gone together in high school and began to hang out with each other again. She wasn’t living the wild life that I was but went out with me anyway. I think she thought she could change me if we got married. Shortly before this time she had told me that marriage was exactly what she had on her mind. Not me! I wasn’t ready for the commitment. I didn’t even know what the commitment was. But, I didn’t want to lose her, so we tied the knot May 26, 1973.
Becky had grown up going to Conotton United Methodist Church with her Dad, Mom, four sisters and brother. They were faithful in attendance and Beck became a member. Like me, she had never repented and believed. She had not gotten serious with God. She had also, like me, fallen away from the church. Becky never became the flagrant sinner that I had become. She had never repented because she thought that she had no reason, no real sins to repent of.
So, there we were, a young couple starting out together, not knowing about all the forces that would be attacking our marriage. I was working for The Equitable and Beck was working for the Scio Pottery Company. I was spending a lot of time at the Pub, Sportsman Club Legion, and also hunting and fishing while she spent a lot of time waiting for me to come home. Neither one of us was paying any attention to God, but there were loved ones praying for us.
Becky’s parents, and grand parents on her mom’s side fo the family, Max and Alberta Snyder, convinced us to go with the one night to a Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship Meeting in Steubenville. It was 1974 or 1975 and the place was packed. There was a lot of singing, clapping and raising of hands. A band with guitars, drums and a keyboard were leading the music. Beck and I had never seen that kind of stuff in a worship service before. A fellow gave his testimony as the message when people all over were raising their hands with their eyes closed, praying and praising God Beck and I were bug-eyed as we observed the whole affair.
Some people started falling over on the floor. When the older gentleman beside me went down he smacked his head on the edge of his metal chair. I thought for sure we would have to call the e-squad. As I looked down at him, he raised his hands. His eyes were closed and he got this grin on his face looking as peaceful as could be.
Beck and I were quiet in the car on the way home while the others tried to explain the service. It was the weirdest thing we had ever seen and it disturbed us. We decided we would never go to anything like that again and also determined never to go to church either, just in case people like that might attend.
In 1976, we had our first son, Bracken. Becky quit the pottery so she could be a full-time mom. The dip in household income put additional strain on our relationship. I was still running around a lot with the guys, which left Beck alone with Bracken. She tried to convince me, unsuccessfully, to take care of my family responsibilities. All that did was start fights and make me want to avoid her even more. We were in trouble.
Our brother-in-law, Henry Mooney, married to Becky’s sister Mary Lou, is a pastor and invited Beck to some revival meetings. He was leading at the New Rumley EUB Methodist Church. She had gone to the altar that night for salvation but didn’t mention it to me She quit fighting with me but I wasn’t wise enough to connect it to her attendance at the revival, even though she also started to go to church some Sunday mornings.
Three years after Bracken we has Tara Renee. Things still hadn’t changed much between Beck and I except she had a greater peace about her.
My best buddy during our early years of marriage was my brother-in-law, Tom. We fished, hunted, shot trap, played pool, Foosball, and cards, drank beer and did other things together. Sometimes, thoughtful as we were, we would even take Becky and Carol Jean, Tom’s wife and Beck’s sister, places with us.
Tom went through a spell, like we all do, troubles were pilling up. He turned to a friend named Fred Battles, whom Tom has been in the service with in Korea. Fred, at that time, was the pastor up the valley above Scio in New Rumley where Beck was going to church. Fred, Presently is pastor at New Life Center Ministries in Barnhill. Fred led Tom to Christ who gave Tom the help we all needed.
I remember Fred coming to visit us. I was upstairs at my desk and saw him pull up in his car. He made me nervous I yelled downstairs to Beck and told her I wasn’t coming down. She would have to talk to the preacher by herself. As time went by and I was around Fred more, I realized that he was a genuinely good guy. I got to like being around him.
Then Tom, began telling me how “I” needed Jesus Christ. He wasn’t the only one. It seemed like everywhere I turned someone was witnessing to me about Jesus. They must have been praying for me too because I began to look at my life and myself differently.
One Sunday morning, Beck, Tom, God and others finally got me to that New Rumley EUB Methodist Church. I sat in the last pew, next to the aisle, right by the door, so I could bolt if I needed to. I could have sworn that Fred knew I was coming, which he didn’t, because he was dancing all over my toes with his sermon. I know now that it was the Holy Spirit convicting me of my sin and my need for forgiveness from God for going my own way in life, ignoring, my Maker. For the first time in my life I realized that I was going to hell and that is exactly what I knew I deserved, but there was still hope for me. That hope was Jesus.
I had finally said yes to God; I would be a full-time pastor for Him.
There was still one other person I absolutely needed to hear from before making this huge life change-Becky. I wasn’t the only one whose life would be changed. Of course, we both had been praying for God’s will. I was not going to enter full-time ministry if Beck didn’t want to, no matter what her reasons were. I figured that God had to change my heart and He would change Becky’s too, if that was His will.
Well, she had her reservations. The main one was that she was concerned that I would need to spend so much time with other people that I wouldn’t have much time left for her and the kids. It was a critical point. Looking back, I believe the Lord was not only bringing the family issue up to Beck, but to me also. God made it clear; He did not want me to shirk my family responsibilities, which included parents, siblings and other relatives. Way too many families, outside the Church and in, have not prioritized their use of time. If I was going to be used by God to help others in this area, then my family life needed to be a good example.
Beck soon told me that she knew that our Lord wanted us to do this.
She was ready to go the Lord being her Helper. She needed to be ready to go because it was not just me entering the ministry, but her too. God made us partners when we were married. I didn’t understand that at that time and I am still learning more and more about what that means. God said, “The two shall become one flesh”. Part of that “one flesh” is that the major things in life we are to do as “one”. My partner and I would obey God together.
Now what? Did our Lord want us to be United Methodists or go somewhere else? We didn’t know, but we certainly didn’t want to mess up this decision. Truth being, we didn’t think we were to be UM’s. We were praying hard and had others praying too.
The scripture we were leaning on says, “What He Opens, no one can close; and what He closes, no one can open” (Revelation 3:7c NLT). We expected God to close all doors to churches except the one He wanted us in. It became obvious, it was the United Methodist church.
The Steubenville District Superintendent, Rev. Robert lmmelt, was very
helpful and even seemed excited about my entering the ministry. He got me
started in the Candidacy Process, which was the beginning of, what was for me, a seven year journey of education and training. What was unusual and amazing for Beck and I was the short amount of time it took our Lord to place me in a church as a full-time pastor. I would do my studies toward ordination while I was pastor. About six months after we told the Lord yes, I was appointed to the Mesopotamia United Methodist Church.
Neither Beck nor I had even heard of Mesopotamia, Ohio. When the
Painesville District Superintendent, Rev. Shepherd Harkness, had us come to meet with him and also with the Mespo Pastor Parish Relations Committee, he continued to quote the same scripture to us throughout the day; “And we know that all things word together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 KJV). That was truly our Lord confirming a promise to us that we would need to rely upon in the future.
In July of 1985 Becky, Bracken, Tara, and I moved to Mesopotamia, Ohio. I was the first full time pastor the Mesopotamia church ever had, so they didn’t own a parsonage. They had been paying 1/3 of the pastor’s support on a two-point charge they shared with the West Farmington UMC. The Staff Parish Relations Committee told me that they were going to make it on their own or die. They didn’t want to be yoked with another church. Attendance averaged about 40 for worship.
I did not realize that the numbers did not add up for the church to be about to support a family, let alone pay apportionments and other bills. It is very unusual for a church that size to be appointed a full time pastor. I didn’t really have any experience and very little training. In the natural it looked like an impossible situation. “But not with God. Everything is possible with
God” (Mark 10:27c NLT).
Even though there were struggles, God stirred the hearts of the church family to make the sacrifices, when needed, to keep the ministry going forward. People made sacrifices of their time and money because they were doing it for God, they were looking to Him. “They looked to Him, and were radiant; their faces shall never blush for shame or be confused” (Psalm 34:5 AMP). God proved himself over and over.
I remember a single mom, named Sue, who had two little girls. She did house cleaning and other jobs with little pay, but continued to tithe. We had been studying finances in the Bible. Sue had a little red car; I’d call it a beater, which might not make it up the next hill. She needed a reliable car but had no money and no prospects of getting any. God was showing us that we should not borrow for anything that decreased in value. We prayed and kept praying.
“My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 KJV). Someone “gave” her a nice reliable vehicle. Praise God!
My real training as a pastor, came during those years at Mespo, not through the Courses I took for my ordination work, even though they were helpful. One of the important lessons learned concerned the importance of the church family. We were two hours away from Scio so we didn’t see our relative very often. Our daily lives revolved around our relationships with our church family. We drew very close. “For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother” (Mark 3:33 KJV). They are our family.
While at Mespo I did a series of sermons on the family. I looked up every scripture I could find about husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, children, grandparents, and other relatives. Somewhere in the series I realized that Becky and I had never asked God if we should have more children. We were done. But God says, “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:Sa NIV). Well, without going into the details, God sent us Seth and Bethany. What blessings they are! I couldn’t imagine life without them.
Our nine years at Mespo were wonderful. My family and I grew in so many ways. The church grew too; it doubled in size during our stay. There is so much more that I could share. I do know this-it was a God thing.
After nine years at Mesopotamia, God decided to move us. You never know all the reasons for a change of
pastors, but this is known-God intends it for good for everyone it effects, because, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 KJV). Our only request of the Cabinet was to try to keep us within one hour’s driving distance of Scio, in case our parents would need us. They sent us to Bellaire, which is exactly one hour away from Scio. Thank you Lord.
The parsonage was one mile outside of town up Brooks’ Run beside the West Bellaire UMC, which was yoked with the Neffs UMC in the small town of Neffs, Ohio, just four miles away. Bellaire is essentially part of the greater Wheeling area, just across the Ohio River. Moving from an Amish community to a river area is quite a change of pace. Add to that change in ministry the depression felt in the area from the drop in population Bellaire was experiencing, around eighteen thousand to five thousand and falling. It was just what the Fosters needed. We would not trade that time or those friendships for anything.
The surface problems were quite different from Mespo but the spiritual problems are the same everywhere. People still need Jesus, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV). We still needed to make sure the people in the churches were saved. We still needed “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12 NIV). We still needed to direct the Church in the spread of the Gospel so that we might win some for Christ. And God did use us to save some. Praise His name!
One of my greatest joys while at Bellaire, there were many, was being used by God to help grow Roger Tipton as a leader in the Church. He had, and still does have a hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 NAS). His dining room table was usually piled with Bibles and books to help him study the things of God. I know very few people able to divide the Word of God and hear the voice of God as well as Roger. Just thinking about Rog brings me joy.
The Lord used him for me as much as me for him. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”
(Proverbs 27:17 NIV).While we were there Bracken graduated from Ohio Northern University, came back to live with us so he could drive back and forth to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary for his Master of Divinity degree, became assistant pastor at neighboring Lincoln Avenue UMC, and got married to Kimberly Brewer, whom he met at ONU. Tara graduated from High School, got her first job, at the Dairy Queen, and got some nurses training. Seth and Bethany have most of their early life memories from our six years in Bellaire-playing in the crick across the road, caring for their kitties Honey and Pearl, learning to ride their bikes, staying at other kids’ homes, and participating in organized ball. Beck had a couple stays in Wheeling Hospital. I started to gray, switched to a flat top because of thinning hair, and bought some cheaters to help me read my notes and the Bible while preaching and teaching.
Locations may change, families change, and we keep changing-hopefully. The believer accepts change and looks to the future because of THE HOPE within. With all this change though, we need a constant. We are grateful that God assures us, “I am the LORD, and I do not change” (Malachi 3:6a NLT).