It was a very sad day. Moving day in late January 1987.
Marty & Sandy Boller had made the decision to trust God and look for His provision as He led us, and circumstances were such that the only job that opened up at the time was a sales gig back home in Iowa City. So, here we were at the beginning of 1987, leaving all of our friends back in Evanston, Illinois, driving westward on I-80 toward Iowa, preparing to move in with my parents, George & Dixie Boller, on Westminster Street in Iowa City.
Fortunately, God sent two wonderful signs of His promise to us. First, there was a beautiful rainbow that spread over the western horizon as we drove into Iowa – something you just don’t see in the Midwest during the winter! Secondly, for most of the 4-plus-hour trip from Evanston to Iowa City, Sandy tells me that she felt a gentle “hand” pressing on the back of her head, a God-nudge encouraging her to keep driving westward, even when everything inside her was saying, “turn-around & go back home.”
Who knows if my early Boller ancestors saw a similar rainbow or felt a supernatural nudge from God on the back of their heads as they pushed westward from Germany to the USA in 1816, or from Pennsylvania to Wayne County, Ohio in 1823, or from Ohio to Johnson County, Iowa in 1853? All I can tell you today is that during one of the hardest seasons of our lives, Sandy and I knew that God was with us as we relocated back to Iowa. I truly believe our family has been totally transformed and blessed because of that work of God that took us from our comfortable home in Evanston, IL back home to Johnson County, Iowa in January 1987.
We moved into this beautiful ranch home in Iowa City on February 14, 1987. Sadly, we weren’t able to enjoy it as much as we’d hoped to since my sales job fell through soon after moving in.
As it turned out, these Iowa City years (1987-1990) were probably some of the most difficult years of our married lives. Sometimes, I call them our ‘desert years.’ While God had clearly given us a strong signal that He was with us as we moved to Iowa City, He still had many lessons to teach me about doing ministry and how ministry is all about Jesus and not about us.
Shockingly, the sales job with much promise – the one that brought us to Iowa – quickly dissolved within a few months. It was a job with a company called Nasco where I was to sell fund-raising programs to local schools utilizing nice quality school logo apparel. But when I hit the road in January 1987, I wasn’t prepared for all the ‘no’s’ or ‘maybe’s’ as I made cold-call sales pitches to band directors and football coaches around eastern Iowa. By April, I had barely brought in any income, and if it weren’t for the gracious support from my mom and dad, we would have faced bankruptcy by year’s end!
In April, I found another sales-related job with Management Recruiters, which put me in an office setting where I recruited people for management positions in business. While I did make a bit more money the rest of 1987 (I believe our gross income for that year was less than $3,000!), the road continued to be a hard and difficult one for us. Again, if my dad and mom hadn’t kept us afloat, we would have lost our lovely home at 3105 Raven Court.
While Sandy and I were in this wilderness desert, the one joy in our lives was our growing family life. David, Debbie, Jenny, and John were all growing up quickly and making new friends in our Iowa City neighborhood. Sandy worked a variety of part-time jobs to help put some more food on the table, and in many ways, we know God was giving us a special few years to be close to my mom and dad before they passed in 1991 and 1994.
We decided to plug into St. Andrew Presbyterian, my parent’s home church, and found lots of wonderful people there. While it was a great place for relationships, the style of ministry and worship was very different from what we were used to in our church home back in Evanston. Wanting to make the best of what we had, I talked with the pastor of St. Andrew’s about my growing, inward call to ministry and he encouraged me to go to seminary. So again, with the financial backing of my supportive parents, I left my job at Management Recruiters and signed up to be a full-time seminary student at Dubuque Seminary, a Presbyterian-based school in Dubuque, Iowa.
So, on Monday mornings beginning in January 1988, I’d pack up my car and drive off to Dubuque, staying there through Thursday morning before returning back home to Iowa City. Sandy did a wonderful job in keeping our home in one piece while I was plugging into my studies. With my call to ministry in my heart, I was, on one hand, enjoying the coursework immensely. I listened to John Wimber cassette tapes (founding pastor of the Vineyard Church movement) in the car as I drove to and from Dubuque while I hob-knobbed with straight-laced evangelical Presbyterian scholars and seminary students from Monday to Thursday morning. In the process, God began to encourage me that He was still there and helping me get to the place I wanted to be in full-time ministry. This route wasn’t my first choice, but it was so much better than trying to sell fund-raisers to band directors (Nasco) or trying to match-make business people with human resource managers (Management Recruiters).
Despite the forward progress with my seminary studies in Dubuque, a dark cloud was still surrounding us. There was a limit to my parent’s ability to finance us in school, so as my first semester was coming to a close, I dropped out of seminary so I could find some employment, which God graciously provided through jobs, first with The Hawk Shop in Iowa City, which then led to an office clerk job with the Admissions Office of the University of Iowa. While not positions in the type of church work I dreamed of, I did enjoy being a Hawkeye, working at the center of it all in downtown Iowa City! Read more about my time at Calvin Hall.
With a clearer focus on a decent job, and with the blessing of our friends back in Evanston, IL, we decided to give church-planting a try – starting Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Iowa City in 1988. And while this new, little church had its ups and downs, Sandy & I learned so much as we pastored our first church on our own.
Just as it seemed that the dark clouds of our Iowa City wilderness were lifting, we found ourselves in a unique place where, as pastors of a small church plant, we sensed God inviting us to something different, something unexpected. The Holy Spirit was moving powerfully in the Vineyard churches during this time and we had no idea that our trips to the Vineyard Pastors conferences in 1988 (Anaheim) and 1989 (Denver) would lead us in a completely different direction than we’d planned.
Throughout the fall/winter of 1989/90, we attended numerous Vineyard gatherings, both near and far, and at each one, there always seemed to be a strong indication that God wanted me to stop trying so hard to make ministry happen and simply allow Him to lead us into the best environment for the work He had for us to do. At one big conference in Anaheim, California, the pastor who was speaking about learning to trust God, suddenly turned in my direction, pointed his finger at me, and proclaimed, “You’ve got to get out of your father’s house!”
As you’ve been reading here, throughout our entire time in Iowa City (1987-1990), my parents had been subsidizing us, making most of our house payments since I didn’t have a reliable job that would provide for that. So, when I heard that “word” in Anaheim, I realized I needed to simply trust God and act on it – sooner vs. later.
By spring 1990, Sandy & I had discerned that it would be best if we simply laid down our Iowa City church plant, sell the home in Iowa City that was being subsidized by my dad, and downsize into a more affordable house located in Cedar Rapids, where we had been worshiping with a church family that had been relating to the Vineyard. So, on June 23, 1990, we packed up our mini-van and became the proud owners of a nicely-renovated home built in 1908, located directly across the street from McKinley Middle School – where David attended in the fall of 1990. Finally, we had a home that we, alone, could afford.
As it turned out, this move to Cedar Rapids in 1990 was definitely a God-directed decision. By October of that year, my mom, Dixie Boller, became very sick with lung problems and died on December 31, 1990 – one day before her 68th birthday. Her death was very hard on all of us and with the loss of her retirement pension, my dad’s retirement income could never have continued to sustain both his home and ours in Iowa City. So, as sad as it was to leave Iowa City, it was God’s providence that allowed us to make the move into an affordable home in Cedar Rapids just prior to the time when my dad needed to focus his time, energy, and resources on his own needs.
So, now that we were in Cedar Rapids…what now, God?