Just a few short years into our marriage – which had included buying our first home, settling into our first jobs, and having our first baby – my husband Todd came home one day and told me that he felt like he was being called to leave his job and go to seminary. And after a few months of applications, visits, and prayer, he ended up deciding on a seminary halfway across the country. It meant leaving everything: house, jobs, and, well, I guess not quite everything, because we kept the baby. 😉 But we did have to leave my parents and siblings, our church, and the city where I had grown up. It felt like a lot.
We moved into an itty-bitty two-bedroom apartment in Bethel’s Seminary Village – a deceivingly nice name for the dated apartment complex where seminary students lived on campus. There we met Ed and Linda Schlak, who had left fully established careers, their family home, and not just kids – but grandkids, too. Linda became a surrogate grandma for our kids, hosted family dinners in her apartment, and even baby-sat for us. All of this, while supporting her husband’s calling to serve in under-resourced seminaries in other parts of the world. They were an inspiration to me then, and have continued to amaze me as I have followed their adventures around the globe. Linda is direct, funny, and doesn’t sugar-coat anything – and I knew I would love hearing her re-tell her story. What I got was every bit as cool as I thought it would be. Enjoy.
Tell me a little about your family.
My parents got married at 17, and had me at 18, ten months later. Dad worked as a mechanic. His boss invited him to a tent revival. On the first night, a mom took her critically ill child out of the hospital and brought her to the revival for healing – but the grandma called the cops on her, so the cops showed up at the revival to take the child back to the hospital. When the police called the doctor, he said he wanted the mom to know that she had tried everything – so they let her stay. The little girl was prayed for, and she was healed. The mom brought her back to the revival every day. She stayed healed, and my parents decided to follow Jesus.
How did your own faith journey begin?
We moved to Missouri and joined a small church there. David and Wardella were the pastors. They wanted to be missionaries, but they were required to pastor a church for two years first. It was Wardella who first led me to Christ. She said to me, “I’m so glad you like coming to church, because when you’re older I want you to follow Jesus.” So I said, “Why not now?” She prayed with me. I was 2 ½.
Did you have a chance to act on your faith as you grew up?
Church camp in Lake of the Ozarks started when I was 9, and I went every year until I was 19. The cabins were horrible, but I didn’t know they were supposed to be good. We had rows of bunk beds and a group shower. Sometimes I ran the ice cream and hamburger shop, or the dish-washing line. Sometimes I worked on the switchboard to run the telephones. All the speakers and pastors who were there couldn’t get calls unless I used cords to connect them. Starting at age 14, I worked at camp for 9 or 10 weeks every summer.
How did you meet your husband, Ed?
I met Ed when I was a freshman at Evangel. He was a junior. He was more aware of me than I was of him! After we started dating in the spring, he asked me something corny that I didn’t recognize as a proposal. A month later he asked my dad if he could marry me, and then I knew I was engaged. I didn’t want to be presumptuous, so I hadn’t been acting like we were in an exclusive relationship.
When school let out, he went home to Cleveland to be an Iron Worker to raise money for the next year’s tuition. He told me he would come see me on the 4th of July. But when he got home, his mother told him he couldn’t afford to come see me, and that he would have to wait until fall. I had never been stood up, and I was upset! I took off his class ring and started dating other guys. But I already had a ticket to travel to Cleveland later that summer, so I went ahead and went.
His family assumed we were getting engaged, so they had all of these little events planned with extended family. They were all hugging and kissing me and whispering in my ear, “Oh my little chickadee, welcome to the family.” I wasn’t at all sure about it, but I didn’t want to cause a scene. Close to the end of that week, his aunt and uncle had a huge bridal shower for me. His other uncle had a 25th anniversary coming up, so he asked us to help him pick out a ring. While we were at the jewelry store, they started asking me which ring I wanted. Next thing I know, his uncle said, “These kids don’t have much money, but they have a lot of integrity.” And he pulled out money for a down payment and told them to size up the ring and send it to me.
You told me that after you got married, you started bringing kids into your home through foster care. In several of the cases, parental rights couldn’t be severed because the parents couldn’t be found – but the kids still needed a place to grow up. So you welcomed them into your forever family, although you were never able to give them your last name. And you established careers – you as a speech and debate teacher, and your husband as an attorney. Sounds like a pretty good life trajectory to me! You had meaningful work, you were making a difference as foster/adoptive parents, you were involved in your local church… What changed?
Ed had started going on short-term missions trips with our church almost every year, building things and doing outreaches. One time when he was in Russia he found himself in the back of the bus talking to a missionary. She told him about who was coming to speak at the local seminary next. Chad realized they weren’t Billy Grahams – they were regular people. He asked her, “You mean Linda and I could do this?”
The following year while he was in Africa on another short-term trip, Ed ended up deep in conversation with another missionary. This missionary said to him, “I don’t want to put words in God’s mouth, but it sounds like you are being called to speak in some of our Bible schools.” It was like a light bulb. He had to come home and talk me into it. He said we needed to quit our jobs and go to seminary.
I said, “Yes honey, you go do that” – with no intention of changing anything. I kept crying out during prayer, asking God to close the door. But Ed said he really felt like he needed to go, so I told him he needed to sell his beloved motorcycle if he was serious. He did it the next week. That’s when I realized how serious he was. I had trouble getting out of my teaching contract, but I was glad to stay home and finish out my year of teaching while he moved to another state to start seminary. Finally, towards the end of the school year, I agreed to put the house on the market. Houses on our street had been on the market for a year, so I didn’t expect to have to leave anytime soon. But our house went up for sale on a Friday, and sold the next day. That was my confirmation. I had given up my job and my house. How could anything be clearer?
Ed turned 60 during his first year at seminary. To be appointed as a career missionary in the Assemblies of God, you can’t be over 35. One morning some friends from church invited us to breakfast. “You’re not exactly the typical 60 year olds. We’ve watched you with young people at church,” they said. “We’d like you to apply to be career missionaries. They will turn you down at first, but at some point, the Assemblies of God needs to change its plan.” So we applied – and they DIDN’T turn us down. I had never even been on a mission trip.
Before he could be sent as a career missionary, Ed was supposed to go do a seminary internship in Albania first. I thought it would be Ed’s job. I planned to stay home in Iowa grandparenting, teaching in the church, doing my home projects. But they wanted me to go with him, to take part in the speaking every week. They offered me 10 positions: one included preaching in the park with a mic. I didn’t go for that one. But one thing I learned through a spiritual giftings test in seminary was that I would be a good spiritual coach/advisor. And that was one of the openings at the Albanian seminary.
Tell us little about your experience in Albania, where you ended up serving as a mentor and coach for 22 seminary students.
I went to their ministry assignments and learned so much. One girl in Albania had two little girls, and her husband was Muslim. Her ministry project was to ask the fathers in her neighborhood if they would allow her to teach their daughters English. There were 10-12 little girls. She invited me and had them do Q&A with me. I was expecting questions about food and music and fashion and boys. But instead they asked me about the trinity – that’s what they were spiritually hungry to hear about. She had planted seeds in their hearts.
Another student was doing an AIDS prevention project, going into middle schools and holding assemblies. All these kids would crowd around her and would want to talk. They asked about our favorite holiday. She said her favorite was Christmas because it was about the love of Jesus. Amazing – witnessing to Muslims in middle school through an AIDS talk.
Your husband Ed accepted a position as an adjunct professor at Evangel Theological Seminary in Kyiv, Ukraine in 2014, and the two of you have been living and serving in Ukraine ever since. Although Ed is the one working at the seminary, you haven’t been just sitting around – you are on staff at a local evangelical church in Kyiv that holds services in both Russian and English. What do you do there?
My little finger is in whatever comes up day by day here in the Ukraine. We are in a big city, and there is a lot of turnover at our church. We have everyone from university students to airplane employees. And with the tax structure here, foreign businesses get tax breaks if they rotate people through every three or four years. So lots of people come through our doors who may be nominal Christians, but they are lonely and they want to hear English. We host small groups and match younger couples up with older couples. Whatever is in front of me, that’s what I try to work on. One non-believer project at a time. Every week we say goodbye to someone, but hopefully when they leave Ukraine they will be spiritually stronger than when they came in.
You and your husband are in your 70s now, and you are still actively serving – with no signs of slowing down. What’s next?
My son keeps sending me job openings for grandparents in Iowa, where our grandkids live. But I’ve always told God, ‘I’ll go where you want me to go.’ I count it a privilege to be on the Jesus train – and thank you, Jesus, that with you, our lives are never boring.
And thank you, Linda, for setting an example of faithfulness at every age and stage of life! Your obedience and willingness to serve however you can, wherever God takes you, are a beautiful reminder to us to do the same – however we can, and wherever we are.