I have gone back and forth about writing up a blog post about the passing of my father-in-law, Bruce William Gunderson (Nov. 17, 1948-Dec. 16, 2018), who died at home Sunday morning. I had been by his side for nearly two weeks, but had returned home briefly Saturday evening to be with my four kids and preach in the morning before heading back to his bed-side. He passed before I could return. I received the call shortly before preaching. I write what follows simply as a reflection on a number of the ways in which his life and ministry were a shining example to me (and many others) of a faithful Spirit-filled preacher (not to mention the other relationships in his life).
I first met Bruce a little over 22 years ago while working at Lakewood Park Bible Camp. His daughter, Jenn, was also working for the camp on a ministry scholarship that the two of us had received. Bruce started up a conversation asking me about my calling to the ministry. I shared my heart for missions, Muslims, and Iran. Bruce took it all in with numerous questions (as was typical I would find), but eventually was satisfied by my answers sufficiently to meander elsewhere at the camp. I later discovered he had determined I would be a good fit for his daughter (without telling me this). We were not dating at the time, but it would be less than a year later that we would be married. Bruce welcomed me into his family of what would be seven girls and two boys.
Bruce was one of my all time favorite preachers to listen to: the power of his booming baritone voice, his cadence as he broke into an old hymn as he preached, his pointed prophetic calls to hear the word and offer obedience. Scripture would flow from his heart where he had committed it to memory. I have often found myself reflecting him in my own preaching and teaching ministry. He was persuaded of the simplicity of the good news making it accessible to all ages, but offering depth of thought and insight to fire up the imaginations of those willing to dig deeper.
Bruce had felt a call to ministry while a Catholic, but found few answers to the many questions he was asking. While he initially trained as a science teacher in Bismarck he would actually receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit by simply reading the book of Acts and asking the Lord to do for him what he read. It would be a while before he would have some Church of God folks speak to him about “tongues” to which he replied had already been doing in his prayer life. Bruce eventually graduated from the Church of God Bible college located in Minot, ND. He would eventually take his first pastorate at a non-denominational Pentecostal church in Watford City, ND. When he led this church into a merger with the local Assembly of God he ended up joining the A/G and pastoring several more congregations across ND (Golden Valley, Halliday, and Carrington). Bruce would hold revival services in several states, speak for a number of camps across the region, and serve on multiple ministry boards (such as Lakewood Park Bible Camp and Teen Challenge in ND). His commitment to rural Pentecostal ministry has been a remarkable demonstration of the faithfulness of the Lord. Many have come to know Jesus, to be healed, delivered, and baptized in water and the Spirit through Bruce’s faithful service.
Bruce inspired me to pastor. When I was unsure of myself to take a church, it was Bruce who prophetically drew the pastoral gifts out of me. He spoke confidently that the Lord had indeed called and gifted me to pastor. I took my first church the day after graduating Bible college because of his inspiring words over me. And when I faced difficulties and had questions, I knew I could call Bruce and he would offer wisdom that I simply did not hear elsewhere. I even remember once having my own dad (himself a pastor) call me asking for advice on some pastoral issue, and I told him, “Call Bruce. He will tell you things others won’t and even if you don’t agree with him, he will have provoked such new thoughts that you will be able to discern what you are supposed to do.” And that was exactly what my dad did. Dad called me later to say I was spot on about Bruce’s wisdom. I always knew if I asked Bruce about any passage of Scripture, theological or pastoral issue, that he would offer insights one did not find in books and commentaries. He always seemed to have a way of seeing things slant in a way that was both uplifting and positive toward a solution.
Bruce was passionate about living the kingdom of God in the power of the Spirit. He loved people and he loved telling people about the goodness of God and about life in Jesus. I can remember his ministry to Nicaragua where he looked to bring many dozens of glasses for those lacking proper vision care. I think of his making many (MANY) dozens of pizzas for a missions fund-raiser for his church in Halliday, ND (this may have been one of the reasons he was elected mayor as a write-in against an incumbent because some folks wanted him to run). Just about six weeks ago he returned from ministry in India where he was able to help train pastors, build a church building, and minister in preaching. He had been having great difficulty walking as he prepared to leave for this ministry trip enough that I worried how he might do. I asked him how it went when he returned and he told me he felt greater strength and health than he had in years in those two weeks of ministry. He was persuaded the Spirit had enabled him to do the work Jesus had called him to do. The renal cancer that took his life these weeks later would not keep him from declaring Jesus as Lord in India. And I praise the Lord for his vision and passion and obedience.
Bruce has not simply been my father-in-law these last 21+ years … he has been my friend and mentor. I have loved him like a father. He has given me an example to follow in following Jesus. And I am blessed to have shared life with him, to have received teaching, preaching and prophetic words from him. To have been encouraged, challenged and comforted. I am ever grateful to have spent the last two weeks holding his hand, praying with him, reading Scripture, and singing over him. I carry his passion for Jesus and people in my heart! Thank you Bruce for loving Jesus and loving people well!!!