EQUIPPING THE NEXT GENERATION
LA GRANDE Sanctuary. The Door. The J House and the K House. Doxology. Campus Crusade for Christ and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
The list goes on and on. La Grande is blessed these days with a wide variety of options for youth interested in contemporary Christian worship and fellowship outside the traditional church experience.
Just 18 short years ago, however, contemporary worship experience was virtually unknown in this college town, except for an underutilized outreach known as Koinonia House.
Everything changed when, in 1988, Pastor Dan Mielke moved his young family to La Grande from Alaska.
He came to start a Youth for Christ ministry, a program primarily aimed at children and teenagers.
In just 18 months, Mielke's Youth for Christ program was ministering to approximately 100 kids from fifth grade through high school on a weekly basis. Several college students had also been drawn to the program, serving as leaders. They had expressed to Mielke their hunger for a deeper, Christ-centered worship experience of their own.
"The campus ministry just naturally grew out of the Youth for Christ program," Mielke says.
He contemplated the existing Koinonia House facility as a place to expand worship opportunities for those dozen or so college students.
And as a way to encourage expansion into a greater campus ministry.
The K House, as it was affectionately known, was started in 1974 by six La Grande mainline churches Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church, First Christian Church, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Zion Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian Church and the United Methodist Church.
The congregations bought a lot on Sixth Street adjacent to the college campus, erected a building and welcomed students across the street to enjoy a new kind of church experience in a casual, relaxed atmosphere highlighted by modern praise music, instead of traditional church hymns.
But by the late 1980s, only a handful of college students were regulars there.
"When I first came to Koinonia House, the director had quit and the program lacked vision. They had allowed a couple of girls to move into the back, which made an uncomfortable situation for other campus students especially the boys," Mielke says.
He approached the K House board, which was comprised of representatives from the founding churches. They liked his plan to revive the ministry, but had no funding to pay a director or support a campus mission.
"So, I suggested I raise my own funding. I had done it before, and I knew I could do it there," Mielke says.
The board agreed. And Mielke's efforts soon turned the lackluster program into a thriving, energetic ministry.
Koinonia House under Mielke's leadership was more than just fun, fellowship and rockin' music, though. Biblical teaching and discipleship were foundational to the K House experience.
The ministry became a family project, as Dan's wife, Glenda, and their sons, Andy and Steve, joined them, both virtually growing up at the K House. Steve Mielke's musical talents and song writing abilities have been an integral part of K House. In looking back, both father and son agree some of the best work of their lives was accomplished during the past 16 years with K House.
"It was a unique experience for me," says Steve Mielke, "to be brought up so closely with the contemporary worship and contemporary ministry. Everybody came to the K House. It was really the only thing in town until about 1995."
But the times, as another songwriter has said, they are a-changing.
In the fall, Steve and Becca Mielke will move to Portland where Steve has been offered a choice high school ministry position with Sunset Presbyterian Church, serving more than 600 teens through music and media.
And after a major turnover in many of the longtime K House board members, a new direction was set by the new board last January in the spiritual philosophy behind the K House ministry. It was a philosophy Dan Mielke could not embrace.
Since then, the Mielkes have continued their mission to the campus under a new name Doxology, which means an expression of praise to God.
"Union (Baptist Church) has confirmed my campus ministry, so we'll go forward in the fall. The address doesn't matter, the mission remains the same," he says.
But what about the name?
"Maybe we'll continue with Doxology. It doesn't really matter what we call it. The agenda is promoting faith in Jesus Christ, not creating doubt about His deity. September will be a fresh start in a new location. Right now, I'm just looking for somebody who can bang on a guitar," he says, with a wry smile directed toward the departing Steve. "But we have a core group of about 15 students who are returning to school dedicated to this ministry. I'm excited," he says.
Actually, at the first gathering this fall, Mielke will let the students figure out what to call the program. It's always been about the students for Mielke. Over the years, and especially in the last six months, Mielke has received hundreds of cards and letters from Eastern graduates refined under his spiritual guidance. Their letters are filled with memories of the K House's "life-changing, God-affirming, Bible-believing ministry." The bonds formed there are eternal.
"Some of them, after their first time at K House, would remark, Wow! I am so home.' Four years later, we watched them graduate. They were trained at K House, met their spouses there, held wedding receptions there," Mielke says.
In the letters he's received, the number one comment has always centered around the statement that many of his students had wanted to attend a Christian college, but were unable to afford it. They write, saying, "You made Eastern a Christian school for me."
It is the greatest tribute they could give Dan Mielke.
"I am so confident and full of joy. I serve at the pleasure of my Master. I have always tried to lead these young adults to be followers of Biblical theology," he says. A responsibility he takes very seriously, and knows he will account for.
"We are responsible for equipping the next generation with a foundation built on the sovereignty of God's truth His Word."
- Mardi Ford
- The Observer