Portrait: Rev. James Sawtelle

I was born September 24, 1964, in Craig, Colorado. My parents are the Reverend Gene and Sharon Sawtelle. I am the third of six children. At the time of my birth, my father was a Baptist minister serving a small country church in Craig. Shortly after that my family moved to Anderson, California, and, apart from a brief sojourn in Boise, Idaho, Anderson was my home town. 

Anderson is located so far north in the state that we thought of San Francisco as southern California. I was raised in the faith all my life and the Reformed faith since the age of four. Faith Reformed Church was my home congregation. I remember my baptism. When my father became convinced of the covenant of grace, he and my mother presented me, my two brothers and my sister (all of their children at the time) and Rev. C. W. Powell, the pastor of my youth, baptized us.

I was educated from kindergarten through grade twelve in North State Christian Schools, a Reformed Christian school run by members of Faith Reformed Church. My home, my church and my school were used by God for my spiritual discipleship and formation. To this day I thank God for the spiritual foundation each one has contributed to my faith and outlook on life.

Looking back on it, I had a great childhood. We lived on a little “Okie farm” on the outskirts of town. We raised chickens, hogs, cows and children on that acreage, as well as more than our share of ruckus. We hunted and fished in the nearby mountains, had plenty of brothers and sisters as playmates and tormentors, and played sports. We were a bit rough, but we had a hoot of a time, generally. Our parents, pastor, and teachers all had a hand in teaching us the faith, and when we strayed, they lovingly held our feet to the fire with godly discipline. Who could ask for more?

Upon high school graduation, having no aspirations whatsoever to go on to higher education, I moved to Eastern Colorado and labored as herdsman for ranchers and farmers on the high plains for a period of over five years. I was mostly involved with the care and raising of stock cows. I wanted to do that for life, but the Lord had other plans for me. I still miss that life sometimes, especially in the spring and fall.

I was a member of Blue Cliff Community RCUS during those years. During much of that time, my uncle, the late Rev. Dorman Savage, and Aunt Kay graciously allowed me to live in their home. Under the ministry and fellowship of the church there, as well as the lively interaction with the Savage family, and the challenges of hard work, the Lord brought me to a further stability and maturity in the faith. Those were years marked by rich, sweet fellowship and the Lord’s fruitful blessing to me.

It was the elders of the Blue Cliff church that one day met with me and told me they thought I should pursue the ministry. I had been struggling with the notion that the Lord might be calling me to the ministry for some time. I really fought it. The elders were aware of some thoughts I had regarding the pursuit of the ministry, and that I was extremely indecisive about such a pursuit. They urged me to pursue seminary studies for pastoral ministry. It turns out their urging was exactly what I needed. It gave me a great relief and comfort to know that these men, on the basis of close observation after a number of years of participation in the life of the church, thought my vocational calling might lie in the area of pastoral ministry. The support and exhortation of these men and my parents was a great help to me in the long years of college and seminary that followed.

My undergraduate studies began in two colleges in Colorado, but I ultimately received my undergraduate degree in English from Dordt College. While at Dordt, I met and eventually married my wife and wonderful companion, Thelma Tuininga. Thelma is a daughter of the Rev. Jelle and Mrs. Henrietta Tuininga. She grew up in Canada, and was a life-long member a Reformed church. We are still trying to convince her of the superiority of the United States, but she is a tough sell on that issue. Thelma’s thorough acquaintance with life in the ministry due to her upbringing has been an immeasurable help to me in my work.

We have been blessed with four children, Joseph (married to the lovely Kayla Stuebbe), Leah, Nathan and Stephan. In the coming year, the Lord willing Thelma and I will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

I spent three life-transforming years at Mid America Reformed Seminary. The professors there steeped me and my class mates in the historic Christian and Reformed faith and doctrine. They were also excellent role models in their own lives of faithful pastoral wisdom and care.

After graduation from seminary, I was called to Trinity Reformed Church of Sioux Falls, SD, which was a mission work at the time. Upon sustaining licensure and ordination exams over the next number of months, I was ordained and installed as the church’s pastor on May 15, 1994. I served Trinity for five years and ten months. These years were an amazing and enriching time for me and my family. The church lovingly and patiently encouraged this rookie pastor as I began learning the work of the ministry. It was with many tears that my family and I left Trinity to accept the call to a new mission work in Minneapolis, MN.

The mission work in Minneapolis eventually became Redeemer Reformed Church. In the Lord’s providence it has been my privilege to continue serving the wonderful saints at Redeemer to the present.
It has been the great blessing of my life to be nurtured in the faith under the ministry of the RCUS. I am grateful to be able to serve God and His people and labor with you in the fellowship of the gospel.Sawtelle Pic

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