The mission field has bookended Bob and Karen Nordvall’s years of ministry.
In Papua New Guinea, where the Nordvalls started their married life as a missionary couple, Bob Nordvall roamed the mountains and visited villages in the farthest reaches of the country, in places where you could still see the stone axe, he said.
As a Western Christian experiencing Stone Age culture, Nordvall worked out in the bush for five years, always traveling afoot. The couple ground their own cornmeal, raised their own garden, while he worked supporting pastors and evangelists for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea.
Just 26 at the time, he calls their time there “very formative for me, very physically challenging. Everything was hard.” He was at 137 pounds, less than his high school football weight.
“We loved it,” he said. “It was plain fun.”
Halfway through their 10 years there, the couple moved to the main campus at the University of Papua New Guinea at Port Moresby, where Bob Nordvall worked one-on-one with students and did radio ministry.
“People were gracious and beautiful; it was a marvelous experience.”
“It sinks deep into the heart. You forget nothing.”
During those years, both their children were born, and Karen Nordvall was living with what was later diagnosed as post-polio syndrome.
Their children were growing up without their grandparents around, and the Nordvalls had to start considering their children’s education.
One night, about 3 a.m., he woke to hear four bolts being pried off the deadlock. Luckily the couple had a dog which kept at bay seven armed men who were breaking and entering.
“I never slept for 18 months after that,” he said. “It was a very dangerous situation.
“Realities impact our lives.”
Those realities combined to create a sense of timing: “It was a good run,” he said.
Bob Nordvall, born in Langdon, and raised in Roseau, Minn., came back with his family to western North Dakota.
“It felt good, felt right.”
With each decision, he and his wife don’t make a move, he said,
“until we confirm the Lord is leading us.”
As Bob Nordvall is winding down his pastoral duties after 25 years as senior pastor at Charity Lutheran Church in Bismarck, cleaning out files, distributing books, the next phase of ministry has emerged for the couple.
“We’ve lived 25 percent of our ministry internationally,” he said. That time must have sparked a preparedness within him that is leading back to the mission field, he said.
This time it’s Eastern Europe.
The Nordvalls traveled to Estonia and Latvia as part of a 2006 sabbatical. There they taught and spoke at the Tartu Academy of Theology in Tartu, Estonia, and at St. Gregor’s Christian Training Center in Saldus, Latvia.
That, he figures, “was just a vehicle to get me hooked. This is how the Lord works.”
The Nordvalls found themselves deeply moved by the culture.
There was a moment when they knew, “this is what we are to do,” he said.
The couple was in the midst of a crowd taking communion at St. Paul’s Church in Tartu, all greeting each other, praying and embracing. When the couple heard the choir singing in Estonian,
“Puha, Puha, Puha,” — the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” — they looked at each other with tears in their eyes, he said. They knew then that they were going back.
Working with the Eastern European Missions Network — in Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia — is not a big draw for some in the mission field; it’s out of the way, behind the times, Bob Nordvall said.
And there is always government scrutiny and regulations, rules to follow, boundaries to respect, lines not to be crossed.
But there, youth is the future, he said. And he will teach, and preach, meet with pastors and their families, energize and support them, help them form educational networks.
In some places, such as Russia, doors to evangelists are closing. No long-term visas are being issued. That makes it even more important to train local teachers and preachers, he said.
Along with trips to Russia, Ukraine and Estonia, he will travel throughout the Midwest in the coming months, fundraising and talking to congregations about EEMN.
The Nordvalls’ home base will remain in Bismarck. Charity will be supporting them through a mission fund that Bob Nordvall calls “a phenomenal blessing and affirming of our ministry here. He calls the community “an anchoring and welcome, of which we are so
He is confident that he’s been called to do this.
“It’s not about comfort. It’s about doing what you are called to do,” he said. The couple will have to be apart sometimes, since traveling exacerbates her post-polio symptoms. Karen Nordvall will be the administrator and organizer of the mission duo.
“That’s the sacrifice we will make,” he said.
Some have asked him if he is too old to be doing this.
“That’s not an issue for the Lord,” he said. “I’m thankful for the stamina and energy to go with the passion, that I can offer these years at the close of my ministry.”
(Reach reporter Karen Herzog at 250-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org)