Straw fell from the boy’s overalls as he stood from where he’d been kneeling between two milk cows in stanchions. He said a solemn prayer that dealt a death blow to his 12 year-old self and arose a new man. God was calling a young Joel Egge from holsteins to humans, from a harvest of grain to a harvest of souls.
Joel was tending crops on his parents' farm four years after his milkroom conversion. Dust clouds billowed up from the lonely Buxton road outlining the field he was working. From his vantage point atop the red International H tractor he could see the curvature of the earth and track the progress of a fast moving car that stopped at the far end of his field. Joel finished the row, took the tractor out of gear, and walked to shake hands with the driver of the car, a man who was calling him to attend Hillcrest Academy. Joel’s loam-stained hands traded the tractor’s wheel for an armload of books, exchanging the planting of earthbound seeds for seeds of eternal fruit.
"Unless a seed of wheat dies," Joel started, stopping to gaze out the second story window of the President's office at Hillcrest. “The harvest can’t come.” Joel’s recollection of his boyhood commitment to Christ lends a soft cadence to his speech. The stones the Lord used to bury Joel’s childish dreams of fire engines and airplanes are now the foundational pillars marking a lifetime of leading organizations of eternal significance. Now, as he shifts to remember his time at Hillcrest, he chooses his words thoughtfully.
Martin Holoien stood out as someone who could explain complex concepts, recalled Joel who first met Mr. Holoien as a sophomore at HLA. Prayer times and dorm prayer meetings led Joel to significant spiritual formation. Quiet hours before bed drew him to deep reflection. But one story lingers slightly longer in Joel’s mind as he looks back.
“In 12th grade we took an aptitude test,” a little smirk flitted across Joel’s face as a rush of old emotion seemed to distract him for a moment. “When we got the results back, and I looked at the score sheet, I was pleased with myself.” Joel’s hands shook a bit with emphasis as he held aloft an imaginary paper. “J.H. Levang was interpreting the test for us, each in individual interviews. When I came in he said, ‘Well Joel, you have a lot of maturing to do.”
A chuckle escaped from Joel at the recollection of this summary. Hillcrest’s Interim President laughed at the teenage version of himself and the awakening that took place in President Levang’s office that day. “He said, ‘This profile should have highs and lows...you have a curiosity in almost everything.’” The poignant moment was humbling for Joel. It started him on a path of focus. He took a year at the Bible School to continue his maturation. The extra time at Hillcrest fortified a love for the school and his calling to ministry.
Following Joel’s undergraduate studies, he attended the Lutheran Brethren Seminary. His training propelled him into the pastorate, where he learned lessons of faithfulness and what it means to serve others.
“Pastoral work is sort of like doing farm work. Doing the repetitive things. Picking eggs every day. Milking cows everyday.” Joel combined his past experiences with insight he gleaned from studying the work of Eugene Peterson. "Reverend Peterson told about having a list of things to do, that he was impatient to finish, in order to get to the 'real pastoral work.' As he was throwing his list in the basket it dawned on him: 'Hey, this is my work.'" Joel gained perspective as he grew in what God was calling him to do. He started to focus on blooming where he was planted.
When Joel was serving a church in California he met a man whose Sunday school class was larger than the fellowship Joel pastored. Joel felt he was wasting kingdom resources at his small church. In a Bible study with the pastor of a large congregation Joel confessed his feelings. The friend responded, "Joel, your congregation will reach people that we will never touch." Joel’s demeanor grew confident as he entoned. “I was called to do routine things and serve a church of 105 people.”
This attitude greatly shaped Joel’s outlook for Hillcrest. In his first weeks as Interim President Joel was impressed at how the staff continues to faithfully carry on the ministry of the school. “There is something eternal going on here that’s better than boasting 400 students,” he stated, speaking to the idea that Hillcrest would be better if it were larger. “We have this ministry because of God’s mercy.”
Joel closed by sharing his vision of Hillcrest. “If I said, 'we have this ministry because of heritage.' Gone. Tradition? Gone.” Joel notes significant changes in the school. An increase in international students, increases in domestic students outside of the Lutheran Brethren church, and a decrease in the traditional east coast and west coast stream of students present a changing face of Hillcrest after 100 years of ministry. But, Joel notes there is a distinct future for Hillcrest that is fulfilling God's design. He is starting to see a different future for God’s work at Hillcrest. “I don’t think we can imagine the harvest...the seed doesn’t know that the gardener sees and has an expectation of the harvest. There has been a harvest, but the coming one may be larger.”