By Rev. Cheryl Lynn Khyllep, Co-Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Britton
Bala and I had been looking for a church to serve together for close to a year when we got an email from Susan Wismer. I will never forget the title, “PNC’s, CIF’s, PIF’s, MIF’s, and this isn’t junk mail, and you already know it! Scary!” Indeed it caught my eye. And in it Susan asked if we would ever consider serving a church in rural northeast South Dakota. I replied, “I would absolutely be willing to move to South Dakota!” and that is the sentence that changed my life.
Sadly, Bala and I are leaving our home for the past four years in Britton, South Dakota. It isn’t something we planned. Bala was offered his dream call at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary working as the Associate Director of their World Mission Initiative. Leaving Britton is one of the hardest things Bala and I will ever have to do.
I am not saying it was all easy, but the Britton church feels like family and this small town feels like home. Well, lets start with the weather—that certainly wasn’t easy. But the first couple of winters felt like a fun novelty, “Hey honey look at the thermometer. It is -40! Isn’t that exciting.” But we learned eventually surviving the winters here takes a hardiness and patience we admire.
We also struggled in the church when change didn’t come easy and was hard fought. Indeed, we came to Britton as freshly minted, hotheaded seminarians who thought we had all the answers. But, the thing was Britton wasn’t ready for us to “solve” all their problems. So over the years we became more humble, and realized our job isn’t to “fix” but to serve—to meet people where they are. I fear we have a lot more learning to do in this department but I am grateful for Britton’s patience.
As most of you know, South Dakotans are not known for being “over-sharers.” On the contrary they are often times a people of few words. One of our hard struggles as outsiders was getting people to open up about faith and feelings. Too often when Bala and I desired deep conversations about God’s work in our lives we were met by awkward silence. Yet, we learned over the years, while most people might not say, “I love you” or “you are appreciated” they show their love in different ways. It might be a lawn mowed or a driveway plowed. Or it might mean donuts, a pick-up load of sweet corn, or a box full of ground beef. While the people we served might not have spoken our love language, they were indeed speaking - we just needed to listen.
As we leave we have been hearing a funny comment. Many people have said to us, “You two were too good for us anyway. We knew you would leave us.” While that is flattering in some ways, it also breaks our hearts, because South Dakota deserves excellent pastors, too! There are faithful people of God in South Dakota that need someone to teach, guide, and to show God’s loving care. You all deserve nothing less. Now those pastors might look different than you are used to, like a young man from India and a woman from Ohio sharing one position, which we hope you will be open to considering again in the future. Serving the people of Britton, South Dakota has been one of the greatest honors of our lives and we pray and put our hope in God that God will continue to raise up competent, educated, and loving pastors to serve the people of South Dakota.
Congregants are excited for our new banners that was hung in our front entrance that were blessed during our ‘Let’s Be Neighbors’ Sunday, on September 10th, 2017.