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The accidental church planter

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Never, ever, did Willard Hasmatali even think about planting a church. He was excited about operating a prayer and retreat centre at Diefenbaker Lake, about an hour’s drive northeast of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan – but a church? Not on the radar!

Willard and his wife Sheryl bought a cottage and land in Riverhurst with the intention to make it a prayer and retreat centre. Friends joined in. There were prayer walks, prayer for what God would do in an old United Church building, and prayer for the people of Riverhurst. Then came prayer for action, and they saw a rapid answer in April 2010. Sheryl spotted an ad seeking bids on the church. They succeeded – and got the building and an adjacent lot – for $20,000!

It was only then that Willard realized a new church could grow in the old church building. Willard believed it was God’s will to make it a church, even if only one person were to come at the start. He was reminded of the mustard seed, and of Zechariah 4:10: “Do not despise these small beginnings” (NLT). “I’m a strategic planner for social services,” says Willard, whose pastoral ministry is in addition to full-time work for the government, “but the only strategic planning we did here was obey.”

There has been evidence of God’s blessing ever since. In July 2011, the church celebrated its first anniversary.

Pastoral and preaching duties are shared between Willard, bivocational co-pastor Doug Rempel (both of Prairie Winds Church, Moose Jaw), and Duane Sims, a pastor who God just seemed to put in their path. Every Sunday, after service, they feed lunch to those who come.

The church watches and celebrates as God heals, blesses, encourages, and touches many. This summer, three people – one a brand-new believer – were baptized. Recently, a woman visiting for the first time entered the building, sensed God’s presence, and accepted Jesus, “and I didn’t even know it,” says Willard. One year in, average attendance is not just one person, but 20–30 – in a town of about 100 people!

We follow the apostles’ doctrine as they did in the book of Acts, says Willard. “We pray lots, we eat lots, we preach lots, and we worship lots.” He gives the glory to God.

He also pays tribute to two significant Saskatchewan conference leaders for their help – Ralph Gliege, “who was so encouraging, like a Barnabas,” and Dwayne Barkman. “I can’t say enough about those two.”

Given that he never intended to do this, does Willard consider himself a church planter? “Oh, definitely! And so are Doug and Duane. The three of us are accidental church planters.” And he adds, “But the Lord is just so good!”

—Barrie McMaster

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