7 Month Walk of Faith
Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018 began like most Sundays for Charles Schaal, pastor of the First Congregational Church in Dodge Center.
He was at the golf course in Dodge Center where he generally went for breakfast before heading to the church to conduct services. It was there he began to feel the effects of the stroke, which continued to become more pronounced as he led the morning worship.
By Sunday afternoon he was in the emergency room at the Cannon Falls hospital. By Wednesday, he was in St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester where it took three cat scans and two MRIs to pinpoint the source of his problem – a blood clot the size of a pinhead.
At that point on Wednesday he was unable to walk or perform the most basic life tasks, Schaal said. And it was just the beginning of what he describes as his “Seven Month Walk of Faith.”
During this Thanksgiving season, Schaal definitely has much to be thankful for despite the life-changing medical setback. Most of all, he’s been given a second chance at leading a somewhat normal life again and continuing to serve God.
Schaal was born and raised in Texas, he said, and has been in church ministry since 1967, his senior year in high school. During this time he also met Viki, the woman who would become his wife.
He was in music ministry for many of those years also attending Houston Baptist University.
In 1980, he felt the call to pastoral ministry and accepted a call to a Baptist church in Missouri. While there he also completed his education at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
After 25 years of marriage, Viki got her nursing degree, he said. When she got her degree they had decided that they would do whatever she needed to do for her career. And so, in 2001, she became a cardiac nurse at Mayo, and they moved to Rochester.
When they arrived in southern Minnesota, Schaal said, he found there were not a lot of southern Baptist churches.
He began working with people involved with horses and cattle and served as a chaplain at horse shows and rodeos.
“This was something I enjoyed,” he said. But he still needed a job so he worked as an insurance adjuster.
“I had a desire to be a little more involved,” Schaal said. Believing the Lord was leading him in that direction, when the Dodge Center Congregational Church approached him because they needed a pastor he accepted. He has been pastor at First Congregational since August 2015.
Because of his medical condition after the stroke his medical team decided to move him to the Inpatient Brain Service at St. Mary’s Hospital.
At his first meeting with the rehab team at St. Mary’s, he said, there were 8-10 medical people in a semi-circle around him asking what his goals were.
He said he knew about the 5K in Kasson each summer and he just believed he could be there.
“I will participate in the 5K, I may not run it all, but I will complete it,” was his answer.
The next question from the medics was what made me think I could do it, he said.
The answer for Schaal would be faith.
“This is real world ‘waiting for God’,” he said. Scripture is real, he said, not theoretical. He believed God would see him through to his goal but that did not mean just laying around waiting for God to act.
Rehab, he said, was work, hard work.
“It was not easy,” he said. “I remember the first time I went for a walk. I went half a block and my wife had to go get the car and get me. I was exhausted.”
His rehabilitation was a race, he said, and he believed there was, as Scripture says, “a cloud of witnesses,” people watching him in the race. These witnesses, he said, were not those in heaven but his wife, his family, his church.
He continued to work toward the goal, he said, and when the day of the race came people didn’t believe he would finish.
He knew he would not win the race, in fact he knew he would not even run the race. His goal was to finish the race.
In the end, it took him 1:04:21 to complete the 5K.
When he got four blocks away from the finish line, race officials were putting away the equipment. His granddaughter saw what they were doing and ran to tell them there was one runner still coming. By the time he reached the finish line, the officials had set everything back up and were waiting for him.
“I walked, I didn’t start running until the last 75 yards,” he said. He finished with his son-in-law running with him.
“My witnesses saw it,” he said. “Only my family really knew the story.”
Ministering to those in rodeos and the horse world became important to Schaal during those first years in Minnesota and the church in Dodge Center understood that.
“They said they would sponsor a cowboy church,” Schaal said.
Every cowboy church is different, he said, but many of those involved are musicians.
“Our cowboy church is set up as if a campfire,” he said. There is no liturgy, no call to worship, no bulletins, he said.
The musicians are there and everyone takes a turn at the music just like you would do at a campfire.
At some point, Schaal said, he shares a few words with those attending, often telling the audience he has had a phone conversation with a cowboy named Rowdy Thompson talking about the things that happen in life.
The whole idea, he said, is to provide a vehicle to discuss that living life as a Christian is the real thing, dealing with real live issues. By telling Rowdy’s stories, Schaal said, he hopes his listeners can relate to his message.
Schaal carried that practical Christianity to his recovery from the stroke.
“When the Bible says ‘my hope is in the Lord’ there is no opportunity for failure,” he said. However, he is careful not to imply when telling his story that his recovery came about because he has a stronger faith than a person who may not see the same healing.
“My faith is not greater than others,” he said. “Everyone’s situation is different and there are things each of us do to explore and develop a relationship with God.”
The important thing, he said, is not that something happens but how one responds and learns how to live through the issue.
When he crossed the finish line in the 5K race just seven months after his stroke, Schaal knew he had to set a new goal.
For this year, he said, his two goals were to play golf this spring and walk nine holes. By fall, his second goal was to walk 18 holes of golf. Walking a golf course, he pointed out, is different than walking inside or on a sidewalk.
Now, he says, he is able to do 18 holes three days a week, although he admits what he can do does not come without challenges.
“Again, I’m waiting on the Lord but working,” he said.
He continues to work on his rehabilitation and he is careful about his diet, which is also resulting in improvements to his diabetes. Some days are better than others. “I don’t have good balance,” he said.
And, he has a new goal for the next year. He wants to run the Kasson 5K next summer.
“Maybe not like others run,” he said, but still run and not walk.