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EU Alumni Perspective: Terry Dwelle

Name: Terry Dwelle

Graduation Year: 1971

Major: BS Chemistry

Current Position: President and Founder of the North Dakota Public Health Training Network, Public Health Consultant and Public Health Officer for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

City and State: Medora, North Dakota.

Tell us about your career and what you do now.

I received an MD degree from St. Louis University (1975) and completed a Pediatric Residency (1978) and Pediatric Infectious Disease Fellowship (1983) at Cardinal Glennon Hospital for Children in St. Louis. I received a Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine (1988) at Tulane University and completed a Preventive Medicine Residency (1990) specializing in International Health and Tropical Medicine.

I served as clinical director at the Spirit Lake Indian Health Service clinic (1978-1980), was an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine (1980-1993), an Assemblies of God medical missionary to Central and East Africa (1990-2000), Director of Healthcare Ministries for the Assemblies of God Division of Foreign Missions (1994-1996) and served for 16 ½ years as the North Dakota State Health Officer (2000-2017). I am currently the President of the North Dakota Public Health Training Network and a Public Health Consultant and Public Health Officer for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

What is your favorite memory from Evangel?

My concert band experience.

How did Evangel help you identify/develop your calling?

My concert-band experience at Evangel College influenced my understanding of the word ministry. Every fall and spring break, the concert band completed a weeklong tour to several churches across the United States. We traveled by bus, so we had a lot of time to bond with our band leader, Dr. John Shows, the tour chaperone; the bus driver; and fellow band members.

Our concert program was composed of secular and religious compositions. As we played our sacred songs, including “How Great Thou Art,” I could sense the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through that music and ministering to individuals in the audience. People made decisions for Christ. God used us as musicians, all college students, to introduce people to Jesus. Almost all of us were not religion majors, laymen and laywomen going to school for English, biology, chemistry, math, music education, and business administration, yet God used us in ministry. That was life transforming for me.

Dr. Shows was a spiritual mentor to all of us in the concert band and greatly influenced my spiritual life. The devotions and prayer times on tour emphasized that our music was more than a concert. It was a ministry. Through those concerts I realized that I have a vital role to fill as a layman, a member of the body of Christ. I can’t delegate that responsibility and accountability to others like pastors. They must complete their callings, and I must do the same.

How did your experience at Evangel prepare you for life after graduation?

Even though I was a chemistry major, I lived, ate, and slept baseball and wanted more than anything else to play professionally. During my freshman year in college, I suffered an injury to my right shoulder that ended my baseball aspirations. I was angry with God for taking away that option. One Sunday evening at Central Assembly Church in Springfield, Missouri, everything changed. It was the order of service to encourage people to find a quiet place to pray after the sermon. I was still angry at God, but fortunately, our heavenly Father understands our human situations, emotions, and feelings better than we do. He doesn’t give up on us just because we’re angry and upset, even with Him. He loves us as only a Father can. During that prayer time, I clearly heard a voice say, “I want you in medicine and missions.” It was clearly the Spirit’s voice and message: “Your path is in my hands. Don’t worry; I know what I’m doing. I know what’s best for you.”

I sensed a deep, calm assurance and inner peace that I had not experienced before. That Sunday evening encounter didn’t prevent occasional times of frustration and doubt, yet God continued to reaffirm that call, His call, for me. After several weeks, I finally said, “Okay, God, if you want me in medicine and missions, that’s fine, but now you’ve got to get me into medical school.” No problem. He did. Psalm 119:105 (New American Standard Bible, or NASB) was literally at work in my life: “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.” God knows better than we do what we need and what we need to be, where we need to go, and how best to get there. The challenge for us, as believers, is to have faith and trust in Him. This along with the concert band experience described above helped me mature spiritually and understand the importance of my calling as a medical missionary.

What advice would you give a current student preparing for the workforce?

God led my wife (Diana) and me through several phases of ministry stretching from North Dakota to Africa. One word that describes a core principle of our work is bridging. The verse “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15b NIV) had a profound influence on Diana and me throughout our lives, particularly regarding our missionary calling. That calling is for all of us believers, not just those formally recognized as missionaries from sending organizations or pastors. Another extremely important scripture to me, as a layman, is 1 Corinthians 9:22b (NIV): “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Laymen are particularly gifted to be “all things to all people,” connecting with them through their perceived needs by using a variety of talents and skills, building relationships, and living out their Christian faith before men and women outside the brick and mortar of church buildings and is particularly useful when dealing with people and cultures that have different beliefs and values from our own.

We as laypeople, in whatever work position or phase of life we find ourselves—government workers, administrators, fiscal officers, educators, salespeople, barbers, houseparents, lawyers, doctors, retirees, and so on—are uniquely positioned during our time on earth for bridging ministries. Consider laypeople as frontline workers, lay missionaries, the point of connection between the church and people who have physical, spiritual, economic, and emotional needs every day. Laypeople in churches are called by Christ with the same intensity of calling as pastors. We must see the “fields! They are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35 NIV), and we must sense the urgency of Christ to reach the spiritually lost that we encounter every day to share this incredible good news in word and deed.

The word pastor derives from a Latin noun that means “shepherd” and a verb, pascere, that means “to lead to a pasture,” “to encourage grazing or eating.” As shepherds, pastors are especially gifted by God to care for their flocks, to guide, nurture, feed, and protect the sheep. The shepherd can encourage the sheep to reproduce, but ultimately, for the flock to grow, the sheep must reproduce sheep. That’s us. We as laypeople need to be about the work of producing sheep through our full-time calling as frontline lay missionaries in this world, wherever we find ourselves, creating bridges to reach people for Jesus.

What would you look for if you were in a position to hire new graduates from Evangel?

A well-trained, committed Christian who sees their profession as a frontline ministry to reach the world.