By TR Robertson
A lifetime of ministry together has given Dennis and Linda Messimer a rhythm of talking—they often finish each other’s sentences—and a rhythm of serving God together.
“Dennis would teach Bible studies and I would teach the kids,” Linda says, describing the arrangement they’ve followed hundreds of times, on three continents.
“. . . But once kids came along,” Dennis adds, “Linda wasn’t as involved in the ministry work as she had been earlier.”
Since the kids have grown, Linda says, “I’ve done Bible studies with women and he did Bible studies with men. We support each other in that. I don’t complain about the time that he’s busy and away from me, and he doesn’t complain about the time that I’m busy and away from him.”
Their shared devotion to meeting the needs of whomever God puts in their path has driven their approach to parenting, to prayer, and to the way they live their daily lives.
“We’ve done a lot of praying together over the years because we’ve had to,” she says, “but we don’t set a regular time. We’re more likely to grab each other and say, ‘Hey, we need to pray about this.’”
“We’re kind of different than most people,” she adds.
Ministering as a Family
The Messimers have been partnering together in ministry for more than 50 years, ever since they married in the summer of 1967.
They ministered together in a rural Missouri congregation during their first years together. In 1970 they moved to Belgium where they helped start two churches. In 1988 they began working together in South Africa, training local preachers. During one furlough in the States, Dennis taught missions at Central Christian College of the Bible. Since 2011, they’ve been serving with the Mizzou Christian Campus House by ministering to international students.
They also raised four children during their years in Belgium and South Africa.
“We felt very blessed that we had four God-fearing children,” Dennis says. “The thing is, we know other people that were probably better parents than we were that didn’t have the results we did.”
“There’s always uncertainties about the big things in life,” says Linda, “including raising children in another country. But we felt like it was the Lord’s will for us to be there, and it was an adventure. I don’t think we thought a lot about the impact it could have on the children. We just did it. There are advantages and disadvantages to it. We learned lessons the hard way.”
Even as their family grew, Linda followed along in whatever her husband was doing, often bringing the children with her.
“We did everything together,” she says. “The kids were part of our ministry. They were loved by the people we were giving Bible studies to and witnessing to.”
Their children grew up in an atmosphere of service, so it’s not surprising that all four have pursued their own adventures in ministry.
Helping People Who Need Help
“I [worked with] kids for a lot of years,” says Linda. “But once in a while, the Lord would just put someone in my life that he wanted me to care for.”
Meeting the needs of the people God brought their way turned out to be the core of the Messimers’ lifelong partnership in ministry.
Three years into their marriage, Dennis and Linda began an 18-year ministry in Belgium.
“Our first apartment there was a little bit rundown,” Dennis remembers. “For the price, it was about the best we could find. It was three bedrooms and had a very large living room and a kitchen and a bath. But we had no furniture. Nothing.”
They heard about some missionaries who were leaving Germany and couldn’t take their furniture with them. So Dennis and a friend drove there.
“We stacked that Peugeot high with beds, a washing machine, a kitchen table, and I don’t remember what all,” he says. “We got back at three in the morning.”
They found a note on the front door: “All the bedrooms are full. We’re sleeping in the living room.”
“I went in and found Linda in the living room. There was also someone sleeping in the kitchen. A group was passing through, plus a lady with three sons. I think there were 14 people altogether.”
“At the time I was cooking on a two-burner camping stove,” Linda says. “That’s all we had. One of the things I felt most strongly about was just helping people who needed help. Just opening our home for a week or two weeks or two months or a year, which we do now as well. Helping [people] with their faith, helping them with their problems, their marriage, whatever.”
During their time in Belgium, they had people over for meals nearly every Sunday.
“It got to be too hard,” she remembers, “I said, ‘we just can’t do this anymore,’ so we stopped. But after two or three months, I said, ‘we can’t do this anymore either.’ We have to have them over. I have to change my way of doing things.”
A large garden in their backyard made things easier.
“After church, friends from the church would come and pick vegetables out of our garden and get them ready to cook,” she explains, “while I prepared the meat and other simple things. Instead of me having to do it all, we picked, cleaned, cut, and cooked together. They loved helping out.”
For the Messimers, hospitality has always been more than just having people over for meals.
“Hospitality is about having people in your home who need to be close to you for a while, to work through a problem or grow through their faith,” Linda says, “and that has to be done together.”
These days the Messimers have slowed their pace, but even now their home often is filled with college students from other countries.
Commiting to God Together
Asked what advice they’d give to young couples beginning their partnership in ministry, Dennis says, “We’ve always asked ourselves, ‘Are we doing things that would not be done if we weren’t doing it? And how can we help others to take our place?’”
Linda adds, “We didn’t do it all right, but we did it. First of all, it has to be your individual commitment to God, then your individual commitment to God as a couple, and your commitment to each other. When you have that right, you’re going to work through whatever difficulties you face in the mission field. It’s going to be fine.”
For the Messimers, it continues to be fine as they head into the sixth decade of their adventure together.
TR Robertson is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Missouri.