Trump – For Better or Worse

After a couple days of letting the election of Donald Trump soak in, here are a few of my thoughts (though there are many more.)

I am no political prophet of today or the future, but I do think seriously concerning the issues before us as a nation and as Christians. When I was a kid I delivered two (and sometimes three) different newspapers every day – but only after I had read them. And as I delivered them I listened to news programs on my little battery radio. Today I actually buy the local newspaper and read it every day – as well, I feed my news junkie status by surveying all varieties of news outlets on the web – from every political viewpoint. I consider it part of my pastoral call to understand the world and to be able to apply the wisdom and promises of scripture to the lives of my congregation. Not that I imagine anyone thinks much of it. We all have our “opinions” and long gone are the days when anyone considered a pastor’s voice anything more than one more in the wilderness.

So… for whatever infinitesimally small importance it is, here is my voice in the wilderness:

  1. The campaign and election of Mr. Trump has accentuated and defined the growing cultural, educational, and economic divisions in our nation. Looking at the electoral maps you have to ask “Why ARE the cities blue and the rural counties red? Why DID the establishment vote for Clinton and the dis-enfranchised working class vote Trump? Why DID most LCMS pastors vote Trump? Trump had “tremendous success” in tapping into our nation’s divisions and giving voice to many who felt they needed a champion. Obviously it is a good thing that all people have a voice… but it is tragic when the cacophony is so loud and obnoxious that we can’t hear or listen to each other.
  2. It is so ironic that this fabulously rich “insider” businessman, would be able to become the champion of the disenfranchised! (It is also mind blowing that the man that demonstrated a life almost thoroughly without reference to the Christian faith became the champion of so many Christians.) Why couldn’t any of the other dozen Republicans running for the nomination succeed in that better than Trump? Isn’t the Democratic Party supposed to be the champion of the disenfranchised? Perhaps it was a trick in the unconscious psyche of those left outside? “If I vote for Trump maybe he will make me successful too.” Everyone wants to be on the “inside”, don’t they? Now the question will be if President Trump will be able to fulfill his promises to those who voted for him.
  3. Key to Trump’s triumph was most certainly his ability to tap into the fears of a nation that is facing incredible demographic change. One thing is common to all human societies in general throughout history: We love to be homogenous and we distrust people who are different from us. No matter what we try to convince ourselves of here in America, our ideal of the melting pot really doesn’t work very well. The attractiveness of our ideals do not end well when the muslim refugee from Syria moves in next door to us. What are we to think about this as Christians? Even Christians are conflicted. We are all damnable sinners as we consider what it means to actually love our neighbor. There are no easy answers as loving our neighbors often brings trouble.

The choices in this election were not good. Neither candidate was worthy of the office of Presidency of the United States (that is why I wrote in a third party candidate). I truly believe that in reality, our leaders are a reflection of our nation as a whole. God only gives us the leaders that we deserve, and I see this whole election as God’s judgement on us. It is today as it was in the Old Testament when the people of Israel wanted a king to rule them. God warned His people what an earthly king would do to them, that a king would rule unjustly and subject them. They insisted anyway – and God finally gave them what they wanted. In this nation we do not have righteous leaders because we are not a righteous nation.

But now, dealing in the reality of that judgement, having elected Mr. Trump, I do believe all Americans need to support him as the President Elect and graciously give him a chance to lead. As President Obama stated, Trump’s success as President means the good success of this nation. Even he shook hands with Trump as they met in the White House and began the treasured tradition in this nation of an orderly change of government. As Christians we can be hopeful that good things might come from this election. We are to be hopeful people because we know that we have an amazing God who can make good come out of bad. Can we be hopeful that the efforts of President Trump would undergird and support our Christian values as basic to the moral fabric of this nation? Yes we can – in spite of his (and our own) failure to demonstrate those values in his (and our) own life. May it only be that in winning any battle we don’t lose the war.

Even as I truly do hope for the best and desire to support a President Trump, I am doubtful of his success. The character flaws that this President Elect owns opens the way to exceedingly dangerous situations – for our country and the world. Someone said to me that they hoped that the office of the presidency would make him a better man. It could be. I earnestly pray for it. But in Mr. Trump’s case, I am fearful that the position of power will make him a worse man, not better. I hope and pray that my judgement of his character is wrong.

I think there is one promise about the next four years that is sure: For better or worse, this nation is in for a wild ride. We asked for it. We got it. We had better be up for it. I am just praying that the Lord God would provide a cushion of saving grace at the end if Trump’s victory train ends up derailed.


The Pope Crashes the Reformation Party!

The major newspapers are picking up on the visitation of the Pope in Sweden, Oct. 31, 2016, as the Lutheran World Federation observed Reformation Day.  He joined the Lutherans in a special prayer service.  It was certainly quite the gesture by the Pope to take a day that has historically highlighted division in the church, and help change it into one which would move us toward healing and unity. “Such a refreshing thing to see!” we all want to say. Most certainly we all must believe and strive for Christian unity, as our disagreement and our division is sinful and stains the Gospel.

However, as much as it should be the goal of every Christian and Christian church to be united in our teaching and doctrine, there is reality we must contend with. Because of our sin, we find that we live in what might be seen as a variety of theological and sociological realities. True healing between Lutherans and Catholics is literally inconceivable (here on this earth.) The only way that there can be true unity is if Lutherans and/or Catholics renounce their teachings and doctrines… The Catholic Pope and Martin Luther knew that way back in days of the Reformation almost 500 years ago. Unfortunately it is still the same today.

There are those today who have hope that if we talk around the table long enough we can carefully craft a set of words that will somehow cover over the sins of division, as if the differences we have are not of substance, but only the result of misunderstanding and history. The ecumenical movement of today that attempts to bring churches together hinges not on coming to a consensus of Truth, but instead works to ignore or water down the teachings of scripture, counting truth as less important than “unity.” They will say “We agree on more things than we disagree, so lets just call us a happy family.” Sometimes that is good to do in our lives of of many varied opinions and values, but is that permissible when we deal in the currency of truth and the confession of faith?

Members of our churches should note that, although the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod regularly participates in theological dialogues with other church bodies, we do not consider Biblical Truth to be a price to pay for outward unity in the church. I know that most people caught up in their harried lives have little patience with what is viewed as silly arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I understand that. However… the reason for this well meaning impatience is that many people also have only a very basic understanding of Christian doctrine, and even less of an understanding of the scripture and the issues that confront the church.

It is true that there is no perfect church, and the LCMS does not pretend to espouse a perfect understanding of Scripture. We will all be surprised when we get to heaven at what we got wrong or misunderstood here on earth. We must be humble about these things. But I do pray that I GET to heaven to be surprised. If we follow the delusion of the world and decide that truth does not matter, the very real danger is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ will become so corrupted and diluted that it will not retain its power to save. The Gospel saves because it is True, and it must not be compromised.

Praise God that despite our outward disunity, Christians of every denomination can still express the very profound and mysterious unity of faith that extends back to Adam and Eve and forward to the end of time and heaven above. This unity comes from the work of the Holy Spirit beginning in Baptism.  Ultimately there is only ONE true (invisible) church: the the church in heaven and on earth whose Savior and Head is Jesus Christ. Someday we will be blessed to know it truly without our sin weighing it down and corrupting it. Praise God.


Baton Rouge Disaster Relief

The following is what I wrote for the Eastern District LCMS in regard to our Disaster Relief trip (which we are still in transit back from at the time of this posting…)


Jesus teaches us in the parable of the Good Samaritan that loving God by loving our neighbor as ourselves is the privilege of each child of His. That love is shown in so many ways by Christians in their every day lives (in our families and to next door neighbors, etc.) But there are times when the body of Christ is hurting in extraordinary ways in distant places, giving the church at large ample opportunity to work together to bring the mercy of God to so many in need. Even in the New Testament church, God’s people sent money and representatives to far off destinations when people needed relief from their difficult circumstances. (1 Corinthians 16)

It is a great privilege for Christians even today to extend acts of love across great distances to those who are in desperate need of the grace and comfort of the Lord. The recent floods in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which damaged over 40% of the region’s homes (over 140,000 of them), gave Christians in the Eastern District, LCMS, opportunity once again to bless those in need. Eastern District Disaster Relief swung into action with the call of Rev. Benjamin Bahr (Grace Lutheran, Niagara Falls, NY). Rev. Bahr was formerly a pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Baton Rouge, a congregation now in the epicenter of the disaster.

Rev. Bahr was in contact with his former congregation leaders and members – and they pleaded “Come Now!” to help. An email blast was put out for volunteers and within 30 hours a wonderful team of six individuals from Grace (Niagara Falls, NY), and Peace Lutheran (Scranton, PA) was put together. Rev. Kristian Bjornstad, Eastern District Disaster Relief Coordinator, left early in the morning from Scranton, PA, August 17, 2016 with two of his congregation members: Susan Crosbie, a registered nurse, and (his father) Carsten Bjornstad. At the same time Rev. Bahr started out from Niagara Falls with Karen Kumm and her son Derrik Mahoney. They met in Akron, Ohio, all piling into the bigger van with the Eastern District disaster relief trailer in tow. They pushed on through the night to get to Baton Rouge by about noon the next day. They arrived to get their first work assignment that they tackled that same afternoon.

Over the next several days they were able to touch the lives of at least six families. They heard the accounts of their flooding experiences, sharing hugs and bolstered the difficult tasks of throwing much of each family’s material belongings out on the curb and gutting their houses bare. Beautiful Christian fellowship was had with many other volunteers from Texas and New Orleans – and even from as far away as Germany! At each place they worked they prayed with the survivor families and shared the Love of Christ with them. It was meaningful beyond words – both for the survivors of the flood, and for the team.

Derrik, being the youngest of the team (20 years old) was very glad to be part of the team. He learned that even if you are just one person or part of a small team, you can still make a very big difference in the lives of others. He also learned first hand that the material belongings that we have one day might be taken away tomorrow.

Pastor Bahr was so blessed to see how God’s hand and presence is evidenced most powerfully not so much in the wrath of the flood itself, but in the the mercy and grace that comes in the days after.

Karen (a Hurricane Katrina disaster relief veteran) says that she will be back again and wants so much to encourage others to take part in future disaster relief opportunities.

Susan valued how even though the team came down to a community that they didn’t know – they were immediately accepted and known as brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the same family of Christ.

Carsten (first time on a relief team at 78 years of age) was so appreciative of the amazing teamwork that was demonstrated among everyone involved with the relief effort – but especially within the Eastern District Relief team. He was also struck by the endurance of love (1 Cor. 13) that was demonstrated not only in the team’s work, but in the lives of the flood survivors.

In many ways the team left just as work was actually being ramped up. The Eastern District Relief team was one of the first on the scene, but when the team left Monday night, more and more volunteers were streaming in and being put to work. But the reality is that the easy, non-skilled relief work is finishing up for more and more of the survivors. In the near future the harder part will begin: the survivors will have to start rebuilding their homes and lives. The real need for the support of the church at large will continue on into the months and years ahead as the shock and horror of the fast moving waters of the last couple weeks fades in the face of so many more grinding hurdles of life post-flood. May God bless and keep us all close to His heart as we pray and support all those in need – those in Baton Rouge and beyond!

Submitted on behalf of the team,

Rev. Kristian Bjornstad

Team arrives and unloads at Trinity Lutheran Church in Baton Rouge, LA

Team members with Lain Ardoin, homeowner of the first house we were assigned work.

Horrific sight outside the second house we worked on.

Inside scene of the kitchen after gutting.

Lutheran Church Charities Comfort dogs in full force by Sunday.

Pastor Bahr talking with a child he baptized years ago. It was a blessing that he knew so many people.
Pastor Bahr was invited to preach to the congregation on Sunday morning.

The team with the Donald family after a day of work at their house.

Lots of hugs all around.

Most of the nights the team stayed at Trinity Lutheran Church in one of the school classrooms. But on the last night, because school was starting up again, we were blessed to be hosted in the home of Allen. Most other volunteers were hosted by members of Trinity.

It is important to know that the relief operations were contributed to by so MANY people and Lutheran institutions…. Here disaster cleanup pails filled with cleaning supplies were being unloaded (all 288 of them) along with dozens of hand made quilts and bags of towels – all donated from a small church in Texas. The drivers were so thrilled to tell us how this delivery put them over 1400 pails given out THIS YEAR alone – and it is only August!

Boycotting the Olympic Games

The opening ceremonies were held last night for this summer’s games – and according to the newspaper this morning they were all about world peace and saving trees. So do I laugh hysterically or heave my breakfast? Maybe both.  My attitude toward the Olympic Games has never been good. And it isn’t getting any better as I move into my crotchety old age.

Watching the olympics when we lived in Canada was grinding. For Canada, a smallish country battling self- image problems, winning at the games was what verified the fact that the country actually existed – and mattered – to at least someone. CBC TV would run the bios of Canadian athletes and you would swear that they were gods sent from heaven. These Canadian athletes were perfect in every way. If ONLY we would all be like them, right?

Here in the US, it isn’t quite so bad that way. We already know how important and impressive we are so we don’t need to prove it. We all know everyone else is on some doping program anyway, right???

The whole institution is such an empty farce. Impoverishing their host countries in the mad dash for glory. Imagining excuses for the games like “good will” and “peace” and “conservation” is just utter corruption.

Why can’t we just have some honest games? Why can’t we just play some games sans the nation building, hubris, and international politics? How come we can’t just be astonished and praise God when an athlete accomplishes marvelous feats of physical prowess – no matter the place he was born? How come he runs “for” his nation? How come he has to wave a flag?

The reason is that we are ungodly. We have all swallowed the lie that our world can find salvation in events like the olympics. We believe we can find within ourselves as human beings the strength and skill to overcome war and all our ills in the same way we can jump higher hurdles. I find it SO ironic that what we really find, if we take off the blinders, is that the games that are supposed to save us – end up demonstrating the worst of us.

I know. I know. I am just a sour pus and I should just put the blinders on and join the couch party.

Nah… I think I will just skip it. There are way more fun things to do. Anyone want to play some volleyball?  If you race me on my sailboat you will be sure to win!!

Owning a Bittersweet and Divided Heart

It had been 15 years since I had set foot at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Nipigon, ON.  It was the first congregation I served, having been ordained and installed there July 3, 1994.  For many years we had tried to fit a visit to Nipigon inside our family vacation to Minnesota, but the 8 – 9 hour drive up the shore of Lake Superior was just never friendly to our schedule.  Finally this year there was an opening for my daughter Hannah and I to make the trip.  Hannah was born there and she was game for the quick trip up and back to see the place she can barely remember.

So the anxious question for me was always:  “How will it be to go back?”

Some of the answer to that question was shaped by the fact that a good many years had elapsed and many of the saints in that place had moved on from Nipigon, or advanced to their heavenly home.  But in the end the overwhelming feeling I had was one of incredible thankfulness for all the wonderful memories of God’s blessing in that place.  It was such a joy to see how the young and old, whom I so loved, had continued in the faith, and how the Jesus I was so privileged to share still made a difference in their lives.  The congregation had diminished substantially over the years, but those who gathered there seemed a happy bunch – even if they were small.  It thrilled me that even though it is difficult to be a confessional Lutheran church in a shrinking rural Canadian town, the saints of God still persevered.  I am SO thankful to God for their faith.

But… even though my heart sang with thankfulness, there WAS also a complaint to God.  Yes, a deep complaint.  A complaint about why I still wasn’t there.  Since my daughter Hannah was blessed to be able to play the organ that morning (it just so happened that the regular organist was in Toronto), we arrived early so she could practice.  The vacancy pastor had given me the key.  I walked up to the door, inserted the key, opened the door, walked in…  and it was JUST like old times.  I was that kid just out of seminary…  with all the energy, gusto, and full head of hair…  This was God’s House!  The song of Jesus would be raised again!  There was much work to be done!  God’s Word was powerful to bring repentance and salvation to the children of God!  My mind and heart was filled with the anticipation of those ancient days:  Preaching, Sacraments, Bible Study, Vacation Bible Schools, Youth Lock ins, Mission trips, Marriages and Funerals!  But no… it was not for me any longer.  It was a trick of the heart.   Even as I surely know how God has blessed the ministry presently in Scranton, my heart still breaks that my work had to have an end in Nipigon among those dear people of God at Immanuel.

It is good to remember how each day of this life is fleeting.  Our opportunities are few to make a difference for God’s Kingdom.  Counting each opportunity precious, we are to call upon the name of the Lord, ask His forgiveness in all of our shortcomings, and commend unto Him any of the small and precious fruit of our ministry. You could say that is the sum of every Christian’s life, but perhaps it is especially the life of the pastor.

I left a portion of my heart in Nipigon.  Someday I will leave a portion of my heart in Scranton.  Heaven only knows if my heart will be divided again.  Until I sing in heaven, my vocation of Pastor will be one which owns a bittersweet and divided heart.

“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.”  Phil. 1:7    

To God be all the glory.

Principles of Working Together In the Congregation

Working together in the congregation is no easy task.  There is no other institution like it.  It is amazing that God puts up with us – but he does!  He loves to forgive it.  He sanctifies it and shows how only HE can make something good out of something so fallen.  As we struggle through by the Grace of God, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. The church has ALL KINDS of people.  We don’t work with each other because we like or always get along with each other.  We work together because we have been called by Jesus to be His people together.
  2. We are all on the SAME TEAM.  In the church there is never another “side”.  We are all on Jesus’ side.  He is on our side.  Period.
  3. There is only one enemy of the Kingdom of God that you should acknowledge:  the DEVIL.  Think about that the next time you want to gossip about others.
  4. JUDGING others is easy.  Just remember that you probably have a log in your own eye.  Be humble.  Be free to say you are sorry.  You really can face your sins and be honest because you know Jesus will forgive you.  It is true.  Factual.
  5. Each person is a precious GIFT of God.  Treat them that way.  Carefully.
  6. Each person has FEELINGS and emotional baggage you have no idea of.  Be careful what you say or do toward them.  Encourage them.  Bringing them down is not your job.  Really!
  7. Because Christ FORGIVES us it is our joy to forgive each other. This is most certainly true.
  8. Be LOVING, generous and kind.  Sometimes it is so hard.  Be loving, generous and kind anyway.  It is what Christians do.
  9. Consider it your privilege to INTERPRET the actions and words of others in the kindest way.  There really is no conspiracy against you.  You don’t have to be offended or upset.  Satan tries to convince you it is your right to be offended.  He lies.
  10. Be EXCITED and willing to work together.  Don’t let you own faults or the faults of others keep you from lovingly and faithfully serving the Lord and His church.  You are part of God’s plan of salvation for all people.  There isn’t anything more important!  If you see something that needs to be done – do it!  If you need to ask someone about it – feel free!

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  – Matt. 25:23

One Donation Leads to Another

60060_1617955289563_1256806397_1677154_2474539_nOver five years ago my good friend Mark Koenig received one of my kidneys.  After much delay here is something of a nice account of our journey together.  We hope that perhaps it can be published somewhere so others can know how blessed it is to give and receive an organ.  Enjoy!

One Donation Leads to Another

by Kristian Bjornstad and Mark Koenig

One evening in February, 2008, after coming home from work building firetrucks, Mark Koenig turned on the evening news.  Headlining the news was the report of an extensive fire in Scranton, PA which destroyed an apartment building and left 13 individuals and families out of a home.  Mark lives in the small township of Jefferson Township, PA, about 15 minutes outside of Scranton along with his wife Kim.  Thankfully no one was seriously injured in the fire, but the neighboring Peace Lutheran Church was working hard to collect household items for the fire victims.  It was reported they would even be willing to come and pick up donations.

This news about a Lutheran church working so hard to help perked Mark’s interest.  Since moving to the community from New Jersey several years previously, he had failed to find a church home.  It had always bothered him because he had been a life long Lutheran.  It was also a fact that he needed to get rid of good furniture that had started cluttering his home.  He talked with Kim and called the number on the screen.

Pastor Kris Bjornstad picked up the phone and was happy to arrange a pickup at the house for the next day.  It was a large donation and Mark kept piling the load higher with everything he could think of which might be good for a new apartment.  Pastor Bjornstad had to make an extra trip to transport everything.  A couple weeks later Mark was in church and happy to have found a spiritual home.  He had been through a lot, knowing how God had saved his life more than once in various situations – and now he knew he was going to need the Lord’s help again!  The doctors had just told him that a hereditary kidney disease was setting in and he would have to be on dialysis very soon.  It felt good for him to be in church again and worshipping his Lord and Savior.

It was just a few weeks after his donation and coming to Peace Lutheran that he started life on dialysis.  Instead of having to go to the hospital for dialysis three days a week for treatments, he decided to try a new technique of “home dialysis” where he had a machine at home where he could be more comfortable.  There were drawbacks, of course, including the fact that you had to do dialysis five days a week for 2-3 hours a day instead of three days a week for 4-5 hours at the dialysis center. But the main advantage was that he could continue to work during the day and do his dialysis during the evenings.  Even though it was nice having dialysis at home, the five days a week grind was extremely limiting on his life.  Treatments never felt good and took a constant toll on his body.  Because dialysis is only a short term treatment the doctors advised Mark to register with the National Kidney Transplant list.

Having Polysistic Kidney Disease (PKD) is not easy to deal with.  Beyond the physical issues of being sick constantly, it takes a large toll emotionally and spiritually.  Mark struggled with questions about life and death and the purposes that God still had for him.  It is hard to think and live positively with the constant dependency on a machine for daily existence.  As willing as she was to do anything for her husband, Kim also suffered immense amounts of stress trying to take care of her husband while working a full time job.  It was her task to prepare the dialysis machine, insert the needles, and make sure that everything was working correctly for her husband.

The weeks, months and years on the transplant list were grueling.  Mark has an O+ blood type, the rarest and most difficult type to match.  After three years of home dialysis with no calls from the Kidney Transplant list, Mark’s cousin volunteered to see if she was compatible for a transplant.   Although she was a match to Mark’s blood type, she was not able to be a donor because of a blood clotting issue.  Through this all, Mark was intent on trusting the Lord to help him in his trials.  He kept a positive attitude and was always glad for the many prayers his family, friends, and the members of Peace Lutheran Church offered up to God for him.


It is often said: “Be careful what you pray for.  You might get it!”  We say that usually in reference to our prayers for ourselves.  But does it not also happen in our prayers for others?  Prayer is a communication with The Lord – and it should be two way.  We need to be listening!  Often times the answer that God is giving to a particular prayer request for someone else is “I am calling you to do my will and be my agent of mercy for that person!”

So it was with Pastor Bjornstad and his prayers for Mark.  Week after week Mark would say that nothing had come of his search for a transplant.  No calls…  Possibilities dashed…  Then one day Mark came with the news that he was enlisting the help of doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD.  They had indicated that he might be a candidate for a new type of kidney transplant where donors do not have to have matching blood types.  Now anyone would be a possible donor, and pretty soon the answer to his prayers for Mark became clear.  Previously it was easy to say,  “I don’t have the same blood type as Mark so I can’t make a donation”.  But that was not the case anymore. Pastor Bjornstad became convinced that God was challenging him to put his faith on the line and give up a lot more than he was used to for someone else.

One night he went upstairs and asked his wife Monica what she thought of a kidney donation to Mark.  She was not partial to adventure and risk-taking, so he was surprised and pleased when she agreed to supporting the pursuit!

And so began the adventure of a lifetime with so many rewards.


The screening process for Pastor Bjornstad was initiated and completed.  It involved one trip to Baltimore and a series of tests, none of them burdensome or invasive.  The determination was made that his kidney and his general physical and mental health was satisfactory.  The decision was made to set a date for surgery and initiate the preparations needed for Mark to receive his new kidney.  These preparations were going to be significant, and there was no turning back at that point!

Mark reported to Johns Hopkins Hospital three weeks prior to the scheduled surgery to undergo all the necessary treatments to prepare his body for the incompatible kidney.  These treatments consisted of two processes.  The first  took the blood from his body, filtered it through a special system that removed impurities his kidneys could not.  After that process was complete a second treatment commenced the same day for the purpose of removing his immune system and replacing it with the donor’s immune system (which had been cultured from Pastor Bjornstad’s blood work).  These treatments were four days a week for three weeks while at the same time they juggled his regular dialysis treatments.  This put increased strain on Mark’s body and would make him constantly sick.  He was cared for by his best friend from high school, who lived outside of Baltimore.  Jay and his wife Sarah Cronk provided transportation and housing during and after this whole process.  Without their help this would have not been possible.

The day before the surgery, Mark’s mother, his two sisters, along with his brother, his wife and son, arrived to offer support.  Kim had been coming down on weekends but now had taken vacation time to be there the week of the surgery.  The doctors had been working hard to adjust certain blood level numbers in the days before surgery.  The day before the surgery the numbers had not been to their satisfaction and doctors ordered extra last minute treatments to get the blood levels correct.  It was an exceedingly difficult time, but thankfully, everything came together the morning of surgery.  The lab tests came back with good numbers and the go-ahead was given.  It was a great relief for all involved.

Pastor Bjornstad was unaware of all of these difficulties with Mark’s surgery prep.  Back in Scranton, he was trying his best to avoid thinking too much about the surgery.  In the run-up to the last day, it had always been a matter of “surgery is a ways down the road…”  But the night before the surgery came it no longer “it is a ways down the road…”  It was tomorrow!  What was he going to do now?  There was only one thing to keep saying:  “Trust the Lord.”

Pastor Bjornstad woke up at 3am after a fitful sleep, two members of the congregation were waiting outside his door to take him to Baltimore.  It was difficult because no one knew whether they should talk about the surgery, or if a discussion about the weather was better.  It was a very long four hour trip!  Arriving safely in Baltimore, Cy and Mike helped bring in Pastor Bjornstad’s suitcase and made sure he was through the registration process and settled in the hospital room before they said their goodbyes and headed back to Scranton.


Up to now, Mark had always displayed an upbeat attitude, trying not to show too much anxiety over the impending surgery.  It was only hours before the surgery when he started to show true emotions regarding the severity of the surgery.  He took comfort in the love and encouragement of his family.

At this point, it needs to also be said that Pastor Bjornstad’s outlook had certainly clouded.  He had imagined and prepared himself for the probability that he would not feel so charitable at this moment before surgery.  His expectations were correct.  He couldn’t stop saying to himself: “Is this REALLY what I want to do?  Perhaps I should just go home right now.  I don’t really have to do this.”  Having all these doubts going through his mind, he called a nurse and asked if he could see Mark.  Arrangements were made and he was brought to Mark’s room.  Also present in the room with Mark was his mother, his sister and his wife Kim.  Pastor Bjornstad will always remember how there was instant peace in his heart as Mark’s mother expressed how much it meant to her that her son was going to receive a new kidney.  There was no question now.  It was all truly a blessing to be able to share what God had given in abundance.  A prayer and hugs were shared by all.  The final preparations for surgery commenced with much joy and confidence.  Also giving him much comfort was a hand-made blanket sewn by the Peace Lutheran Church Parish Nurse with this prayer on it:

Dear Lord,

You are the Light of the world.

We lift up to you Pastor Kris, our Shepherd, who teaches us about your Light and helps us to live in Your Light.

Please bless him and keep him in your care, and be in the hands and labors of all who care for him.  Amen.


Mark woke up from surgery on the day of his 48th birthday and was glad to see his family members and friends with the news from his doctors that everything went very well.  But he knew that there would be struggles ahead.  The risk of rejection is higher with a non-compatible kidney transplant.  After a two week stay in the hospital Mark was released to stay at his friend’s house and for the next two months while he had to make frequent returns to the hospital for check-ups.  Finally the doctors were satisfied with his kidney function and he was released to return home to Scranton the day before Thanksgiving to continue his recovery under the auspices of local Scranton doctors.  Even as joyous as that return home was, dangers had not passed completely.  After six months tests came back indicating that the kidney was experiencing rejection and Mark had to go to Baltimore again for special treatments.  The rejection was controlled, and since then there has not been another incident.

Pastor Bjornstad’s recovery from surgery was much easier.  After some minor setbacks in recovery, he was back home five days later with his wife and four daughters.  Within six weeks he was back to his regular work schedule, and it wasn’t too much longer that all physical effects from his grand adventure of faith disappeared, except that his one remaining kidney actually grew in size to help compensate for the one missing!  The doctors expect that even with one kidney functioning normally, he should not expect any problems with kidney function unless he lives well into his nineties.  That chance is a small price to pay for many years of full life for Mark.


Mark’s faith in God, the comfort of his church family, along with his wonderful family and friends, made this journey a growing personal experience.  The freedom and new life that his new kidney gave him was like being literally born again.  As a Christian he believes that he was born into this world at first, then born into the family of God in baptism, and now he has been given even another life!  He still has to live with certain health issues.  The kidney disease destroyed his Pancreas and his diabetes needs to be controlled.  Of course he must take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life.  But compared with the previous dread of living at the edge of life and death, he is exceedingly blessed, and he thanks the Lord every day.  Mark’s new kidney has given over five years of good service and the doctors are hoping for a good fifteen or maybe twenty years before the strain of living in a body not its own will take its toll.  At that point he will be having to look for another donor unless the miracles of God through modern medicine find another way to health.


Mark will most likely need a second kidney in the future, but many thousands of others are still desperately waiting for their first kidney transplant.  Becoming a donor is a once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in God’s miracles of healing.  It is easy to make your body eligible for donation after you die, but there are great blessings in being a living donor.  Firstly, live donation organs are usually in much better health and last longer than organs donated after death.  The second blessing is that the donor gets to know and enjoy the fruits of the donation.  It is such a joy for Pastor Bjornstad to know Mark as a friend and see him in the pew and be encouraged by his faith and work in the congregation.  He can see, demonstrated in real life, that scripture is true and that it is indeed better to give than to receive.  We encourage everyone who reads this story to consider being a donor.  It is true that not everyone can be a donor because of various health and life circumstances, but for many, young and old, there are opportunities to become a living donor.  Pray to the Lord for his guidance and courage in becoming a donor.

As we know in the life of Christ, and even as we can see in the simple act of giving away furniture to families in need, one donation leads to another!

You can find out more about living donations today by going to  You can find out more about incompatible blood donations at