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Evangelist John J. Gerbrandt came to Lincoln in 1959 with two desires, to win souls for Christ and start a church founded on the Word. John began witnessing on street corners and door to door. Over time he made a few acquaintances, and each one was invited to a Bible study.
It was not long before a new work began in downtown Lincoln. The fellowship, which consisted of four families, began holding services at the YMCA. They identified themselves as “Mennonite Brethren,” and the first church service was held April 5.
The fellowship rented a church building until the small congregation was able to purchase the First Covenant Church and parsonage at 2011 G Street for $25,000. The first service in the church building was held July 5. The congregation met in this building until they moved to 84th Street in 1968.
John Gerbrandt served as shepherd of the little flock in Lincoln until a pastor was secured. Although it was hard to leave the saints he had come to love, John Gerbrandt was an evangelist at heart and God was leading him to another mission field.
Robert Vogt served as the pastor from July 1959 to January 1962. During these years the group met for worship, but was not yet organized as a local church.
The fellowship did not have a board of elders, constitution or articles of incorporation, but God had begun a work in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The congregation had a genuine appreciation for music and saw it as an avenue to worship and prepare one’s heart for the teaching from the Scriptures. Musicians and singers prepared and presented special music for worship services.
There were many opportunites for service in the small church, and the members were convinced that when they saw a need, the Holy Spirit had brought that need to their attention.
A quote by James Hudson Taylor, English missionary to China, had special meaning to the humble congregation: “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supplies.”
Trusting that God would supply the time, treasure and talent, whether it was spiritual, mental or physical, the body grew and leaned on that promise many times over the years.
Forrest Morningstar served as interim pastor from January to September. Walter Friesen was installed as pastor on September 25. He served until July 1967.
The fellowship was growing and God’s blessings were evident. Articles of Incorporation were filed with 42 charter members. The fellowship became known as “Lincoln Mennonite Brethren Church.”
The charter members of Lincoln Mennonite Brethren Church faithfully served the Lord and one another through many varied roles, together and separately. They built their lives around the church and joyfully opened their homes for socials, meetings, Bible studies and informal after-church fellowships. Many were recipients of another’s hospitality and cooking, a tradition that continues to this day.
Trials helped the little church grow—from the parking lot turning into a swamp, to pigeons thinking the church was their home and dropping little gifts on the members as they worshipped. Problems were solved, screens were inserted in roof vents and the congregation could worship without fear of being bombed from above.
The congregation was young but held true to their religious convictions and based their decisions on God’s Word. When they needed help, “they looked up.”
God continued to bless and the little church began to experience growing pains. Parking was limited and the congregation needed more space for developing ministries. The congregation began praying about purchasing property in another location.
After much prayer, “Lincoln Mennonite Brethren” was changed to “Capitol View” in an effort to reach more people for Christ, as many people were not familiar with the term “Mennonite.”
Faced with a growing congregation and the lack of additional land to purchase near by, the church voted to relocate. Three acres were purchased on the east edge of Lincoln for $5,000 an acre. Donald Goertzen began drawing up plans for a chapel to be built there.
Donald Goertzen began directing the choir. The choir was committed to making a joyful sound to the Lord and the music ministry blossomed over the next 14 years under Don’s leadership. Concerts were presented, albums were cut and hundreds of people heard about God’s saving grace as a result of being invited to a concert.
A pastor was needed and Eugene Gerbrandt returned to shepherd the flock he had watched over eight years earlier. He was installed as pastor and ministered until August 1969. Pastor Gerbrandt began teaching the Scriptures systematically. The congregation developed a taste for doctrine and was hungry for the Word.
Construction on the new church began in July with the building largely built with volunteer hands. When completed, the chapel had a seating capacity of 180, with overflow seating for 100 in the fellowship hall, and there were four classrooms. The original building was 4,800 square feet and cost $60,000 to build. The congregation raised $15,000 and borrowed the rest.
The crushed rock parking lot held 50 cars. Only two houses had been built in the Indian Hills subdivision at that time and 84th Street was a gravel road. However, the new church, parking lot and gravel road seemed quite luxurious to the little congregation.
The congregation of 55 people held their first service at the new church on 84th Street on February 8. The church family gathered and thanked God for the many spiritual and material blessings He had given them. They prayed for God’s blessings on the ministry that would take place in the new church building and asked for wisdom, courage and strength to do His will.
The name of the church was changed to Indian Hills Community Church to fit the subdivision in which it was located.
God was leading Pastor John Gerbrandt to a new work in Oregon and his resignation in August 1969 seemed untimely by human judgment. However, it proved to be God’s time to bring in another man who would lead the church through in-depth, systematic teaching of the Word.
The church board, led by Harold Warkentin, immediately began looking for a Bible teacher.
Gil Rugh of Willingboro, New Jersey, candidated at Indian Hills Community Church on September 7. His morning message, The Alpha and Omega, and his evening message, The Victorious Christian, were well received.
The congregation unanimously voted to invite Gil to the pastorate. Gil accepted the invitation. A young seminary graduate, Gil came with a desire to teach God’s Word to equip saints for the work of ministry. A new era had begun at Indian Hills Community Church.
Gil was installed as pastor Sunday morning, September 28, and began systematically teaching “verse by verse” that evening.
The ministry was on fire. Besides teaching Sunday morning and evening, Gil Rugh began holding a Wednesday night Bible study and prayer meeting. This informal gathering included a step-by-step consideration of how to witness for Christ. The congregation was soaking in all the Bible teaching they could get, and Wednesday night meetings were well attended.
The congregation was faithful in sharing that Jesus died for sinners, and God was adding to the church. Average attendance soared to 98, and more room was needed for classrooms. The congregation began praying about adding on to the chapel.
The congregation unanimously adopted a new constitution on July 26. This provided for the selection of elders and deacons and was the first step in moving from congregational rule to elder rule. (Seven years later, the final step was taken when the congregation essentially voted to “never vote again.”)
The first adult Christmas concert, directed by Donald Goertzen, was presented and a tradition that continues today began. Don’s ability to inspire others to strive for excellence, “to do everything as unto the Lord,” resulted in Christmas and Easter concerts that were the talk of the town.
Everyone wanted to come to concerts at The Hills. Combined with a message from Gil, many heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, and by God’s grace, many souls were saved for eternity.
Ladies of the church began meeting as they saw a benefit from studying the Word with other women and sharing home-making tips. This study has grown over the years and continues today as Titus Tuesday. In an effort to reach friends and neighbors for Christ, the women’s ministry developed and expanded and now includes brunch breaks, retreats, conferences, ladies Bible studies and prayer meetings.
God answered the congregation’s prayer for more space and the new education facilities were dedicated to Him on December 5. This included a pastor’s study, library, church office, and larger nursery.
This was the first addition to the Chapel and the congregation was thankful for God’s blessings. The elders were ahead of their time by providing for air conditioning by refrigeration.
As men and women grew in the Lord, they developed new ministries, like Boys Brigade and Pioneer Girls, which ministered to boys and girls in grade school. Over the years, these ministries expanded and grew and currently meet as Boys of Faith and Girls of Grace.
As God added to the church, the number of college-aged men and women increased. They loved to hang out together, gladly served in the church and frequently raked leaves and shoveled snow for sick and elderly members. The elders had been praying about forming a ministry for young adults and the first college/career night was held at the church with Gil Rugh teaching on the roles of men and women. The ministry flourished and became known as Young Adult Fellowship, then Lamb, Single Life, Young Professionals, College and Career Fellowship, and is now known as Alpha Omega.
The elders saw the wisdom in acquiring nearby property while it was available. The first land addition (2.8 acres for $14,000) brought the property total to 5.8 acres.
Gil Rugh’s steady, consistent manner of dealing with the Scriptures and his determination not to compromise the Word brought men from many different churches and backgrounds to the early morning men’s Bible study. The study originally met at the Burlington Northern Train Station, but moved to several locations over the next ten years.
The congregation continued to grow as God added to the church. The average attendance was 390 and the church had outgrown the chapel. The elders began making plans for a new 900-seat auditorium.
In an effort to make Bible teaching more available, volunteers began recording sermons on cassette recorders. Tapes could be borrowed or purchased for one dollar from the church office. (Previous recordings were made on the open reel.)
Donald Goertzen joined the pastoral staff as associate pastor and began the work of developing the ministry. Like scaffolding, he worked behind the scenes, supporting and undergirding the developing ministries.
The church from humble beginnings loved the Savior and stood firmly on the Truth. They thanked God for the new 900-seat auditorium, restrooms, and new office for Gil (15,000 square feet had cost $450,000 and included five classrooms).
The Tape Library opened and began dispersing Gil’s tapes. The library grew under volunteer guidance and became an oasis in the desert for anyone wanting to drink from the Bible-teaching reservoir. As the ministry expanded, more biblical resources were made available. The Tape Library became known as Sound Words and the shelves were stocked with Bibles, commentaries, Bible study books, maps, brochures, tracts, Christian novels and children’s books.
John Maddux came on staff in 1980 and managed Sound Words until his retirement. Twila Beck began managing Sound Words in 2000 and continues to this day. Sound Words carries over 1,000 titles and is a tremendous resource for the Bible student at every level.
The congregation appreciated the spiritual foundation that had been laid and devoted themselves to proclaiming the message of reconciliation. The church continued to grow, and average attendance was 750.
Pastor Gil Rugh continued to teach the flock at Indian Hills and the congregation rejoiced that he had the courage to feed them the deep things of the Word as well as the basics. The congregation was encouraged to share the Word and invite friends to church. The Lord was blessing, and a second worship service was added in the 900-seat auditorium.
As the congregation grew, the elders knew additional land would be needed in the future. Four additional acres were purchased for $36,000. Total property: 9.8 acres
The elders saw an advantage to publishing in-house. A used press was purchased and the publications department began publishing brochures, booklets and study helps.
The Indian Hills subdivision was developing, and the elders thought it prudent to purchase land adjoining the church property for future needs. Land contracts were signed for an additional four acres for $110,000. Total property: 13.8 acres.
The Family Center addition was completed providing much needed Sunday school classrooms, a kitchen and space for large group activities. The cost was $400,000 for an additional 12,000 square feet.
Gil’s conviction to train men to teach the next generation led to the forming of “The Making of a Christian Leader,” a course for all leaders and potential leaders. Developing future leaders continues today through the internship program and the Timothy Training program.
Indian Hills withdrew from the Mennonite Brethren denomination to become an independent, non-denominational church.
As the body continued to grow, more classrooms were needed. The elders purchased the old farm house at 8400 A Street for the youth ministry, which helped ease growing pains. Sunday school, Bible study and events were held at the house. (2200 square feet for $64,000; plus one acre for $10,000.) Property total: 14.8 acres.
With the additional Sunday school classes, a central location was needed to keep teaching supplies. Suzie Martin and Gary and Carol Goodding developed the Media Center, making it a tremendous asset to teachers.
The congregation voted to move from a congregational form of government to an elder form government, which was the last step in moving to an elder-led church.
The Timothy Group ministry was established and Bible studies flourished throughout the city and neighboring areas.
God was blessing the ministry and the body continued to grow in maturity. As the elders considered future needs of the church, they decided to purchase an additional 5.3 acres for $200,000. Total property: 20.1 acres.
Children have always been an important aspect of the ministry at Indian Hills. Since children love puppets, and puppets are an effective tool to share the gospel and teach spiritual truths, the elders devoted funds to build a puppet ministry.
Zane Parks developed the ministry, added puppets and story scripts throughout the years, and trained puppeteers. Several puppet shows are presented each year, and this ministry to children continues to be a favorite one among our little ones.
The Hearing Impaired Ministry began, allowing the deaf and hard-of-hearing to understand Gil’s message through sign language. Classes taught people of all ages how to communicate through sign language.
Tracey Hillman’s commitment to share the truth of the Word with the hearing impaired has fueled this ministry for decades.
Gil Rugh graduated with a Ph.D. from California Graduate School of Theology (Glendale, California) and received a certificate of Scholastic Excellence having graduated Cum Laude. (During this time Gil preached three sermons on Sunday, flew to California Sunday night and returned on Wednesday each week.)
The body was soaking in the systematic teaching of the Word and the Lord was maturing His saints. Through Gil’s example, the body had learned to cross reference Bible passages, and teachers and students were studying and searching the Scriptures.
The body praised God for His faithfulness and began holding services in the expanded, but not yet finished (no pews, no carpet) 2200-seat auditorium on Palm Sunday. The Lord had also provided a convenient location for Sound Words, a nursery, a choir room, classrooms, a puppet room and a print shop. Cost $1,800,000 for 33,000 square feet.
The leadership asked God how to reach the city of Lincoln with the good news of Jesus Christ. They prayed for opportunites to tell the lost about Jesus’ death on the cross for the remission of sins.
The Stuart Theatre was rented for the noon hour on Good Friday and advertisements were run in the newspaper inviting everyone to the noon hour worship service. Many people working downtown came to the service and heard Gil preach on God’s purpose in sending His Son and Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Good Friday service was moved to Cornhusker Hotel in 1986.
The first Thanksgiving Banquet was truly a night of praise. Held at the State Fair Grounds in Agriculture Hall, the body came together under one roof to thank God for His many blessings.
The Thanksgiving Banquet continued for many years and was an evening the body looked forward to. (Earlier church banquets had been held at the beginning or conclusion of fund raising projects.)
As technology advanced, the leadership took the bull by the horns and purchased the first in-house computer.
After much prayer, the elders agreed to purchase four lots (.8 acres) east of the church for $59,000. Total property: 20.9 acres.
The congregaton was growing, both spiritually and numerically. Gil encouraged men with the gift of teaching to practice their gift on Wednesday nights, which gave them an opportunity to use their gift and benefit the body. As a result, many men have taught topical and Book studies on Wednesday nights throughout the years.
The combination of Gil’s ability to see the strengths and gifts in others, and his mentoring view of “growing” others in the faith resulted in a strong lay leadership base throughout the ministry. God’s blessings were evident as men developed their teaching skills and went on to develop and expand ministries at The Hills and in other churches.
It is impossible to recognize Tom Price apart from the nursing home ministry, as his life and ministry to the elderly are entwined, joined by a common thread—love for the Savior. Bible studies and worship services in nursing homes and adult living centers took place every week throughout the city and continue to this day.
Tom has directed and expanded this ministry for decades. With 100 people serving in 25 locations, the Word is being taught to the oldest living generation.
Awana began in 1985 and thrived under the leadership of Dave Hattan. Steve Marra picked up the baton in 2006 and continues to lead this ministry to the next generation.
Gil Rugh presented the “biblical perspective of women in ministry” on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. (The show’s producers picked Gil’s name up from an article in USA Today regarding the role of women.)
The show was slanted against the Word, but Gil proclaimed the truth and millions heard about the one true God on national television.
By God’s grace, Indian Hills sent 14 men to seminary and four men to Bible college. God has called over 100 men from Indian Hills to seminary and Bible college in the last 50 years.
Friendship Sundays were held every other month to encourage members to invite friends and neighbors to church, to show friendliness, to get acquainted with those who attend our church and to encourage us to use and develop our spiritual gifts.
The Lord continued working through the body’s faithfulness and the elders approved the purchase of 1.57 acres for $165,800. Property total: 22.47 acres.
Pastors’ encouragement meetings began. Gil began meeting with pastors from other churches on a regular basis to discuss how to do ministry, discuss ideas, and encourage one another. These meetings continue today and provide a good opportunity to glean insight from one another on books, new contacts, web sites, and other matters (resources).
An excitement was in the air as saints talked about working for eternal rewards, rather than things that will not last. God was drawing many to Himself.
Food service has provided thousands of meals over the years as a ministry to those who are ill, have had surgery or lost a loved one. Ruth Meador led this ministry for many years, encouraging those making the meals to do so as unto the Lord.
Vanessa Riekenberg picked up the baton in 2008 and leads the food service committee, serving and ministering to the sick and grieving. According to Vanessa, this is a ministry where both the giver and receiver are blessed. A delicious meal is a blessing to the receiver, and the one who prepared the meal is blessed by being used of God.
Soul Winning Boot camps focused on obstacles that hinder us from sharing the gospel: the better we know the obstacles in our path, the more prepared we will be to overcome them.
Inquirer’s Bible Studies were held over the summer and neighbors were invited to a four-week study that climaxed with the good news. The gospel seed was planted in many hearts and a dozen souls were saved for eternity that summer.
Previous trips to Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Rome were filled with many “wow” moments, as was the spring trip of 1994. A few were baptized in the Jordan River, a few swam in the Sea of Galilee and some soaked in the Dead Sea. Everyone was amazed to see the land and walk where old and New Testament saints had walked.
Businessmen’s Bible study met at 7 a.m. for breakfast and Bible study.
Gil’s uncompromising stand and literal, historical-grammatical interpretation of the Word carried over to his books, and readers were blessed by his clear approach to Bible interpretation. In addition to the members of this local church, Bible schools, seminaries, sister churches, and people around the world wanted Gil’s books.
The elders went to the Lord, seeking His will in making Gil’s Bible-teaching books available. Aware that even a nominal fee would be a stumbling block for some, they decided to make all in-house-produced literature free.
With 60 titles in print, the publications department is always busy reprinting books.
Desiring to expand the ministry to college-aged men and women, the elders approved the purchase of an old fraternity house on the UNL campus.
The brick structure was built in 1890, and had three floors and a basement. It cost $115,000 and needed a lot of work. Some work had to be hired out, but everything else was done by volunteers.
Once completed, the old house was not only sturdy, but beautiful inside and out. The Alpha Omega ministry holds many events at the house, including Bible study on Thursday nights.
God’s blessings were evident. The Lending Library and Shepherd’s Library were well stocked and utilized by the body.
Allen Edison designed and oversaw the original church website, www.ihcc.org.
The leadership’s desire to help other men in ministry resulted in a Church Leadership Conference. The men were thankful for the opportunity to meet with other like-minded church leaders. They discussed what God expects from church leaders; how to run a church; how to plan a worship service; and how to develop an evangelism program, teacher training, children’s ministry, and visitation ministry.
The Lord provided an opportunity to bring men on as interns and provide their housing when a duplex across the street from the church came up for sale at an agreeable price. The elders approved the purchase of the duplex on 84th Street and it became the home of staff interns.
The Bible Learning Center was completed, providing much needed classroom space (added 34,600 square feet for $5,840,000).
Hand bells made their debut at the adult Christmas concert. Three octaves, consisting of 37 brass bells, were ordered in 2001. Each bell rings a specific note on the scale.
The congregation gave liberally to replace an aging, leaking roof and the nonfunctioning HVAC.
As technology advanced, it became possible to hear Gil’s Sunday morning and evening messages “live” over the internet. The response to SermonAudio and OnePlace was tremendous and continues to be so, allowing Gil’s Bible messages to be downloaded around the world, even in the most remote places on earth.
Teaching Children Workshops were held for all adults desiring to learn more about winning and training children for Christ.
The church building was showing significant wear due to its age and the elders approved improving and remodelling various areas so they would not be a distraction from matters of eternal significance. They also desired to maintain a good testimony before God and man in the way we keep the facilities that He has provided for worship and ministry.
Remodelling and improvements were made, and the body was thankful for the elders’ wisdom and God’s leading.
Gil’s emphasis on sharing the gospel led to numerous Evangelism Boot Camps for those wanting to become more effective in sharing with the lost. Classes focused on knowing the Scriptures, prayer, and trusting God. The high school ministry took neighborhood surveys as a way to get their feet in the door and share the gospel.
The elders approved the purchase of a brick, three-bedroom house one block north of the church. The house has an attached garage and full basement, and after some repairs and remodeling, it became the home of ministry workers. The house is a perfect fit for the church as it backs up to the north parking lot.
As technology advances, the methods used to record, publish and distribute Gil’s messages are becoming obsolete.
Putting a premium on the careful study and preaching of the Scriptures, the elders have determined that if the necessary steps are not taken, we will face the possibility of losing access to our treasure chest of Bible teaching in a matter of years.
Sean O’Neal has begun directing the preservation work and the complete collection (everything Gil has preached or published) is being made available on the internet.
The Future Is in His Hands
Today we are reminded of God’s goodness and the faithfulness of those who persevered before us. Their legacy has endured. Armed with a deep faith, courage, and the desire to do God’s will, they were instrumental in working out God’s plan for this local church.
We praise God for what He has done and for putting us in the care of a shepherd who loves us and faithfully feeds us from the Word of Life. Together we will watch what God will do as we serve Him together, for His glory and by His grace. May each of us be faithful to the end!