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Despite struggles, North Dakota family keeps the faith

It’s hard to find a church member in North Dakota who doesn’t know — and love — Dean and Sherry Adams.
For that matter, it’s hard to find a church member in North Dakota, period.
The state, with a population of about 636,000, has seven Churches of Christ with a combined membership of about 400, scattered across an area slightly larger than Oklahoma.
“We pretty much know everyone who attends the Church of Christ in North Dakota, even if they live 300 miles away,” said Mary Pfeifer, a member of the Fargo church.
But the Adams family is special, Pfeifer said. For nearly 28 years, the couple has served the church in Dickinson, N.D. Dean Adams preaches most Sundays. The couple also hosts youth events across the state, including an annual teen campout in the state capital, Bismarck.
“My own children absolutely adore Dean and Sherry and look forward to any opportunity to spend time with them,” said Mark Hawks, a member of the Bismarck church.
Despite huge medical and financial challenges, the Adamses have stayed in North Dakota to help the church — a task that pays no money.
“I can’t clearly explain … how many lives Dean and Sherry have touched,” Hawks said. “They are without a doubt two of the finest Christian examples I have ever witnessed.”
Contrary to popular belief, “we don’t have buffalo running around,” Sherry Adams said in a recent phone call from Dickinson, a town of about 15,000 souls in the western part of the state.
But North Dakota’s temperatures live up to their billing.
“We can have 100 degrees in the summer and 100 below (with) wind chill in winter,” she said.
Sherry Adams grew up in slightly warmer Nebraska. She attended York College before transferring to Harding University in Searcy, Ark.
In the late 1970s, she and friends from Harding moved to Dickinson — then booming with growth as the oil industry flourished — to plant a church.
Sherry met Dean, a lifelong North Dakotan, and the two were engaged a month later. She studied the Bible with her fiance, who was baptized a month before their wedding.
In 1984, the couple welcomed their daughter, Mindy, into the world. Mindy’s infancy was plagued with illness and frequent hospitalizations. Two years after Mindy’s arrival, the couple greeted a son, Steven, who also began to suffer repeated illnesses.
Doctors diagnosed the children with hypogammaglobulinemia, a genetic disorder that hampers the body’s ability to fight infection. Any illness could become life-threatening. Years of hospital stays, surgeries and transfusions followed.
Mindy and Steven were more aware of their mortality than most children, Sherry Adams said. At age 9, Steven asked his parents about baptism. If they could assure him he would go to heaven if he died, he would wait. Otherwise, “I need to be baptized right now,” he told them.
“So he was,” his mother said. Mindy was baptized at age 10.
Despite their shared condition, the children are now in their 20s. Mindy completed a nursing degree and is studying psychology at Dickinson State University. Steven earned a scholarship to a pre-law program at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
Last summer, Mindy married Ian Roy, whom she met at a Bible camp. Pfeifer traveled from Fargo to Bismarck for the wedding.
“Ian cried so hard as Mindy walked down the aisle,” Pfeifer said. “They had dated for years — and he never knew if that day would happen.”
Though insured, the family owes about $90,000 for two decades of medical treatments. Both parents work full time — Sherry in public health and Dean as a grade school custodian — but struggle to make the high monthly payments.
Friends have advised the couple to move to a state where jobs pay better and the weather is kinder, Sherry Adams said. But doing so would mean leaving their 30-member congregation — and a state that desperately needs church members.
The couple’s ministry is vital to churches in North Dakota, said Kathy Engling, a church member in Big Piney, Wyo. Engling and her husband, Gary, were part of the Dickinson church-planting group and worked with the congregation until 2002.
The Englings’ children made lifelong friends as a result of youth events the Adamses coordinated, Kathy Engling said. In a state with few Churches of Christ, “it has been so important to keep those kids involved, active and strong,” she added.
Steven Adams said that his parents have maintained their focus on church and family.
“Despite the trials, they have always put their faith in God first,” he said. “They are always devoted to the service of others, whether it’s me and my sister, another member of the church or a complete stranger.”
Jennifer Percell, a Harding classmate of Sherry Adams, decided to help the family. Percell’s son, Nathaniel, launched a Web site to share the family’s story and list ways to contribute to a medical fund.
“The riches God has put in the hands of his people … need to be given to this family, who has always put his church before their own needs,” said Jennifer Percell, a missionary in the Canadian city of Quebec.
Despite the hardships they’ve endured, the Adamses focus on the blessings they’ve received. The couple celebrates 26 years of marriage this month.
“The fact that we still have both our kids … we’ve been fortunate,” Dean Adams said, noting the verses in Hebrews 12 that speak of enduring hardship as discipline.
The support of fellow church members is another blessing, Sherry Adams said.
“We’ve never had to go through any of these trials by ourselves,” she said. Their children have witnessed that support and have become “very strong Christians — not bitter.”
“They have a very strong love for God,” she said. “Who could ask for anything better than that? Who could ever put a price on that?”

TO CONTRIBUTE to the Adams family’s medical fund, send donations to: Church of Christ, Adams Children’s Fund, Box 549, Dickinson, ND 58602. For more information, go to http://natepercell.com/helptheadams .

  • Feedback
    What a beautiful, encouraging story about devotion and a true mission spirit. They should be recognized for their love and efforts.
    May, 9 2008

Filed under: People

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