Well, it’s a long story, and it has sort of two parts. The first part is really how I got more serious about my faith. So if you really want to get to the meat of how I got into Missions, skip to the Missions part near the end. But this is where things really begin.
I have always been a Christian, and pretty much a “good” Christian. My Grandfather was a Lutheran pastor. I had two uncles that were pastors, and four of my cousins would become pastors. I went to a Lutheran grade school and a Lutheran high school, and I was pretty much a religious kind of guy even through college. I was involved in church, did not drink much, do drugs or go over the line with girls.
That was on my Mom’s side. My Dad’s side had another tradition – not incompatible, but different. My great grandfather was Milton Heiney. His oldest son was Forest Milton Heiney and he went to Ferris State College in Michigan and became a pharmacist. His oldest son was Robert Milton Heiney, who also went to Ferris and became a pharmacist. I was his oldest son, Timothy Milton Heiney, and I went to Ferris and got my degree in pharmacy. (My oldest son is Joel Milton Heiney, who also went to Ferris and became a pharmacist.) I wanted to be a pharmacist since about the time I could talk. When I was little I had one of those older style pharmacy jackets that buttoned on the shoulder, and I would get up on the stool behind the counter and count pills into the bottles with my Dad. In kindergarten they would ask the kids what they wanted to be. Most wanted to be firemen or baseball players or cowboys. I wanted to be a pharmacist. Most of the others thought that that had something to do with helping farmers.
Anyway, I would say that I grew up fairly strong in my faith right up to around high school. Then I believe that things started to change a bit in mainline Christianity – change for the better. There came a new emphasis on outreach and evangelism. Dr. D. James Kennedy came out with his Evangelism Explosion. My Uncle Marc Buuck was my pastor at the time, and he got fired up and got our church moving with Evangelism training and things of that type. It quickly became apparent to me that this certainly was an important part of being a Christian. How could we say we believed the things that we did about heaven and hell, and not be involved in outreach?
And I did get involved. I went to Explo ’72 in Dallas, and was involved in other organized outreach in my own area. I quickly found out that I hated it. I spent some of the most horrible moments in my life standing on people’s front porches on the verge of throwing up, and trying to work up the courage to knock on the door. I think that I just kind of made up my mind then to be more superficial in my faith and not deal with the true deep consequences of what I believed. After all, if I dealt with them, evangelism had to be done, and I did not want to deal with that. I still was probably one of the most outwardly Christian people in my circles, but it was not as deep as it had once been.
When I graduated from High School I went to Ferris to fulfill my dream and become a pharmacist. Now Pharmacy was a five year program at the time. You spent two years in pre-pharm. Then you applied to the school of pharmacy, and if your grades were good enough you were accepted and spent three more years in the actual school of pharmacy. Anyone who was less than a B student need not apply. Once in the school you had to stay above a 2.00 or C average. If you dropped below that for any two quarters, you went on probation, and if you were still below a 2.00 for the third quarter in a row, then you were out.
Now, I had gotten mostly A’s in High school, and my first quarter in pre-pharm looked to be no different. I got All A’s and one A- or something. But every quarter after that my grades dropped. I could not figure out what was happening. They never rose. They were always a little lower than the quarter before. I barely made it into the school of pharmacy on the strength of my early grades, but each quarter they sunk a little lower.
In the fall of my fourth year I sunk below the 2.00 average for the first time. I knew the winter quarter was going to be it for me. I had to break the trend. If not, I would go on probation. Some people are used to getting lower grades. I was not. I was used to good grades, and this was killing me. I worked the hardest I had ever worked that winter. It is a nightmare memory for me. I often stayed up to three o’clock in the morning with a coke bottle in my hand. I would lay down my head and doze for a while and then work some more until I had to doze again. At the end of the winter the grades came out, but I was still below a 2.00, and I got the probation letter.
I was devastated. I went from school directly to the army recruiter’s. I had always liked things military, and the recruiter had a position in the president’s guard or something that I would be eligible for. That night I called my Mother from where I was working and told her that I was going to quit and join the army. The trouble was that I could never get up the courage to tell my Dad. Not that I was afraid of him or anything. I just could not stand the thought of his pharmacy buddies coming up and asking about how his son in pharmacy school was doing, and him having to reply, “Well, he quit and joined the army.” So I decided to stick it out one more quarter. I knew I had given it my best shot. I knew I could never do it again. I would just go through the next quarter, and then they would kick me out, and I would join the army. Then it would not be my decision to quit.
Now during the winter quarter something else was happening in my life. And this is what would really change things. There was a friend of mine named Rich Kolaskey. We both went to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in town, and we both went to Ferris. We were also both in the choir at church. Sometimes we would give each other rides from school to church and things like that, and then sometimes we would talk. One night after choir we were in the car outside my grandfather’s house where I was staying, and we were talking. Somehow we got on the subject of God which was not something we had spent a lot of time on before that. We got deeper and deeper until one of us, I don’t really remember who, said something like, “If all this is really true, and there really is a God and eternity out there, then nothing that we’re doing here really maters unless it has to do with eternity.” Suddenly, for me, it was like eternity was opened, and I could see it as I never had before, and I could see how fleeting everything else was. After that nothing was ever the same.
From that time on we started getting really serious about our faith again. Rich said he knew a guy, Bill, who was preparing to go to Ann Arbor to begin to study for the ministry, and he would see if Bill could come and meet with us. The three of us started to get together in the evenings after school. Rich and Bill both played guitars. We would get together after school about six o’clock or something at the campus chapel and we would sing and pray. The next thing I would know, it would be one o’clock in the morning. I had never experienced anything like it.
In the spring I kind of grabbed a hold of the verse, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” I told God. “You don’t even have to add anything. I just know that I want to seek you first here.” But as I did, He started adding things to me.
First I decided not to worry about school. I needed to seek God first. So I did not kill myself anymore…and a strange thing happened. My grades shot up to a level that they had not been at since my second year, and they never dropped again. They just kept getting better until I was pretty much an A student again. Now anyone could say that I had stressed myself out and when I relaxed I was able to do well again, but I know that is not true. When my grades first started to slide I was not under much stress. I truly believe God was getting my attention. Nothing else to it.
I had another big problem coming up. I needed to find a pharmacy internship position for that summer, but I had not been able to find one. I probably could have asked my Dad to help me, but I really hated the idea of running to daddy on this. Finally, I just said, “Well, seek first the Kingdom.” A day or two later I was at a fraternity meeting, and a guy stands up and says, “If anybody needs an internship job, there’s one available in Bridgman. I was going to work there, but I have to be in Detroit this summer so if anyone needs it, here’s the number.”
I took the job, and it became one of the most wonderful summers of my life. William’s Pharmacy in Bridgman, MI was located just a couple blocks from a nice beach on Lake Michigan, Waiko Beach, and a short bike ride away from big, beautiful Warren Dunes State Park. There was a nice little apartment right over the pharmacy that I was able to rent. When we talked about hours, the owner said, “You can only work 40 hrs. a week that will count toward the pharmacy boards, so what do you want to do, work eight hrs. a day for five days a week or 10 hrs. a day for four days?” I could not believe my ears. I worked for 10 hrs. on Monday and Tuesday, and then had all day Wednesday off. Then worked Thursday and Friday, and had the weekend off. It was incredible! I played on the beaches often walking the three miles of beach between Waiko and Warren dunes, and I rode my bike all over southeast MI and even into Indiana as far as the Notre Dame campus. After the nightmare that had been my last few years, I felt like I was in heaven.
But other great things were happening too. I got very involved with the local church and their youth group and prayer meetings and stuff. Sometimes I had someplace to go almost every night of the week. And I had a wonderful time. By the end of the summer I said to God, “Alright, enough. You have proved it to me. I am ready for some trials or something.”
By the time I got back home for the fifth year of pharmacy I had made my decision. I wanted my life to belong to God and to count for eternity. I would finish my pharmacy degree, but then I would continue on to the seminary to become a pastor.
In the fall of 1979 I enrolled at Concordia Theological Seminary at Ft. Wayne, IN. My first order of business was to deal with the witnessing problem. As much as I hated it I knew that I needed to be able to share my faith. Outside of the regular seminary work, I signed up for evangelism training and calling at several churches near the seminary over my time at the Sem. I never learned to love cold calls, but it deadened the pain, and I did know what I was doing when chances to share came up.
Now after I enrolled at the Sem, people started saying to me, “Hey, you have a pharmacy background. You could go into missions.”
But I was thinking, “No, I don’t want to do that. I have been just sitting in the pew all these years. I know the way these people are thinking. I’m going to tell them the truth about God and eternity and what Christianity really is, and they are going to get all excited just like I did. They are going to get excited and sell their homes and go into missions. I am going to send out like 25 missionaries a year from my church!”
But very quickly reality set in. I’d tell someone, “Hey, this is what Christianity is really all about.”
And they would pat me on the head and say in their most grandmotherly or Grandfatherly voice, “That’s good for you that you found that out for you.”
And I would be thinking, “Wait a minute! You’re not understanding what I’m saying here.”
Before the end of my first year I was ready to pray, “God, I want to account for the most people in the kingdom of God that I possibly can. If I can reach more people by sending out missionaries from here, fine. But if I can reach more by going myself, I am ready for that too.”
Less than a week after I prayed that prayer there was a special convocation after chapel at the Sem. We had a new professor, Rev. Bob Roberts, there that had come from doing mission work in the Philippines. He was going to show his slides and talk about the work there.
Now up to that point I had always thought of a missionary as a pastor in a foreign country. But at the end of his talk this professor said, “When I left the Philippines there were six villages asking for someone to come and tell them about Jesus.”
All I could think was, “Well, you banana. If that is the case, what are you doing back here?” Well… I figured that if I was going to think like that then I better put my life where my mouth was. So that was the answer to my prayer. I immediately got on the mission track and never looked back.
So that is how I got headed into missions. There would still be a few bumps on the road, but the direction remained true. I just praise God that I have had this wonderful privilege of being part of this aspect of his work of the kingdom here on the earth.