Faith News Niagara presents another instalment of "5 Questions", the continuing segment where readers can get to know the local ministers of the region a little better.
Today's 5 Questions article with Jake Hron is from an interview from November, 2016.
1 What is your name, the name of your church ministry, and the length of time you've been at that ministry.
My name is Jake Hron, and I am the pastor at Vineland Missionary Church. And actually, just this last Sunday, I celebrated three years of being a pastor here, so it actually marks 10 years of me being a pastor overall.
2 What is your favourite pastime: reading, sports, outdoors, etc.
Well, I love hiking with my family. We go and hike the Bruce Trail quite often. That's probably one of my favourite places. We love going to the Port Dalhousie merry-go-round. I love spending time with my family, going on long drives. And I like fishing.
3 Favourite all time (or current) Bible book, Bible story, or Bible passage, and why
That's a hard question! Over the years, it has changed. When I was younger, Ecclesiastes was my favourite. I studied philosophy, and Ecclesiastes is a great book in that regard. I really like the book of Colossians. It has the gospel, and yet also speaks to the practical aspects of life. As for more recently, I really like 1 John because of the emphasis on love. The most important thing is that if you don't love your brothers and sisters in the church, who you see, it's impossible to love God, whom you can't see. And so, our love of God is substantiated by our love for each other in the body of Christ. That's very meaningful to me.
Right now, I am really interested in 1 Timothy and 1 Thessalonians. They offer a lot of encouragement.
4 Briefly describe the series of events that brought you to your church, your current role, ministry in general
I don't say this glibly, but I believe that the Holy Spirit was involved in that. I think that sometimes people say, “oh, the Holy Spirit brought me here”, and it's another way of saying, or spiritualizing, this statement: “well, I put in my resume, and the church hired me, so obviously the Holy Spirit brought me.” I mean, that process was involved; there was a resume, and the church did call me, and so that's there. But I think it's deeper than that.
I was the associate pastor for five years in my previous church. I really loved that church, and I didn't want to leave it. For me, it wasn't a question of “God, where are you leading me.” It was “God, I don't even know how you would even make me aware that I shouldn't stay here. I want to stay here.” But God made it very clear that my time there was done. And that was a hard process. And I didn't leave there under bad circumstances, it just became very clear that I had finished my season of life there.
I have this belief that I don't spread my resume into all sorts of places. I don't believe in dating multiple girls at once, I just pursue one. I've always done that. I've always prayed, and if I felt that God was leading me in one direction then I would place my resume there. And I felt confident that if God was leading me in that direction then it would happen. And it always has.
But this last time was a little bit different. There was this one church in Alberta, and there was this church here in Ontario. And I thought, for the first time in my life I'll drop my resume in two places. And it was quite amazing, this parallel progression (that took place). With the process in churches, it takes a long time. Getting hired in a church is a slow process. And so it was amazing that I would get an email from the church in Alberta, saying I made it to their top five candidates, and within a couple hours, Vineland Missionary Church would email and say, you've made it to our top five candidates! And so both of these were before me. I was praying over both of them.
The next call came from Alberta: “we decided to go with a different candidate”. Then within an hour, Vineland called and said, “you’re our main candidate and we'd like to pursue you!” So you’re waiting for weeks and weeks, and then you get the call (from one church, saying no), and the next church calls with an hour? It's quite an amazing thing. So I don't consider those things coincidences, but a leading of the Holy Spirit.
5 Briefly describe how you met Jesus
I remember, very distinctly, when I was in kindergarten, being invited to a neighbour’s Vacation Bible School. This lady was teaching. I don't remember the rest of the week, but I do remember one day— it must have been close to the end— and she was talking about hell. She said, “if you don't believe in Jesus, you're going to go to hell. Who doesn't want to go to hell, and wants to be with Jesus? Put up your hand.” My hand shot up so fast! And so someone prayed, and then after they prayed the lady said to put my hands down. But I wasn’t putting my hand down!
As far as when Jesus became real to me… God is always with us. Jesus is always drawing; his spirit is always drawing unbelievers to himself. And so even as I believed from that young age, my journey with him didn't stay on a narrow path.
Something significant happened to me when I was a teenager. My brother is five years older than I am. My brother graduated and moved to Europe to study at university and my dad got a job up north in the Yukon. That happened the same year, so both of the positive male influences in my life moved away in the same year. So I went through a period of doubt, and in fact, I give up on Christianity and believed in Buddhism for about a period of six or seven months. I was going through a time of wandering, asking if this faith was really mine, or am I just believing it because I grew up in a Christian home.
Initially, I felt free as a Buddhist. I felt I wasn’t just doing what my dad, brother and grandparents did. I was doing my own thing. But I very quickly became depressed. In Buddhism, it’s very much about self enlightenment, focusing on self, and to get beyond, or lose, the “self”. I remember (talking) to a monk. I asked, “In the process of enlightenment, you emphasize compassion as a necessity. But in order to become enlightened, you need to leave compassion behind. I don’t understand; do I need it, or do I leave it behind?”
The monk said to me, “it’s like this: you come to a rushing river. And in order to cross the river, you have to build a raft. So you build a raft, and you cross the river. But once you have crossed the river, you don’t have to carry the raft with you. You leave the raft behind, and continue your journey.” And I thought, that's the most ridiculous answer I've ever heard. I stopped being a Buddhist.
At that time, I came back to the church and rededicated my life to Jesus, and I got baptized. And I think that really marked a conversion moment in my life. But I think it was still very intellectual (for me). I've always been a bit of an intellectually bent person. I didn't really have an experiential knowledge. When I went to University I met my first girlfriend. My parents didn't approve of her and wouldn’t acknowledge her as my girlfriend.
One night, I came home from school. She was outside in my car. I said (to my parents), “I’m just going to go for a walk with my girlfriend.” And my dad said to me, “if you go out of that door, don't come back.”
And I said, “all right.” And I turned around and walked out.
That started a period of life where I was homeless for about 8, 10 or 12 months. I couch surfed, slept in people's cars… slept wherever I could find a place to sleep. And during that time, my faith was rocked— and I'm studying philosophy at the time, which didn't help. And I was enamoured with this girl my parents were probably correct in assuming was not exactly the best influence in my life. And I gave up on the church at that time. I was really enamoured with the idea that I still believe in God, but on my terms. And I didn’t need the church, or their rules.
I was very much a prodigal son, departing from what was true and wanting to live my own life my way. I became very depressed, and as a part of that, I turned to alcohol. By Christmas time, I was in a constant state of drunkenness. (I don't know how I passed those semesters of school, they were my lowest grades I ever received.) My girlfriend dumped me on Valentine's Day. And it just drove me more to alcohol. And I didn't have a job, so everything was just going on my Visa card.
When the summer came, I got evicted from my apartment. All I had was my car. My Visa card was now maxed out, so I couldn't buy food. Then just like the prodigal sign, I thought, all I can do is tuck the tail between my legs and go back to my parents’ house to see if they'll forgive me. And I knew I could get fed there. I got into the car, drove the car… my car died on my parents’ driveway. It managed to get me there, and then it was done. And I remember sitting in the car, on my parents’ driveway, just feeling so ashamed of myself. I got out and I walked up to the front door. But even before I could knock, my dad opened the door and he grabbed me and hugged me. And in that moment, I experienced grace. I knew what grace was. I experienced forgiveness— I didn't even ask for forgiveness, but I experienced it. And I think that is the pivot point of my life, when I recognized that this is what Jesus did for me.
I threw myself into Church. I went back and I said that I wanted to volunteer. I started changing the church sign and mowing their lawn. Then I began washing the bathrooms. Then they had me working as a helper of the grade 5 and 6 kids. And within a few months, I was the teacher. Then I was the leader of all the other teachers. And then I was on the worship team, and then I was helping in the library. I was in the church six out of seven days of the week. I just couldn't get enough. This passion was kindled in me, and a gratefulness for the grace I had received. Jesus was so real in those moments. I think that's what really shaped who I am, that grace.
The first church that I was pastor of, I was outreach pastor to drug addicts and homeless people. And I think that's because of my own experience. When you experience grace, not just from God but from other people, when those people forgive you and accept you and love you, and that it doesn't matter that you or a homeless drunk or a drug addict, because they see that God loves you and they love you for that… that's just rocks my world, you know? And I think that is when you're Jesus to people.