Often, you hear about men of God who are called to serve after surviving a near-death blow from a deadly disease, or recovering from a life of abuse.
For the new minister at Echo Meadows Church of Christ on Starr Avenue, Oregon, it came while working as a police officer.
Nathan Wolfe had been a police officer for about a year in Anchorage, Alaska when he came upon the suicide hanging of a 13-year-old boy.
|Echo Meadows Minister Nathan Wolfe.
(Press photo by Ken Grosjean)
“I just decided for me personally there was no doubt in my mind that I would rather be on the front end trying to help somebody than being the guy that comes and sees this child,” Wolfe said. “If this child had one positive influence, perhaps they would have gone to that person instead of taking such a desperate step. For me personally, that was my conviction, and once I realized that there was no stopping me.”
In Anchorage, Wolfe also served as a social worker and treatment counselor.
“I did a lot of different jobs in Alaska — I kind of have an adventurous background,” Wolfe said. “I did a lot of land fire fighting, police work, and social work for the state of Alaska for a couple years (child abuse and neglect investigations and casework for youth in state custody). That background has served me well in ministry. That was an invaluable experience for me,” he said.
As a police officer, he said it was the teen hanging that took him over the top.
“To be honest, I had plans to retire as a police officer. Some things happened in the course of the job. I worked a couple death investigations — a few of them were hanging, suicide — and one of them was the suicide of the 13-year-old. For me, that hanging of that 13-year-old was the thing that transitioned me,” Wolfe said.
“He was a real troubled kid. He didn’t have a lot of positive male role models. The main thing I’ve found over the years is that relationships are important, and you never know what’s going to happen with relationships. You’ve got to have some close relationships with people because you never know when something is going to happen in life. The tragedies that I’ve seen have happened because somebody was isolated. They had a deep struggle with something and they didn’t have somebody to go to.”
There were other instances that made him think twice about being a police officer.
“I had a routine traffic stop — a studded tire violation,” Wolfe said. “I pulled the guy over — thankful I had a partner with me. Turns out the guy had a loaded .45, and he had one in a chamber under his seat. Well, I didn’t see he was fidgeting, but my partner saw it. I thought this was your average ‘whatever.’
“Turns out that he decided to play it cool, thought we were dumb, and thankfully he didn’t come out with the gun. He tried to pretend he was somebody else — had a false ID. He ended up having felony warrants from New York from a Dominican gun gang, and he could have come out shooting.”
Another case took him on a manhunt for someone who stabbed an officer on Kodiak Island.
“He (the officer) confronted some people who were near his house partying, and he got stabbed with a knife several times and almost died. The people fled to Anchorage, which is the big airline hub, and we knew where they were going,” Wolfe said.
“So my field officer pulled me in on this deal because it was a big deal and he got me involved in this manhunt. We were guarding this one trailer house, and we thought this one bad guy was in there, and they told me, ‘Hey, Wolfe, why don’t you guard the side door (at the end of the trailer)? So, here’s all of the police, the troopers, and the FBI with their guns at the front and I’m by myself with a pistol at the back door.
“All I hear is a bunch of screaming and commotion and we knew that this guy had a rifle and a couple other things. I fully expected that somebody was going to come out of that door and I was going to have to shoot them. Nothing happened — it got quiet and I’m waiting and waiting, and all of a sudden my field training officer called me over and said, ‘Wolfe, what you are doing?’ I said, ‘You told me to go back there,’ and as it turned out they already had the guy apprehended.
“I have had a few tense moments. I’m the family guy. I’ve got four kids, so there were those moments where you thought hard about your decision. I have tremendous respect for those that do that kind of thing.”
Wolfe got his Bible Degree from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. He brought his wife and children from their last home near the Washington-Idaho state line to Oregon, Ohio seven months ago. He replaced the retiring Frank Edens, who served the Oregon church 25 years.
“I had previously done my ministry training, but when I moved back to Anchorage, my focus was youth ministry and a lot of the churches weren’t hiring for that, so I needed to find other jobs to pay the bills. It wasn’t long after that I realized that I really wanted to be in ministry and needed to be in ministry, but I needed to kind of broaden my horizons,” Wolfe said.
Now, the minister can say his horizons are broadened. Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the 39-year-old Wolfe says he will always consider Anchorage, where he lived 25 years, home.
“It is, in many ways, still the last frontier. You have the mountains, there is so much beauty, but on the negative, in the wintertime in Anchorage you might have five hours of sunlight,” Wolfe said. “There is a higher rate in some places of alcohol and different crimes and abuse. Alaskans are pretty independent.”