After ‘heart transplant,’ pastor moves to Tonganoxie
Dirk Scates has a new heart -- yet he hasn't been on the operating table.
A year ago, when Ben Saathoff, pastor of Tonganoxie Christian Church, called Scates and offered him a pastorship at TCC, Scates declined. He had no intention of moving from Texas to Tonganoxie.
But last July 4, when the Scates family was staying with relatives at the Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City, Scates had a dramatic change of heart.
"The Lord woke me up at about 4 in the morning," Scates said.
He recalls experiencing uncontrollable emotion, crying and sobbing. He didn't want to awaken his family.
"So in room 417 at the Great Wolf Lodge, I went out on the balcony at four in the morning and met with God," Scates said.
For the second time in his life, Scates felt God's voice directing him.
"He said, 'Dirk, I need to give you a new heart. I'm going to give you a heart for the people of Tonganoxie,'" Scates said. "I literally experienced a heart transplant and I even felt like my heart was breaking."
Scates placed his left hand over his heart as he described what happened.
"It felt like I can remember feeling in early experiences with a broken heart from a love interest, but even more profound than that," Scates said. "I literally felt physical pain. And I welcomed it. ... I literally lifted my hands toward the heavens and said bring it on."
In less than a month, the family had packed their belongings, put their house on the market and moved to Tonganoxie.
Scates met his TCC congregation from the pulpit on Aug. 17.
Scates, who spent his teenage years in Albuquerque, came to the pulpit in a rendezvous fashion.
He was a basketball player for Manhattan Christian College, taking one class a year so he could play basketball, and filling up the rest of his hours with classes at Kansas State University, where he was majoring in pre-veterinary medicine.
He worked hard.
"I crammed six years of college into four," the 45-year-old Scates recalled.
A pastor's son, Scates had little intention of following in his father's footsteps. Moreover, his mother had always discouraged him from entering the ministry.
But late one winter night on a bus ride with teammates after a game Scates had what he called an "encounter with the Lord."
"I was staring out the window at some Iowa cornfields covered in snow. As I'm sitting there, I just experienced what I'd call a God encounter. I didn't hear an audible voice, but I felt him speak to me and he said, 'Dirk, you're not going to be successful at anything but serving me.'"
The message wasn't what he wanted to hear.
"I kind of rebelled in my heart at the time," Scates said. "And I actually remember experiencing some anger -- I grew up in a preacher's family and I had kind of sworn off the ministry."
He wrestled with indecision for days, and finally during Christmas break talked it over with his father, who wept for joy.
"I think his response was there's nothing better that you can choose to do with your life," Scates said.
At that time, Scates had 90 hours of pre-vet classes at Kansas State.
He returned to MCC and met with his adviser.
"I said how quickly can I finish the theology degree -- I think God's calling me into the ministry," Scates said, chuckling as he recalled his adviser's exaggerated reaction. "He fell off the chair -- literally."
Even though at that time, Scates had not even taken even one preaching course, they decided he could finish in three semesters.
Preaching in itself would be an obstacle for Scates, who said he was so shy in high school that it was hard for him to look people in the eye.
"My greatest fear in high school was public speaking, it really was," Scates said.
Scates graduated in 1982 from MCC with a bachelor's degree in bible ministries. He and his wife, Shelley, who was from Topeka, married in 1983.
The couple soon moved to Phoenix, where Scates served as youth minister at Northwest Christian Church.
Shelley meanwhile, graduated from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix with a bachelor of science degree in business administration and education.
From 1992 until last July, the family lived in Sugar Land Texas, a suburb of Houston, where Scates was senior minister of Providence Christian Church. There were 250 in the church's congregation.
The family was settled in in Texas -- or thought they were -- with three children, Drew, now 14, Dylan, now 11, and Sagan, now 10.
Change of heart
But early last year, Scates received a call from Saathoff. Saathoff, who has been TCC's minister since 1975, had known Scates' grandfather, who was president of a Christian college, when he was attending school.
"I've known of the Scates family for years," Saathoff said. "I did not know Dirk's dad personally, but I'd heard a lot about him."
Scates' response to the Tonganoxie job invitation wasn't what Saathoff, who is now 65, had hoped to hear.
"I called him and asked if he'd be interested in moving to Tonganoxie," Saathoff said. "At that time, he was not interested, but we kept talking -- I kept sending information and the upshot of it all was they moved."
Saathoff, who since 1975 has seen the congregation grow from about 100 to a recent Sunday morning's attendance of 437, feels confident about Scates' ability to minister a large congregation.
"I'm excited," Saathoff said. "I really think he's the answer to our plans and prayers. ... We're hoping that he'll stay for the duration, too, and that it will be a long ministry."
As for Scates, who's known to fill in as guitarist during the worship ceremony, he's content.
Scates leaned back in his office chair, smiled, and said: "In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined how good it's been. It's great -- we love the community and we feel that it's God-ordained that we're here."