Don Eckhart’s Personal Story
This document is updated from a paper I wrote
for a class at Ashland Theological Seminary.
Updated in 2017
Jesus Christ is at the center of my life.
I am a follower of Jesus and I am led by
the Holy Spirit. I still make mistakes,
but they are mine, not God’s. I am still
learning, and I long to grow in faith.
I have compassion for people and have
helped many people by God’s Spirit.
Don Elijah Eckhart
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. I want to know Him more and follow Him fully. I have studied the Bible personally and in groups. By the Holy Spirit working in me, my faith in Christ has grown over the years. My attitudes and actions have become more Christ-like. This paper will describe who Jesus is to me and some key milestones of my growth in faith.
Sue Ellen and I are the parents of two sons and the grandparents of one granddaughter and two grandsons—the most recent addition was born February 27, 2015. My dad passed in 2006 and my mother in 2017. I visited them frequently especially my mother after my dad died.
My childhood and youth started and ended with Jesus
I was raised by God-fearing, hard-working parents in Shelby County, Ohio. As a child, I learned about Jesus and the Bible at home, at Sunday School, and by listening to sermons. I was especially moved by the sermons presented during special Lenten series. I believed in Jesus and the Bible. Thus, I have identified with Jesus for as long as I can remember. Over the years, my identity has become deeply rooted in Jesus Christ and I gladly serve Him, by the work of the Holy Spirit in me.
My teenage years were filled with school, football, 4-H, church, and church youth group. Starting at age 15, I worked as a farm hand during the summers. Just before my senior year of high school, I had an important decision to make: go on a trip to a church youth rally in Dallas, Texas, risking my football prospects for my senior year, or stay at home and attend all remaining summer football practices. Here I learned a significant lesson. I went on the youth trip AND became a starter on the football team. I learned that God works in every situation beyond what we can imagine. I was a good student and finished high school with excellent grades. My teenage years were also a time of wayward behavior. I did not think of it as rebellious. I just wanted to have a good time with my friends. A pattern of sin carried into my time at college.
In the early Spring of my senior year of college, I desired a renewed identity in Jesus Christ. I was a Christian, yet I realized that I had a need beyond the person I was at that time. I wanted a closer relationship with Jesus. I met with a Christian group at the campus chapel, and studied and discussed God’s word. I started writing about Jesus and my faith to my girlfriend (now wife) Sue Ellen in my love letters to her. Jesus became more real in my life, and the ways of faith were rekindled by God’s grace. I confessed the sins that I had committed during high school and college.
My young adult years set the pattern for a life dedicated to Christ
In the summer after we completed college, Sue Ellen and I were married on August 19, 1972. I remember thinking that this was an important decision point, and concluded that it was better for us to be good Christians rather than each continuing in a particular denomination. This decision cleared the way for a focus on Christ rather than denomination. (As an example of this, Sue Ellen and I have attended 15 seminars with various Christian speakers from 1999 to 2016 at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina.)
In 1972, I had the opportunity to attend one of the most prestigious graduate schools in the country, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, particularly known for its business and economics programs. During our two years there, Sue Ellen and I regularly attended church in the Philadelphia area. I graduated in 1974 with a Master’s degree in Public Administration, and was equipped to start a career in public policy and budgeting.
After the rigors of graduate school, I had a keen desire to help others. I became involved in Big Brothers, and David Walton was my little brother for three years before Sue Ellen and I moved from Michigan to Ohio. Years later I was thrilled to be invited to his church wedding. As I look back on it, being David’s big brother was my first opportunity to help someone one-on-one. At different points in my life, I have felt called to help specific people. I helped Brad, who was born with no arms, to get services from the Franklin County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, and I continued to help him and his family. For two years of weekly Bible study, I met with Stan, a black man, who told me that I was the first white man he had ever trusted. I also helped Rick, a former inmate and long-time alcoholic, to get housing and social services. I have helped many other people. I believe the point is that the desire to help people shows the character which Christ has developed in me. I believe that I cannot do these things apart from Him. Helping others is also a calling. When Rick first approached me on the street in 1997, he said, “I know you are a man of God. Will you help me?” When I am helping others. I realize my own sin, and how Jesus saved me and set me free in order to be a witness for Him to others.
Early in our marriage, Sue Ellen and I sponsored a child through a Christian outreach agency. This was our first step in supporting missions. We now sponsor four children on three continents, and we support several Christian ministries, including the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Samaritan’s Purse, Food for the Hungry, and others. As a member of the Gideons International from 2004 until the present, I have distributed Bibles at many venues, and have coordinated the annual distribution of New Testaments at Columbus State Community College for several years. By supporting these and many other Christian ministries, I believe we are responding to the Great Commission and Jesus’ command to help others. Moreover, I feel we are an active part of the world-wide Body of Christ.
While in Michigan, Sue Ellen and I attended several churches, including the Salvation Army regularly for some time. I participated in an outreach program called “I Found It!” It was my first time sharing the Gospel with others: I remember both the awe of introducing Jesus to someone and the fear of rejection. I also experienced my first ethical challenge at work. I was even quoted in the newspaper saying that I was following “my conscience.” Although many people praised my position, looking back I can see that I was not yet mature in Christ. Another, more profound, ethical experience came in a few years and the Lord used it to grow my faith.
Crisis leads to total trust in Christ
In order to get back to Ohio where both Sue Ellen and I were born and to broaden my professional career, I took a position with the City of Dayton in budgeting and policy analysis. After moving to Dayton in 1978, we found a loving church home. People were attentive to God’s word and cared for one another. The church was small, but included a variety of ages. We shared common interests with other young couples with children. After four years with the City of Dayton, I was offered a position with Montgomery County, Ohio, as Budget Manager with a promotion to a higher position in about a year.
The year passed and the delay lengthened, yet the commitment for the promotion was not kept. I was devastated when the county administrator announced that someone else was hired for the position that I had been promised. Political forces blocked my advancement after I declined requests to give campaign contributions to a top politician and the party in power. I knew retribution could result from my ethical stand. On the day after the announcement, I did not want to go to work. Even so, I went to breakfast with two of the elders from my church. After I shared my disillusionment and heartache, they gave me godly counsel. Bill suggested that I pray for my enemies. Joe drove me to downtown Dayton. I prayed for my “enemies.” By the time I walked to the county building, I was ready to face the day with a smile and a forgiving heart.
I decided to look for another job—one consistent with my ideals for good government. The search dragged on. At the same time, my faith in Christ grew more than ever. I used my energies to help a Cambodian refugee family resettle next to our church. I was also involved in refugee resettlement efforts in the Dayton area. One Sunday, Sue Ellen and I visited a church in another Ohio town, where the pastor said, “Put your problem in a box, and imagine Jesus carrying it away into the sunset.” By this time, I had three interrelated problems: where would I work, where would we live, and where would our son go to school? It was a rough road, but at the end of it, all three problems were resolved, and I had learned to trust Jesus fully. This level of trust in Jesus has stayed with me, and I believe God’s Spirit has made me mature in Christ.
Jesus calls me to go beyond myself for His purposes
I was content as a public administrator behind-the-scenes in a nonpartisan role with the Ohio Legislative Budget Office and the Ohio Legislative Service Commission. Then, Jesus called me to step out further while trusting in Him. The Holy Spirit has guided me for example, a dramatic way was through a dream in which I was called to face my fears (one being public speaking). I took layspeaker training and gave presentations, sermons, and the opening prayer at the Ohio Senate on several occasions. Then the Lord called me to run for public office —upholding Christian values, being independent of the domination of political power and lobbyists who expect special favors. I felt the strength of the Lord (in public speaking and other ways). I was mindful as a candidate that I represented Jesus and I was careful to honor Him in my words and actions.
Finally, I have felt called to study the Bible more in depth. I have led group Bible studies at two churches. The Lord had gone before us in selecting Columbus as a place to live because when I felt called to a more thorough Biblical and theological study, a Biblically-based seminary was within reasonable driving distance. In 2006, I enrolled at Ashland Theological Seminary, and I studied at a pace which would allow me to get the most out of each class. In June of 2013, I received a Master’s degree in Christian Theology. I have continued to take Master’s level courses at Ashland Theological Seminary from 2013 to 2015, and I am now enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry Program. I enjoy intensive study, and my faith has grown even more. I want to continue to be a servant and witness for Jesus Christ now and in the years ahead.
Jesus Christ is at the center of my life. I am a follower of Jesus and I am led by the Holy Spirit. I still make mistakes, but they are mine, not God’s. I am still learning, and I long to grow in faith. I have compassion for people and have helped many people by God’s Spirit.
Faith in Christ leads to action