A Lifetime of Building Up
Stan and Julie Wagner spent most of their ministry career pastoring small, struggling Assemblies of God churches, receiving little or even no pay. They toiled in Northern California towns such as Lewiston, Berry Creek, Weaverville, Hayfork, Loomis, and Stirling City, each with under 7,000 inhabitants. In some locales, no other church existed.
The Wagners arrived, typically encountering a literal handful of congregants remaining from a divisive situation. Habitually, they built the congregation up to health again and moved on.
“We just went where we felt God wanted us to go,” Julie says. “We didn’t realize until we looked back that every church we took was a troubled church.”
However, this isn’t a story about how a now-retired pastor couple, married for 58 years, are coping with poverty. Stan and Julie Wagner are both 80, but they aren’t retired. They still travel four times a year to foreign lands overseeing Northern California-Nevada District short-term missions teams on building projects connected with Assemblies of God World Missions.
Their journey is one of God’s miraculous provision in the midst of obedience.
Stan came from a dysfunctional home, and accepted Jesus as Savior at 17 at Bethel Church in Modesto. Stan met Julie at Bethany College in Scotts Valley, and they wed before their junior year. Straight out of school, Stan began pastoring the AG church in Lewiston, which had 15 attendees.
The assignments didn’t get any easier. For instance, in Hayfork, Stan stepped in after a pastor had been killed in a logging accident. And the church had burned down.
The couple stayed the longest, 17 years, in Loyalton, a mountainous logging community of 1,000 residents at the time. They arrived at the church when only five senior citizens and a teenager attended.
“That first year we couldn’t see results no matter what we tried,” Stan remembers. “We couldn’t find anyone open to the Lord.”
Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Stan at every service thanked God for hunger that He would put in the hearts of local residents. Gradually, people who never had shown an interest in spirituality began attending church services and home Bible studies. Within three years, 100 people came every week to services.
“People around town kept talking about what the Lord was doing in their lives,” Stan recalls. “Everybody just wanted to stay at church and talk and pray and share testimonies.”
ROOM FOR MORE
After they had three biological children of their own, the Wagners in a 14-month stretch added four additional kids. First came a brother and sister toddlers who needed a temporary residence because of a rough home life. Then Julie gave birth to twin girls. Although never legally adopted, those “temporary” youngsters stayed until adulthood. The Wagners later took in another young teenage sibling pair, bringing the number of children in the home to nine.
Although the four temporary children all ended up staying for years, the Wagners never received any remuneration because the state social services didn’t get involved.
“Even when we pastored churches with little income, we believed God would provide for us if I worked for Him full time,” Stan says. “God is a fair boss if you put in enough hours.” Consequently, Stan never sought a second job to supplement his income.
Oldest daughter Laurel R. Harvey, now 57, says the family experienced multiple miracles of provision during her formative years.
“I never knew how little we had until I grew up,” says Harvey, who now works for the Springfield, Missouri-based Convoy of Hope initiative Rural Compassion. Harvey, who is one of 14 immediate family members involved in ministry, says her parents gave out of their poverty, and instilled a missions mindset in their children. She remembers making a $1 monthly faith promise pledge as a child.
“When we needed food, somehow groceries would just show up,” Harvey says. “We had lived in the valley and when we first arrived in Loyalton we needed winter clothing. A lady gave us nice new coats, hats, and mittens. The Lord always provided for us as a family.”
Deanna Green Harbison, 46, went to live with the Wagners with her brother, Davy, before she started 9th grade. She had to adjust moving to a tiny California mountain community from a midsize city in Nevada, as well as to a full household from an environment where her single mom rarely saw them because she worked two jobs.
“At first it was a culture shock, but then I realized it was better than before,” says Harbison, now a funeral director in Springfield, Oregon. “I felt love in a cohesive, connected family. We were extremely blessed that they chose us.”
Harbison says the nurturing she received from her surrogate parents and siblings proved transformational.
“If not for the love of Mom and Dad Wagner, and the family in general, I wonder if I would have had the strength to persevere,” Harbison says.
THE MIRACLES CONTINUE
During their last pastoring assignment in Berry Creek, the Wagners began taking summer mission trips to assist their son David on AGWM building projects. In their 60s, the Wagners decided they wanted to do such outreaches full time. They retired from pastoring in 2000. But they had no place to live, nor any savings to buy a home.
Even so, just two hours after receiving a letter from the Northern California-Nevada District that they had been appointed district coordinators for AGWM teams, Stan received a phone call from a retired minister who attended Capital Christian Center in Sacramento. He offered to give them a triple-wide manufactured home in a gated community as their home base.
“We didn’t know where we were going to live,” Stan says. “He wouldn’t let us pay a penny.”
Overall, the Wagners have been in foreign lands more than 190 times after recruiting teams from around the U.S. The missions trips usually last 10 days to two weeks. Often they have been to assist son David, including 18 journeys to Fiji to construct a Bible school.
“We continue taking trips until a project is done,” Julie says.
David felt called to missions at 16. After being inspired by a Missions Abroad Placement Service trip, he spent a decade building churches and schools in Latin America. Starting in 2001, as founder and director of Builders International, David and his wife, Lali, led missionary builder teams around the world.
Five years ago, Stan and David formed a district-affiliated nonprofit, SeedOne Foundation, that has raised over $3 million for projects. David died on Oct. 3 at the age of 55, but the ministry will continue under his sacrificial parents and SeedOne team members.
“The Heavenly Father broke the mold when they were made,” Harbison says. “They are the equivalent of saints on earth.”