From Broken to Breakthrough
Wife doesn’t give up on marriage, and prodigal husband returns.Like the biblical Prodigal Son, Jeff S. Baker reached a turning point in his life. Not in a pig pen, but on a buddy’s couch.
Baker had run from God’s call, wasted money on alcohol and drugs, and sought a divorce from his wife. Baker realized he had to make a change. At 3 a.m., Baker talked to the Lord.
I got nothing, I’ve wasted everything, Baker prayed. No one near me truly loves me. I have no money.
Then Baker made a life-transforming proposal: He would follow the Lord if He took him back. And like the Prodigal Son’s father, who ran to meet his child, God answered.
“The Holy Spirit showed up in that living room and spoke more clearly than I’d ever heard before,” Baker says. The message: Welcome home, My son. Don’t forget the call I have on your life, because it never changes.
Since that prayer, Baker and his wife, Kim, have served God in Alaska and now Nebraska, where they are lead pastors at New Life Assembly in Kearney, which has satellite campuses in North Platte and Ogallala. The Bakers can see how God has redeemed their marriage as well as Jeff’s ministry call.
Baker’s business ventures started early. Growing up in a family where his grandfather and father launched and sold businesses, as a kindergartener Jeff cut out newspaper comic strips, put them in a display, and sold them door to door for 25 cents each. Neighbors, unfamiliar with the boy’s entrepreneurial bent, wondered if the family struggled financially. In junior high school, Jeff sold gold-plated necklaces, tithing the money he made.
His call to ministry came at 15 when he and then-17-year-old Kim lived in St. Louis. The youth groups they attended went to a convention at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. During a service, Jeff sat in a balcony when he says he sensed the Lord telling him He would use his life for His service. The man leading the service stopped, looked toward Jeff and said, “Someone’s getting called to ministry right now.”
The teenaged couple met for the first time right after the service. They quickly felt a connection. However, Jeff says their relationship became self-centered instead of Christ-centered. They had premarital sex. Kim got pregnant.
Two years after they met, the teens married a week following the birth of their daughter, Brittney. Jeff says he ran from God’s call and joined the U.S. Air Force. The couple moved to Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue. Later, Kim had two more children, Andrew and Tiffany.
“At the time I felt like responsibility was crushing in around me and my freedom was eroding, so I became incredibly selfish,” Jeff remembers. He bluntly told his wife he didn’t love her anymore and he didn’t want to stay married.
“Anybody with compassion or love in their heart doesn’t say that,” acknowledges Jeff, now 53. “I was warped by sin.”
Kim basically became a single parent with three children. Involved in combat communications for the Strategic Air Command, Jeff went on missions around the world.
After 14 months, Jeff realized he had squandered his family relationships and he returned to Christ. He called Kim at 4 a.m.
Previously, he’d signed divorce papers and sent them to Kim, then in St. Louis. An angry Kim felt as though she had sacrificed too much already.
“I knew he was calling me because he didn’t really have anyone else who really cared for him,” says Kim, 54. “That softened my heart for him, because I did care about him.”
She had refused to sign the divorce papers, hoping the situation would improve.
“God gave me an unconditional love for Jeff that really can’t be explained,” Kim says. “I did not ask for it. God knew exactly what I needed.”
“What God did in Kim’s heart preserved our marriage,” Jeff says.
But Kim didn’t want to live in fear of Jeff coming home intoxicated. She told her husband she wanted to see true transformation before resuming their marriage bond.
The separation continued because of Jeff’s military service. He was deployed to Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq.
Because he worked in communications, Jeff often talked to Kim in the next six months. They, in some ways, began appreciating each other for the first time. In 1990, the couple moved back to Nebraska. The Air Force then sent them to Alaska.
“We hit the reset button on everything and started chasing after the dream God had for our lives,” Jeff says.
Living at Eielson Air Force Base, he started pursuing ministry credentials through Global University. The couple volunteered in youth ministry at North Pole Assembly of God, where Jeff found a mentor in the late pastor Roland Peretti, who became superintendent of the AG’s Alaska Ministry Network.
They moved to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage before Jeff got out of the Air Force in 1994. The Bakers relocated to Valdez, Alaska. By then, they’d had their fourth child, daughter Christian Hope.
Raising money like missionaries, they provided youth ministry for four different churches. Within months, they went from zero to 75 youth.
Wasilla Assembly of God hired the Bakers. The youth group went from 50 to 350 attendees. In 1998, the Bakers came to New Life Assembly in Kearney, where he worked as youth pastor for nine years. The group of 75 students grew to more than 300. After that, Jeff and Kim became part of Flatland Church in Omaha for six years.
He became lead pastor for New Life Assembly in 2013. It’s the church where Bob A. Wine served 34 years before becoming Nebraska Ministry Network superintendent.
The church then went from two services to three campuses (plus one online) with six services. The sermon is broadcast live from Kearney, while the video venue campuses have onsite worship, kids and youth ministries, and individual full-time campus pastors.
When North Platte outgrew its original building, Baker says the church bought a 50,000-square-foot grocery store for $2 million and spent $1.75 million in interior construction. Subsequently, New Life Assembly has more than tripled its missions giving, going from $160,000 a couple years ago to over $550,000 in 2022. Three thriving businesses that take up half the space in the building pay the mortgage.
The North Platte campus has about 350 adherents on Sundays, while around 90 attend in Ogallala, a town of 4,800. Today, the Bakers have four adult, married children and 11 grandchildren.