Elim Chaplain Sahlstrom tells faith journey story at Milaca senior fellowship

Sahlstrom speaks at Milaca Evangelical Free Church.
Sahlstrom speaks at Milaca Evangelical Free Church.

Milaca – Milaca Elim chaplain Tom Sahlstrom gave an address to the Milaca Senior Fellowship on Friday, Jan. 20, during which he reflected on his faith journey and his experiences during the Vietnam War.
Sahlstrom set his reflections up within his life story, telling the audience about misunderstanding what faith was supposed to mean when he was a young man.
“At the age of 11 or 12 I was afraid of dying,” he said. “When Jesus comes again there can be those that are left behind, and I didn’t want to be left behind.”
During adolescence, Sahlstrom said he began to drift away from God, even as he looked for purpose through religion. He accepted Christ anew at a summer camp, then he fell back into the same pattern he had previously been in. Sahlstrom said he later realized that during his teen years he worshipped two gods: sports and girls.
Sahlstrom’s drift away from his faith continued into college. Then in the summer of 1967 he was drafted.
He did not try to avoid the service, and in fact went earlier than he had to, looking toward the military for a sense of purpose.
Around the time Sahlstrom was drafted, the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria, occurred, although while it was going on, no one could predict it would be so short. Sahlstrom and his fellow recruits briefly thought they might be sent to the Middle East before they were ultimately sent to Vietnam.
After the war, Sahlstrom said he found himself disillusioned with his nation and the military industrial complex and feeling distrustful of authority and bureaucracy. He was a “practical atheist,” he said, one who simply doesn’t think about the God question at all.
“I just lived like there was no God,” Sahlstrom said.
It was a Milaca pastor and his high school sweetheart that started Sahlstrom back on the path the eventually led him to be pastor.
While returning to college and living in Waite Park, Sahlstrom found the sermons of a new pastor at Milaca Evangelical Free Church in Milaca inspiring.
“I think that that spring he was preparing every message just for me,” Sahlstrom said.
He began attending activities hosted by InterVarsity, a campus ministry group, spurred on by the young woman he would eventually marry, whom he’d dated off and on throughout high school. Sahlstrom said that when he had first gotten out of the military, he was not marriageable.
“I fell into the patterns of my Army mates, and they aren’t always the best patterns,” he said, “learning how to swear like they swear, drink like they drink, act like they act.”
During this time, under the influence of InterVarsity, Sahlstrom spent two weeks going through what he called “4th and 5th steps” with God, referring to steps in Alcoholics Anonymous which require one to go through a moral inventory of themselves and to admit their wrongs to themselves, God and another person.
“By the end of that two-week period, I felt clean again, I felt whole again,” Sahlstrom said.
He got engaged to his high school sweetheart in February 1970. He says it was God who brought them together.
“It had to be him because we tried on our own and couldn’t live with each other,” he said. “God got ahold of us together.”
InterVarsity had given Sahlstrom his “first taste” of ministry, and he went to work after college with the evangelist campaign Youth for Christ in the Twin Cities. He decided to go to seminary when he found that some youths he worked with were asking questions he wasn’t “in a good position to answer.”
“I crammed three years into four,” Sahlstrom said jokingly of his seminary experience, throughout which he also worked almost full time.
During the pastoral career that followed, Sahlstrom worked at churches in Pine City, Oakdale, Iowa and Princeton before retiring and working as a chaplain for Elim Care in Milaca.