Strength Under God’s Control

By Melinda Smith-Lane

It was the Fourth of July holiday and the Chase–Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis was overrun with high schoolers. LIFE Investment Conference was the official name of the event, sounding more like a gathering of insurance salesmen than a convergence of young people from across the globe eager to celebrate Jesus. They called it LIFE ’76. In all, 380 staff had registered more than 2,100 teens.

One was John Stumbo.

In June 2013, he would be elected president of the denomination that sponsored the event. But in the summer of 1976, he was a 15-year-old youth who had been a follower of Jesus for eight years and still wasn’t sure where he was going. His father, Paul, was superintendent of the C&MA’s Rocky Mountain District and often travelled; John, the only one of six children left at home, was unsure how to handle his teenage freedom. Meanwhile, in his Billings, Mont., high school, other students welcomed John into a lifestyle that ran counter to his Christian commitment.

With so many teens at various stages of their Christian walk, LIFE organizers made sure the Word of God was woven into the daily schedule. Rev. Wendell Grout, then pastor of First Alliance Church in Calgary, Alberta, taught the young people what to expect from a life controlled by the Holy Spirit: Worship, walk, work, witness, warfare. John responded to an altar call—and his life changed forever. “This was my first conscious experience of opening up to the work of the Holy Spirit,” John wrote years later.

Though married with a family of her own, Dori Stumbo Mitchell recognized something different about her youngest brother, then entering his sophomore year of high school. “John really developed a heart for missions,” she recalls.

“I remember standing in the living room in Billings and my little girl giving him her piggy bank for his trip to Haiti.” A second missions trip to Suriname followed, as well as another LIFE Conference, and soon John was at St. Paul Bible Institute (now Crown College), answering God’s call to the ministry.

John became passionate about church planting, so in addition to his regular class load, he went on another type of missions trip after his sophomore year, helping to plant an Alliance church in Evanston, Wyo.

“We knew he was way out ahead of us, that God was on him,” Keith Benedict, John’s fellow student, told his father, Gary, the C&MA president John will succeed.

Dr. Benedict’s relationship with John began when the young man fell in love with Joanna. The two had met at St. Paul and had made an important decision that required Gary’s input. “They asked me to do their premarital counseling,” recalls Gary, who was then vice president of Development at the school. That request was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the two men that deepened when Gary was superintendent of the Northwest (now North Central) District, where John pastored.

John and Joanna raised three children—Anna, Josiah and Andrew—as John pastored churches in Minnesota, Washington and Oregon (with two years at the National Office in Colorado Springs as vice president of Advancement). All three Stumbo children, along with Anna’s and Josiah’s spouses, traveled to Tampa last month to stand by their parents during the presidential selection process.

In October 2008 John contracted a debilitating illness that would keep him hospitalized for 77 days. Though John anticipates that he will be fully healed of the mysterious illness, he believes that its spiritual and emotional effects will last a lifetime. As he wrote in In the Midst: Treasures from the Dark, John was greatly comforted in knowing that “no matter how cruddy the journey might be, it had an incredible ending.”

In a situation when others might lose hope or faith, John and Joanna strove to find a fuller understanding of God, grace and each other. “. . . [E]very test we face can be a personal encounter with God the Father, Son and Spirit,” John wrote. “Our mysterious God reveals more of Himself to us through hardship than in any other way I know.”

Like any family member whose loved one goes through a serious illness, John’s brother, Jim, lead pastor of the C&MA Church in Helena, Mont., is grateful that John was healed but notes that “some people have said God preserved him because there was a greater calling yet on his life.”

Jim has no doubt about his brother’s ability to fill the role to which he is now called. “Prayer and God’s Word are ingrained in John and will be protected during his presidency. We won’t go down a road of compromise.” He remembers when he and John packed a boat through the woods to get to lake where the fishing was rumored to be superb. “John has determination to reach the goal when there is a great reward at the end—and we both thought fish were a great reward!” he jokes. “John is on an even keel; he sets a course but is compassionate about reaching it.”

“I’ve heard a definition of meekness as ‘strength under control,’” says Dori. “When I think of John I think of the word ‘meekness.’ John is such a kind and tender person, but he’s not afraid to speak out.”

Gary Benedict is assured that you’ll find The Alliance “no matter how deep you drill into his life.” “John is ministering from the depths,” Dr. Benedict told National Office employees the week after General Council. “There is no façade. There is no political correctness. John loves the Lord, and he loves The Alliance.”

What You Can Do


The prayers of the Alliance family allow Alliance workers to live and serve all over the world. Pray with the rest of the Alliance family using our weekly Alliance Prayer requests.


Read this and other articles in the July 2013 online edition of alife magazine.


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