Stepping Stones of Faith
The 4-year-old boy burst through the doors to tell his parents the exciting news, “I’m gonna be a preacher someday!” Little did the boy know the statement would someday become true. Fifty-year-old Pastor Randy Sands is doing exactly what he vowed as young boy: preaching the Word of God.
Although raised in a non-Christian household, Sands attended his hometown church in Salem, IL with a friend. He accepted Christ as his savior at the age of twelve and he declares the decision changed his life entirely. However, it wasn’t until his mid-teens that he sensed God calling him into ministry.
“How do you explain that? That inner calling from God?” says Sands. Even at a young age, people insisted God had His hand on Randy to preach. But Sands wrestled to discern whether it was God’s calling, or others’ persistence that inspired him. He took the calling as confirmation and affirms that’s what led him to Greenville College. “If you felt called into ministry, Greenville College was pretty much the place to go.”
Ready to follow Christ, Sands began college in the fall of 1980 as a religion and psychology major. However, God threw him a curve ball and Sands unexpectedly felt his faith being challenged. Greenville College wasn’t what he’d been expecting and hoping for. Despite that, Sands continued through his classes and met his future wife, Barb, and they married the next fall. As time went on, he felt less and less prepared, though he admits a lot of the issue was spiritual and emotional maturity. After three semesters at Greenville, he finally made the difficult decision to leave college and go work for his father in law.
It wasn’t long before he began to pastor the youth back in his home church. He spent the next few years driving the church bus and leading youth. Then in the spring of 1987, Randy’s superintendent asked him and Barb to consider ministering a church in their conference. Knowing he would have to return to Greenville College to finish his degree, Randy and his wife prayed earnestly for direction. God soon answered their prayers, leading them to the Free Methodist Church in Hillsboro.
“I was so excited,” Sands said, smiling at the memory. “It was my first church outside of my home church, but I was also scared stiff because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing!”
Sands fired back up at Greenville in the fall of the same year. “What a trip! Those were my happy days!” he stated.
This time Randy threw himself into the pastoral training. He couldn’t ask enough questions and always begged to know more. His professors inspired and challenged him greatly.
“It was a breath of fresh air,” Randy shook his head. “Couldn’t have been better timing. Absolutely the flip side of the first three semesters.”
Today Sands continues to pastor the Hillsboro Free Methodist Church, never ceasing to share God’s love. When asked what he finds most rewarding in his job, he responded with tears in his eyes, “When somebody experiences the Lord the way I did.”
Of course, he feels the weight of being a pastor as well. There are expectations and stress, but Sands genuinely loves to preach God’s Word and help those in need.
Sands encourages young college students seeking the ministry career to stay plugged in. “Stay connected with your local church and get the education you need. Stay encouraged.” Though everyone learns differently, Sands believes the college training meant so much to him because he was actually doing ministry.
As Sands points out, “The grass isn’t greener on the other side. You fertilize it where you’re at.”