It was the stuff of a young man’s dream as major league scouts, including the Cincinnati Reds, watched Roger Lange and his friends play baseball on a Junior Legion team the summer of his senior year in high school.
Running with all his might, Lange rounded first base. As he neared second, he stretched out his left arm, his throwing arm, and started to slide. The second baseman was there, too, with the ball and dove to make the out, falling on Lange’s arm and shoulder.
When the dust settled, Lange was in pain. He later learned his rotator cuff had been torn in the play.
His hopes of ever playing professional ball were dashed. But those were his dreams. God had bigger plans for this farm boy who has now served more than 50 years in the ministry.
Lange’s baseball story is one of many he tells as he talks about his path in life. Every twist and every turn led him toward a life of preaching.
“As I look back, it just blows my mind how God has led me on my path,” said Lange from his office at Trinity Lutheran Church in Fergus Falls, where he is an assisting pastor.
Lange starts his story on the family’s farm near Fairmont. He was only 5 when his father had him drive the tractor.
“You’re going to kill that boy,” his mother told his father ,as Lange drove the tractor to the field.
“He’s all right,” he remembers his father answering. “Roger’s feet reach the pedals, and he can use the hand clutch.”
He was also 5 when he started school. His father intended for him to attend the parochial school, but the teacher said he had a full school, teaching 50 students from first to eighth-grades.
The farm was located in four different school districts, so Lange’s father had his pick of public schools to send his son. He chose District 7, which was where Lange’s father had also attended school. It was a one-room school, where the eight students covered the eight grades. Lange was young to be in the classes, but he did well, he said.
“I had a tough time as one of the youngest ones,” he said.
He was confirmed at age 12 and, by 13, left home to attend high school 40 miles away at Martin Luther High School in New Ulm.
Whenever he came home, Lange helped with the farmwork. His early training on the tractor paid off as he quickly learned how to cultivate fields. He admits that he thinned some rows as he fell asleep at the wheel driving the cultivator into the corn and taking down a stalk or two. But he became adept at the job. Neighbors often called asking Lange to cultivate for them and paid him 25 cents for his labor.
He loved the farm, but he wasn’t a fan of walking the corn and bean fields with his brothers. His father didn’t believe in herbicides, so they weeded the fields themselves. The pay off for a hot day in the fields was dip in the gravel pit pool.
Life was good, until it was hayfever season. Lange would sneeze constantly and suffered with a runny nose, tearing eyes and even dripping ears. His father told him a life on the farm probably wasn’t in Lange’s future.
Instead, he concentrated on his studies.
His courses at Martin Luther High included four years of Latin and three years of German. While the classes seemed tough at the time, it was a blessing in disguise, Lange said. Because of that early training, he was well equipped for his seminary classes.
After high school, his next step was college, but, for the farm family, paying for tuition was costly. It would be $600 a quarter, which included his room, board and tuition, Lange said. At the time, corn was selling for a $1 a bushel and eggs for 9 cents a dozen. But his mother said that somehow they would pay for his schooling. And they did.
Lange attended two years at Concordia College in St. Paul.
In his second year, Lange was considering a career change. He wanted to be a flyboy and fly jets, he said. His advisor, however, cautioned Lange against the idea. If he were to leave his studies and pursue this dream, he probably wouldn’t return, his advisor said.
Lange heeded the advice. And, while he didn’t get to fly a jet, Lange did meet his future wife, Ginny, during his years at the Missouri Synod seminary in St. Louis, Mo.
A friend asked Lange to join him on a mission project in a rougher neighborhood of St. Louis. When they entered the building, Lange spotted a pretty girl teaching Bible stories to youngsters. He was smitten.
Soon the two were dating. He smiles as he recalls one of the first meals she prepared for him in their courtship. It was macaroni and cheese, but Lange had to ask her for a knife so he could cut it. The macaroni had clumped together, he said. Instead, Ginny put liquid in the bowl and now Lange had noodles swimming. Lange’s infectious laughter rings through the office as he tells the story, because it’s hard to believe the tale of Ginny’s cooking misstep. She is well known for her cooking prowess and uses her talents in the Trinity Church kitchen to prepare meals for church events. She was also the catering manager for several years for Marriott Corporation at Concordia St. Paul when Lange served a parish in the Twin Cities.
Together they’ve made a great ministry team and have served congregations in Delaware, Iowa and in Minnesota at Brooklyn Park, Rochester, St. Paul and Fergus Falls.
The couple wanted to have a family but learned they weren’t able to have their own and turned to adoption. That, too, seemed to be part of God’s plan for their life. The first adoption took place in Iowa through the Methodist Adoption Agency in Dubuque. They thought they’d maybe receive a child in six months, instead it was just six days after receiving word they could adopt that they were able to bring their son, David, home. Fast forward about 20 years later when the Langes were serving a church in Rochester. They had plans to sell their house with their real estate agent taking a video to show potential home buyers. The person who saw the video and purchased the home had a connection to the Langes. She was a doctor – the daughter of the doctor they’d seen as they were working for David’s adoption.
The next two adoptions, for their son, Steven and daughter, Laurie, took place in the Twin Cities when the couple moved to work in another parish.
Lange was working at a church in St. Paul when he decided to retire. He was sick, he said. They moved to Dalton, where they purchased a lake home and, following a doctor’s visit, learned that Lange had prostate cancer. Although the cancer wouldn’t kill him, he said, he was told it was an aggressive form that would move elsewhere in his body. Once he recovered from surgery, the Langes thought they would settle into retirement and, as members of Trinity Lutheran Church, take on the role as nonpastoral church members. But God had other plans.
When the church’s pastor, Dan Domke, accepted a call to another church, Lange was asked to fill the vacancy as the church started its pastoral search. When it was filled, he worked with a mission church just starting in Battle Lake. Then, years later, there was another vacancy at Trinity, and he was called to fill the vacancy once more. Now, with Curtis Deterding serving as pastor, Lange assists in the church’s pastoral duties and conducts several Bible classes as well as preaching.
Technically, he may be retired, but at 76, Lange continues to serve in whatever way he can.
He chuckles as he recalls how this kid that used to throw up before giving presentations in high school now stands in the pulpit to deliver the Sunday message.
“Someone told me that it wasn’t me who was talking, it’s God’s message,” Lange said. “That really put it into perspective and is so true.”
Once again, the Langes are looking at retirement, but this time for real. Their lake home is on the market, and they plan to buy a small house in town, he said. He plans to finish up the Bible classes he’s teaching and begin a slower pace. But, we’ll see what God has planned for this next phase of his life.