Hope sometimes comes when least expected and for Sam Byer, soon to be Pastor for First Baptist Church, the road has been paved by the signs of God.
Originally from New London, a little farm town just south of Hannibal, Byer was adopted along with his older siblings by their paternal grandparents. Byer explained how being raised by a much older generation sometimes makes him feel as though he can identify more with their form of upbringing.
“Being a small community, everyone knows everyone,” said Byer. “I was raised in a Baptist church and have pretty much the typical upbringing you would expect from a small town. Our family was very involved in church; I walked the aisle, said my prayers and did everything that was kind of expected of me.”
However, once Byer made his way into middle school, his upbringing had little to do with his rebellious nature. According to him, he was dismissive of his adoptive parents, as well as authority in general. He also began walking a path of drugs and alcohol.
Byer told a story of how a group of troubled kids came to his school, kids who had made negative decisions themselves and wanted to stop others from making the same bad choices. Byer said he remembered telling them how unfair it was that they could go around and do whatever they wanted to, live it up, get busted and then preach about not making bad choices. In fact he told them if he wanted to do something he was going to do it, but as the years began to collect, Byer would find grace.
“At age 16 I started working a job on Sunday’s, just so I didn’t have to go to church,” said Byer. “There was this guy, who I worked with on Sundays as well who was also a Bible major in college. He probably didn’t want to work on Sunday’s but just couldn’t get out of the schedule and in turn would have very candid conversations with me as we were stocking shelves.”
According to Byer the man would ask him questions like, “Do you believe in the Bible?” “Do you believe the Bible’s claims about itself? That it’s true and without error and that it contains the word of God?” After replying with yes to all, the man asked him, “Do you believe in Jesus, that he is who he said he was and that he did what he said he did?” Again Byer said yes, but to his surprise the man told him he was going to hell and something in him began to change.
“Now I don’t know if I would take that approach with everybody, but that is the approach he took with me and it really got my attention,” said Byer.
But as Byer became more and more curious about his new found awakening, he still had one big obstacle; everyone he knew that was a Christian was either a girl, old or a nerdy type, such as the man he worked with, leaving him with no one to really emulate.
“I mean the guy I worked with was maybe 90 pounds soaking wet and nothing really masculine stood out about him,” said Byer. “But there was a guy named Ryan, who played on the college baseball team and was a mutual acquaintance of me and my co-worker. He came up in conversation and I was asked if I would like to hang out with him one day, that my coworker could set it up, to which I said sure, I’m a 16-year-old guy and wanted to hang with people I could emulate, I wanted to be popular and all that and this was a really cool guy, who I knew the ladies just adored.”
So one night shortly after, Byer went and spent some time with Ryan and simply asked what the deal was. According to Byer, everyone he knew compromised somewhere but he wanted to know what Ryan’s compromise was?
“Sam, I haven’t always been mister popular and most of my life the decisions I made have not gained me popularity. But Jesus Christ came into my life at an early age and got a hold of me and I have never had any regrets.”
Byer went on to say how Ryan told him how there was no sin he could have committed that could not be forgiven by Christ, all he had to do was ask. Those were the parting words, according to Byer, but that was all it took. As he left the gathering and got into his car he took a moment to speak with God.
“I told him, ‘God, I know you’re real, I believe what your words say and are true and I need your forgiveness. I give you my life, please have all of me.’ It was literally like the weight of 1,000 pounds had been lifted and I could feel a relief, a freedom,” said Byer. “The next day I met with all the pot heads I ran with, gave back all the paraphernalia and said I don’t need it anymore. After school I went to my room, took all the bottles of alcohol, poured them out in the sink, placed the bottles in front of my mom and had a one on one with her explaining all the wrong I had done and begged for her forgiveness.”
From that day on Byer said his relationships, across the board had changed, even grown.
“From there on out, my ambitions about what I wanted to do with my life changed,” said Byer. “Not that it’s wrong to want to be a journalist, which is what I originally wanted to do, but suddenly I had experienced God in such a way that all I wanted to do was see other people come to know Jesus and have him change their lives as he did mine.”
From there Byer began a youth group at his church, as well as help put together a variety of different functions, all designed to draw his friends in so they could learn about Christ. He also began to look at colleges so he could begin a career helping younger kids, such as a teacher, a counselor or even a coach, all while still running the youth group.
“That was my game plan but after a while into it I had the opportunity to become a youth minister at the church part time, where we had about eight youth members and that grew to about 60 members, I found out there were actually people who did it vocationally and got paid just to be a youth pastor,” said Byer.
Three years had passed, Byer graduated and his church brought him on full time, he met his wife Margaret and everything seemed to be going well. After a year in Quincy, Ill. the couple moved to St. Peters, where Byers became a full time staff member at Ridgecrest Baptist Church as their Minister of Students, where he spent the next three-years. With all the signs pointing to his path, Byer, along with his wife would put things in motion to start their own church; one that would serve all the lost souls who had not found or had the resources to put Jesus in their lives. So once again, the couple would head back to Hannibal, but with their oldest son Ezekiel. Five months later Byer said they held their first service with approximately 120 people in attendance and five-years later the church is still very much active.
“However, after three years in Hannibal the church I worked with in St. Charles called and asked if I wanted to come back and be on staff, where I could work on my seminary degree and possibly when the senior minister retired I could take over in his place,” said Byer. After about six months there working with teenagers and their families Byer thought that they still weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing and thought maybe God had given them the opportunities to possibly start a church in North O’Fallon.
“I felt as though the best way to get to know a community and the best connection you could have was with the Chamber of Commerce, which I think is so vital for every community to have,” said Byer. “I subscribe to their newsletter and the second one I received I noticed they were looking for a services director. I realized it was a salary position and the main objective was to engage business owners in the community and build relationships and I thought that was perfect fit for what we wanted to do.”
Byer got hired in 2011 and over the next eight months he said he did a variety of things to try and get another church established but in the end it wasn’t the success he was looking for. In September of 2012 Byer decided God gave him the okay to dismiss the idea of a new church. However, just before dismissing the idea he learned the First Baptist Church in Elsberry was looking for a new minister and that they had just recently lost their Chamber of Commerce.
“It felt as though everything came together and it was the signs we had been looking for,” said Byer. “Just everything came together and I could see God’s hands all through it.
Story courtesy of The Elsberry Democrat.