POST FALLS - Mike and Jane Walker, founding pastors of Faith Ministries in Post Falls, fought for equality and peace in Kootenai County for 28 years, and are now moving on.
Today will be the couple's last day as pastors of the Post Falls nondenominational church before they move on to their next chapter of ministry for the World Impact Bible Institute in San Diego.
One of their biggest marks has been helping this area toward improved equality.
After the Aryan Nations white supremacy compound was destroyed several years ago, the Walkers rounded up folks with various ethnic backgrounds to visit the site.
"We prayed over the land and dedicated it to God and peace," Mike said.
A story on the gathering appeared in the Washington Post, which drew Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., to speak at the church.
"When it appeared in The Press that she was coming, the FBI showed up at our place asking what we were doing for security," Mike said. "We didn't think about that part."
After the couple officiated their first interracial marriage in Post Falls, their front yard got covered with hate mail.
"We didn't want to be radical, but our message has been simple: God's love for all people is unconditional," he said. "It doesn't matter what your background is or what your religion is."
One of Faith Ministries' outreach projects since 9/11 has been delivering meals to emergency responders who work on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"It's our way of saying 'thank you' for protecting us while we enjoy time with our families," Mike said.
One of Jane's ministries has been a life-skills program called Vector at the Anchor House boys' transitional home the past four years.
"It helps them get focused not just spiritually, but with practical concepts," she said.
While many pastors move on within 10 years at the same church, the Walkers have stayed the course for nearly three decades.
"We haven't felt a release to leave until now," Mike said. "We've married people, dedicated their babies, married (that next generation) and dedicated their children. Who gets to do that? We're trained to stay until the next season and, for us, that season has come after 28 years. Here we go."
Perhaps even more amazing than the longevity at the same church, the couple has learned ways to make being co-pastors work as husband and wife.
"It was a little rough in the beginning, separating marriage from the office," Mike said. "But there became a point, a few years into it, when Jane recognized me as the lead pastor. We then began to really work together. As co-pastors we share the load."
Even with Mike as lead, he said Jane's opinions carry a lot of weight, because he's well aware of how men and women are wired.
"Even though she's given me the liberty to make the final decision, it usually goes the way she wants because I'm a typical man who is focused on one thing at a time or two at the most," he said. "I may be the head, but she's the hand that turns the head."
Jane said the key to the couple's service has been "remaining true to the call."
"It was God who called us to the ministry," she said. "Regardless of the challenges, at the end of the day, it's God's work, not ours."
While both have shared the pulpit, Mike has been the primary speaker while Jane has focused on the church's administrative matters. Still, there's a joke within the church that more sermon CDs are distributed when Jane speaks.
"We've had challenges, but it really came down to defining our boundaries and what we were most skilled at," Jane said. "My thing was taking some of the burden off of him so he could learn the word and do overseas work."
The couple was raised in North Idaho and have been married 35 years. They met at a keggar party at Jane's house.
"God has a sense of humor," Jane said.
Sarah Hindman, who has attended Faith Ministries for more than 20 years, said the Walkers will be missed.
"They really have a genuine love for the people in this community and given their lives toward that," she said. "Several times they could've walked away and didn't."
She said the couple assisted her when she had health issues.
"They've always made sure my family has been taken care of with meals," Hindman said.
Hindman recalls Mike making a comment years ago, before Post Falls' growth spurt, about how this was where God placed him.
"That changed my view of Post Falls," she said. "He's loved being here."
Mike said the church operated out of three different buildings during its first six years before it finally had a facility to call its own, on 16th Avenue east of Highway 41.
"It took nearly three years to build, but with primarily volunteer help and extending permits, we got it done," he said. "We never had more than $1,000 in the bank at any one time."
The church has since had an addition and major upgrade. More than 200 people are attending.
"It's been steadily progressing," Mike said.
"One of the things that we agreed on years ago and were taught was to never move from where you are unless the church is healthy and strong. We're thankful that's happening. The past eight years have been absolutely incredible."
The couple said, for the first time in 28 years, they felt that "release" last fall to move on.
"We had no idea what that meant," Mike said.
But, within six days of that husband-and-wife sitdown, they had job offers from the World Impact Bible Institute.
Mike will be dean of the Bible college being launched by the institute, while Jane will be the registrar. The couple started an accredited Bible college called To the Nations here, so they already have educational experience.
The Walkers also plan to start a nondenominational church during their new venture.
Jane said it will be a bittersweet move, especially leaving the area where they grew up, as well as their church and immediate family.
"It's one thing to leave the building; it's another to leave the people," Jane said. "We've been the senior pastors, but it's been the people who have made the programs work."