Pastor Travis Loeslie of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Morristown received the life-changing diagnosis of Huntington’s disease. Although the Loeslie family is hurting, their faith and community support remain strong.
Travis grew up on a farm in Crookston and met his wife, Stephanie, while attending Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato. He was ordained at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie in 2013. He moved to Morristown four years later.
Travis served as a pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran for about five years, until his diagnosis with Huntington’s disease, which forced him to resign from his pastoral call at just 37 years of age.
The incurable, progressive condition causes uncontrolled movements, emotional problems and loss of cognition. The Loeslie children may also face the genetic disease.
“My husband’s Huntington’s diagnosis has been difficult to wrap our minds around and so many areas of our lives have been affected already,” Stephanie said.
Stephanie described the diagnosis and subsequent challenges as a test.
“It was a real test of faith,” she said. “We learn about God and we study his word our whole lives, but this has still really shaken us. The more that I wrap my mind around it, the more I go back to those things that I’ve always known and I’ve been learning my entire life. I’m clinging to those truths in a new way, because now I need them more than ever. And even then, it’s still a struggle.”
The test of faith has brought them closer to their congregation, Stephanie said.
“People are gracious and loving to our family,” she said. “We already felt that being a pastor’s family. I mean, that’s just being a congregation. But now we’re getting to know the members here and they’ve become like family.
“It’s such a blessing to have so many people to lean on who have become like family, just because we’ve gotten so connected to the church here,” she said. “I’m seeing these hidden blessings and, wow, I’m not alone here. These people at church are going through this with us.”
Pastor Eugene Chase works closely with Travis at the church, filling in for him and helping however he can. He wasn’t surprised by the congregation’s support.
“It doesn’t surprise me because the congregation has been blessed by the pastor,” he said. “He’s been such a strong voice for the church. The news was hard on everyone there, especially because we were in the dark about the results of the tests. You know, you take the test at the first of the month and wait for them to come in. People want to help, but all they can do is wait.”
Leah Shoop is a member of the church who set up a GoFundMe page, which has already raised nearly $300,000 of the $350,000 goal to help with housing and general living expenses for the Loeslie family.
“We can already see that God isn’t letting us bear this burden alone,” said Stephanie. “It’s been a clear blessing through all of this. It’s humbling, incredible, miraculous to see just how God is carrying that out, like right before our eyes. Proof that God is fighting for us, through the GoFundMe. I’m hearing from people that I haven’t talked to since I was a kid. This is God providing for us.”
The GoFundMe isn’t all the family has been provided by their congregation and other members of the community. In addition to Bethlehem’s parsonage that the family is staying in, members of the congregation have offered to watch the kids and bring meals to the family.
On Saturday, the Loeslie family will have a benefit to continue the fundraising for home and medical expenses. Stephanie expressed her gratitude for the support she’s received and is learning to accept the challenges she’s faced.
“The benefit coming up really emphasizes how our church and community have reached out in support of this next step in our lives in getting into a home,” said Stephanie. “We have been so blessed to be surrounded by people in this area who, when they see a need or someone struggling, band together to build them up. To be on the receiving end of so much support is incredibly humbling and an answer to prayer. We’re so grateful and appreciate peoples’ desire to help us more confidently face the financial burdens ahead.”
Lynnette Bohner is a member of the congregation who is putting together the silent auction. So far, she’s gotten about 150 items.
“Pastor Loeslie just has a away of connecting and has a way of helping people outside the church,” she said. “If someone is sick or anything, he would drop everything and come help. And his wife is so awesome. And their kids are so beautiful. The Loeslie family is like our family; we’re just all very close-knit.”
Chase said the family has been dealing with the news about as well as anyone could.
“They’re dealing with it well,” he said. “Of course, it’s hard when it upsets the family routine. We live life as it comes and adjust as needed. That’s what they’ve been doing: adjusting.”