Rister was born in Montrose, Scotland. He was the oldest of six children born during their father’s U.S. Navy career in various places including Morocco, Florida and Carleton, Mich.where the family eventually settled.
Rister was not raised religious, so the path that would lead him to ministry was not a straight one. Addiction was perhaps his biggest hurdle.
“My dad was an alcoholic and he was able to stop on his own, but I was powerless to stop on my own,” Rister said.
Predisposition for addiction ran in the Rister family, as Rister found out. He got started with alcohol at a young age.
“A lot of it had to do with growing up. I started with my first drink at 13 from my dad, believe it or not. It progressed in high school, and my Navy career and all the way until I was 32 years old,” Rister said.
Rister’s drinking had even earned him a nickname.
“They used to call me ‘Case a Day John,’ and they were true on that. I would drink a case of beer a day,” Rister said.
All that changed through two very important relationships. First, he met his wife, Julie.
“I met her through my brother and started dating her, and it was through dating that I came to know that we went to school together. We rode the same bus together. All that came together pretty quick. She told me she went to church with her mom and dad and invited me,” Rister said.
Rister had a wild streak and a reputation, so he jumped on the chance to get on her family’s good side. He started going to church, and started his next big relationship.
“Once I started going I started to think there was something empty in my life and it was a couple years of going to church before I finally gave my life over to the Lord,” Rister said.
Rister finally found the help he needed to ditch his addictions.
“The whole time I had been trying to stop alcohol and drugs. I knew I had a really big problem, but I couldn’t do it on my own. Finally, I went up to the altar and I gave my life over to the Lord,” Rister said. “It was through the power of God that He was able to help me get through that.”
With help from his faith and rehab, Rister finally abandoned his addictions.
After about four years of dating, Rister tied the knot. It wasn’t long before he felt a call to the ministry. Rister was working as a millwright with the Ford Motor Company and making a good living, so he spoke to his wife and waited until she felt the call before making any decisions. About eight years ago Rister took a buyout from the company and started a four year education at Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs.
Upon graduation, Rister was invited to be a pastor in one of three Minnesota churches.
“One was down in the cities, one was in Hobart, and then one was in Backus. We talked a little about it. I thought I was going to go down to the cities,” Rister said.
After Rister visited the Backus Church of the Nazarene and interviewed with the church board and secretary, he was driving back to the airport to fly home to Colorado Springs when he felt guidance yet again. He suddenly knew he would be working in Backus. When he reached the cities, Rister received a call from the church board telling him that they wanted him as their pastor.
It’s been a little more than three years since Rister became pastor at the Backus Church of the Nazarene. At his side is the woman that lead him to the church, and their two daughters, Emily, 20, and Abby, 17.
Today, Rister says he no longer feels addicted, and he has words of encouragement for those who want help.
“The best lesson is to put your full trust in God. He gives us a promise, ‘Never will I leave you nor forsake you.’ He has always been there for me, and always been my guide…” Rister said. “I don’t think anybody is too far gone. Never. Not unless you’re in the grave. There’s always help.”
Travis Grimler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook.