Battle Tested

Thousands in the Gresham/Boring/Sandy corridor have either heard Stu Weber speak or read something he has written. As the long-time lead pastor of the prominent Good Shepherd Community Church in Boring, Weber has had a significant impact on the civic and spiritual life of the local communities. He has also helped shape the community by being a mentor and wise voice of counsel to hundreds of influencers, business-owners, and political figures. However, many people may be less aware of how his life has also been shaped by his experiences through war and as a veteran. 

Weber, was the co-founder of Good Shepherd Community Church. He has spent the majority of his life in pastoral work and serving the people of his community. He is also a loving husband to wife Linda, supportive father to his three sons, and grandfather to his ten grandchildren aged 9 to 22.

To the outside world, Weber seems to have walked one path his entire life, but it was events a lifetime ago and a half a world away that helped mold Weber’s life and future.

Little Slice of Mayberry

“I was raised in a little tiny coal mining and logging town called Cle Elum in Central Washington, where everyone knew everyone… Sweet little place,” recalled Weber. “Most of us were ethnicities from other places who were hauled in there to get coal out of the ground for the Northern Pacific Railroad that was crossing the Cascade Mountains. So, it was, in some ways, a rough, tough little town, but in most ways, it was just a sweet little piece of nowhere America.”

“My mom and dad were very special people,” Weber continued. “They were sweethearts when they were young. When Pearl Harbor hit, they had to decide, shall we wait to get married? Or shall we go ahead? They were married right after Pearl Harbor.”

“I came into the picture right after the war,” said Weber. “So, I was raised in this little town that was full of veterans and very patriotic. There was a little Fourth of July parade every year with every horse in the county striding down the road. It was small-town America in the 1950s.”

Weber was the oldest of three children. He met wife Linda while still in junior high school.

“[I first met my] wife when she was an eighth grader playing softball. My maturity level did not extend beyond athletics at that point in my life. I saw this girl throw a peg to first base and thought, ‘Wow. I’d like to spend my life with an athlete like that.’,” said Weber with a laugh. “I was 15, and she was 13 when we found each other, and so we’ve been together for the great bulk of our lives.”

Weber and Linda got married after Linda graduated high school. Weber was still in college at the time. Soon after that, Weber joined the military.

The Vietnam War

Many people in the United States criticized the Vietnam War. However, experiencing it personally was life-altering for Weber.

“I actually needed the military. That year in Vietnam was the single most potent educational experience of my life. Bar none,” said Weber. “It gave me a mission and a purpose and companions and conversations, and it was very good. And then, of course, it brought me face to face with the reality of life and death.”

Weber spent four and a half years in the Army, including one year stationed in Vietnam as a Green Beret. He earned three bronze stars during his tour, but he also learned how fragile life was.

“I could get killed here…”

In his book, Tender Warrior, Weber describes the combat experience that brought the fragility of life home to him: 

“It was in the spring. On a hillside. We were at Dak Pek, at the northern end of the Dak Poko Valley in the central highlands. My face was pushed into the muddy banks of a small trench at the perimeter of a Special Forces A-Camp… Just knowing that there were several companies of crack North Vietnamese regulars out there on the perimeter—waiting for the right moment to come screaming out of the forest—turned life into a waking nightmare. There in that muddy ditch, reeling from the fears and threats of imminent combat, I finally heard the wake-up call. I finally faced the real possibility that I would never go home… I could actually die. Within hours. Minutes. Seconds. As I grappled with those thoughts, a question burned its way to the surface of my mind. After smoldering in my soul for months, the question now burst into hot flame. ‘What matters? What really matters’?”

Throughout the rest of his tour of duty, Weber began to search for purpose in his life. When he returned home eight months later to his wife and young son, he had found it.

“For the first time in eight months, I was seeing the love of my life and the little firstborn son of my life, and it began to dawn on me,” said Weber. “I had been thinking, why am I alive and others are not? What is the purpose of my life? At that point, it began to come home to me that my wife and my children were at the center of the purpose for my life. I was to be about other people.”

“That began to evoke the spiritual thirst and spiritual interest in my life again,” continued Weber. “I decided I need to give the Bible a chance because I want to believe those childhood Bible stories, but I don’t know enough to really absorb them intellectually and in my soul.”

Finding a new mission

“Resigning my [army] commission was probably the most difficult earthly decision I had ever made to that point, because I loved the Army,” said Weber. “It gave me direction and purpose and mission. That was important for a young man.”

But he knew he was needed elsewhere. With the support of his wife, Weber and his family moved to Portland, where he started attending Western Conservative Baptist Seminary (Now Western Seminary), located prominently on SE Hawthorne Blvd. at 55th. He worked a part-time job while serving as a youth pastor at a local church to make ends meet both financially and spiritually.

“That year in seminary was the richest spiritual year of my life,” said Weber. “The frame of the puzzle was set there in front of me, and all the pieces began to fall into place. I became an earnest believer in the Bible and its subject, the Lord Jesus.”

A life-long friendship

During that time, Weber also met a teen in his youth group who would become a key figure in his life to come — Randy Alcorn.

“[Stu] was straight out of the military,” recalls Alcorn, who would go on to become a well-known speaker, novelist, and writer in his own right.

Alcorn described Weber in those days, “[He] was very warm, I would say probably pretty structured as a result of his service. But he also was fun-loving. I remember us going out for burgers, and we talked. It was sort of a mentoring discipleship, but as much a friendship as anything.”

Alcorn says it was Weber’s mannerisms and enthusiasm for the Lord that helped him decide to join the seminary as well.

“He would come and speak to our youth group. Often, he would teach something he had learned the same day or within a few days. He was so touched by what he was learning in class. He was so thirsty for biblical knowledge,” said Alcorn. “It didn’t feel secondhand at all. He took ownership and did his homework and did his preparation, so the quality of the teaching was high. [He was a] gifted speaker, very insightful…[I thought] I want to learn the Bible and teach the Bible like Stu does.”

A new work

Soon after completing his studies at seminary, Weber left his role as a youth pastor and took a position at the seminary. Meanwhile, Alcorn decided to pursue the teachings of the Bible and soon became a pastor himself.

In 1977, the two men came together again at a gathering of friends, where they ultimately decided to help form Good Shepherd Community Church in Boring. Together, they shared the role of lead pastor.

“We started May 1 of [1977] with a service at the Orient Grange Hall, which is on Bluff Road, near Orient Grade School,” said Alcorn. “It was a rundown old place. Seldom used for anything, but we crowded in that first Sunday, a little over 300 people into that Grange Hall. Stu preached in the morning. I preached in the evening. That was back in the days when more churches had Sunday morning and Sunday evening services. Then the next week, I preached in the morning. Stu preached in the evening. We just rotated on the teaching from there.”

“It was amazing. [With] some new churches, there’s certainly a honeymoon period… lots of hard work, but unity and not conflict,” continued Alcorn. “Teach the Bible. Learn the Bible. Follow Jesus… It was wonderful.”

Influential leader

Good Shepherd Community Church, located in Boring between Gresham and Sandy on Hwy. 26, quickly became a large and influential local church with attendance ranging into the thousands each week. 

Weber was recognized by other ministers as a gifted and insightful teacher. His influence spread throughout the larger Portland metropolitan area as Weber’s insightful leadership came to be appreciated by other leaders in the local spiritual community. 

Weber often joined with other recognized leaders such as Dr. Joe Aldrich of Multnomah School of the Bible, Dr. Alan Hamilton of Portland Foursquare Church, and Pastor Dick Iverson of Bible Temple Church, to counsel and pray about local spiritual and civic matters. Occasionally, the informal group would publicly share their collective views and concerns about issues affecting the communities. 

In the course of his ministry, Weber also wrote eight books, several of them best-sellers, including Tender Warrior and Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart. 

Weber’s books are still used as curricula for church classes and he is still sought as a conference speaker.

Coming to terms with the past

Just like Alcorn, Weber loved leading Good Shepherd Community Church. He was on the right path, and he was happy. What he didn’t know was that his time in Vietnam still had more to teach him about himself.

“I had a new life and a new way and a new trajectory…I was totally moving forward. I did not look back for at least 20 years,” said Weber. “I came out of Vietnam refreshed and on a new mission. It was a mission that was eternal, which made sense of my life instead of what I had seen there.”

Then, in 1987, Weber attended the dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial in Portland.

“I don’t remember why I went to that dedication. Something took me down there because I had never been a part of any veterans’ organization or gone to any meetings or anything like that,” said Weber.

“For some reason, I still don’t remember why, on that rainy day [I] put my Beret under my arm. I had a raincoat on top, and [I] went and stood in the water-soaked audience to listen to the dedication of that Memorial,” said Weber. “When they started playing antiphonal taps, I could feel something coming up from my feet, my legs into my chest. I wasn’t about—as a good German-Scottish soldier—to let my face get overwhelmed by what I was experiencing. So, I departed early at that point. But it started me thinking. Apparently, this impacted me more than I knew.”

While Weber mulled over his reaction, he started to study. He read books written by other veterans as he explored whether his experiences overseas had more of an impact than he thought. In the early 1990s, he came across the book, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young, by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore (ret.) about the battle of la Drang Valley. When he read the forward, everything hit home.

“I read that paragraph at probably midnight, or one o’clock in the morning with my wife asleep in the bed beside me. I began to cry, and that became weeping and then sobbing and then heaving,” recalled Weber. “Of course, you wake your wife at one o’clock in the morning with the bed bouncing; you’re going to have a conversation. And so, we did. I told her, I realized now that as refreshed spiritually as [I was when] I came out of that war for finding my Christ, I had never dealt emotionally with what came about.”

New Avenues of Faith

Today, what Weber experienced in Vietnam has helped shape him in his service to God. He makes a concerted effort to reach out to veterans and let them know they are not alone and not forgotten.

“We decided we needed to have one weekend a year [at Good Shepherd] between Memorial Day and July 4 to recognize those who have secured our freedom for us,” said Weber. “So, we have this — we call it the patriotic service — which to us is not about nationalism at all. It’s about the fathers, the founding principles, the nation.”

His book, Tender Warrior, explores what it is like to be a veteran. He also speaks to active military and their families around the world.

“He’s traveled through many of the military bases in the States to visit with our active military and their families,” said good friend Mike Ash. “He’s also been overseas. He’s been in Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Europe. He’s even been a speaker at commanders’ conferences. We’re talking colonels and generals and above.”

Ash, a Vietnam veteran himself, says Weber’s gift is the ability to put into words what many veterans are feeling and experiencing.

“I’m talking about somebody that can really come talk [ about] the things that we were feeling and talk about character issues,” said Ash. “Talk about how we were feeling and what we can do about that. How to deal with fear. Stu just does such a good job.”

The Modern Veteran

The recent developments in Afghanistan have brought back painful memories for Weber and Ash. He has watched modern veterans feel some of the same pain that the men he fought alongside felt after Vietnam. Weber says while the two situations are not mirror images of one another, you can make some strong comparisons.

“What does compare [between the two] is the sense of betrayal, the sense of waste, the sense of loss, and for those veterans that have come back from Afghanistan, Iraq, Enduring Freedom, the modern war,” said Weber. “They feel the same sense of betrayal.”

Another difference that Weber sees between then and now is how Americans treat veterans. He feels like, finally, Americans can separate the soldier from the cause.

“I think the Vietnam War was, in some sense, therefore kind of a gift to the veterans because it’s a different day today,” said Weber. “Today, they would carry the soldiers’ bags for him. So, I do think it’s had its healing effect for the country. But the price for that was born by my friend[s].”

Talk to your veteran

As Weber gets ready to mark another Veterans Day, he hopes that people will take a moment to honor the men and women who have served our country. He believes that many times, the stories aren’t shared because neither side is willing to take the first step.

“What happens to so many veterans is we don’t talk about it, especially with those that are closest to us, except perhaps for our wives. But even then, we are not careful to pass the history down. And that’s the problem,” said Weber. “I encourage veterans to go ahead and tell the stories to your kids and your grandkids, girls, and boys. So that they can understand these things.”

“It’s hard to initiate when you’re the veteran… So, veterans don’t talk about it with the people that are closest to them. I don’t think my dad told me more than one story out of World War II, and it was a funny one,” said Weber.

For people who don’t know a veteran, he says simply making an effort to understand can make a world of difference.

“The real history is written by real people. So, what I do is encourage people to read or to see certain kinds of films,” said Weber. “Hollywood rightly takes a certain amount of artistic liberty with things, but you can’t see [the movies] We Were Soldiers or Black Hawk Down without identifying in some way with the horror of what the soldier in combat goes through. So, I encourage that.”

He also has a recommended reading list that includes Two Wars by Nate Self, We Were Soldiers Once…And Young by Hal Moore and Joseph L. Galloway and What it is Like to Go to War by Karl

“I think every human ought to be very thoughtful,” said Weber. “We become increasingly thoughtful when we read [books with] good thinking.”  HVN

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