If you happen to walk past the Fireside Room during first service, you’ll spy an enthusiastic group of grandmas and grandpas—and great grandmas and great grandpas—leaning in, studying the Word together. They call themselves the “DMA” class (don’t mention age), and they are some of the wisest, wittiest, and warmest people in our church family. Get to know them. Invite them over. We moms and dads and our children need to keep learning from these dear saints who’ve experienced so much life and seen God’s faithfulness time and again. If there’s anything as refreshing as the joyful exuberance of a new Christian hungry for God’s truth, it’s the quiet confidence of an older saint resting in the immutability of our great God, Who hasn’t failed them yet. 


Jim is settled into his favorite chair, and I’m thinking he might just fall asleep, if it weren’t for Clarene, ahem, meaningfully tapping his hand now and again when he begins to share embarrassing anecdotes. I’m giggling, she’s covering her face with her hand, and Jim is all a twinkle. This is one of the things I love about these two—they are just the right blend of wisdom and mischief. You can see in Jim’s eyes how he adores Clarene. And their banter reflects the joyful hearts of two souls becoming one over the last 52 years of living life together.  

Jim grew up on a farm near Forest City, Iowa, the second of 14 siblings:  six boys and eight girls.  

“My grandmas both thought I’d grow up to be a preacher, and I prayed all the time about it, but never felt God’s call to vocational ministry.” Jim earned his B.S. in Mathematics from Iowa State University and his Masters in Mathematics from Notre Dame. After teaching freshman calculus at Notre Dame and then teaching math at Ames High School, he landed at Valley High School where he taught math for 29 years. When he tells how he met Clarene, his whole face lights up. 

“Her second summer at camp, I asked her to go with me. She said yes, and I couldn’t believe it.”

“I couldn’t either,” Clarene interjects. “I’d never been bowling. I was a horrible bowler.”

“She was,” Jim agrees solemnly. “She’d let go on the backswing, and, if you were sitting behind her, oh my! When we left, she was almost in tears, and was saying what a terrible bowler she was. I told her, ‘I don’t think it matters how well you can bowl.  It’s what you’re like on the inside. That’s where your heart is.’ SHE TOOK MY HAND! I’d never had a girl take my hand before. IT WAS HEAVEN!” 

As Jim went on, so did the frantic hand waving beside him, and before Clarene could reach over and stop this nonsense, those hands went straight into his pockets. I was laughing so hard, I could barely take notes, so we did the only logical thing and moved on to Clarene’s story.

Clarene grew up in the Omaha-area, attended Grace Baptist Church and then Bellevue Baptist, and earned her three-year diploma in Christian Education from Omaha Baptist Bible College. She served as a nurse’s aide at Douglas County Hospital for four years and spent six summers during high school and college serving as a lifeguard at Iowa Regular Baptist Camp, as Nebraska didn’t yet have a Bible camp.  

“We didn’t have the interstate back then, so it was a long trek from Omaha to Clear Lake. I would stay there on the weekends, with the Gardners—the first camp director there—and go to church with them in Forest City. That’s where I met Jim.”

“After my first year of Bible school, I stayed home to work and earn money for school. The next year, Dr. Brong took over at IRBC, and he asked me to head up the work crew and counsel the lifeguard girls. Back then, the camp didn’t have a large staff. The lifeguards did everything—the kitchen, the cleaning, concessions, the bookstore, whatever needed to be done.” 

Jim was still in school at Iowa State University; Clarene was in Omaha with one year of Bible school left. 

“During Jim’s last year, I worked as a nurse’s aid, 10 hours a day, six days a week, to save money to get married.”

The Jefsons have three children: Carla, Jerry, and Wendy. Clarene stayed at home with them until they were well into school.  

“Then I redid all the woodwork in our house, helped out at school for a year or two, on the playground and as hot lunch secretary, but I decided I wanted to help Jim put three kids through college.  I took a sociology class with a friend of mine, and we pursued our nurse’s training. I graduated in 1980, and began 24 years at Iowa Methodist as a registered nurse, serving first in medical oncology, then in the ICU/CCU, and finally for 19 years in the recovery room.”

Those children have blessed Jim and Clarene with nine grandchildren. 

“By God’s grace, all of them have trusted Christ and are active in their churches,” Clarene shares. 

“One of our greatest blessings has been that, one week of the year, we get to vacation with our kids. This will be our twentieth year doing that, this July. During this week, each of the men takes a turn leading family devotions—a study that Jim puts together.”

“Last year, we studied the fruit of the Spirit together. This year, we’ll study the beatitudes. There are eight of them, and eight guys to lead, when you count up the sons, sons-in-law, and grandsons,” added Jim.

Having left a deeply rooted Christian legacy within their family, the following text includes insight and advice the rest of us can take away from thesefaithful saints.


JP: How long have you been at Willow Creek, and what ministries have you been involved in over the years?  

Jim: We’ve been here for 45 years.  When we first came, I taught the sixth grade boys Sunday school class, and later served as a deacon, and as the financial secretary or assistant for 30 years, which I really loved, because I got to know everyone. What else? I sang in the choir, too, and taught college and adult Sunday school classes at different times. And we vacuumed this facility for many years.”

Clarene: Teaching two and three year olds. I started that in high school, and taught at every church I’ve attended. I helped in AWANA and sang in the choir. And we had the chance to go on two missions trips, to Haiti and to Brazil.

JP: What has God been teaching you lately?  

Jim:  He isn’t finished with us.

Clarene:  As we read the Word, the way to have success and peace and joy is to obey Him, to obey the Word. I’ve been writing down the names of God and His attributes. He’s an amazing God. He’s totally in control. Looking at the world and the way it is, politics, oh my—He’s still in control. And He still works miracles. Our daughter Carla was telling us about someone she knows who is serving in Syria. ISIS was lining up Christians to execute them, when large hailstones came down, and they all left. God still does things like that. The God of the Old Testament is still the God that we serve.  He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Jim: And, as I get older, I don’t worry about things. It’s not apathy, it’s just that there really are no serious threats. God is a great God, and we have no need to fear. When I was younger, I avoided funerals. Now, I see them as a celebration.

Clarene:  Yes, there’s nothing that would really worry us. We’re concerned mainly for the spiritual well being of those we love, but as far as when something physical happens to either of us—we’ll just turn that over to the Lord.

Jim:  You know, if we think that we can keep even 5% or 1% of our life for ourselves, and not let God in, we are in trouble. People think about real stuff being houses and cars . . . the ONLY real stuff is spiritual things. We are spiritual beings in physical bodies. God has been so good to our family. He has been gracious to us.

JP: What do you love most about Willow Creek Baptist Church, and how do you pray for our church?

Jim:  Oh, I just love the children! That little Gus Giesel gave me a high five this morning. I love that we have a lot of young families here. And I appreciate the DMA class. We’ve gone from just a handful to about twenty-seven of us. Gary Worsham has been teaching, and he does a great job.

Clarene:  We always enjoy listening to the podcasts when we’re away in Texas. I don’t sit in on the DMA class, as I’m in the two’s and three’s classroom. I can’t remember an adult Sunday school class at this church, because, when we first came, my youngest was three years old, and I started helping in that class right away. But I know Jim loves that class. We pray for our pastors, that they will make godly decisions guided by the Lord, that we’ll be consistent in prayer, for unbelievers attending, for the leaders in all the various ministries, for the missionaries that we support, and that Satan will be defeated in our lives.  We know that, when the church is successful, Satan wants to get in there and disrupt it.

JP: What life circumstances has God used to grow you in Him?  How has Christ become sweeter to you over the years?

Jim: I think of His protection. Most significantly, protection from myself. When I taught math, I would always say that we wouldn’t do very well without math books, and that in the spiritual realm, we really need a textbook. As we get older, we realize more and more our need for dependence on the Lord.

Clarene: We tell our grandchildren that, as you grow up, it isn’t about becoming independent, but understanding our dependence on the Lord. Be thankful to God for everything you have, and pray to Him for everything you need.

Jim: And as far as pride goes, God gave us the opportunities to develop any abilities that we have, and we should thank God, but we shouldn’t be proud, because it all comes from Him anyway.

Clarene:  We haven’t been through many of the struggles that others have faced. We’ve had granddaughters go through years of sickness, and the strength and faith that we’ve seen in our daughter and her family—the way that they rest in the fact that God is in control—has been so encouraging. We’ve seen God answer prayer with definite direction so many times. When our daughter was deciding where to go to college, we sat down and read in James together, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God . . .” We prayed together, and the next morning, my daughter came to me and shared that she knew where she needed to go. And Jim and I both knew she had made the right choice. Our daughter went to ISU, was very active at Campus Baptist Church, and she and her husband have served together as youth sponsors in Pella for 23 years. And when it came time for our son to choose a medical school, I was praying for what was best for him spiritually, medically, and where his future wife would be. God answered all three of those requests.

Jim: You know, the Bible says, “They that will live godly in Christ will suffer persecution.”  I don’t feel like we’ve had persecution.  And then sometimes people say, “Don’t worry, Jim.  Your time’s coming!”

JP: What words of wisdom would you share with the younger generations?

Jim: Put God first in everything, and that includes finances. God will richly bless. You can’t out give God. In terms of investments, the things that we have prioritized are Willow Creek Baptist Church, Faith Baptist Bible College, Iowa Regular Baptist Camp, and the missionaries that our church supports. It’s easy to give. It’s not as easy to give your time and talents. The messages, for me at least, are very convicting.”

Clarene: Pray for your children and grandchildren every day. Pray for them spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically, but spiritually first, because that has the greatest impact. And our older daughter says of Jim, “Dad always said it’s important to be consistent with your kids, not one person at church and another at home. Kids see that. They know your priorities. You have to walk the walk.”