PITTSBURG — After 34 years of connecting with the Pittsburg community, marrying couples, officiating funerals and being of service to those in need, Pittsburg First Church of the Nazarene Pastor Jim Sukraw is set to retire April 23.
Jim Sukraw grew up on a ranch in Nebraska, his wife is from the inner city of St. Louis.
When starting his career, Sukraw said he didn’t expect to be in Pittsburg — but it was a good match.
According to PittNaz (as it is now called) Lead Pastor Kyle Rogers, Sukraw went to the hospital to support those in need, he took people to surgeries who couldn’t otherwise make it and he helped families who were going through a rough time.
“There is not enough time in the day to tell you all of the great things he does,” Rogers said.
“He is the greatest man I ever met in my life.
“He is full of life, compassionate, humble, full of mercy, patient, meek — I can go on and on.”
Sukraw went to college at MidAmerica Nazarene University. During his time at the university, he was part of a “riding program” where he held services in many locations. Through the program he made connections in Carthage and Neosho. These connections led to his name being brought up when the First Church of the Nazarene needed a new pastor.
Sukraw said the church was in turmoil, and in need of a new pastor.
“One would have to be crazy to step into that situation,” he said. “But the Lord knew it was a good match.”
Sukraw said at seminary, a speaker talked about how some children are more at risk for getting into trouble when they lack a good relationship with any adults.
With this knowledge, he emphasised children and youth while pastor at the church — doing so by creating one-on-one relationships with the children and the community.
One way the church did this was the Wednesday church bus ministry — picking up children and taking them to church.
Sukraw said riding the bus is not the easiest or most comfortable thing to do, but he said he enjoys talking to the children and encouraging them to seek the church as a safe place to go.
“He would ride four and a half hours every night,” Rogers said.
Sukraw also helped children outside of the Wednesday night services.
Rogers said Sukraw’s van would have a distinct smell from the children he picked up — children who were in much need of support. He would take them to church and give them food.
“We call it the smell of industry,” he said. “He doesn’t seem to mind, but he has a new van now.” Rogers said
During Sukraw’s 34 years at the church he watched the church grow into a safe place for children.
“Children really aren’t completely safe anywhere they go — but here, we try to do our best to put the children’s safety first,” Sukraw said.
The church used innovative approaches under his leadership — creating sign-in desks, classrooms for different ages and an encouraging environment to bring children and youth to church instead of getting into trouble.
“People are looking for a place for family,” Sukraw said. “They do not care about the title on the door.
“When people talk about leaving a legacy — he is one,” Rogers said. “He is the same person every day.
“It didn’t matter how busy he was he made time for everyone. He has a heart for people no one else has a heart for.
“His wife told me what you see in the pulpit is what I see at home — I think this is the biggest compliment as your wife knows you better than anyone.”
After his retirement Sukraw will continue to deliver flowers and will be a chaplain.
“My kids grew up in Pittsburg — a great community,” Sukraw said. “This has been a good place to raise a family and I am happy how we have been received in the community.”
Sukraw said he looks forward to spending more time with his two children and all five of his grandchildren — including finally using his camper.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP.