ON’T FORGET TO DUST THOSE windowsills, Sidney,” his mother reminded him. “No matter what job you have, always do it thoroughly.”
Dusting wasn’t Sidney Kettner’s favorite activity, but he started helping his mother with her housecleaning business when his father died. That’s when he realized he was responsible to do all he could to help the family.
Sid was born in a farming community in Manitoba, Canada. His father moved the family to British Columbia after two failed attempts at farming. Sid’s father found work in Creston, but several years later he died of cancer, leaving behind his wife, Sid, and Sid’s two younger sisters.
With only five grades of education, Sid’s mother found employment with several wealthy families in the small town of Hope, cleaning houses. She scrubbed floors on her hands and knees for 50 cents an hour. When one of her employers asked if she would be willing to clean an office on Sundays and evenings, she consented. But it soon proved too much for her, and she brought Sid along, teaching him how to do janitorial work. He eventually took over the job completely at the age of 13.
Despite the ridicule of his classmates for doing such menial work, and missing out on many of the school’s social events, Sid never missed a day cleaning the office through all his years of high school.
The Road Ahead
One evening just before graduation the owner and president of the company where Sid worked called Sid into his office and surprised him by asking, “What are your plans for the future?” Rumor was that Sid wanted to become a doctor.
It was true. Ever since his baptism at age 12, Sid had planned on becoming a medical missionary. Even though it seemed impossible, Sid felt that was what God wanted him to do with his life. He figured somehow things would work out.
“I plan to be a doctor,” Sid announced. “I hope to find work for the summer so I can go to college and eventually to medical school.”
“I have an offer for you, young man,” stated his employer. “For the past few years I have been supporting about 20 students at the University of British Columbia on a rotating basis. There are two stipulations, however. One is that you must attend the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. The other is that no matter how long it takes, the funds are to be paid back as soon as possible, with no interest or carrying charges.”
Sidney was stunned and thanked the man for the generous offer. “But I won’t be attending UBC,” Sidney told him. “I plan to go to a college in Washington State. I’ve already applied.”
“That’s all right,” said the man. “I’ll make an exception if you want to go to the University of Washington.”
“Well, it’s not in Seattle, sir,” Sidney replied. “It’s in eastern Washington.”
“The university in Pullman?”
“No, sir,” said Sid, “it’s a small Christian college you’ve probably never heard of—Walla Walla College.”
“Imagine that!” exclaimed his employer. “That’s where my father started this company years ago. He used two oxen and a plow to make irrigation ditches for the onion fields; it turned out to be a successful company.” The company had grown to be one of the country’s largest construction firms—a company that built roads, bridges, tunnels, and racetracks throughout western Canada and the United States from Alaska to California. “That place is dear to my heart, Sid,” the man said. “I’ll agree to that.”
The man, not a Seventh-day Adventist, offered to pay all of Sidney’s expenses for four years of college and four years of medical school. Sid could hardly believe it!
Overwhelmed by such a generous offer, Sidney asked, “Why, out of a class of 33 students, did you pick me?”
“Because you always dusted the windowsills in my office,” the president said with a smile. “You’re the only janitor who ever cleaned the tiny, inconspicuous places in my office. My secretaries told me that before you, they had to dust them themselves.”
Questions for Reflection
1. What menial chores did you have to perform when you were growing up? How did they help prepare you for the work you’re doing now?
2. When has God surprised you with a gift so generous it was impossible to ignore?
3. Do you ever get the feeling that God wants you to branch out into some other form of ministry? What are you doing about it?
4. What gifts has God given you that you’re now using for His service?
Oh, how I hated that job
, thought Sid. But my German-perfectionist mother insisted that had to be done. I’m glad I obeyed Mom!
In medical school, God brought Carol Nelson into Sidney’s life. She had grown up as a “missionary kid” in Japan, and being married to her gave him a personal perspective of mission service.
During his internship in Edmonton, Alberta, Sidney discovered that his old friend, Harry Bartsch, with whom he had worked during the summer in the sawmills, had become a pastor. Bartsch wanted Sid to team up with him to start a medical mission clinic in the subarctic city of Yellow Knife, in the Northwest Territories. This city consisted of government, gold mining, and oil exploration workers, but it did not have one Seventh-day Adventist. Dr. Sid and Pastor Bartsch, with their wives, started the first Seventh-day Adventist church and community center in that town.
When Dr. Sid got a call from the General Conference to serve as the staff physician and health educator of the new Stubbs Road Hospital in Hong Kong, he and Carol knew that this was what God wanted them to do. They spent six years in Asia, during which time his former employer and benefactor visited Dr. and Mrs. Kettner in Hong Kong.
Upon returning to Canada, where the doctor set up his own practice, he visited his former employer every year until the gentleman died. During these years a real friendship developed between them. On one occasion, while chatting with Sid’s mother the businessman commented, “You may call Sid your son, but I consider him my boy.” Ten years after his return from foreign mission service, Sid had paid back the entire loan.
Dr. Sid, as he likes to be called, now serves as the Canadian medical director for the Coronary Health Improvement Project (C.H.I.P.) and holds seminars at camp meetings in various cities across Canada, usually in cooperation with an evangelist. Besides this and his private practice in Creston, British Columbia, he participates in local community outreach activities and once a year takes a short-term mission trip to a foreign country. When asked why he doesn’t just stay in North America, he answers, “We have thousands of ‘missionaries’ here, but they have so few over there.”
God’s direction and guidance are obvious to Sidney Kettner. “His goodness, grace, and gentle leading are so awesome!” he exclaims. “I cannot help but respond.”
Lillian R. Guild writes from Newbury Park, California.