James Stewart / by Michael Falco

Who is James Stewart?

James Stewart is from Guernsey, Wyoming, but grew up around Hartville. After high school he worked for twenty years in the coal mines in Kemmerer and then a gas plant south of Cheyenne. Over the course of the last ten years, he has studied to become a deacon, and more recently a priest. He is currently the priest for St. Christopher Episcopal Church. He splits his time now between the church and the work he does for a natural gas plant. 

Excerpt from interview with James Stewart by Whitney Dow, 2018

Stewart: [00:57:56] That was my first experience. What happened was I was studying to become a deacon. When I was just about to become a deacon, the bishop called me in, and I thought for some reason something had fell through, something was wrong. And when I went in, he began to talk to me, and I was sitting there. I was, kind of, sweating it, and he said, “What I’ve wanted you here for is I want to know if you’ll be our missionary over in Africa to lead teams over to Africa.”

When I started this whole process, I was looking—I had listened to Mother Teresa [St. Teresa of Calcutta], and I was looking at when she said somebody went over and was trying to help her at some other country, and they said, “Can we help you? What do you need and how much money do you need?” And she had the question, “Well, why don’t you help the people from where you’re at? Why do you need to be here?”

So when he asked me to become his representative in Africa, it was my intention that I was going to work with everyone here. And it was my intention that I was going to help the homeless and those that were in need. My thought process was totally wrong at that time. When I said, “Yes, and I would go to Africa, and try to help them,” I was going to take what I could get and go help the people over there. When we got over there, there is poverty, there is lack of water, there’s lack of everything. I mean, they don’t have hardly anything to—we went to one of the poorest diocese that there was. What I didn’t realize is over the seven years that we’ve been involved—this will be our last year, but I just heard that we’re going to up another seven years. What I didn’t realize was it was not me helping them. It was them helping me. I was able to learn so much from them, so much.

When I first got there, I thought that I was going to be the person that was going to come out. I was the guy from America, and I was going to teach them. I was going to preach, and they will listen to everything I said. Very quickly, the—it would have been the second church, I went to, we met under a tree. It wasn’t a church building. It was a tree. When we met under that tree, they brought me up there, and I had my—like the typical priest, the first time you’re out, a preacher, you find out that you’ve got all your notes, and you’ve got your papers, and you’ve got everything written down. We went to the top of this hill, and I was going to preach, and my driver asked, “Where’s your Bible? “And I said, “I don’t need it. I’ve got my sermon. I’m ready to go.” And he said, “How do you preach without a Bible?” And it didn’t hit me until that point that he was absolutely right.

What we wound up doing is they talked about—I was coming in, and I was going to preach to the people. And I had a woman that was sitting in front of me, and he—the priest that introduced me said. “I want to have this gentleman from the United States preach about God.” And she gave a cheer and “Bwana Asifiwe”, which means praise the Lord, and she was cheering about that. And then he said, when he starts, he may even preach about Satan. And as soon as he did that, she fell at my feet and she began to growl and bang on the ground. And I realized that this isn’t a—I wrote a sermon three weeks ago, and now I’m going to preach that, and these people should appreciate what I’m doing. At that point, I threw my papers down, and I began to preach. I began to preach the Word of God and what was given to me. And I realized that it was so much more that it wasn’t that I was teaching them. They were teaching me.

When we started doing this, I didn’t know where we were going to go. I had women coming up to me and asking, “Could you pray for me? Could you teach me? Can you pray for our children?” And when I first started, it was like, “Yes, I’ll pray,” and I’d lay my hands and pray. I had one woman come up to me and she asked, “Can you pray?” And when I started praying for her, I said, “You don’t have a child,” and she said, “No.” She said, “I’m pregnant. I’ve had a lot of miscarriages.” And she was in tears, and I stood and I prayed with her, and I think that’s the first time I’ve ever prayed with somebody. That it was an actual prayer. It was not for me. It was for her from God. And we left that woman that year.

The next year, I come back, she happened to be standing in a—one of her houses, the little huts. And the bishop asked, “Do you—do you recognize this woman?” And I said, “Yes, I know her.” And he said, “What did you do?” and I told him what I had done, and she began to bawl. She just was weeping uncontrollably. She turned and went back into the hut, and when she came back out, she was holding a baby. She held the baby to me, and she said, “You did this. This is something that you came, and you come to Africa, and you did this for me.” And it was at that point, I realized that it was—it wasn’t me. I didn’t do anything. All I did was pray for her, but it was that God had come down upon us, and God gave her that child, and it greatly affected my life. It affected everything that I’m doing here.

Before I went to Africa, I went to—you have to go to a psychologist, and you have to sit down and talk to him. They want to make sure you’re stable. They want to make sure everything’s right with you. Before I became a deacon, I sat down with this psychologist, and he ok’d me to become a deacon. After I come back and I said I wanted to be a priest, I had to sit down with him again. And what was so amazing is he was asking me questions about Africa, and I spoke about it just continually. When we got done, he said, “You changed completely. Before you left, everything was black and white. It was either right or wrong, nothing in between.” He said, “Now that you’ve come back as a priest, and you’re going to be a priest because of what happened in Africa, there are a lot of gray areas. You now understand that life has a lot of gray areas in it.” And what amazed me about that conversation with him is when we were done he donated the fees that were for that. He donated it back to the African people. So when you see something like that, you realize that I didn’t necessarily help them as much as they helped me, and with what we’re doing over here.

Interview Transcript