Jason Zehr was not certain where Mitchell, S.D., was located when he received a call about a position at Mitchell Wesleyan Church in 1997.
The Boonville, N.Y., native was a mid-year music education graduate from Houghton College in upstate New York, and he had been working for his church, presumably until schools began hiring for the following school year. Then the Rev. Keith Nash called him “out of the blue” about a part-time opening for a music pastor at Mitchell’s Wesleyan Church. That opportunity and a part-time music position at Mitchell Christian School were all he needed to set out for the Midwest.
It was not long after he had settled into his position at the church when a friend played matchmaker and introduced Jason to Amy Kaus. In 2001, they were married. The third family member came from Ed’s Pet World: their five-year-old “fur baby,” a shih Tzu-poodle mix named Jiggs.
Amy is a native of Storla, and the couple’s rural hometown experiences, though 1,400 miles apart, helped to reinforce their joint appreciation of the Mitchell culture.
“For example, you can ask anyone for help at the grocery store,” said Amy. “They don’t even have to be employees. And when we use the drive-through at McDonald’s, the workers know Jiggs.”
As a musician, Jason has valued the ability to participate in a variety of performance outlets. In 1998, his first year here, he was a singer in the Madrigal dinner, a biennial fundraiser for the Oscar Howe Art Center that was produced for many years during the Christmas season.
“When I first moved here, I was impressed with the local theater opportunities,” he said.
Since then, he has had roles in Dakota Wesleyan University musicals, Area Community Theatre productions, and he has been involved in Christmas and Easter church productions. Whether on stage or in the orchestra, Jason has been a regular performer.
“I’ve developed good relationships at DWU,” he said, “and I always like the challenge of live theatre.”
Now serving as the worship pastor at Harvest Community Church, Jason also has taught guitar lessons since 2004, in his home and as an adjunct instructor at DWU. He has 35 to 45 youth and adult guitar students.
“Music is a great way to gain confidence,” he said. “People need a creative outlet that’s positive.”
An important part of his ministry at Harvest Community is the Celebrate Recovery Program, a Christ-centered, 12-step program for addicts. Every Thursday evening the group meets and welcomes everyone struggling with hurts, habits or hang-ups regardless of their addiction – alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, etc.
“It’s a place where we are honest about our struggles, and where we recognize that the center of the gospel calls us to be honest with ourselves and recognize the need for Christ’s healing,” Jason said.
Also active at the church, Amy teaches children’s Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. She is an MTI graduate and has worked primarily in office accounting positions. She is an artist and crafter, and she jokes that her affinity for making things is a result of 4-H activities when she was young.
Both Zehrs find Mitchell to be a good fit; Jason is not interested in going back to the East Coast, and while Amy enjoys visiting her family on their farm, she does not envision herself living there.
“Mitchell is home,” Jason said.