Little Falls native gives his life to reach others with Jesus’ love
By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
With a passion for ministering to young adults, Little Falls native Phil Zarns and his family have returned to Sweden after a year spent in the United States.
During that year, Phil and his wife, Katja, spoke every Sunday except Easter in at least one church and sometimes two different churches per Sunday. It was their opportunity to reconnect with congregations who support their ministry in Sweden.
They bought a house in Apple Valley, where their two older children, Ben and Matilda, attended school.
“During the week we made phone calls and wrote letters,” Phil said. They sent out informational packets in advance of each speaking and/or preaching opportunity, which took them all over Minnesota and to Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida and Virginia.
After graduating from Little Falls Community High School in 1995, Phil attended the University of Minnesota – Duluth (UM-D) for one year. He then transferred to North Central University (NCU) in Minneapolis.
Katja, of Finnish ancestry and cultural upbringing but born in Sweden, came to the United States for a semester as part of an exchange student program.
The two met in a hallway at NCU and discovered they had many common interests. “That semester turned into 12 years,” said Katja. They were married in August 1998.
They planned to pursue youth ministry in the United States and just visit Sweden, where Katja’s parents live.
“We knew God was doing something,” said Phil, when their direction changed.
“God thought it would be humorous to send a girl from Sweden to Minnesota, and then send her back to Sweden,” Katja said.
“We could have wondered why we were not being sent somewhere warmer; Sweden’s not very exotic,” Phil said. “But we knew God was calling us to Sweden.”
Phil took a position as a youth pastor in Hopkins, letting the church leadership know that in about four to five years he would be on his way to Sweden.
While in Hopkins, Phil was approached by Chuck Haavik about joining Students for Christ, a ministry sending teams to Scandinavian countries.
Phil accepted a university pastoral internship at UM-D. “Our hearts had already begun to break for university students, young adults,” said Phil. “We spent two and a half years there.”
That internship was a preparation for going overseas through the Assemblies for God. Phil is ordained and Katja is licensed.
Their first mission was to plant a church, which they did in the suburbs of Stockholm, called Stockholm Life Church. Their personal motto — Discover God. Live Life. Together. — was formed as an expression of their lives.
Now back in Sweden and looking for a place to live (which they gave up when they returned to the United States), Phil and Katja will be pioneering a national young adult cross-denominational ministry through the Pentecostal movement.
“We will be going to different cities training leaders to start groups at universities,” Katja said.
The mission of Students for Christ can be summed up in this verse from the group’s Web site: “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, New Living Translation)
“The young adults are experts in the culture,” said Phil. “This ministry has a lot of potential to grow, and we’re going to help develop it further.”
“There shouldn’t be any spiritual obstacles in front of the church door,” he said. “Many people have the fear of being judged even before going into a worship environment. Let’s go back to Jesus’ model, where church should be very welcoming, and it should be simple to get involved.”
Phil and Katja describe themselves as “not good Christian robots.”
“We are not pre-programmed,” Phil said.
“We are living grace every day,” Katja added. “If you see a family arguing over ice cream in Coborn’s — that could have been our family.”
“We are living life in a different culture, in a different geographic area and speaking a different language,” Phil said, “crossing cultural barriers to reach people with the love of Jesus. We’re doing this in Sweden, but you can do it every day in Little Falls. We want to encourage people in Little Falls to cross all boundaries to reach people with the heart of Jesus.”
“In the end, God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called,” Katja said.
“Let the Bible be your blueprint for life; be continually open to change through the Bible,” said Phil. “We just want to be used for the glory of God.”
For information on how to support the Zarns’ ministry in Sweden, go to www.world missions.ag.org/search.cfm?Display=Yes&churchdetail=AGFM4483.