Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Neal & Jana Welch
When I sat down for dinner with Neal and Jana Welch in their lovely home, I expected to have a good steak, because that is Neal’s thing. I didn’t expect to walk away with a new perspective on ministry as the center of one’s life. Many of us say that we always put God first, but do we really? If God is first, we should overflow with His demeanor. If God is first, it would be evident in the way we treat others. Putting God first means being selfless and always willing to pour into the lives of others who may need an encouraging word. For the Welches, their lives revolve around God’s purpose for their family. It is refreshing to see a couple attempting to follow God’s will while enjoying every moment.
We conversed about the enjoyable moments in their meeting, marriage and parenting, among other topics. However, our real conversation during dinner began with the big question everyone asks of retirees: what’s next? Now that Neal, the former Olney City Administrator, has retired, coupled with Jana’s retirement from teaching, the two are set on remaining still until God leads them to the next adventure.
“Jana and I have been praying for a while, asking God where do we need to go so we can be involved in some type of ministry,” Neal said.
Jana chimed in, “God has truly blessed us, allowing us to be able to retire. We want to enjoy our retirement, but also serve Him. In order not to stress about the where, we are giving ourselves time to explore options and travel.”
During our playful rapid-fire Q & A, one of the questions I asked the Welches was which biblical characters do they identify with the most. Neal chose Peter and Jana chose Martha. Here’s why:
“I am more of a Martha because I am always busy working. So, the whole ‘Be Still’ thing is a very difficult concept for me,” Jana said.
“I’m kind of like Peter. Although Peter had some weak moments, he came through for Jesus as I try to do,” Neal said.
The couple married young, both barely 18 and will celebrate 47 years together on Nov. 29. They have only one child, Shana, now Shana Baker, the wife of Brad Baker. They have two grandchildren, Bishop is 19, and Shayden is 15. Neal’s last day of his career, Aug. 31, was Bishop’s first day of college – the end of a chapter for Neal and the beginning of numerous possibilities for Bishop.
I would be remiss to avoid discussing some of the challenges the Welches faced as a couple. Marrying young had them working right out of high school. They soon realized that a college degree was necessary to achieve their goals. Neal attended college part time at night for 16 years before graduating in 1990. Jana was able to work part time and attend school graduating in 1988. Their sacrifices paved the way for a wonderful retirement.
Finally, let’s talk about the meal, which was the best steak, baked potato and corn on the cobb I’ve ever eaten. Everything was cooked to perfection. And Jana’s cobbler was amazing, too. The Welches worked together to prepare a delightful meal that I thoroughly enjoyed.
As I’ve said many times before, sharing a meal with someone is one of the most intimate acts you can do. It’s different from sitting across a desk or conference table. It’s breaking bread. It’s vulnerability. And at the end of the meal, I always walk away differently than when I arrived.
I leave you with excerpts from Neal and Jana’s favorite scriptures:
Jana—Micah 6:8 “…And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Neal—2 Peter 3:18 “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ...”