High Noon in Sioux Falls

Business professionals take their faith to work and to the streets.

Rich Atkinson
Photos by Guy Gerrard

Six businessmen sit in swivel-back chairs that bump up against a long oak conference table. It’s high noon in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Kent Huisken, 45, greets each fellow businessman with a friendly smile through his salt and pepper goatee. While most meetings around this table focus on business, this one is about God.

Kent facilitates a weekly Bible study in the conference room of a building he owns. As a commercial realtor, his mind is often on business deals and rental properties, yet he chooses to focus on something more, even when on the job.

For him, there’s no separation: As a Christian, he wants to integrate God into all areas of life, including work. Understandably, Kent desires to do well in business and provide for his family, just like another Sioux Falls businessman, Tom Jones, wanted to do.

When Kent met Tom, it looked like the property manager had everything -- a beautiful wife, a great family and financial stability. But inside, he was starving.

“There was emptiness there, and I was trying to feed it with material items, buildings and cars,” Tom says.

But Tom didn’t learn the answer he was searching for from weekly meetings with a psychologist; he found it from Kent, one of his clients. His solution started with a simple conversation.

“Where are you in your walk with the Lord?” Kent asked, not satisfied with small talk.

“I was stunned. My jaw dropped,” says Tom. “I didn’t know what to say.”

Tom had hoped his actions could change him, like attending church or working hard. When he began meeting with Kent one-to-one, he discovered instead that God wanted a relationship with him, not just a check-off list of religious activities.  

Through Jesus, Tom could experience real change. Now, he has been trying to engage others the way Kent reached out to him.

“I want to help my brother and the lady in my office see what I saw several years ago,” he says.

As the largest city in South Dakota, Sioux Falls is full of Toms: people seeking satisfaction in the material and the business of people-pleasing, not seeing the reality of Christ as their true fulfillment.

“Your walk with God is more than just going to church and saying your prayers,” says Tom. “I am growing in my faith, and Kent was the start of that.”

Although Kent loves pheasant hunting and watching movies with his wife and 2 sons, he carves out time in his busy schedule to help other businessmen know Christ and grow as Christians. Kent volunteers with Priority Associates, meeting one-to-one with several men to counsel and guide them through spiritual conversations.

“We want to help them see that they have a circle of influence where God has placed them,” says David Larson, the director of Priority Associates in Sioux Falls. “That circle of influence is really a mission field for them.”

Currently, 14 Priority Associates Bible study groups meet around Sioux Falls, representing 160 men and women in a variety of careers such as law, banking and marketing. The Bible studies had humble beginnings when Kent’s group began about 6 years ago.

“Literally, sometimes I was the only one there,” the Minnesota native says. “I felt like it was a miserable failure, but I kept pushing on.”

So he started meeting with businessmen individually, men that he knew or contacts gathered through PA outreaches. Kent would go to lunch and get them to talk, modeling an integration of work and faith.

He invited them next to join a network of others with the same desire to put God into their working world. After a while, his group had 6 members.

When it grew to 23 men, Kent asked businessman Rob Broin to break off and start a different group with some of the men. Later, Dan Lemme, a business associate of Kent’s, facilitated another breakaway. Kent’s original group multiplied into 3.

“I love business -- so I guess it’s not just a deliberate plan, but it’s just who I am,” says Kent. “It’s being in my circle of influence, which happens to be businessmen because I’m a businessman. If I were a factory worker, it would be the same.”

Yesterday, Kent sat in a meeting with Dan Lemme, discussing business goals. Dan sparks spiritual conversations in a couple of ways: first, by asking to pray for those he interacts with, and second by naming his construction company, C-Lemme Companies, LL C. The “C” stands for Christ.

“I have the best business partner,” says Dan, whose previous construction company went bankrupt. Later, he started this one. “I needed to put Christ first in regard to my
business,” he says.

This is Kent’s goal, too, to put Christ first. His business cards display his number and email address, plus something seemingly unrelated: Below his name is printed “Colossians 3:23.” He knows the reference: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.”  

And while he strives for this, he’s quick to admit he falls short. But by omitting the text and only offering the verse reference, Kent wants his business card to spark spiritual conversations.

“It is a natural way to help people to dig into their Bibles and talk about it,” he says. “If they don’t have a Bible, I’ll go and buy them a Bible.”

Kent’s back in the lunchtime Bible study, and the group is talking about persecution. He acknowledges to the group that it’s not always easy to tell others about Jesus.

“I would admit,” he says, “I’m scared to do it.”

Michael Mattson, 46, is vice president of a bank and also sits at the conference table. He joined Kent’s Bible study group almost 4 years ago.

Since being involved in the group, Michael has moved from feeling ill-equipped to being confident about starting spiritual conversations with others. In his effort to integrate business and ministry, Michael learned to pray with clients.

Once a man came to seek a loan, but he was past due on everything including his mortgage.

“Loan-wise there was absolutely nothing I could do for him,” says Michael. “When I said ‘No,’ he actually cried.”

He talked with the man some and then prayed for him. The man was affected by Michael’s response.

Although he didn’t get the loan he sought, he sent Michael a thank-you card, and started attending Bible study. Michael knows it is because he integrated his faith at work.

That’s one goal of Priority Associates’ l6 volunteer leaders in Sioux Falls. Kent and the others help connect business men and women to Christ through Bible studies, special events and personal interaction.

Priority Associates’ goal in Sioux Falls this year is for 5,000 people to hear God’s message of love and forgiveness through their ministry.

“I think that the Lord wants us to engage people where they are and where we are, doing what we do every day,” says Kent. “We don’t have to be pastors or missionaries. We can be plumbers, real-estate people, and factory workers and tell people what Christ did for us.”

It’s all in a day’s work.

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