Donald E. Peterson (ThM, 1957)

Birthdays. We inflate balloons until our heads spin, break out the candles, and toss confetti to the chagrin of mothers everywhere. The great debate? Do you eat cake and ice cream with a fork or spoon? Lots of things turn 100 this year: Popsicles, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and our very own Dallas Theological Seminary; but the seminary is not the only one connected to Chafer’s legacy celebrating a landmark birthday. Donald (Don) E. Peterson (ThM, 1957) celebrated his one-hundredth birthday on April 16, 2024, making him 187 days older than the seminary.

Don lives in Jackson, Michigan—home to the historic Jackson Ice Cream Parlor with its Dare to be Great, twenty-one-scoop sundae and the Cascades, a man-made waterfall. Corn and soybeans surround the Midwest town, and fruit trees populate the Great Lakes State—apple, cherry, and peach. Those trees survive harsh Michigan winters, bearing fruit year after year. Like trees that produce fruit despite the snow, Don’s life testifies to the truth that God never stops working through the lives of his people. The Lord brings forth life-propagating life, building his kingdom through his people as long as air fills their lungs. God produces fruit regardless of age.

Don encountered his life-giving Lord shortly after finishing a tour of duty in the US Navy. He stumbled upon the gospel, not by chance, at one of P.H. Kadey’s evangelistic events in Flint, Michigan. It was through the artwork of Kadey, not a singing chimney sweep but a musical chalk evangelist, that Don came to know his Savior. Evangelists like Kadey sketched Bible stories and gospel truths along sidewalks all across America. Kadey’s pastels brought the gospel to life, like a motion picture, no longer black-and-white but colorized and set to music. The gospel captured Don’s heart.

Don enrolled and graduated from Wheaton College before heading south to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, exchanging watercolor sunsets for big Texas sky. He moved to Texas with his wife Marilee, who faithfully supported her husband throughout his seminary journey with its late nights, library runs, and stacks of flash cards. Don graduated four years later with a ThM and a concentration in New Testament studies.

During his time at the seminary, Don especially enjoyed Prof. Howard Hendricks’s Christian Education class. He described Prof. Hendricks as an exceptional communicator. Don particularly enjoyed his gripping illustrations and practical applications. Prof. Hendricks, one of Don’s favorite professors, would have celebrated his one-hundredth birthday this year too on April 5. 

After seminary, Don faithfully pastored several churches, starting with a small church in Arkansas City, Kansas before returning to the mitten state where he pastored Fenton Bible Church, Oakwood Bible Church in Kalamazoo, and Vandercook Baptist Church in Jackson, his last full-time pastorate. Even in retirement, Don continues to minister to others. He served as the interim pastor at several churches throughout the Jackson area—Mount Hope Bible, Emmanuel Bible, and Napoleon First Baptist Church. He also filled the pulpit at Calvary Bible Church in Ann Arbor for two summers and popped into other pulpits, meeting temporary preaching needs. Don also has a heart for prison ministry. He taught classes at the Jackson Prison, ministering to inmates, and equipped other men to preach the gospel in the prison too. Don continues to minister in his retirement community. He led a Bible study there for three years, and two months ago, he led a man named Jack to the Lord. Jack, a representative of a veteran group, was visiting veterans in retirement communities. Don shared the gospel with him, and Jack later returned to the retirement center, asking more questions. Even at 100 years old, by God’s grace, Don still bears fruit for the kingdom.

Don describes his ministry as “nothing spectacular, just solid preaching and teaching of the Word and shepherding flocks.” Dallas Theological Seminary laid the foundation for all the Lord has led Don to do throughout his life. His seminary training equipped Don to teach the Word with authority. The Bible and the authority inherent to God’s Word propelled Don to become a preacher. Don has touched countless lives with caring, loving guidance and teaching. His Dallas education provided the foundation he needed to step into his God-given calling, a firm foundation laid in God’s excellent Word. When his children asked him about his favorite verses, Don responded with Ephesians 6:1–3, which says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Don also included Romans 8:28, another of his favorites: “And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Don’s life demonstrates we are never too old, or young, for the Lord to use us to build his kingdom. There is not a second of our lives God cannot use. God captured Don’s heart and launched a pastor into the world, a steady shepherd, grounded in God’s Word. Even in retirement, his pastoral heart beats strong, faithfully tending those God entrusts to his care, whoever is there in the moment. Every breath God infuses into our lungs is an act of grace, and his grace gives life to the world. Every breath offers another moment to usher glimpses of God’s kingdom into this waiting world watching for the King, and our God uses every moment.