Rev. Ray S. Wilke of Norfolk, Neb., is approaching his 80th birthday in September, but he has no thoughts of retiring as he continues to look at how he can best serve the church and our Lord.
As is the case with many pastors, Wilke’s vocational choice initially was not pastoral ministry. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science, he spent several years in that field before pursuing ministry. Upon his graduation from Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Ill., in 1970, Wilke and his wife, Lois, served for seven years as missionaries in the Philippines. In doing so, Wilke soon understood why helping people with their basic human needs is so important, as it helps open their hearts to hearing the Gospel.
In 1977 the Wilkes moved to Norfolk, where Wilke was called as assistant pastor at Grace Lutheran Church. In 1987 he became senior pastor and continues to serve as senior pastor at Grace, a congregation of about 1,050 souls. The congregation’s mission statement includes strong emphasis on youth and teaching as well as support for world missions and human care.
In 1992, the Wilkes spent several weeks in Russia and Latvia. Moved by the needs of people in that region, Wilke conceived the idea to share the Gospel and give care to the people of that devastated part of the world. That idea became the present-day Orphan Grain Train ministry, of which Wilke has served as president since its beginning. Orphan Grain Train provides Gospel teaching materials, medical supplies, food, clothing and other human care materials to 67 countries around the world, as well as serving domestic disaster needs as they occur.
Under Wilke’s visionary leadership, Orphan Grain Train has emerged from an idea emanating out of a small city in northern Nebraska to a major ministry of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. With branches in 26 locations around the country, Orphan Grain Train delivered more than $39 million worth of aid to countries around the world in the last year. Amazingly, thanks to a corps of thousands of volunteers, the organization is able to do all this while keeping its administrative and fundraising cost at only 3 percent.
Lois Wilke went to be with the Lord in February 2015. She was a registered nurse who served as a nursing supervisor at Faith Regional Hospital in Norfolk.
The couple has three grown children and nine grandchildren.
On Aug. 5, 2017, Wilke married Judy Wolff of Lincoln, Texas. Judy holds a Master of Education degree from Texas State University and taught pre-kindergarten and kindergarten for 31 years in the greater Austin, Texas, area before retiring in 2010. The Wilkes live on a farm north of Norfolk where by God’s grace they continue to thrive.