ORLEANS TOWNSHIP — In his youth, those who knew Ken Harger were lucky to hear a whisper or a single audible word from the shy, embarrassed boy with a speech impediment.
A lifetime later, Harger’s unique voice and powerful spiritual messages can be heard all over the world, a transformation he says was guided by the grace of God.
Harger, a retired pastor who preached for 50 years at Shiloh Community Church, is marking 35 years of delivering his sermons on local radio at M-106.3 WGLM in Greenville (formerly WPLB).
Although his time in front of a congregation ended with his retirement five years ago, Harger still feels the passion to deliver sermons to those who can listen from home or in the car.
“It is very fulfilling and people tell me, in a very kind way, that I have my own unique, recognizable way of talking,” he said. “The stuff that helps me in my life, that’s the stuff I want to preach.”
Harger’s sermons are an hour in length and air every Sunday morning.
“As I studied the life of Jesus, he starts with where people are, what they are going through, and then takes them forward,” he said. “I learned that humor is good, and people will remember stories. Jesus taught by parables, so if I can deliver it personally, and connect all of that together, then I think I’ve answered my calling.”
Harger speaks in the same humble yet confident manner that he did at Shiloh, but the path that led Harger to the airwaves was not an easy one.
As a child, Harger suffered from a speech impediment that made it very difficult for him to socialize.
“Kids laughed at me in school … and I would hear it when I would talk to adults, too,” he recalled. ““I can’t understand that kid, what’s wrong with him?’ they would ask.”
Harger dropped out of high school and took a factory job in Ionia to support his family.
A coworker invited him to a sermon in Saranac and a message from the pastor changed his life.
It was the story of Moses from the book of Exodus, about how God called upon Moses to take on the seemingly impossible task of asking the Egyptian Pharaoh to free the slaves of Egypt.
Harger listened intently as the pastor spoke of how Moses was a man who, like himself, could not speak easily or fluently, yet through his faith in God, went forward.
Upon receiving the task, Moses responded, “Behold, I am unskilled in speech; how then will Pharaoh listen to me?”
God’s response: “You shall speak all that I command you.”
“I don’t know what anybody else got out of that (sermon), but I knew God wasn’t going to let me use that excuse,” Harger said. “God can take what seems to be the impossible, and will take you the way you are and use you as you are needed.”
With that message guiding him, Harger became a milk man, and through his dealings with customers, become more comfortable with his speech over time. He attended seminary school in Grand Rapids and found his way to Shiloh Community Church.
Now, many years removed from his fears and troubles with speaking, Harger continues to deliver his messages on radio.
“Even though I’m just sitting here at a microphone, I can close my eyes and picture the people who are listening,” he said. “I have no idea how far this program may reach or who is listening, but that makes it all the more special.”
Harger’s sermons are not live, neither are they recorded on cassette tapes. They are recorded onto CDs from his home office, a lighthouse he had built on the south end of Long Lake 15 years ago.
His sermons are aired on WGLM in Greenville and 1430 AM WION in Ionia.
Listeners can also access his sermons from his website at www.pastorkenharger.com.
WGLM Station Manager and owner Jim Aaron said Harger’s sermons are well received by listeners.
“It’s been a pleasure to have pastor Harger on M106.3 airwaves all these years,” he said. “Pastor Harger’s show has no boundaries as listeners from Ionia, Montcalm, Mecosta and northern Kent counties enjoy his show every Sunday morning at 9 a.m.”
Harger said he is grateful that the station, through many changes, always gave him the opportunity to spread his messages.
“I think it’s really special that the station has kept me on all of this time,” he said. “I could have easily been lost in the shuffle. It’s just an honor to have been a part of their broadcasts for all of these years.”