'This is not like any ordinary career, because if you weren't a person of faith, you wouldn't pursue this," says Pastor Henry Ozirney, sitting in his office at the New Life Church.
Getting through 44 years in a career is a huge sign of commitment and dedication. While Ozirney may be leaving his career as pastor at New Life Church in Stonewall, he is not leaving the career he began at seven years of age: a career of faith.
The 65-year-old's last day at New Life Church is April 30.
Ozirney's first encounter with faith came at a young age when his father had turned to God after struggling with an alcohol addiction. "He had gotten so bad, that he was experiencing what they call alcoholic psychosis. The doctor told him if you don't quit drinking you're going to end up in a mental hospital," says Ozirney. "So he started searching for answers and he turned to God and started reading the Bible, and his life was totally changed."
Ozirney experienced this at age six, and it was after this when he came to know God.
Ozirney accepted Jesus at Bible camp at age nine and went on to study at Bible colleges in Saskatchewan and at Winnipeg Bible College.
"As I grew through my childhood and into my teens, I gradually became convinced I was being called to become a pastor," he says. "There was a sense of purpose to my life."
In February 1970, he performed his first service as pastor of the Stonewall Baptist Church, and by the spring of 1971, he became its full-time pastor.
The grand opening of the New Life Church took place in October 1972. The church continued to expand and in 1979 members built the new sanctuary.
"I remember one fellow in the community said to me, 'Well you can build it, but will you ever fill it?' " says Ozirney. "By 1993 we were running two services on Sunday morning because the first service had become too full."
The church had become so full that in 2001 it relocated just outside Stonewall. Fundraisers were held in support of the building fund, and part of the fundraising process was that everyone was asked to make a sacrifice for the building fund. For Ozirney, that sacrifice was his shiny red 1966 Ford Mustang.
"I remember thinking, 'Oh Lord, no. Not the Mustang!'" Ozirney says.
Ozirney decided to put the Mustang up for sale and donate the money to the building fund.
The night before the Mustang was to go to a classic-car auction, a young man went to Ozirney's house and wrote a cheque to the New Life Church for the amount the Mustang was worth. He told Ozirney it was in lieu of him having to sell his car.
Another significant event in Ozirney's career was the dry spell of the summer of 1980, when the church held a day of prayer for rain.
"As we were praying, all of a sudden we heard thunder," said Ozirney. "There was just a torrential rain coming down."
The majority of that rain was situated around Stonewall.
He soon received a phone call from a Winnipeg Free Press reporter, who asked him if he thought the rain came as a result of his prayer or if it was just a coincidence.
"I said I find that when I pray, these coincidences happen and when I don't pray these coincidences don't happen."
Ozirney is retiring from the church but not from ministry, as he plans on finding a new one to take part in.
"I'm convinced that our lives have a purpose and a reason and God has a plan for everybody," says Ozirney. "And I believe that for myself."
Ozirney has been married to Linda since 1971 and they have four grown children. The Ozirneys plan to stay in Stonewall for now and do some travelling.
Marney Blunt is a freelance writer and recent graduate from creative communications at Red River College. She resides in rural Manitoba.