Toby Nelson

Profile Updated: November 26, 2015
Toby Nelson
Residing In Nevada City, CA USA
Spouse/Partner Judy
Occupation Disaster Pastor
Children Erik, born 1973
Toby Nelson


Yes! Attending Reunion

I help Presbyterian churches as a turn around specialist to resolve conflicts, find their vision, raise up new leaders, and develop effective ministries.

As a Disaster Pastor I travel to the worst of the worst disasters and give hope in the chaos. I was at Ground Zero, NY, on 9/11, inside the Super Dome during the Katrina Hurricane, in Haiti after the earthquake, set up orphanages in South Africa, Zimbabwe, South Sudan. Most recently I was in the Philippines after the typhoon. This work is a terrible-honor.

I recently finished writing a book, Disaster Pastor: The Power of a Small Light

School Story

If words could be tattooed onto a brain, it happened to me during one afternoon more than five decades ago. I remember every word that was exchanged as if it were spoken today.

In April, before graduating from high school I met with the guidance counsellor to discuss my college options. Mr. Sage (not his real name), was highly regarded by me because of the good advice he gave my friends. I hoped he could help me too.

I stepped up to glass window door of his office with the bold label, School Counsellor, and knocked. I shuffled in the small office. He stood and with a genuine smile welcomed me. His hand gestured that I take a seat in front of his large wood desk.

He sat in an oak wood chair like the ones in libraries. I wondered how he could sit there all day. He did not look comfortable and he appeared buried among the stacks of books.

“Mr. Sage, where should I apply to go to college?” I asked to state the purpose of our meeting.

He stood up and turned around to face a four drawer oak filing cabinet. Since Nelson was in the middle of the alphabet, he guessed my records might be in the third drawer. He pulled it open.

Watching his fingers walk across the top of the file folder tabs he spotted my name a couple inches from the front. It was probably after Nabor and just before Noble, fellow classmates. He lifted it out and returned to his seat.

The opened folder contained a half dozen pages that summarized my academic career. It did not seem like much to capture the past four years of my life. He studied each page to divine my intellectual potential and discern which institutions of higher learning that I would be best suited to attend. After a few moments, he closed the folder and gently laid it on his desk.

“Hmm, I wouldn’t bother,” Mr. Sage said slowly. Those words feel like they are tattooed on the frontal lobe of my brain. I was confused. What did he mean? “In a couple months you will probably be among the graduating seniors.” Probably? He seemed hesitant to continue. He opened my file again and sited a rational data point to justify his recommendation.

“You rank seventh in your class (that was not a surprise) ... from the bottom (that was).” An awkward pause followed.

“Mr. Nelson, you seem like an intelligent young man,” he reassured. Mr. Sage felt sorry for me. He concluded from my grades that my academic prospects for the future were dim.

“So, why have you done so poorly in your classes?” What came out of my mouth was spontaneous and raw. My answer was primal and a gut reaction.
“This school has not taught me what I wanted to learn ... what I needed to know.”
“And, what is that?” he interrupted. Leaning forward he was curious, “What did you want to learn?”

“I wanted to learn how to change the world ....” I had a sudden hot flash of clarity on my past four years. “You have not taught me how to do it.” I should not have blamed him for the school’s failure. I should have stopped there. “This school gets an F in my book,” I declared. We both sat back in our chairs, now made more uncomfortable by my comment.

Mr. Sage and I knew that the school failed what I needed and I failed to give the school what it expected. But I was not a failure. The data in my folder showed that high school was not a good match for me.

There was nothing more to discuss. The conversation was over. Mr. Sage sat up, smiled and said,

“Good luck, Mr. Nelson.” I smiled politely, stood up and stepped towards the door. That same door would become a metaphor. A few minutes earlier I entered his office as a hapless kid looking for someone to tell me what to do. Now, I knew.

I would spend several more years in classrooms that did not fit my learning style and sitting in uncomfortable oak chairs. Academics would prove to be difficult but now I was motivated to master the skills and knowledge that I wanted and needed.

It would take four more years to earn a Bachelors in Psychology, probably to learn more about myself and others. Then another three to learn Greek and Hebrew to earn a Masters in Divinity. Several years would pass before I earned a Doctorate from San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Since that meeting five decades ago, I must confess that I have not changed the world. I have only changed my world. What happened during that time has been recorded in the book, Disaster Pastor: The Power of a Small Light.

Toby's Recent Comments

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Mar 30, 2024 at 1:01 PM

Happy Birthday wishes early Toby! Hope to see you at our 60th reunion!

Sher Takahashi New comment added.
Mar 30, 2023 at 9:25 AM

Posted on: Apr 07, 2022 at 8:06 PM

Happy Birthday Tobi.

Apr 07, 2021 at 7:58 AM

Happy Birthday, Toby. God blessed the day He brought you into this world. May your days be blessed.

Sher Takahashi New comment added.
Apr 07, 2020 at 12:25 PM

Posted on: Apr 06, 2020 at 12:21 PM

Happy Birthday Toby. Stay safe

Apr 07, 2019 at 5:12 AM

Happy Birthday Toby

Apr 09, 2018 at 10:09 AM

Happy belated Birthday Toby. May you have a blessed day everyday of the year.