My first Pastor was a genuine and humble man of God. He was the perfect pastor for this young man. I grew up with a lot of criticism, in a very harsh and sometimes hostile environment. I learned to work hard and not to complain, trying to earn my dad’s respect. The many hours of hard farm work together with the many days in the sunshine made me tough on the outside, while my inside was scarred from a number of traumatic events of the past seventeen years. Pastor C. was gentle and full of love for his flock, and soon made me feel safe and at home in his church.
When I went to him about God speaking to my heart, directing me to preach the Gospel, he already knew about it. He said that he had been watching me and knew that God was dealing with me. He said he could tell by the intensity of the prayer sessions I had around the altar. He wisely counseled me to read a few books, and to continue to pray for another month, and then come back to see him in his office.
One of the books was about Andoniram Judson, a missionary to Burma back in the 1800’s. After I read this one, I went to the library and checked out one on William Carey, missionary to India, and another one on Hudson Taylor, missionary to China. The stories of these men sacrificing so many things for God’s work, spoke to my heart, and at the same time, frightened me. What if God wanted me to go to the East?
During all of this, I was working full-time at a local grocery store. I was attending church services three or four times per week. I attended youth rallies in the district. I was given the responsibility of overseeing the local youth for raising funds for foreign missionaries.
I would ask people in the church to save their papers for me, then I borrowed dad’s pickup truck to haul them to the house that my wife and I had bought. The house was close to a railroad storage shed. I secured permission from the railroad to store the papers in their shed, and they granted it, as they were not using it. Then I would invite the young people over for a cook out and they helped tie the papers up into bundles. There was a local paper mill who would buy the papers from us, and we then gave the money to the church and they in turn sent it to the foreign missions department to buy needed items for the missionaries overseas. I was busy and happy with a whole new life filled with love, gentleness and acceptance.
I was 1-A eligible for the Draft, so I was also expecting Uncle Sam to call me any day for duty. The Assistant Pastor took time from his busy schedule, driving me around the state, applying at all the National Guard Units. This way, I could continue working and attending church, while still making the Uncle happy. Of course a lot of young men had the same idea. The Guard Units were all filled up with a long waiting list.
So I continued going to the altar at every opportunity, and Pastor C. would pray with me. It was at a camp meeting service when the second confirmation came from the Lord. I knew for sure that I was supposed to minister the Word.
I stuck my head into Pastor C’s door the next week, and asked to talk about it all. After sharing what I had experienced and what he had observed, he said he would make a telephone call to get me into Bible School.
It was another week before I received the application packet. I took it to the Pastor and he helped me fill it out, securing the necessary references. He dropped it in the outgoing mail for the church. I went back to work and waited.
When I received the approval to attend school, my wife and I packed a 4′ x 6′ U-haul trailer with a few belongings. We hooked it up to my 1964 Pontiac Lemans, said our goodbyes, and headed for Minnesota. This would be the first time that I had been out of Ohio, except for a short jaunt into W.Va.
We checked in with the school, got everything registered for the fall, and then went looking for an apartment and a job. We found a small studio apartment about five miles from school, unpacked the trailer and made a dash to the store to buy some staples.
We picked up a local newspaper, opened the want ads and circled a few telephone numbers to call the next day. I ended up with a part-time job, and the wife ended up with a full-time job. I would be going to school full-time and this was the agreement we worked out to finance the way. Things were falling in place.
Then, about two weeks after school started, I received a letter from my Uncle Sam. I was to report for duty at 6 am in two weeks. I stood there staring at the letter, with my knees shaking, telling myself that this could not be happening now. There was the Vietnam War and Uncle Sam was calling on a lot of his nephews to help him out. I was willing to go before the ‘call’ but not now. I had another war to fight.
I took the letter to the Dean and he assured me that I didn’t need to worry. He picked up his phone and called his attorney, making an appointment for the next day. The attorney made a copy of the letter, made a telephone call and typed a letter to Uncle Sam. He sent me home, saying we should hear something within a week. He was right, I received a letter back from Uncle Sam informing me that I was deferred for ministerial studies. My knees stopped shaking!
It would be seven years later before Uncle Sam got around to sending me my Deferred Draft Card stamped 4-D! Government moves slow, and we wonder why there is a ‘fiscal cliff’ looming on the horizon!
That was the start of my ‘call’ and ‘study’ for the ministry! Just a walk in the park.
The next three years were very busy, studying, attending services and rallies, going to work, freezing to death, and making a trip home from time to time for school breaks. I also helped out with a home mission work on weekends during the second year of schooling. I helped start a church from scratch during the third year of schooling. My number one daughter was born the third year, so I had to go to work full-time and the wife went back to work part-time. We moved from the studio into a one bedroom, and then into a bigger one bedroom with enough room for crib.
At the time, the fourth year of schooling was optional. When I spoke with fourth year students, they said that it was not very productive, so I opted not to go for it. I did earn my theology degree.
Overall it was a very good experience. I met a lot of good ministers outside of school, and was invited to speak at several of their churches. I gained first-hand knowledge of working in a small church with seasoned Pastors. I enjoyed the Bible and the related subjects and gained a tremendous knowledge of different churches and their religious belief systems. My teachers were gifted and I was a sponge soaking it all up.
I was young and very bold with my faith. I prayed, fasted, and studied non-stop. I then was able to teach and preach on weekends for two years, besides the years of Public Speaking classes. My soul was satiated with spiritual knowledge and thoughts.
I also experienced, for the first time, some organizational politics. This was disappointing. I grew up with strife and arguing. I had found love, peace, gentleness and acceptance at the home church and at Bible School. I was in a whole different world from my childhood years. Then I see a ‘cloud’ arise in the clear blue skies of my spiritual horizons. Things were not as smooth behind closed doors as they were when the door was open.
When I feel led to make a trip to the eastern states to explore the possibility of starting a home missions church, I get a cold shoulder from another district leader. I begin to have flashbacks to the farm. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to find out that my leaders had ‘faults’ like normal human beings. This was a rude awakening for this sincere, innocent, dedicated young man. I tucked these things deep inside and locked the door. I didn’t want to deal with it. But one day, I would be forced to do so.
I take the cold-shoulder treatment, and find myself having to stand up to this leader about what I felt God was leading me to do. Now, you have to remember, my background was one with strife, and that I was very much an introvert. I was always a little fearful of anyone in authority, and having a couple of mean teachers in high school didn’t help things at all.
My experiences with God and the church had given me new boldness and confidence, but I had not had to deal with anyone who was harsh with me either. I found that I was always nervous to stand before others to give a sermon, but once I started to speak, God would show up and give me total confidence and boldness. I was gifted with a good speaking voice, so received several invitations to speak at different churches.
Now, here is my second experience with ‘leaders, ‘men in authority’, and they are making me feel uncomfortable. The harshness of this second experience takes me back to the farm. I find myself staying calm, and stating firmly what I felt God leading me to do, but I do not like what I am feeling from this interaction with my leader. I am wondering if all leaders are going to be this way. As stated, I tucked the ‘feelings’ away inside, but one day I would need to deal with it.
To be continued…