About Agape Force
In The Very Beginning There Was No Agape Force - But Then God
In April of 1970 four Christians, all from one youth group, at one church in Garden Grove, a Southern California suburb city in Orange County, started to seek God about how He wanted them to reach people for Himself. They decided, after much prayer, to share the message of Christ’s love anywhere a door opened and to anyone who would listen. This was the beginning of Agape Force.
Agape force was, by todays definition, a missions organization, but more closely resembled the revivalists of old, EXCEPT rolled out in a way no one had seen before. They soon garnered a reputation for radical tactics, for having a radical message and for walking in radical faith. For the most part Agape Force teams took the gospel to the streets and church of the US and Canada. Later, however, powerful works were started in Mexico, Australia, Africa and other places around the world. A huge impact and influence was also felt in the Christian Contemporary Music genre because of their efforts there.
In 1990 after twenty years, the Agape Force was disbanded. ONE GENERATION. Yet, the love of God lives on through the lives of those who committed big portions of their youth and young adulthood, many giving their college years to God full-time, joining themselves to this idea of using “every open door" and the calling and hope of seeing revival come to America and the world. Many are still involved in various kinds of ministry today. Amazingly, dozens, perhaps even hundreds of ministries as well as churches were birthed out of the Agape Force itself.
All over the world there are Agape Force alumni (and those they have discipled) who continue to press on toward their high calling in Christ Jesus. Whatever they have gone through, where ever they are. Whether they have finished their race or still press on. God's love continues to be "the greatest force in the universe".
"We had such a sense of purpose, of destiny, of vision. We expected God to bring revival when we prayed. These weren't our purposes. They were God's purposes. And God's purposes live on. If you can get across how supernaturally the Lord reached out to the lost in so many ways. If you can show how badly He wants people to know Him. Then you'll be able to express the core of what the Agape Force was all about. We're seeing answers to the prayers we prayed for revival - even today."
Greg Lanson - The very first full time member of Agape Force
It started on the streets of Southern California. God was on the move. Something was afoot. Something was happening. That something is what people later called the "Jesus Movement." Agape Force was one of many para-church evangelistic and missions organizations born of that time. What started on the streets spread to the church and then to the streets again. Agape Force was a combination of saved-off-the-street kids and church young people and youth ministers. Here is an excerpt from a 1971 article about Agape Force.
From Subculture to Institution - from the Jesus Journal.
The underground Christian newspapers appear to emerge from the youth subculture to meet the spiritual needs of their own peer group. Many papers have become the basis of communication for a larger organization. Typical of this type of evolution is Peace, formerly published as Rated X in the Los Angeles community of La Puente. Rated X was edited by a 19 year-old ex-drug user named Ferni Casner. Casner, aided by Judy Durham, another drug drop-out who became a Christian, traveled hundreds of miles weekly throughout southern California dropping off bundles of Rated X at more than 25 colleges, coffee houses and communal Jesus houses in 31 local communities.
While virtually a two-person operation, Rated X grew from 5,000 copies to 20,000 copies in a matter of a few months. Casner wrote most of the stories regarding what was happening around the Jesus scene in California, including interviews with leaders of the Jesus Movement. After gathering stories Casner and Durham returned to La Puente to hammer out the stories on a decrepit typewriter.
A close advisor of Casner's, Tony Salerno, a southern California Christian youth leader, supplied spiritual support and often cash in the early days of the publication of Rated X. Salerno, who operates two Christian coffee houses called Agape Inn in La Puente and Agape Inn #2 in nearby Highland Park. When Casner left Rated X to go to college, Judy Durham became the editor, the paper became the official publication of a group called Agape Force headed by Salerno, and the name of the newspaper was changed from Rated X to Peace.
Agape Force members are bent on seeing revival now in America. They expect Jesus to return at any moment. Judy Durham said, "We are sold out to Jesus Christ and want to do nothing more in our lives than glorify God."
The group members constantly preach, sing, carry out witnessing missions at every opportunity, as well as publish Peace. Thus, as is the trend, the newspaper began as a major project of the young people, while other aspects of the ministry grew as the vision for the lost increased.
This article was from a VERY early time in AF, and Ferni Casner might actually be Ferni Castillo (a very early Agape Force staff member) but it really did seem to describe the heart of Agape Force pretty well. We were revivalists and evangelists. Young adults, most of us between the ages of 18 and 25, bent on winning the lost and reviving the church and doing it 24/7. What was odd about that was that we were a group with that heart, not just an individual. Throughout church history Revivalists and Evangelists are individuals, it seems. They may have organizations around them - but they are typically preachers and their efforts are the core of that organization. With Agape Force it was not so. There were, indeed, Charismatic leaders involved - but the ministry did not hing e on the preaching prowess of those leaders, but the street level efforts of a bunch of kids. As time went by things grew and changed. It was a very fractal ministry for several years. In time came the Children's Music and ministry and later still teams were sent to other countries and many of these became more like classic missionary efforts. Teams were sent to US towns to "Take" them for Jesus and there were some very profound results. Most of these teams and missions were what we would now call "Short Term" at first. However, there are many ministries still out there that owe their roots to the teams that were sent out many years ago. Some teams became churches. Some were turned over to other ministries when it was time for the Agape Force staff to leave.
Agape Force will probably be remembered, for the most part, for it's music groups like Candle and Silverwind - for blazing new trails in Christian music. But it was the teams on the streets that were the life blood of Agape Force. It was the passion and heart for God. It was the willingness to die to self and to lay down even their futures to see the Kingdom of God built - even in small ways. The mantle of Agape Force is sitll out there. The spirit of it lives even though the organization itself has long been laid to rest.
AF ALUMNI LINKS
It's such a wonderful thing to learn about Agape Force Alumni that are continuing to pursue their callings and their gifts. Many AF alum have websites connected to their efforts and we've been wanting to feature those ministries, businesses and/or blog communications for some time. This will probably never be a comprehensive list and there are reasons for that. Time! That's the biggie. But as the Lord enables I (Dee Patton) will try to add links and perhaps information as I get newsletters, updates etc. Permission! That is also a factor. We don't ever want to be presumptuous and make assumptions that it is okay to list alumni here without their authorization and blessing.
That said I have to say that we as alumni are continuing in the spirit and DNA we had before. We may not agree on every point of message. We may not be the same or think the same. THANK YOU JESUS! But we were and still are, in most cases, comrades in arms, getting closer to Jesus, working out our salvation with fear and trembling and pushing ahead into the calling and giftings He gave us long ago.
If you see this page (and I will try to promote it on our social media sites) and would like to have us post a link to you, your ministry, your business or your blog do let us know.....here goes.
Rick & Donna Whitcolm
Celebrating 35 Years of Missionary Service to Africa
Check out the Whitcolms wonderful work in West Africa. Loving orphans. Winning souls. Agape Church. Reaching unreached villages.
Saving Babies and loving Mothers in Little Rock
Marisa is pretty much a one person dynamo and one person office serving the Little Rock area. She needs volunteers and donors!
Agape Force Report 2011
Matthew's blog is made up of his personal opinions.
Thanks Matt! This was a LOT of work.
Back in 1998, I developed an Agape Force web site for the purpose of creating an alumni network. One of the features the web site had at that time was a directory of AF alumni with their email addresses. As this list grew, I began wondering if there was an “official” roster of those who served as staff members in the Agape Force out there somewhere that I could use as a guide to help me track down more alumni. I eventually made contact with Steve Harrison and he kindly emailed me the roster that he had constructed on a MicrosoftWorks spreadsheet. Not long after the AF web site was established, Ken Light started an AF email list. We used this AF roster as a tool for verifying the alumni status of those seeking to get on the AF email list. So, this roster has underwent a lot of updating and honing for more than a decade. I have since transferred the data over to an Excel spreadsheet and have added more data fields. So, this roster that Steve gave has evolved into a database that reveals statistical information that provides a lot of insight about who we were.
The Sampling Sizes & Statistical Accuracy
As is the case when one studies trends and patterns in any culture or society, the researchers base their conclusions on a random sampling of the data that is available to them. Few researchers have a 100% of all the data on the field they are researching. This study is no exception to that rule. All the stats that you will read in this report are based on a sampling. Suffice to say, the task of gathering information for this database is and will be an ongoing work in progress.
Tracking down data on about 800 people is no small task, so you can expect this report to be updated every year or few years. Having said that, the more information I receive from other AF Alumni in the upcoming years, the more accurate these stats will be. So the numbers that you will be reading in this report now will be based on the data that I have effective the date of this report.
Thanks to all of you who have given me information for the AF database up until now. Let’s keep working together on this.
THE AF STAFFER
My best estimate is that there were 804 people who served as a staff member of the Agape Force from 1970 to 1989. The gender balance was 51% female and 49% male. The average length of service for an AF Staffer was 4.9 years. This stat is based on a 96% sampling. However the accuracy on most of the years of service from that 96% is questionable and needs additional verification which will be an ongoing activity.
The vast majority of Staffers were white, Americans from the Baby Boom generation (born between 1946 and 1964). There were Staffers representing other races, ethnicities, and nationalities. And, there were a few who were from the Silent Generation (born between 1925 and 1945). However, I don’t have enough data yet to give any hard conclusive numbers. Hopefully, I will have something in the next report.
The average age one entered the AF was 24, and the average age of departure is 31 (21% sampling size). That statistic combines those of the Silent Generation and the Baby Boom Generation. The average ages for just the Baby Boomers are, 22 entering and 29 departing (20% sampling size).
As of yet, there is no record of anyone from Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980) being a Staff member in the AF. Annette Applegate Lanson and Marc Dalton are believed to be the youngest of the Baby Boom generation to join the AF at age 17.
The Staffer Criteria
The criteria for an AF Staffer (as opposed to a Missioner or paid Employee) varied a bit over the years while the AF was in existence. However, this is the general criteria that I have established for this database that I have developed. A staffer usually (there are always exceptions) met all of the following:
1. He/she completed and passed the established AF training course, whether it was called DTI, AFTI or CSI;
2. He/she lived and worked under the discipline structure of the AF in a 24/7 environment.
3. He/she went door to door selling books and/or records in order to raise funds for the ministry.
From time to time, a Missioner or an Employee may have done one or more of the above. However, that would have been the exception, not the rule. Also, this database does not include those who completed one of the training schools and did not go on to join the AF.
Years of Service (YOS)
As far as this database is concerned, one’s tenure begins effective the year he/she entered in to one of the AF training schools. Also, the year one entered and departed the AF has been rounded out. For example, those who entered the training school in September/October would be credited the entire year. Subsequently, those who left the ministry early in the year, such as Janurary/February, they would be credited the entire year. The reason for rounding out the years is to keep the calculation process simple. Being that everyone entered and left at various times of the year, the stats will average themselves out anyway.
The Anthony Paul Factor
Around 1984, the idea of another organization spinning off from the AF for the purpose of becoming a for profit business was conceived. The name of the organization was called Anthony Paul and it officially became an organization in December of 1985. During that time, there were many AFers who went with AP upon its formation. As far as this database is concerned, the APer’s tenure with the AF is considered terminated after 1985 and their years of employment with AP from 1986 and forward is not figured in to their AF YOS.
Of the estimated 804 AF Staffers, I have record of 22 of them being deceased. Here is the list I have for those who are deceased:
Debbie Davis Pendergrass
Let’s face it reality here, none of us are getting any younger and this list will continue to grow. So I can use all the help I can get keep it current. The dates of death (DOD) will be another field of data that I will be inquiring about.
AF MEMBERSHIP OVER THE YEARS
YEAR NUM. OF MEMBERS
The Types of Couples
Of the 804 people who served as Staffers in the AF, 346 (43.0%) of them, served while being married for part of their tenure or their entire tenure. The 173 married couples who served In the AF have been divided into two categories. Those who joined the AF single and met their spouse and went through their courtship and marriage while serving in the AF. I call this group the After Couples. The other category is the couples who were already married before they joined the AF and joined as a couple. I call this group the Before Couples. The After Couples are by far the larger category with 124 couples. This comprises 71.7% of the AF couples.
There were only 49 Before Couples who served which comprised only 28.3% of the AF couples. The scope of this database does not include those who left the AF single and met and married their spouses after they left the AF. As interesting as a study as that would be, it would be very difficult to do because there are more variables to contend with.
The After Couples
Of the 124 After Couples, 93 of these couples have been accounted for. Meaning, the marriage statuses of these couples have been confirmed. Of these 93 couples, only 19 of them are divorced which gives us a divorce rate 20.4% (75% sampling size). The marriages of 7 of the 93 couples were ended with the death of one of the spouses, and of course those numbers are not figured in this divorce rate.
The Before Couples
Of the 49 After Couples, 13 of these couples have been accounted for. Meaning, the marriage statuses of these couples have been confirmed. Of these 49 couples, only 3 of them are divorced which gives us a divorce rate 23.1% (26.5% sampling size). The marriages of 2 of the 49 couples were ended with the death of one of the spouses, and of course those numbers are not figured in this divorce rate.
In total 106 AF married couples (including before and after) have been accounted for and only 22 of them are divorced which gives us a combined divorce rate of 20.8% (61.3% sampling size). I think an overall divorce rate of 20.8% is remarkable given that the divorce rate in mainstream society is about 50%. I think these numbers reflect well on the AF. The sampling size for the Before Couples is a little small as compared to the After Couples, but we will see how these numbers hold up as more data comes in.
If you happen to know of an AF couple that is divorced, and are unsure if I have a record of it in this database, I ask that you let me know in a private message in order to maintain discretion and avoid any further embarrassment to the couple in question.
As I stated before, this report is and ongoing work in progress and will be updated at least once a year. I am looking forward to making contact with more of you and getting more data on your YOS, DOB and other info. Thanks for your help. Matthew Jackson
Tales of Agape - Part 1
A generation ago, young people all across the world experienced a visitation of God. This awakening among the young touched the Church, college campuses, the street and the culture. In an explosive era of escalating crime, drugs, immorality and street violence some dared to be the most radical of all. Many major ministries today owe their growth and influence to what God did among these extreme edgers of the Kingdom. Events and Divine advents of that tumultuous time deeply affected the shape of the Church in the latter part of the 20th Century.
Yet many of the wonderful tales of that time remain untold. It is like that even in the Bible. We always have only a tiny part of the picture of what God did when He found a young person He could trust with His glory. Gideon. Samson. Esther. Deborah. Ruth. Jeptha. David. Joshua. Mary. John.
“How can I say more?” says Paul. “Time would fail me to tell (of those heroes for God)...who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong ... “ (Heb. 11:34)
The things you are about to read happened to ordinary teenagers and college age young people. Few of them ever got their pictures in the paper or were written up in magazines, even Christian papers and magazines. Few were famous or talented or clever. None of them ever dreamed what would happen when they gave their lives to God for His service. Most of them came from very ordinary towns and very uneventful circumstances. But for nearly two amazing decades they experienced the astonishing adventure of going out on a limb for God. And now, at the very edge of the next Millennium, God is beginning to do it again.
This is the story of ordinary young people with an extraordinary God. What He did for them He can do for you. These are the records of what Jesus can do in His world when He finds someone who loves Him more than their own life, and serves Him with their whole heart. Here are some of the untold tales of an era from those who were young then, here for those who with honor will carry the torch for this next generation.
“O give thanks to the Lord. Call upon His name. Make known His deeds among the people...” Psalm 105:1,2 (NASB)
“Tales of Agape” is an expression of gratitude. Gratitude to God, who, years ago, blew across the waters of my generation and stirred the hearts of young people to forsake everything but Him. Gratitude to those very people, hardly more than kids then, who set an example of courage and love and faithfulness that I follow still.
It is also an act of obedience. We are calling upon Him now to continue what He has begun and to raise up another generation who will fear no one but God and rush headlong to do His will. Yet, unless we tell others what He has done to us, for us, and through us, how will they know what He can do today, through them. We have it in black and white. He wants us to tell these stories of the great things He has done. He commands us to “tell” just as surely as He commanded us to “go”!
Even now the winds of His love are blowing. The fire of His power is falling. There is no more Agape Force, but His love is still “the greatest force in the universe”. God is raising up youth groups, Churches, organizations, and individuals who will dare to say “yes” to Him. Now. TODAY!
Those of us who have worked on and prayed over this project bless you. If you have the heart and the courage to follow Him, no matter what the cost; even though it is not safe; when no one understands; then He will raise you up and show you where and with whom you should serve.
We’re standing here with the torch in our hand. We’re not ready to stop running. We are ready to pass the torch and run along side a new generation. A generation willing to take up where we left off and go on to be, in Him, far greater than we ever dreamed.
Long ago we sang this song as an expression of our deep desire to be used by God. God will give you a new song, new methods, new ideas. But it will be the same God who gives them.
Lord take this life of mine
From all selfish pleasure I resign
Yielded to thee
Lord, I want to be
Please accept my humble plea
Help me to do thy perfect will
So your purpose I’ll fulfill
If I can do
What You want me to
I’ll bring many lost souls to you
I want to be in service for Jesus
I want to feel His love gently guiding me
To win the lost
Whatever may be the cost
I want to be in service for Jesus
Stories That Deserve To Be Told
We spent the weekend telling stories, laughing and crying together, listening to Christian bands and each other perform. We had a picnic and told stories, watching our kids hang out together and -- did I mention -- we told stories.
On the way home Jim and I, talked about those friends. We have other friends, really great friends -- friends that we’ll hang out with in heaven. But this was different. With this certain bunch, there was a certain something. It was like the bond between guys who had stormed the beach of Normandy together or faced the enemy in the trenches of Vietnam. It was the bond of people who had given themselves, all of themselves, to see revival come to their generation. And some still wore the scars.
The things we heard and shared that weekend; the memories that stirred in us, were worth remembering, we thought. There were stories there that deserved telling.
Skip on down a couple of years. We’re going to a neat little Church full of middle aged Jesus people with lots of kids. Kids everywhere. More kids than adults. We found ourselves reaching out to the teens in that Church. We told them stories about the bizarre things we did when we were young. We just loved them and told them stories about our days in “the ministry” and spent time with them - and did I mention - told them stories. The strange, no weird, thing was that they really loved those stories. They loved the extreme lengths we went to and the radical things we did. They liked it that we had the nerve to step out there and “go for it”.
The things we saw in the lives of those kids, the spark of “fire” and the desire they had to make their own mark on the world moved us deeply. The very possibility that these kids, given the right hope and the right inspiration, could do more than we ever had and accomplish more for God than we ever did, made us think again. “There are stories here that deserve to be told......Gee, I really wish somebody would do that.”
Another year or so goes by. One day I find myself at a Youth With A Mission writer’s conference in Hawaii. How I got there is a story in itself, but I’m there and I’m writing and learning a lot. I’m in the middle of a bunch of missionaries - just like the “old” days. At one point they call some of us up and lay hands on us and “commission” us to write - for the Glory of God and for the sake of his Kingdom. And the presence of God is there in such an awesome and powerful way that I realize - “This is no joke. This is really real.”...But....for me it seemed like such an impossibility. I was a middle aged lady, with little kids still to raise, and a full time job and all the realities of “adult” life and other realities that resulted from spending my college years as a missionary. So I said, “Okay God. I’m here and you’re here and I’m yours now just as much as I ever was. I’ll do whatever you give me to do and write whatever you give me to write, but YOU are the one who has to make it happen, ‘cuz I don’t see a time this side of heaven when I’ll be able to do this kind of stuff.”
Fast forward one more time, to the middle of 1996. Winds of revival are starting to blow. It seems like God is on the move again in new and exciting ways and we find ourselves in Lindale, Texas and making the transition back into “ministry” life.
Lindale had been the site of the headquarters for the Agape Force at one time. Now “The Ranch”, as we called it, is the Mercy Ships Training Center. Nearby is another YWAM base and enough Agape Force alumni live in the area to create what seemed to us like a continual reunion.
Jim and I are sitting in a restaurant called “Juanita’s”, and getting to know a really neat Christian brother. We’re talking about doing a few things for the ministry that Andy is the director of - Last Days Ministries - and we’re kind of swapping dreams. Somehow this idea to find a way to tell these stories “that deserve to be told” comes up in the conversation. We talk about it a little and think what a neat thing it would be to be able to really write a book full of these old “ministry” stories. Then we move on to other topics of interest.
Well, a few days later, Andy calls. He can’t seem to get this idea out of his head and would like to pray about helping us find a way to do it. So, for what it’s worth, that’s how I came to be sitting here at my keyboard typing away and talking on the phone for endless hours to AF friends all over the world; emailing hundreds of emails so I get everything right as I work at what has come to be called “Tales of Agape.” It might not be quite as exciting as the stories you’ll read in the pages that follow, but it’s still been very definitely a “GOD” thing and I’m thankful for it.
There are more “Tales of Agape” out there than I could ever fit in a book. There are more than I could collect in a thousand interviews. Why? Because I’m finding that the scope of what God did in and through us during those years reaches farther and deeper than I have time or energy to pursue. There are people winning souls now, who were won by people, won by people in the Agape Force. There are whole ministries going on, founded by those who served then. There are children being raised for God, who would not even exist, had this group of kids not said “yes” to God’s call.
And so, I pray for you. That whatever God says to do, you will do. Wherever He calls you to go, you will go. I pray that He will give you the heart and the courage to give yourself willingly and freely, so that not only your own life is blessed, but that the world and the Kingdom of God is altered and that God Himself is blessed because you did.
Confronting The Need
The Street and the Church
“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday today and forever.” All human History is really His-Story. Every awakening starts with a revelation from God to people with hungry hearts. God is looking for people who will hear His Word and honor His Name, determined to bring Him glory above all else by their life or in their death. Every godly visitation owes its origin to a fresh Divine revelation of the nature and character of God, the state of the Church and the world, and the all-sufficiency of Christ to show Himself Lord of all. There has never been a fresh work of God without a fresh word from God. Without a vision, people perish.
Equally significant in an awakening is the grasp and practice of real truth. Whenever God begins to do something in the earth, He “establishes a testimony and appoints a law”. He raises up something supernatural of Himself in someone you can see and gives that someone something significant to say. The sight and the light go hand in hand. There is in the words of A.W. Tozer “no revival without reformation.” The messenger must have a message.
These young people were committed to real and lasting change in both the Church and the world. They were prepared to study, to train, to discipline themselves for godliness. They sought out the Gospel message in the ministries of revivalists, missionaries, and evangelists who had preceded them in history. They learned what these holy pioneers said and why they said it. They made God’s Book their chief reading priority and counted it especially dear; in their training schools they read the New Testament five times in ten weeks. The libraries and bookstores made available to them were filled with the words and works of their spiritual ancestors in the work of missionary revival-based ministry: the Moravians, Wesley and his Methodists, George Whitfield, Charles Finney, George Fox, William and Catherine Booth, Praying Hyde. They cut their teeth on the works of evangelists and revivalists. They read Tozer, Ravenhill, E.M. Bounds, William McDonald. They gave themselves to serious prayer and learned how to weep for lost men and women. They modeled their lives after missionary heroes - Jim Eliot, Sundar Singh, David Brainerd. They sought to come to grips with the challenges of their culture along with C.S. Lewis, Francis Shaeffer, and Os Guiness. They listened to messages by intercessors like Joy Dawson, intense missionaries like George Verwer, and ministers with prophetic hearts like David Wilkerson.
“I am debtor” said Paul - “to the Jews and the Greeks, to the wise and the unwise, the bond and the free.”
The Greeks of Paul’s time defined civilization. They were the cool, the cultured, and the classy. Greek was the language of the civilized world, the words of poetry and song, the record of philosophy, history, and martial victory. To owe a debt to a Greek was to know what was going on in their world, to so appreciate and see in its utter lost beauty the fallen image of God, and to so live in that world as to not speak with an accent when they preached the Gospel to it.
Agape Forcers were young people sometimes from sheltered backgrounds who had neither known the scars of the utterly secular nor the cynicism of rejected revival. Some were recently rescued themselves and had to learn the language of the Church to tell what had happened to them in words other than those religious people had never heard. They took a risk that they believed was worth it. They gave their lives and futures to the Wind of the Holy Spirit with a concern for the Church to experience revival and to take it to the streets.
“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is every one who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 NASB
I got into my car, closed the door and let out a deep breath. The back of my almost new, 1971 Ford Pinto, was full. But it was nothing compared to what I was leaving behind. I had withdrawn from my college classes that week , said goodbye to many friends and watched my mother struggle with the idea that I was really leaving home. Now I was poised to embark on the adventure I had waited for since I was eleven years old. It seemed like such a long wait, but it really had only been seven years. Seven years? Almost half your life when you’re 18.
Back then, seven years earlier, at a kid’s camp, I had experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and felt God’s call on my life in an undeniable way. I knew it was a call to ministry, but when asked about it, I didn’t know what kind of ministry. My idea of what ministry was, even what missions were, was so limited then. Now, looking back, I realize that God was calling me to a kind of missions that didn’t exist yet. There was no definition for what God was telling me I was to be. All I knew was the little bit that the Lord had spoken to my heart. “You will never have a home of your own,” and “You will travel a lot.”
I looked across at my friend, Jim, who sat in the seat next to me. He was riding along to Palm Springs where we were to meet up with a team ministering there. Jim had a deep restlessness and desire to do something for God. He wanted to go with me to check out this group and decide if it might be the place God wanted him. I, on the other hand, had no doubts in my mind. I knew I was headed into the wonderful unknown of God’s Will.
What was the strange attraction I felt toward this young ministry, I wondered? For the most part they were a bunch of rag tag, hippie types. Me, I was just about as “Churched out” as they come. Winds of revival had been blowing dozens, no hundreds, that looked just like them into our Church for several years. It was exciting and I had been in the middle of it since the whole thing began. Our Church was growing wildly. God was moving. People got saved at almost every service, on the beaches, at home Bible studies, even at school.
Yes, even at school. Since that day at camp, when I was eleven, it was as if I had virtually been set apart. I don’t think I was real vocal about my Christianity, but word got round. I didn’t go to parties, didn’t smoke, drink or “do” drugs. Non-Christian guys never called me more than once. The answer to every question about who I was, what I liked to do, what I wanted to be, always had something to do with Jesus. As a result, I ate a lot of lunches alone, an outcast in almost every way. It was so uncomfortable that I made plans to graduate in three years instead of four and get on with finding out what exactly God wanted me to do.
Then, midway through my last year, the miraculous happened. Patty Larabee, cheerleader, beauty queen, honor student, part of the “in” crowd, came down with meningitis. How could this happen to the brightest and the best? She wasn’t expected to live. People prayed. Her family. Area Churches. Even kids at school. Miraculously, almost instantly, God healed her. When she came back to school giving glory to God, people listened and revival broke out in the classrooms, the hallways and the quad.
People came up to me in class or at my locker asking about this Jesus who could heal and change lives. “Aren’t you the one who has been a real Christian all along?”...”Can I sit with you at lunch?” God was on the move and people were eager to find Him, hungry for something that would give meaning to their lives. I graduated in June, 1970, amidst this uproar of revival. God was bringing whole schools of “fish” to the boat and they were practically fighting to jump in.
This was still pretty much the atmosphere when God started nudging me with the thought that it was time to move out into God’s calling for me. I was barely 18 and most people wondered how I could even think of leaving. Some were sad, some were confused, and some were angry with me. I was heavily involved in area outreach, with a Christian band, and our Saturday night Coffee House ministry, the One Way Inn. I served food to the homeless and derelict at a Mission downtown. I wasn’t afraid to accost those on the street about the Jesus who loved them and could change their lives. Now I was walking away from all that, answering the call of God. I really didn’t understand it myself. How could I explain it to someone else? I had to obey the call, but it hurt to leave a place I loved so much where most of the people I knew and loved didn’t understand.
Yet there was something so different about this bunch I was joining. They were intense. They were sold out...and they burned with a zeal for God that made my middle class, comfortable life, seem wretched, even in the midst of a real awakening. They called themselves the Agape Force.
Agape Force had come through town some months before and taken a Sunday night service at my home Church, Faith Chapel. They sang. Badly. They gave their testimonies. Wonderfully. There were no more than 15 or so in the whole ministry then. With them was their youth pastor style leader, Tony Salerno, and a young evangelist from New Zealand with as unlikely a name as Winkie Pratney. Oddly enough, Winkie was the one I knew.
For several years Winkie and his new wife Fae had come to our High School Camps. They were young, not even ten years older than me. Each time I left those camps with more passion for Jesus and a deeper desire to make my life count for His kingdom. Now, strangely, months after they had come with Winkie for just one service, I still couldn’t get these saved-off-the-street, Jesus Freaks, out of my head. They were a go-anywhere, risk-anything-for-Jesus bunch of kids. They acted as if they really meant to change the world. I wanted in on that action.
One day, I pulled out my camp pictures, recalling the people and the things that meant so much to me. There, in the front of two group photos from different years, stood Winkie and Fae, smiling at me. It was then I noticed something I hadn’t before; something that pierced my heart and showed me just how much of a disciple I was not. In both pictures, taken a year apart, Fae was wearing the same simple brown and white dress.
I glanced to my open, messy closet. It bulged with hundreds of outfits. My closet floor was a mountain of shoes. I had so many I couldn’t line them up neatly. Immelda Marcos would have been envious.
My parents weren’t rich. My mom made most of my clothes. My shoes and other accessories came from sale bins, swap meets, and thrift stores. Yet sacrifice of any kind was almost totally unknown to me. Suddenly I hated my comfort. The world was dying and I was sitting in luxury. I was a “Chocolate Soldier”. With God’s help I would change that.
Amazingly, only a few days later I heard Winkie was speaking at another Church in town. I drove there - I think a little too fast - with a sense of fearful excitement. After the service I cornered him, not an easy task, as I recall. He gave me a phone number. A motel room, I think, where I might reach Tony Salerno. I raced home, called, and got the tentative invitation to come and join the Agape Force that, by this time, I desperately wanted.
Yet there was still one thing for me to do. I was to go the Lord and get confirmation that this was indeed His will and not mine. Tony and those near him would also pray and then we would talk again the next day. This scared me stiff. It scared me to think that God might say, “Yes. Go!”...and it scared me that He would say “No. Stay!” Worst of all, it scared me to think that He might say nothing at all.
So many times, in those last few years, struggling to be godly as a teenager, I had sought the face of my Lord. Sometimes, decisions that seemed so life changing brought no response. Finally it became my custom to pray something like: “Look, Lord. Sometimes, it seems like I hear you and sometimes I don’t know if I can or not. I’ve thought and prayed and analyzed my choices and still I don’t know what you want me to do. This is what seems best to me. So this is what I will set out to do. But God, you have permission to stop me if it’s not what you want. Even if it means doing something drastic, like breaking my leg or something.”
Now I had to go to Him and come back with an answer the next day. I was frozen in fear that I wouldn’t be able to hear Him. As it turned out, those fears were unfounded.
When I got off the phone, it must have been near midnight. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to sleep, so I wandered out into my mother’s garden to sit in the quiet of the cool evening. Almost immediately the presence of the Lord was so strong that I could hardly breathe. My face and hands began to tingle, as if they were just waking up from being asleep. I was engulfed by a peace unlike any I had ever experienced in my young Pentecostal lifetime. I don’t know how long I stayed there. Time didn’t seem to exist in that place the Lord took me to.
In the midst of that, I felt like I ought to open my Bible. There was a patio light. It gave off just enough illumination to see that my Bible had opened to the book of Micah. My eyes fell on a place near the top of the page and God spoke to me so clearly, and so personally that I knew those words, penned thousands of years ago had meaning for me now...here...in my situation. God spoke directly to my deepest desire - to be a co-laborer with Him in this business of redemption. At the same time He answered the desperate question I had that night. “Shall I stay or shall I go?” More than that, He promised to give me the power I needed to do it.
“Writhe and labor to give birth, Daughter of Zion. Like a woman in childbirth. For now you will go out of the city, dwell in the field, and go to Babylon. There you will be rescued; There the Lord will redeem you from the hand of your enemies.....Arise and thresh, daughter of Zion. For your horn I will make iron and your hoofs I will make bronze....” (Micah 4:10,13)
…I started the car and looked at my mother standing in the driveway. “Someday,” I thought, “if the Lord doesn’t come back first, I’ll be a mom, too.” Silently, I prayed that the Lord would help her. I wondered if I would remember how hard and how imperative it is to “let go” of my kids when God’s time came for them.
A “Barbarian” in Paul’s time was not a man without morals. He was not necessarily crude, vicious or uncivilized. A “Barbarian” was simply someone who didn’t speak your language or grow up in your culture.
Many of these young soldiers faced their toughest battles not in the war zones of the streets, but with those of their own families and friends who did not understand why someone would leave all that was safe and secure and venture out into uncharted territory in the lost streets and cities of their own nation. They believed God had called them to reach a mission field all around them that no-one seemed to love or want to know. Children from homes filled with abuse and emptiness, street teenagers who had no hope or future. Church kids who thought God knew nothing of their secret pain. Like Paul of old, they went because they knew they not only owed Christ everything, but because of His Great Sacrifice, they also owed a debt to people that didn’t understand.
“He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3 (NASB)
One day, as a teenager in high school, a girl named Teena came to my door. She was selling records and told me about the ministry she was with - the Agape Force. I liked her. She was black. I loved to sing and I really wanted to be black. I bought a record from her called Pot Pourri. I played it all the time. I remember Ane Weber’s song, “The New Ninety and Nine” about a little sheep that’s gone astray. Boy, that was really me.
I remember all of those songs and how something would draw me and kind of pull on my heart. I didn’t know what it was at the time. I would sing along and something in me wanted to cry. But since I didn’t know the Lord, how could I know what it was? Now I know it was the Holy Spirit drawing me to Himself. It was a deep desire in me to worship.
Music has such an ability to reach us on a level deeper than our mind can understand. That record that I got from Teena began drawing me to the Lord before I had any idea who He was or what it meant to love and serve Him.
Unfortunately, I went a long way in the wrong direction before the Lord was able to get through to me. Drugs and bad relationships, an abortion, and poor self esteem eventually led me into prostitution. But God was merciful. He rescued me from a living death.
The next time I heard about Agape Force, I was fresh off the streets and a brand new Christian. At a ministry house belonging to Midwest Challenge, associated with Safe House - a haven for prostitutes, I learned, for the first time, what it meant to be part of the family of God.
One of the books we used during my training in Midwest Challenge was a training manual called Youth Aflame written by Winkie Pratney. Then, amazingly, he came to our little house for a chapel one day, simply because we were using his book. There we were, a bunch of drug addicts and messed up people in a run down old house. We were all fresh off the streets trying to get our lives right with God. He came down from the Bible school, Bethany Fellowship, to minister to us. I don’t remember what he talked about that day, but just the fact that he came effected me deeply. It was so special and tender. Through Winkie, and Midwest Challenge, I learned about the Agape Force, as well as Youth With A Mission, Last Days Ministries, Operation Mobilization, and Bethany Fellowship. We learned that these were the ministries that were on the cutting edge of what God was doing. But, even from those earliest days, God seemed to put a desire in my heart to work with the Agape Force.
Years later, when I was traveling with Silverwind, we would do huge events with Winkie all over the country. I would look at him sometimes and weep because it was such an honor to have been on both sides of his ministry. It was so awesome that God would allow me to minister with him.
As God continued to heal my life, my desire to be used in ministry grew. I traveled with the man who had started Midwest Challenge. I sang and played my guitar and gave my testimony. Then I sang with the group Mantle, and became engaged to one of the counselors in the program there.
Somehow, though, I couldn’t shake the idea I was supposed to do something with the Agape Force. Even as my wedding day drew near, and many of the plans had already been made, (I’d even bought my dress), my longing to attend the Agape Force’s Discipleship Training Institute became overwhelming.
I broke off the engagement and called the school. I found out the next DTI started in 5 days. I had no money...but in just a few days God provided all I needed for a bus ticket and the tuition for the school. So I jumped on a bus and headed for Lindale, Texas.
I knew It was a radical thing to do; breaking off my engagement, leaving the group, going cross country. But when I walked into the cafeteria to register for school, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.
That was the beginning of a wonderful honeymoon for me and my Jesus, and a great season of ministry with the Agape Force that lasted almost eight years.
These young soldiers marched to the beat of a different drum. They knew that affecting a society meant much more than just the willingness to change communication styles. They believed radical was not just cool boots, denim bell-bottoms and trendy bumper-stickers, but something of the head and the heart of one who belonged wholly to God. They had a radical message; from the revivalists of history they preached a gospel of repentance and forgiveness, that Jesus had come to save people from their sins, to make men and women holy, and that there would be no lasting change without true conversion to Christ. They had a radical motive that became their watchword; “God’s Love Is the Greatest Force In the Universe”. They used radical methods; time and time again they broke the mold of what Christians who loved Christ were supposed to do and think and say. They shook the Church and they touched the world.
Tales of Agape - Part 2
“Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God; for unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord, in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee and will look up.” Psalm 5:1-3 (KJV)
Tony Salerno started the Agape Force, but I don’t think I’d be far wrong to say that Winkie Pratney was the “force” behind much of what we learned and who we became. The Force was conceived in the wake of his ministry.
Winkie’s teaching impacted us in more ways than most people ever knew. His fiery, wiry presence, often hilarious presentation, and heart stopping message made theology palatable. Especially in the beginning, Winkie’s tracts and Youth Aflame manual gave us the ammunition we needed to load our big guns and storm the gates of Hell. Phrases like “A law without sanctions is merely advice”, “Knowledge equals responsibility” and “Trust God or die” were all Winkie-isms that were often heard and spoken by us all. One of the most frequently heard and most powerfully life changing concepts was this. “The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is selfishness.”
We saw love and selfishness as direct opposites and worked hard to eradicate all things selfish from our lives. We saw that every sin had its birth in a selfish heart. So we strove to love God and each other.
Thus inspired, and with a mandate to read twenty chapters a day in the New Testament, it didn’t take long for team members to stoke the fires of personal revival and conviction. God’s Word has never and never will return void.
Wherever the Agape Force was, as surely as the sun would rise, when it did, there were the sights and sounds of morning devotions. Up early, each person on staff would stake a claim to a piece of real estate in which to pray, read the Word, and get alone to worship Him.
I remember well, that in Sebastopol, no matter where you went in the early morning you might stumble over someone. In the dorms some would stretch out on bunks, Bible open. In any building, opening a closet door might reveal a person deep in prayer. Out on the grounds you could hear the sounds of prayers and shouting from the woods. Under almost every tree was another Bible-reader. It was our time to get alone with God and draw from Him the strength we needed for each day. Later, when we moved to Texas it wasn’t so hard to find a place to get alone. There was so much more room with 400 acres! Still the woods would echo with the sounds of unashamed prayer and the lawns were dotted with the faithful.
The things we learned from God on those chilly, rainy, hot and muggy, bright and breezy, foggy, cloudy mornings, set the stage for all we did and said and sang. We learned at His feet, what a Bible School could never teach us: To hear his voice, to pour ourselves out each morning, and to be filled with Him.
These stories of morning devotional times capture the simple, childlike faith that we embraced Him with. The littlest thing could teach us.
A Servant’s Heart
“But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matt 20:25-28
“Lord, teach me what it is to be a servant. Just to do what You want,” I prayed. It had been a wonderful quiet time. God had met me in a wonderful way. His presence was sweet and when He spoke to my heart, it was about His heart. His servants heart. Oh, how I wanted to be like Him. If I was to be like Him, it was the servant’s heart I had to learn.
It was Saturday morning. And Saturday was wash day. Now that my DTI was finished and I was on its staff things had changed just a bit. It was hard work being part of the DTI staff. Not much free time. But Saturdays were at least partly mine and I had my plans all made. I got my things together and headed for the van. When we reached town I would throw my clothes into the wash and quickly run to do some other things I needed to. I threw my wash in the back of the van, my mental itinerary set in stone.
“Bron, could you do me a favor?” Terry asked breathlessly. “Could you do my wash for me. I can’t go into town today?”
“Oh, no, no. I can’t,” I thought, “I’m too busy. I’ve got to do my own laundry and I’ve got to do all these other things.” But God spoke to my heart. “Remember what you prayed just this morning. You wanted to have a servants heart. Well, here’s your first opportunity.”
“Sure, Terry. No problem,” I heard coming out of my mouth. Terry gave me her big bag of wash and God started teaching me what it was really like to have a servant’s heart.
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Romans 1:20 (NASB)
Not long after, I was outside again for my quiet time, praying and looking out across the lawn, watching the ducks. They walked around and pecked at the ground happily, totally at ease. Lovely ducks having a lovely time.
Suddenly, and all together, they started walking down the hill. I watched them wondering where they were off to. They were certainly filled with purpose. I learned more than where they were going.
As those ducks went along I noticed that there were several obstacles in their way. Some they had to walk around. Some they jumped over. Some were harder to get over than others, but eventually they walked across the road.
Their destination was a pond on the other side of the road, but they weren’t quite home free yet. Their biggest obstacle was the last. On the other side of the road, was a fence. They had to work at getting under that fence. Finally they made it. Then they hurried to the pond and jumped in.
Somewhere in the middle of all this I realized that the Lord was speaking to me. He was trying to show me something - speaking a word into my heart about my life - our lives!
We were just like those ducks, walking around and doing our own thing in our own little way. Then spiritually, we start walking toward a goal. We’ve got purpose. We’re on our way. However, there all always things that get in the way. We never really noticed them before. We weren’t going anywhere.
Sometimes these are big things we have to climb over or under or around. Sometimes they’re just small things. Irritations. The problem right before the goal, however, is always the biggest. Those ducks were persistent. I needed to be persistent too because once you get over that last hurdle, you can get down into it and swim around for awhile in the pond of your success. Viewed correctly, the struggles only serve to increase the joy.
Even after all these years I remember these special times of instruction the Lord gave me, so sweetly, as I worked or prayed or sat out on the lawn and pondered the wonders of His love as revealed through the things that He made.
It is so hot! People are dying in Dallas because of the heat wave. Cindy has little blisters on her shoulders from the sun! But it’s been fun. I’ve been here now (at Crystal Springs Institute) for a little over a month and I love everybody so much. It’s a lot of hard work, though. And I feel hungry most of the time. Every afternoon we’ve been working in the orchard from 1:00 - 4:00 to get us ready for ministering on the streets. It builds character in us to work hard.
After we’re done, we get to have our 3 minute shower. (It’s really only 2 minutes and 45 seconds). This is what happens: Tee sits on a stool inside the shower room with a watch with a second hand. The line gets really long with so many girls. Everyone stands there with a towel wrapped around them and the line circles down and around into one of the rooms. If our lines aren’t straight, Tee yells, “straighten up those lines”, and then we have to stand directly behind the girl ahead of us. When it’s finally your turn, you stand in the shower with both hands on the knobs. As soon as Tee shouts “Water on!” we spin those knobs and start wetting down and shampooing our hair. Sixty seconds later, Tee shouts, “Water off!” This sixty seconds is a time to soap down. (It usually just takes me 10 seconds, ‘cause I’m so hyper. I feel like I’m in a race or something). Then I stand there...waiting, with both hands on the knobs. Then...she shouts “Water on!” But this time, it only lasts 45 seconds and then she shouts, “COOOOOOLLDDD WATER!!!!” and for the last 15 seconds of every shower, we have to shower in cold water. It’s sort of deceptive though, because they’re not really 3 minute showers. It’s more like a minute and a half since no water is running.
But praise the Lord, He is teaching me discipline. If I can get past waking up so early each morning to exercise, then I think I can make it. I so want to be in service for Jesus.
Again, there are two main words used in the New Testament for being ready. The word that Paul uses however, is not the word for preparation by discipline. There is a readiness that does not come from physical and mental exercises alone. It has to do with vision, with conviction, with the long-term look. The word Paul uses for being ready, prothumos, means to have a future mind to be predisposed to the possibilities of the future. In a culture where everything appeared collapsing, people opting out of responsibility from the personal to the national political, these young soldiers of the army of agape took the long look. They had gazed a little on eternity and realized that while they were only teenagers for a tithe of their time on earth, the investment of the early years of their lives would give them an open heaven for the rest. The real lessons of the Agape Force were not the academic or the scholastic. They were in the school of the Holy Spirit - the realm of trust in a Living God who is the Author and Finisher of our faith. In matters both small and seemingly insignificant to the really big battles and challenges they learned what it meant that the just shall live by faith.