It was 1990, driving back from Modesto to San Diego, California that the idea first started to wiggle around in our brains. We were on our way back from a reunion of a whole bunch of our old Agape Force friends. We hadn't seen some of these guys in 15 years and it was the first time since our AF days that we had been in a position to "hang out" with more than one or two at a time. Yet it was as if it had just been yesterday that we were on the streets or on the stage or in prayer meetings together.
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 (which was amazing) 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 will 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 and perhaps now, Iraq or Afghanistan. It was the bond of people who had given themselves, all of themselves, to see revival come to their generation. And some, most actually, still seemed like they either walked with a kind of Jacob limp or were still trying to find a new normal and their place in this thing that was life after Agape Force.
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. Were going to a neat little Church full of (early) 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 and became the youth pastors for several years. We told these kids stories about the bizarre things we did when we were young. We told them about how we came to Jesus and about our days in the ministry and spent time with them just loving on them and listening to their hearts. Trying to be transparent, vulnerable, honest. So we told them stories that we hoped would show them who we really were and what really mattered. 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 had done. 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 once again. There are stories here that deserve to be told......Gee, I really wish somebody would do that.
A couple of more years go by. One day I find myself at a Youth With A Mission writers 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 us up and lay hands on us and commission us to write - "for the Glory of God and for the sake of his Kingdom". The presence of God is there in such an awesome and powerful way that I realize - This is not a joke. This is really real! But I actually felt like Sarah when she "laughed"at the words she heard that she would have a child in her old age. 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, because I don't see a time this side of heaven when Ill be able to do this kind of stuff.
Fast forward yet again. Winds of revival are starting to blow in Pensacola Florida and other places we are hearing about. It seems like God is on the move again in new and exciting ways and we find ourselves back in Lindale, Texas making a kind of sudden and unexpected 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 Youth With A Mission base and enough Agape Force alumni still lived in the area to create a new revived sense of spiritual momentum in us.
We had come back to Lindale primarily to serve Winkie Pratney and in that capacity Jim was learning how to code html and starting to build a website called moh.org. I worked as a temp and together we did whatever side jobs we could find to keep the rent paid and still be able to have the flexibility we knew we needed. It was during that time that we began to get to know the new crop of missionaries and leadership in the area. Getting to know them meant we were telling "our" stories again and amazingly the idea of writing those stories began to look like it may actually be possible. Encouragement came from multiple directions and the theme of that encouragement seemed to use the words "These stories deserve to be told" more often than not. Was this just bizarre coincidence or was history repeating itself. For what its worth, that's how I ended up sitting at my keyboard typing away and talking on the phone for endless hours to AF friends all over the world; emailing hundreds of emails to make sure I had gotten everything right as I worked at what came to be called Tales of Agape.
Then the brook dried up. There was push back. Accusations. Even threats. Someone else was going to "write a book" and what we were doing was going to damage that. My motives were suspect. And so on. That part of the story doesn't need a lot of details. What happened was that, as we were nearing what seemed like completion of at least the first major draft for "Tales", the whole project ended up being put on a back burner and then moved to the shelf and then into the archives and then back to that place where the word "impossible" seemed applicable once again.
Over 20 years have passed since then. A whole generation born and grown to adulthood. The world has changed. Our kids are grown. Our oldest grandchildren as well.
The person who was going to write their own book never did and Winkie, recovering from a life-threatening health event, began to nudge us. "You really need to finish that book," he'd say. Some time would pass and he would bring it up again. Now there is a sense of urgency. If these stories aren't told soon, they might never be. In fact a huge part of our ministry in these last few years has been to rescue, preserve and help promote Winkie's body of written, audio and video work. And here he was reminding me that this, also needed to be done for "Tales".
So here we go again. This time, perhaps, we will get them out there in some form. I think there are more stories that need to be added. Maybe this generation needs to be the one who hears them. With this new generation comes a whole new world of possibilities; new ways of communicating, new ways of getting these stories out. Twenty years ago we may have, in ignorance, been thinking too small.
The truth is that 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. I have seen over and over 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 that have been raised for God, who now have children of there own who would not have even existed, had this group of kids not said yes to God's call. And the roll call of those who have stories to tell but have passed into eternity is growing too fast.
I think there has been warfare against this project and part of that warfare is for us to be tempted to believe that what we did and what we gave didn't end up making a difference; that it didn't matter. Let me just say this as clearly as I know how. If it didn't matter there wouldn't still be warfare surrounding it.
As I sit here today adding to and editing the words I wrote over 20 years ago I have to say that what was meant for evil God can and will use for good. It's not my job to know what would have happened "if". It's only my job to do my best to stay thankful, obedient and to finish well.
And so, I pray for you. No matter which generation you are part of. No matter how young or old you are now. I pray 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 and spent for something eternal, but that the world and the Kingdom of God is altered in some way and that God Himself will be blessed because you did. Because if these stories DO deserve to be told it's not just about what happened long ago, it's about what can and just might happen going forward.