“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 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 I had withdrawn from my college classes that week, said goodbye to many friends and watched my mother struggle with the idea that I was really leaving home.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 something really powerful and amazing. It was then, and mostly still is, called the "baptism" of the Holy Spirit. During that incredible experience I felt (and heard) God’s call on my life in an undeniable way. I knew it was a call to ministry. Honestly, 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 or if it had existed was completely unknown to me. There was no real definition for what God was telling me I was to be. All I knew, and what I told my mother, 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 was sitting in the drivers seat waiting for me to say goodbye to Mom. He was going along to Palm Springs where we were to meet up with an Agape Force team ministering there. We were getting to know each other fairly well and had been friends for a few months. He was best friends with another friend, Jim Berrier. There were too many Jim's so we used last names for them. To me, then, they were Patton and Berrier. Patton had a deep restlessness and desire to do something for God so he asked 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 this 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 my home church for about 2 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 been, literally, set apart. I wasn't preachy or very 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, shunned 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 spinal 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 pretty 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. Each year I got a big group photo of all the campers, the leaders and the speakers together. There, in the front of two 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 dress.
I glanced to my open, messy walk-in 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.” Right there and then I decided that 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. (Of course this was WAAAAY before cell phones.) 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 to 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 silly. It scared me to think that God might say, “Yes. Go!” , and it scared me that He could 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 seeking answers and guidance. Sometimes, the answers were clear. But often decisions that seemed so life-changing brought no response that I could hear or discern. When that happened 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 options and still I don’t know what you want me to do. This way seems best. 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.”
But tonight I had to go to Him and come back with an answer the next day. I was frozen in fear! Would I be able to hear Him? As it turned out, those fears were completely 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 patio and garden to sit in the quiet and cool of the evening, pray and try to listen. 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 with a sense of 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 had taken me to.
In the midst of that, I felt like I ought to open my Bible although I wasn't sure where to start looking. Turns out I didn't have to look any further than where my Bible opened. 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 right then. Right there, 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)
Not only did this passage provide the confirmation I was looking for, but it became my life verse.
As Jim started the car I looked at my mother standing in the driveway. She had allowed me to go, just barely, and she looked a little crest-fallen and sad. “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 would be to “let go” of my kids when God’s time came for them to answer their "call."