Supreme Ambition Ministries

To Know Christ and to Make Him Known – Philippians 3:10

My JOURNEY 6

GOD’S GIFT FROM THE MOUNTAIN

We were very content in Fairmont.  We had a nice home, two precious young children, a congregation with some vision and opportunity to do something significant in Christ’s vineyard.  Interestingly, I had been given the assignment of finding a camp where our regional Southern Baptist churches youth groups could have a retreat for the spring of 1974.  Unfortunately, all the camps in northern West Virginia were booked and the only one I could find was near Charleston, which was some distance away.  Since we were going to be near the church of our mentor, Dr.camp-virgil-tate.jpg Daniel Light, I thought it might be good, if we featured their fine youth choir.  I called Dan to speak with him about it and in the course of the conversation he mentioned there was a Church in Racine, WV which was looking for a pastor.  Apparently their pastor had left for another Church.  Dan said the previous pastor was a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Seminary and they liked him so well they wanted another Southwestern man.  Dan asked if I would be interested.  I explained I had only been in Fairmont less than a year, and I really wanted to stay there.  My desire was for a ministry of longevity.  He said, it was the Church in which he had been ordained to ministry and that his wife, Jenny’s relatives were in the Church.  He asked if I would at least pray about it?  I said, “Well, I can at least pray about it.” 

The arrangements were made for the retreat and a sizeable group of us from northern WV made our way south to Charleston to Camp Virgil Tate.  While at the camp Dan talked with me more about First Baptist Church Racine and the more he talked the more I could sense the Holy Spirit stirring me about it.  One of the difficulties I faced was Kathi.  You see she is like most ladies; she is a nester.  She had put her roots down, had found another young mother in our neighborhood with a child about the age of our oldest, and life was….well…it was good.  Of course, I would not want to uproot her and our babies unless we both felt this opportunity was definitely from God.  So, on the way home to Fairmont from Charleston, I began to pray, “Lord, if you want us in Racine, please let Kathi be open to the possibility.”  When I arrived home, I said, “Honey, How would you like to move to Racine, West Virginia?”  She quickly responded, “Let’s go!”  

Shortly, we made our way through the interview process and were on our way to Racine, WV.  Now you need to understand something.  Racine is not… (Deep breath)…it’s not your typical urban community.  In fact, it’s not typical anything.  Now don’t get me wrong.  It’s not bad, just different.  At least it was different for us.  I was used to the flat Kanawha River valley where I was raised among dairy farms.  Racine is nestled between the gorgeous mountains of West Virginia.  The sun still rises there but just does it a little later in the day than it does in most other places.  Racine had a small grocery store, post office, and a barber shop.  But Racine also had some people whose desire was to know Jesus.  Although the terrain was much different and the cultural opportunities were limited, it was the call of God and the spiritual hunger of a few people that drew us there.  Some of the decoal-river.jpgarest friends Kathi and I have today still live between those mountains of the Big Coal River.

We settled into what we hoped to be a long and fruitful ministry.  Arnold Tamplin, Pat Hudson, Harold Madison (who was a Methodist layman), and I began to visit up and down the roads and into the ‘hollers’.  We began to win people to Christ.  Before long there was a spirit of anticipation among the people both in and out of the Church that God might visit that little community.  Sometime along the journey I felt the Lord prompting me to invite an evangelist from San Antonio, Texas, Larry Taylor.  Larry came with a simple message of Christ and him crucified and a personal testimony of his own deliverance from Heroine.  During that meeting there were around 140 decisions for Christ; 90 of those decisions were first time decisions for salvation by students from at least two local high schools.  Of course, the main thing one wants to do is to get those new converts into churches and into some kind of discipleship.  We did just that.  We set up stations in other communities and attempted to firm up the decisions that were made.  Unfortunately, many of those ‘first-timers’ did not remain true at that time.  My prayer is that later in life they referred back to that initial experience and went on to maturity in Christ.

First Baptist was doing well.  The revival had helped the Church.  Several adults with children were joining the Church and the ‘cogs in the wheel’ were churning.  There was a problem, however, that began to surface.  From the beginning of our ministry Kathi and I felt our call was to the Church, rather than to the lost.  That’s not to say I wasn’t evangelistic.  While we were in Racine our Church was second in the state (around 600 churches) in baptisms.  But, I saw the real need was for the new converts to have a healthy spiritual environment in which to grow.  Some of the leaders in the Church, however,  wanted me to preach evangelistic messages from the pulpit.  I, on the other hand, saw my scriptural position as an equipper of the saints for the work of the ministry.  Some of the ‘saints’, however, thought they were paying me to do their witnessing for them.  The local Barber, who was unsaved, started coming to Church on Sunday mornings.  One day I went to get my haircut and he said, ‘Preacher you keep preachin’ the truth.’  He said, ‘The way you’re preachin’ is right.  I don’t care what those people down there say.’

persecution21.jpgAfter Kathi and I had been at the Church for about two years we were introduced to a man of God and his autobiography, which chronicled his walk with God.  Both his book and his messages were challenging, and spoke to some of the same issues about which I was concerned in the Church…lack of Christian maturity being one.  He pointed out the importance of God’s people being obedient to his will and giving evidence of the salvation within.  Tragically, after we had attended a few of his meetings and I even journeyed to Israel with him, the ‘power pockets’ within the Church began to work against me.  The false accusations began to fly.  The least accusations were that I was not preaching Baptist doctrine.  The worst were that I was involved in black magic and witchcraft.  Neither of the two extremes, nor any of those things along the continuum was true, but rumors don’t depend on truth, only willing participants to share a negative message.  Before long, private Board meetings were being held without my knowledge, and one Sunday in February of 1977 the Chairman of the Deacons stood to announce a Special called Business Meeting for the next Sunday.  I knew immediately what that was all about, so Kathi and I began to pray about what we should do.  We did not want to cause division within the Church.  What to do?  The next Saturday night I tossed and turned all night wrestling with the decision.  Finally, word came.  I was to resign and not put the Church through the difficult choice of taking sides for me and/or against life-long friends.

At the end of my message I read my resignation, sent my wife and three children (Nathan was born while we were living in Racine) out of the building to spare them any more hurt, and I sat down on the front row to allow the Church to act on my resignation.  Sadly, some people, who had not been in Church for months, came that day to vote against me.  Some of them began to say things that were untrue and crushing.  Finally, in the midst of one ‘speech’ I stood, turned and faced the congregation and said with tears in my eyes, “I love you with all my heart”, and I walked out of the building. 

In the years that followed I was called back to Racine to assist with funerals and for special celebrations. On one occasion after attending an anniversary celebration and standing and talking with some of the members, our oldest son, Chad said, “Dad, which ones were against us?”  I said, “Son, could you not tell?” What he did not know was that he had been standing with me talking to the main person, who was against us and he couldn’t tell by me that the man wasn’t a good friend.  Hallelujah!

Our youngest son, Nathan Aaron, was born while we lived in Racine.  His name means “God’s gift from the mountain”.  He, along with Chad and Stacye are very precious gifts from God.  But perhaps the greater gift we received from the mountains of Racine was a lesson in love. Maybe this is the first homework assignment in the School of Brokenness.  It’s easy to love when you’re new in town and everyone is trying to get acquainted with you, but it is an entirely different issue, when men are speaking evil against you falsely.  Let’s see!  What did Jesus say about that?  Oh yeah!  “Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for may sake, for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.  Rejoice!”  Doesn’t God have a sense of humor?  Rejoice? And yet as we grow in Christ there is a depth of truth in his words which defies reason.  I confess, I don’t know much about this ‘suffering’ thing but I do try to claim the Apostle Paul’s words to the Church at Rome.  “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose…” (Romans 8:28).  I’d like to think I love my Lord more deeply today, in part, because of ‘God’s gift from the mountains’. 

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MORE TO COME…

August 18th, 2008 Posted by | Biographical | one comment