Thursday, February 7, 2019

If You Can't Preach Better Than This

Chapter Eighteen

I was like a kid in a candy store in those first few months in Bayview Baptist Church.

  • We were finally able to have a reasonable (for us - remember, we had virtually no income up until now) income. 
  • We had what we considered to be a beautiful building and
  • We had double the number of people - 50 soon became 70

It wasn't too long after we had made the merge of Lower Columbia and Bayview Baptist that the church began to see new members added. Notables among them were

  • Jack and Lindy Burkhart
  • Mark and Mardi Tanguay
  • Andy and DJ Roberts and
  • Joe and Gina Jasper

Kenny and Denise Ness also began attending regularly though they did not join the church until shortly after I had moved to work at Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College.

I would not want to give the impression that these were easy days. We had some seriously tough times. But we would answer most of them by saying something to the effect of, "Two years ago we wouldn't have had these problems because we wouldn't have had any people." It was such a blessing to have people! Not that much after, I would say that I was having to learn how to pastor the largest church I had ever been a member of.

God has a way of helping me stay humble. I had read something in the Baptist Bible Tribune by J.O. Combs on having a theme for every month. May was Memorial Day theme so I planned this big deal for Memorial Day, 1988. My plan was to try to get people to come to church by honoring their loved ones who had died. I made a banner to look like a scroll, attached a silver cord to it and all month invited people to write on it the names of their loved one who had passed away. Memorial Day I had the banner hanging and preached a message out of Hebrews 11:13 (KJV)
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
I thought I had done a great job. I had spent all month working on the message and had it down. When I finished the message an elderly woman in the church (the old GARBC side of the church) approached me and said, "I'll give you five more years. After that, if you can't preach any better than this, I suggest you quit."

One Sunday morning a visiting family came to church and sat on the very front row. They were nice people, sharp. They were pleasant and appeared to be exactly the sort of family we would love to have in our church. As I got started preaching on the subject of the local church I could see his face begin to turn red. Not a moment or two later, his wife put her hand on his neck and began massaging it to keep him calm. He maintained his composure until I was finished but they left very upset. Needless to say, we never saw them again.

Another elderly couple from the GARBC group had been pleasant with me but had frequently expressed disagreement with my messages and lessons. It was pretty well accepted among the GARBC group that they were free to vocally "discuss" their opinions of the Sunday school lessons during the Sunday school hour. One particular Sunday school lesson, I was sure, was going to set her off. I practiced carefully many times how I would respond to her, "Mrs ___________ you are welcome to disagree with statements I make in the lessons, but I would appreciate it if we discussed them privately." When the moment came I blurted out "Don't you every disagree with me in public again." I didn't have to ever hear her disagree with a lesson after that.  The rest of the class thanked me for finally putting a stop to her. But I was broken hearted about the way I had handled the situation.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Miracles and Blessings

Chapter Seventeen

As difficult as the ministry is, there are unbelievable blessings associated with doing the work of God. It seemed good to record a list of many of those blessings and miracles that have taken place during the years we have served the Lord. Many of these incidents will be recorded separately in other chapters, but for my own benefit, I wanted to list them one after the other.

Victory over sin
Before becoming a Christian I had developed the habit of chewing tobacco. It became one of my earliest burdens as a new Christian because I wanted to be free from the addiction but struggled with it terribly.
In my attempt to quit the habit I had stopped carrying chewing tobacco so that, whenever I felt like I had to have some, I would either have to find someone to get some from (usually not that hard to do) or buy some. My custom was to take one dip of the chew and throw the rest away as I did not want to carry it on my person and make it easy to keep up the habit. Every morning I would ask God to give me victory over chewing tobacco.
I got hurt on the job and had to spend a month laid up at home. That made it more difficult to keep up my habit of chewing but I did have an uncle who lived nearby who chewed tobacco. I could get some from him when I needed to and if he wasn't home there was a small convenience store not that far from my place. One day I was having nicotine fit. My uncle was at work and I was about to go to the store and buy some tobacco. I would have to write a check and didn't want to write one for the fifty seven cents my Copenhagen was going to cost so my plan was to buy a can of Copenhagen tobacco and a half gallon of ice cream. I would take one dip of the chew and throw the rest of the can away but I was going to eat all of the ice cream!
Before leaving however, I knelt down at the sofa and asked God to take away the desire for tobacco. In a manner I can only describe as a miracle, my craving for the nicotine was immediately and completely removed. I knelt down addicted to chewing tobacco. I rose up less than five minutes later free. I have never craved it since.

Provisions for our move
At the point in our lives when we realized we should go to Bible College money was so tight that driving five miles to church was a hardship. Now we had committed to moving across the country. I had a thirty foot travel trailer but before I could pull it that far my half ton, short box pickup would need a transmission upgrade and load equalizing equipment to pull the trailer. We had no income, no money saved and no means of any of that changing - or so we thought.
Anita happened to have an uncle who worked for the State of Oregon and suggested that Anita check with the teachers' annuity. She would have had money deducted from her paychecks while she worked for the Hermiston School District. Sure enough, she did have money there and it turned out to be enough to do the transmission work, put in the tow package and buy gas to Denver.
We stopped in Mountain Home, Idaho on Sunday morning, Mothers' Day, 1981 to attend Sunday services before heading further toward Denver. When we came out of the services we discovered bubbles on one of the back tires of the pick up. Mountain Home is a small town. There was only one filling station in town, open on a Sunday that had tires. But they did not have the correct size for my vehicle. I would have to replace all four of them to have matching tires. It was too dangerous to do anything else. My friend Mike Riggs was with us. He called to see if he could put the tires on a credit card but they turned him down. I would have to use some of Anita's annuity money, reserved for fuel, to get the tires. We headed toward Denver once again.
When we arrived in Denver we had five dollars left between Mike, Anita and myself. My brother was living in Denver at the time so he let me park the trailer in his driveway until we could get something situated.

Speaking of Denver
My intention was to go to Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg, VA but I had to earn some money to get there. There was no work in the Northwest so i asked my Ironworker's business agent where to find some. He said there was work in Oakland, CA but they were getting rained out, Denver, CO and Houston, TX.  His suggestion was to go to Denver and if I hadn't found work in a week, figure myself half way to Houston. Mike and I both got jobs on the fifth day.
By that time we were all three out of money but I did have a few silver coins I had bought a few years earlier. We sold a couple of them and went to Chuck E. Cheese's to celebrate. It was our first time ever at a Chuck E. Cheese. What a place to celebrate!
The job I got was in Boulder, CO. We parked our trailer in a place up the canyon from Boulder and joined a church there in town. Mike's job was in Denver. He stayed with his aunt in town.
I had only worked a couple of weeks when I realized that attending college in Lynchburg wasn't looking very feasible. I told our pastor there in Boulder and he informed Anita and me about a smaller Bible college in Denver. Since the church supported the college I would get a small discount on costs. Anita and I accepted that as the will of God and I enrolled. No sooner had I done that than things in our life began to turn completely around. Bills began to get paid, our outlook changed and, as we were driving to church one day we heard on a Christian radio station, an advertisement for a Christian school teacher position. Anita applied and got the job. It was in Denver and it came with a two bedroom apartment, all utilities paid. We used to sing on our way to church, "If he keeps on blessing and blessing O Lord, I don't know what I'm gonna do!"

We arrived in Astoria with $1000.00 in our pockets and only a small amount of monthly support. But what we learned was that finances were not really an issue in the ministry. I never received any regular support to speak of but we never did without. God provided
  • A place to meet and the money to make the rent
  • A piano
  • A carpet for the sanctuary (if you could call our gas station a sanctuary)
  • Pews to sit on and
  • A home made pulpit that I still miss today

After two and a half years God provided a building in the form of the GARBC church building in Astoria, right across the Young's River from where we were meeting in the gas station.

Two years later God provided a buyer to make that property completely debt free. When the building began to fill, we were able to complete a small expansion and have more money in the bank when we finished than we had before we began.

God has allowed me to
  • Plant and pastor a great church in Astoria
  • See many men surrender to preach and go into the ministry
  • Work as the Executive Vice President of not one, but two Bible Colleges[1] and
  • Travel around the country as an evangelist representing the colleges

In 1999 the Yakima Bible Baptist Church paid for my entire family to fly from Oklahoma City to Yakima, WA to attend their annual home missions conference (neither of my sons have ever missed one of these conferences since their birth to this day). As the plane was approaching Seattle and flying over what I thought was Tacoma, WA a though occurred to me and, completely out of the blue, I prayed to the Lord, "Father, You've given to me almost everything I have ever asked for. I would really love to pastor in Tacoma." When I stepped off the plane, the pastor who was there to meet me said, "Bible Baptist Church of Puyallup is looking for a pastor, you should candidate." I dismissed him but when I got to Yakima I was met by Pastor Bill Bramblett who said BBC of Puyallup had asked me to consider candidating.

The property our house in Spanaway sits on is a piece of land that my wife and I both thought would be where we would live if we could live wherever we wanted while pastoring Bible Baptist Church of Puyallup.

On those days I am down or have been especially attacked in the ministry I recount these and many more miracles and blessings in my mind to restore and revive my soul.

[1] Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College and Heartland Baptist Bible College. The staff at HBBC would say that they are PCBBC but they have a different working agreement than they once had, a different staff than they once had and a location 1500 miles away from the one they once had. They do maintain the records of PCBBC but they are practically speaking two different organizations.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Meeting in the Park with Pastor Hunsberger

Chapter sixteen

Lower Columbia Baptist Church met in the abandoned service station building from May of 1984 through September of 1987. It was a challenging place to meet to say the least and I was forever seeking alternatives. At one point it looked as if we may be able to buy the property. When that property fell through, I was again seeking the Lord's provision for a more permanent place for our congregation.

There was in the area of Lewis and Clark a church known as Lewis and Clark Bible Church. The church was originally a smaller congregation that met in a converted Mink barn. Years previous to my coming to town the church had called a man named Paul Hatt to pastor it. The church grew in numbers under his ministry so that they were able to build a large building debt free. By the time I arrived in town, Lewis and Clark Bible Church had dismissed Paul Hatt as pastor and their numbers had dwindled to just a few. Though the church was a Bible church, Brother Hatt's background was among the independent Baptists and I wondered if the Lord would not allow me to one day merge the few that were left there with our own church and have the building. I would frequently park my car on a hillside in view of their building and ask the Lord for the property. I did not believe I should ask any man for it, claiming Matthew 6:5-7[1] I simply read the Scriptures and prayed that God would allow me to have that property.

About that time Anita and I took our children to play at the Tapiola Park in Astoria. Pastor Mark Hunsberger, from the GARBC's Bayview Baptist Church was also there with his children. Pastor Hunsberger shared with me that he was at the church as a church planting missionary through the Fellowship of Baptists for Home Missions, a GARBC approved missions agency, that his five year term was about to come to completion, that he had elected not to stay for another term and that the missions agency had already met with the church had told them they were not going to send another missionary pastor. The FBHM had challenged the church that they needed to become self supporting or they would have to fold. I do not recall specifically praying for that property but I may have.

In the mean time, I was growing pretty discouraged. I "endured" my twenty ninth birthday that June and, as I examined my life, felt like a failure. The next year I would be thirty. It seemed to me that a thirty year old was way past age for making excuses. I needed to find a way to care for my family. Several things went through my mind, though I do not recall any of them being quitting the ministry. I did wonder if I should go back to college, "Perhaps" I began to reason, "if I attended a larger college like Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College, I would be able to learn something I had not learned yet." I also believed that I was a likeable enough guy that, if I could get around the right circle of pastors; I could surely find one who would consider hiring me on staff. I had half promised myself that, if something did not turn around by the fall, I would resign the church.

It was in August that summer when Mark Hunsberger came to see me in my office in our abandoned service station church. I had read Psalms 2:8 "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." In my personal devotions that morning and was literally asking God for that possession when Pastor Hunsberger came in. he explained again the circumstances of the church, that he would be leaving soon and that the deacons of the church had asked him to approach me about the possibility of merging and becoming their pastor. I do not believe the GARBC are "heathen" but I sure did feel like the Lord answered my prayer that day!

Of course merging the churches couldn't happen too quickly. Both congregations needed to be in agreement and there were some differences between our congregations that needed to be handled. Our congregation averaged approximately seventeen and we had a pastor, their congregation averaged around twenty two and they had a building. Bayview Baptist Church was still a missions church through the FBHM and, even though the agency had already told them they would not send them another missionary pastor, they did want to have some input whether I would become the pastor or not. The board requested that I attend a two week missionary candidate class in Elyria, Ohio scheduled for September. I agreed to go.

For my part, the congregation of Lower Columbia Baptist Church was a fairly agreeable sort of people. We had three key families: the Hockley's, the Simmons' and the Rowland's. There were a few others, but these were the ones that were steady and faithful. Jonnie Simmons is the only person I recall even remotely questioning our merge. All she asked was if I had sought any counsel before agreeing to do it. I had asked for the counsel of Pastor Ken McCormick in Gladstone, OR and Pastor Pat McVey in Eugene, OR. Neither man offered any real objections that I recall. I do remember Pastor McCormick speaking to me about the difference between a congregationally controlled church and a pastorally lead church. He cautioned me that the GARBC would be a congregationally controlled church and I would need to deal with that.

I attended the two week missionary candidate program and considered it a great experience. Being away from my family for two full weeks was a challenge, but the people I met were friendly and we got along fine. The difference between pastoral leadership was discussed over the two week period as was the difference of emphasis upon the local church versus the universal body of Christ. I acknowledged to them that I recognized that in heaven all believers would be unified in one body, but said that the emphasis right now needed to be on the local church. They accepted that and I was approved through their program and to become the pastor of Bayview Baptist Church.

With that hurdle out of the way we still had some things to iron out on the home front:
  • What would be the name of the church?
  • What about Constitution and By-laws?
  • Which church was going forward and which one was dissolving?

I handled the first one by suggesting that the name be Bayview Baptist Church. That way we could retain the same 501c3 status they already had (I had never applied for 501c3). I also remarked that I liked their church sign and we could keep it as is if we kept the same name. I did request that we make a slight change of times of service. Their Sunday school class began at 9:45. I asked to change it to 10:00.  The second question was also easily handled. I suggested we keep their Constitution and By-Laws but make a few changes to reflect the stronger pastoral leadership philosophy I held. The final issue was resolved by officially reorganizing as a brand new church beginning October of 1987. In this way I was also able to remove the church from the GARBC and lead it to become completely independent.

Our first service as one congregation was the first Sunday of October that year. Immediately we came to an unexpected area of disagreement; Protestants generally observe the Lord's Supper the first Sunday of October (I was absolutely unaware of that) while we practiced the Lords Supper on infrequently (I had not yet come to observe it once a year, the Tuesday before the Resurrection). I insisted that I could not administer the Lord's Supper on a Sunday Morning service as it was, after all, a supper and not breakfast (or even lunch). We took it that evening. I also agreed to observe the Lord's Supper the first Sunday evening of every month. A practice I began to pull away from as the years progressed and my convictions concerning Baptist distinctives developed.

We also had a disagreement concerning baptism. A teenage girl had gotten saved just previous to our uniting the congregations and it fell to us to baptize her that October. The GARBC group had been accustomed to the deacons interrogating a candidate for baptism and approving of it. I refused on several grounds:
  • There is no such precedent in the Bible
  • I saw it as the pastor's duty to baptize any who were saved as soon as possible
  • The interrogation would, as I saw it, hinder some from being baptized for fear of the interview
The deacons followed me and we got along just fine.

I should make some remark about deacons. I had never had deacons at Lower Columbia Baptist. I did not see where there was a need for them with such a small group. Brother Hockley served as co-signer on our checks and Mark Rowland helped me count the offerings. George Simmons did just about anything and everything else that needed to be done. But Bayview Baptist Church did have, I think it was, three deacons: Arne Froyseth, Ed Jasper and Scott Dyer. We retained the three of them as deacons and added Rod Hockley. In all of the years at Bayview Baptist, having those deacons change and different men stepping into those roles, I have to say it was always a pleasant experience working with them. They were deacons; never demons.

As for Pastor Hunsberger, though he resigned the church effective October, 1987, he had no place to go right away. He was still a missionary through FBHM but the agency did not assign him a pastorate. Like any Baptist church, he had to be called. The agency would recommend him as a candidate, but could not require any church to call him. The process took some time and for eight months after we united these two congregations Pastor Mark Hunsberger stayed in the church's parsonage. He was in our services almost every service for those eight full months. Even leaders in the GARBC were telling me I needed to get him out of the church. I believe it was Homer Ramsey, a member of the board of FBHM, told many "Anything with two heads is a monster." But having Brother Hunsberger there was no monstrous thing. On the contrary it was a true godsend and likely the reason our union went so smoothly.
First, any time during those eight months that the members of the old GARBC church questioned something I did, they would look to Pastor Hunsberger whose response was always, "That isn't the way I did it, but I am not the pastor now. Let's follow our pastor." For years after he left, any time there was any sort of disagreement Ed Jasper would stand up and say, "Let's follow the pastor!"
Second, Pastor Hunsberger remained in the church parsonage for those eight months. That was long enough for me to become familiar with the parsonage and determine I did not want to live in it if I did not have to. It was also long enough that the church got used to their pastor living somewhere else and to see that they could afford for me to live somewhere other than that house. When Pastor Hunsberger moved out, in June of 1987, we immediately began to use the house for Sunday school classes.

Shortly before leaving town Pastor and Mrs Hunsberger lost a baby in stillbirth. Mrs Hunsberger asked my wife if she would look in on the little grave from time to time. She did not know that Anita and I had lost to babies in miscarriage and the Anita still suffered from the loss. Anita found at Baby Hunsberger's grave a place to grieve her own loss. It proved to be a healing place for us.

I have not heard from the Hunsbergers in many years but I rejoice in the hand of God bringing us together. His ways are past finding out.

[1] Matthew 6:5-7 KJV
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Pastor’s Fellowships

Chapter Fifteen

I had not had much exposure to the concept of pastors' fellowship meetings prior to attending Bible College in Colorado. College and my experience with Platteville Baptist Church "educated" me concerning them. Pastor Duncan in Boulder did not attend Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings but he did take me to meeting of more independent minded preachers once. Pastor Smith was much more independent than Pastor Duncan but he also took me to a preachers' meeting at least once. As a student of Baptist Bible College West, I was required to attend Fellowship meetings when they were local to Denver.

But Pastor Smith was adamantly opposed to the Baptist Bible Fellowship. When I got ready to move to Astoria Pastor Smith and Pastor Roarke (Pastor Smith's sending pastor from Tri-Town Baptist Church in Fredrick, CO) both told me that if I went to Astoria and "hung a BBF sign on the church" they would not support me. My response was to tell them that I was an independent Baptist and would fellowship with whomever the Lord led. It must have been sufficient because both churches supported me for a time. (Platteville Baptist Church paid for our health insurance until my first son was born. Tri-Town Baptist supported us at I think $200 per month for the first year.) I attended an Oregon State Baptist Bible Fellowship meeting in John Day almost immediately after arriving in Astoria. I also attended the following month's meeting in Eugene. At the second of those two meetings I met two other men who planted churches the same month as I did; one in Ashland, OR and the other in Klamath Falls, OR. The man in Ashland did quite well but eventually (more quickly though than many men have done) led the church to drop the Baptist name and become more progressive in ministry philosophy. The man in Klamath Falls seemed like he was going to set the world on fire. By the end of his first year he had built the church to almost 100 people. By the end of the first year he was also burnt out and quit. The next man, Pastor Bob Johnston, faithfully ministered in that church for two decades. He is still one of the most inspirational men I know.

I never did hang the BBF sign on the church in Astoria. But two things led me to become a regular at the monthly Oregon State Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings. First, not long after I arrived in Astoria, probably July or August, Pastor Roarke came to spend a week with me. It was the first to two. One day we went out to a park and he shared his vision of a church planting support network. What he described was so similar to what I knew that the Oregon State BBF did that, after dwelling on it for a few months, I determined that he really didn't have a conviction against the principle of the BBF but that it was a matter of his circle of friends. His friends were not the BBF men so he did not like the BBF. I decided that wasn't a significant reason to have no fellowship with the Oregon State Baptist Bible Fellowship. I had also already figured out that those men who were not part of the OSBBF were not going to welcome me into their circles because I did not attend their approved colleges, Bob Jones University (South Carolina), Hyles Anderson College (Indiana), Trinity Baptist College (Florida) or Pensacola Christian College (Florida). The guys in the Oregon BBF were much more welcoming to me. (Though they too had their issues, I will address those momentarily.)
The second event that led me to commit to attend the monthly meetings was the intense loneliness and isolation of church planting. When we first began there was virtually no one to encourage my wife and I in our labor for the Lord. We couldn't afford a phone so we had no outside contact that way. My mother and father in law visited us every month but they did not have the same Biblical convictions as us. There was a pastor in Cathlamet, Washington, just across the river from us and we did fellowship with his family very often, but my relationship was always tense with him. The first time I met him, as we were speaking, he said "Let me play the devil's advocate". I think he has played that role ever since. Anyway, I found myself in much need of some encouragement. One day, while working for Astoria Oil Services, I became very discouraged. The weather was horrible, raining like it can only rain in Astoria (the last year we lived there is rained 120 inches-ten feet during that year!) I was making overhead welds outside in that rain. Water was running off my hood down my shirt and I was so wet that I was taking a trickle charge shock the whole time my welding rod was burning. I could just barely see to weld because my lense was so wet; it was just plain miserable. So I came down to speak to my foreman (Mike Dessert of the previous chapter) Mike's response was "If it was easy work, we would have hired your wife." That was supposed to be a joke and I went back to welding. In my rained drenched, trickle charged state I remembered that there was a preachers' meeting going to begin in Yakima Washington that night. I came down again, told Mike I was sick and packed up my wife and three month old baby to attend the meeting. It so helped and encouraged me that I determined to attend the meetings every month even if they fired me at Astoria Oil Services.

Attending the meetings became a sort of "continuing education program" for me. Some of what I learned was from the preaching. Some of it was by observing the preachers. Astoria is on the border between Oregon and Washington so, while I committed to attending every one of the Oregon State Baptist Bible Fellowship meetings, I would also take my family to the Washington State meetings that were near the state line. The differences between the two state fellowships, though both were identified with the Baptist Bible Fellowship, served as an education all its own. The typical church in the OSBBF at the time was, at least in my view, a much more successful church. Many of the churches ran over 100 in attendance with some of them in the several hundreds and one of them over 1000. They preached "you can do it" sort of messages. The majority of them were full time pastors. (There were several church planters over the years I was in Astoria but most of them didn't last a year. The one or two that did were able to build full time ministries within a year or so. I doubt most people would have thought of me as full time, the first two and half years we averaged less than twenty in our congregation, but I did only work a secular job about six months. By the three and a half year mark we had a congregation sufficient for me to say that I was full time in the ministry.) They were intense evangelists and church builders and preached seldom on doctrinal issues. I usually left the meetings with a visionary spirit. However, these preachers almost all were a little older with grown children and did not bring their wives to the meetings. Since I did take my wife and my very small children (both were born during those first three years in Astoria) I felt out of place around these preachers. I soaked in the preaching. I stayed until the last pastor left for home on Tuesday afternoons, but I didn't say much and never sat with them. My little children would have been out of place in their business type atmosphere. Mostly Anita and I and our kids sat at a table next to the pastors and "listened in" to their conversations at the Tuesday lunch. (Fellowship meetings always included a free lunch hosted by the church holding that month's meeting.)

Washington's Baptist Bible Fellowship was different. There were some well established churches there but there were also quite a number of young church planters, with families the same age as mine and who were as committed to their monthly meetings as I was. We went to those meetings for a chance for my wife and our kids to rub shoulders with people in their shoes. Washington preachers meetings were much less "positive" There were frequent conflicts over doctrinal issues. Many of the messages were on such topics as "How to Deal with Depression" based on Elijah's story when Jezebel tried to kill him (I heard the same outline preached two different Washington State preachers - at different meetings of course - I always kept notes.) One time a preacher sent as a delegate to the National Baptist Bible Fellowship meeting returned to give a report. At the time, Jerry Falwell was just leading his church to become part of the Southern Baptist Convention and, in order to create the least amount of conflict for the BBF, was also leading his church out of the Fellowship. This Washington preacher was attempting to put a positive spin on the report when another pastor interrupted him and challenged that there was nothing positive about Falwell's compromise. I learned quickly to be very quiet about my doctrinal positions in Washington because these guys would "have your lunch" if they disagreed.

The one meeting that became a "staple" for me was the annual Home Missions Conference in Yakima, Washington. Dr. Dennis Brown and his son held this three day meeting every October. The church fed all attendees and their families breakfast lunch and dinner. There were day and evening programs for children nursery age up through junior high. I used to say that if I could only attend one meeting every year, it would be that one. My children never missed one their entire childhood from birth until they moved out on their own. They still make it a practice to attend and have only missed one or two of them in their lifetimes.

I am not sure why but Dr. Brown took a liking to me. Each year it seemed like he singled me out to come to the platform and say something. One of the features of the conference is that every preacher gets to speak at some point, even if it is just to stand in their place in the congregation and give a testimony of what God is doing in their ministry. Most preachers like to talk. I am an exception. Every year I would make my way to the platform and hyperventilate. Dr. Brown once called me clumsy. I think the more accurate description was terrified. One year Dr. Brown called me out of the blue and told me to come and preach for ten minutes. I spoke maybe one minute before I couldn't breathe any more and I sat down. Dr. Brown laughed and said that was the shortest ten minutes he had ever seen and John Rawlings stood up and declared that he would use up the rest of my time. It was better spent with him anyway.

Over the years I agreed to serve as the Vice President and then President of the Oregon State BBF. During my service as President, I was hosting an OSBBF meeting and Bobby Lassiter, the Executive Vice President of Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College, called to tell me that he was planning a trip to the Northwest and suggested I might have him preach at the meeting. I agreed. But afterwards I did some research on him in preparation to introduce him and learned some things that concerned me. I called and cancelled him from speaking at our meeting and apparently that ended his trip to the Northwest. Word got out that I had cancelled him and the pastors, especially in Washington, lauded me for it. It wasn't long before guys were calling me to preach for them.

In 1996 Pastor Dave Brown in Yakima called to tell me that he had nominated me for Vice President of the Western States Baptist Bible Fellowship, a group that had oversight of Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College. I was interested in working with the college so I agreed. The position required me to attend several meetings on the college campus in Southern California. I always took my wife and, like the Oregon State meetings, this made me the odd man out. Dinners at those board meetings generally involved Anita and I sitting by ourselves at a small table nearby to the larger table where the other board members, who never took their wives, were seated, talking, planning and joking.

I served in that capacity until the spring of 1997 when Dave Brown and Terry Randolph (then the president of the college) asked me to come on staff as the Dean of Men for the college. I accepted, but that is for a later chapter.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Astoria Oil Services

Chapter Fourteen

Some lessons are only learned the hard way.

I had gone to work for Astoria Oil Services in about October of 1984. It was a miraculous thing that, in such a small town as Astoria, an opportunity to ply my trade as an Ironworker would come along. Astoria Oil Services built an oil refinery for the Alaska oil fields, in Astoria. We built the refinery (several buildings) at the Port of Astoria and, when it was completed, barged the buildings to Alaska.

My name was on the unemployment office list. When the job came to town, I was called early on. Though the work was completely Ironworking, the Boilermaker Union had the job. Most of the employees were loggers, fisherman and an occasional shipyard worker. I knew one or two boilermakers on the site and there were I think two or three (including myself) Ironworkers. The day I interviewed another Ironworker was in the opposite side of the room being interviewed at the same time. The guy interviewing me was so excited to have experienced Ironworkers to add to the labor pool.

Because I was in town to pastor and not to work the job, I insisted that I would not work weekends, overtime and that I would take Monday and Tuesday off once a month to attend a pastor's fellowship meeting. They agreed to the terms and chose to pay me a very poor wage, even in comparison to the fishermen and loggers they were hiring to work alongside me. The job turned out to be a real blessing in many ways.

First, it relieved some financial pressure.
Second, it relieved some emotional pressure. For eight hours a day I could escape the pressure of trying to get the church off the ground.
Third, I had many opportunities to witness and saw a few men make professions of faith. Though I did not personally win him to Christ, I had witnessed to Mark Tanguay and was there the day he did trust Christ. Brother Tanguay and his family eventually united with our church and he is to this day one of my dearest friends.
Fourth, God put a man on the job who was a real help to me. I do not remember the man's name. He was a member of one of the nearby Conservative Baptist churches and, knowing that I was a pastor, he would slip up to me a few times each week and ask me for a quick sermon. I would be welding when I pulled up my helmet and there he would be. Because I never knew when he would show up I developed the habit of meditating and working on sermon outlines while I was welding. That way I would have something to give him. It also gave me something to work on for church messages.

My first assignment at Astoria Oil Services was on the Raising Gang. We put the pieces of the building together. My job was as the "hook on" man. It was my responsibility to read the blue prints to figure out which piece of iron went up next, to properly rig it to the chokers and hook it on to the crane. To have less down time for the crane, we would hook on five or six members of iron at a time, the first member would be on the longest choker, making it available to the connectors up on the steel. The second member would be on the next longest and so on. The connectors on this job were a pair of boilermakers. I do not remember the names of both of them but one was Brad. I imagine they were decent boilermakers but they had no idea how to connect an iron structure.
• Time after time I would send the iron to them and they would say they did not fit.
• Time after time I would try to yell (over the sound of the crane) instructions on how to connect the pieces from the ground (God used this to help me develop lungs for preaching) and
• Time after time I would end up climbing up the building and connecting the members for them then climbing back down to hook on the next members for connecting.

During one of our breaks I attempted to witness to the two boilermakers. Brad became infuriated with me and said, "Marvin, I respect you as an ironworker and will work with you. But if I ever see you on the streets witnessing in the name of Jesus, I will kill you on the spot!" I believed he meant it. The story was that he had been away on a job when a local Pentecostal church made contact with his wife and kids. They began attending that church while he was away. They each made professions of faith and they began to pray for Brad to be "saved" too. When he came home, the pastor came to the house and preached his version of the Gospel to Brad. When Brad did not get saved, the pastor turned to his wife and kids and instructed them to leave him. I figure he had a good reason to be angry! Two or three years later I was in the McDonald's restaurant in Astoria and saw Brad's Boilermaker partner. He was thrilled to tell me that Brad had become a Christian (not Pentecostal though). Not that this guy was a Christian - he just remembered the showdown between Brad and me that day at Astoria Oil Services.

I continued to work there, one of the few qualified employees, making one of the lowest wages for several months. Unbeknownst to me the Union representative had discovered what I was being paid and began lobbying to get me a raise. Just before the holiday's I received that raise - several dollars and hour worth, and a check recouping me for retroactive pay from the day of my hire. The Lord does take care of his own.

But not everything was great there. Sometime around the holidays he project adjusted from the connection phase of construction where we put the buildings together, stuffed all the bolts and rattled them tight and plumbed the structures, to the completion phase where we did everything else to finish them. I was placed on a detail gang s a welder. My foreman was Mike Dessert. Mike was a Christian, but from a different background than fundamental Baptist. His doctrine sounded very much like ours and I was glad to receive him into our church. But Mike and his family were not the same as we.

It did not take long before the fur began to fly. At first it wasn't too big of a deal. I thought I was teaching Mike. During breaks at work he would come to ask me questions about things we did and things I preached. I knew he had not done those in his last church, but I did not know he was not buying that we did them. I thought he was growing. One day I opened the door of our church building to find one of the church keys on the floor.
• No note
• No explanation
• Nothing to even tell me whose key it was.

Mike Dessert had quit the church. He was still my foreman at work, but he didn't have the manliness to even look me in the face and give me the key. I have since learned that this is the standard method of church quitters.

I have also learned that it is a very rare thing for a person who has been involved in a non denominational type of church to ever really become a Baptist.
• They might join a Baptist church.
• They submit to the teachings and practice for a time
But it is the rare case for them to truly grip hold of the heritage and convictions of Baptists. In some cases they have even gone into the ministry and became ordained as Baptist pastors, but only years later does is it revealed that, deep in their hearts, they were always what they always were, non denominational, and they lead their churches to practice Christianity in the more non-denominational church way. That's why we see so many Fundamental Baptist churches slipping into practices that are more in harmony with Bill Hybels and those of the less doctrinal churches; they never were Baptists. They have not compromised their Baptist convictions; the truth is they never had them. They merely went along with them when it was best for them to do so.

The lesson? Return to old Ana Baptist principles and practice church in such a way that it is difficult to join the church and easy to leave. The membership of a Baptist church must be, as best as we are able, Baptist.

I worked at Astoria Oil Services twice; the first time was from October 1984 to June 1985. After taking the summer off to try to focus on the church, I returned in September of 1985 and worked there until January of 1986.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chapter Thirteen

The Bus from North Bend

The blessings and the provisions of the Lord are encouraging all of the time. Sometimes they can be comical as well. Our first effort at a bus ministry was simply my wife going out in our little Volkswagen rabbit and picking up two or three children. That worked pretty well until we had two children of our own.

By and by George Simmons expressed interest in a bus ministry for our church. There was an area in Astoria commonly known as "dog patch" It was the Blue Ridge neighborhood and I had a burden for the families there, especially the children. Our financial resources were just about nothing but I brought up our burden for a bus ministry at a pastors' fellowship meeting. Pastor Roy Meksch, from North Bend Bible Baptist Church, North Bend, OR, offered to give us a bus and within a little time the McKenzies and the Simmons were on our way to North Bend to pick it up.

The bus turned out to have some "character." It was a "hodge podge" of a machine. I will not remember the exact combination but it was something like a 1950's model International bus body with a 1965 Ford engine, 1967 Pontiac transmission and 1969 Chevrolet carburetor. The year was 1985.

With a little coaxing we managed to get the thing started and off we went with our proud new ministry accessory. We hadn't gotten from North Bend to Astoria before Brother George and I agreed we couldn't in good conscience put children on that bus. It sat outside our building for the better part of a year when I was offered some new pews for our church building.

The seats we had in the building were also given to us. They were wooden theater seats and had served in several church plants before our own. We were thankful to have them as before we were sitting on home made benches. Berean Baptist Church in Pendleton, OR had given them to us and they served us well. Only trouble was that the laminate seats were beginning to separate and splinter and it was not at all uncommon for a lady to ruin her nylons on the seats and once in a while they would get a pretty good splinter in the leg. Greater Portland Baptist Church had just purchased new pews and offered to give us their old ones. They were home made, but much nicer than our home made benches and much less dangerous for the ladies than our theater seats.

Mark Rowland and I headed to Portland in the old bus to pick up the pews. We rattled along through Clatskanie and into Longview all right, but when we got to I-5 the bus began to make "different" sorts of sounds. The sounds got louder and louder until we decided we had best pull over at the Ridgefield exit. I called Anita who came to pick us up. We left the bus there and rented a u-haul to get the pews back to the church. Brother Simmons came back a day or so later tightened the lifter nuts on the bus and drove it home. We sold the thing to Brother Simmons' son.

The last I ever heard about the bus was when the police called me about it being abandoned along the road somewhere near Portland I think. I informed the police that we had sold it a year or two earlier (apparently Brother George's son had not bothered to get a new title for it). I learned to do the transfer of title page to the department of motor vehicles myself.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chapter Twelve

Something About My Kids

Shortly before Anita ad I moved to Denver to begin training for the ministry Anita became pregnant. We were pretty excited about it of course, but our excitement turned to grief when Anita began spotting about 6 weeks into the pregnancy. I had only recently surrendered for the ministry and just then was training under our pastor in Hermiston and driving a public school bus for some needed income. When I got to the bus barn that morning, I told the dispatch lady about my wife. She told me what she expected was happening and told me I needed to get home and take my wife to the doctor immediately. I heeded her advice and headed to the house. I will never forget hearing from the doctor that day. It was a woman physician, real natural sort of person. After her examination of Anita she called me in the room and told us this pregnancy was, in her words, a “no go.” It sounded to me like something mission control would tell an Apollo crew. She scheduled Anita for a procedure to be sure she would not get an infection, and the pregnancy was over. I don’t know that I realized how devastating that was to Anita until some months later.

By the time Anita and I tried to have a child again, I was in Bible college in Denver. The burden of losing the first baby was weighing on Anita and we had several conversations about trying again. I was in Bible College. I was not making much income and we were for all practical purposes living on Anita’s income as a Christian school teacher. Trying to have a child just then did not make a ton of sense to me. One day, while speaking to a fellow student about all of this I realized that there would be no time that seemed like a good time to have a baby. For my wife’s sake I agreed to try again. Anita became pregnant something like six months after the loss of the first baby. But at Christmas time of 1982 she began to spot again. It was Christmas morning and we were experiencing one of those once in 100 years type of snow storms. I could see a hospital from outside our back window, but I could not get there. We had to wait a couple of days before the weather cleared enough for me to get Anita out. Even then, the television stations were pleading for people with four wheel drive vehicles to volunteer to transport doctors and nurses to the medical facilities. The doctor was such a blessing! He arrived in the room looking like he was Santa Claus (this is just two days after Christmas.)
White beard
Brown outback type hat
Pipe in his mouth
Red flannel shirt and
Rubber over boots

After examining Anita he confirmed that she had indeed lost the baby and in a very fatherly and confident way said, “This is two in a row. Let’s find out what is going on.” He discovered a cyst that he was confident was causing Anita’s miscarriages and a surgery was scheduled. As a side note I learned a valuable ministry lesson the day of the operation. Our pastor, Jim Duncan, from First Bible Baptist Church in Boulder, came and sat with me during the operation. We didn’t talk much. He had a magazine he read and I read something they had there in the waiting room. When the doctor reported that Anita came through the surgery fine Pastor Duncan asked to pray in thanksgiving and then e was off. I have tried to practice that same thing for those in my ministry. Once the surgery was over the same doctor looked at us and said, “Everything is fine now. Go have babies”

Of course Anita had to heal up. Some months later I was reading about Isaac and Rebekah and how he prayed that God would open his wife’s womb. Not until then did I come to the place that I wanted a baby. Before it was Anita’s desire, I was just willing for her sake. But the story of Isaac spoke to me and I began to pray. Not much later Anita was again pregnant with who turned out to be our son, Bohannan.

Other changes were happening in our lives as well. During the course of all of this I had been seeking the Lord’s direction for planting a church in the Pacific Northwest. We had been in contact with the two families in Astoria and had settled on moving there in April of 1984. So we planted the church in Astoria, living in an 18 foot motor home that belonged to my father in law, with Anita being as pregnant as possible! Bohannan was born in July of 1984. By the time of his birth we had moved out of the motor home and into an apartment in a complex that at that time was known as the Riverine Apartments. We got home from our Sunday night service and we were relaxing on our coach when Anita began to tell me about the back aches she had been enduring most of the day. We had not connected them with her pregnancy because they were back ache, not stomach aches. But when she commented that she thought she could time them a light came on in my head! The back aches were coming every five minutes.

We did not have a telephone in those days so I left Anita on the coach to head for a pay phone and call the hospital. Platteville Baptist Church was paying for our health insurance but it was with Kaiser and the nearest Kaiser facility was more than two hours away, in Portland; the St John’s district. I called the hospital in Astoria and spoke with a nurse who said that she was also pregnant and she would feel comfortable in Anita’s condition heading to Portland if we left right then. She told me if anything happened on the way I could always borrow someone’s phone and call an ambulance. Anita and I got in the car and headed to Portland. But we did stop at Farrell’s Burger and got a couple of 25 cent Big Wheel ice creams for on the way. Bohannan was born I think 21 hours after we go to the Kaiser hospital. It was Monday night. The nurse gave newborn Bohannan to me the first thing. I will never forget looking into his face as he squinted at the bright delivery room lights thinking to myself, “What am I going to do now?”

Bohannan’s name was a topic of conversation since before Anita and I were married. I had worked as a welder with a man by the name of George Stone. We called him “Stoner.” He and I were joking around one day. I told him that I wanted to have a kid whose middle name was Tiwater so I could preserve my mother’s maiden name. The trouble was, I joked, that I couldn’t think of a first name that went well “Tiwater McKenzie.” Stoner said, “How about Bohannan?” So when Anita and I began dating I told her if we got married we would have to name our first son Bohannan Tiwater McKenzie. Anita agreed. But when Bo was born, I backed off. It was Anita’s dad who insisted that we stick to the plan. He said the name sounded like a president! As Bohannan grew up people would ask his name and he would sometimes respond, “Oh, you’ll just say it’s a mouthful!”

Wednesday morning Anita and Bohannan were released from the hospital and we headed, for the very first time, as a family of three to our ministry in Astoria. So Anita was in church Sunday night with birth pangs and was in church Wednesday night with a baby. Bohannan never even made his mother miss a single church service!

And he was a hit in our small congregation right away. Bob and Bernie Brandon were our first nursery workers. But they didn’t take Bohannan out of the auditorium. I boasted that I could preach louder than Bohannan could cry. That was only true for a few weeks. It didn’t take too long before Bohannan’s cry would get louder as my preaching got louder. We set up my office as the church time nursery and the ladies (but mostly Anita) took turns watching our son.

Life in the McKenzie house was nice. I can remember that before we had any kids, I was just thrilled to be married to Anita. We had such fun together, she and I. We have always gotten along very well and I was quite happy even without children. But when Bohannan was born I was smitten. Not that everything was easy. When we first got home Bohannan started to cry. And he kept crying. For the first few days all he did was cry. Anita called him “Little Lord Bohannan.” I figured he would quit crying when he got tired enough so I wanted to leave him in his room ith the door closed. I can remember thinking to myself, “Why did they let us out of the hospital without some sort of owner’s manual for this kid?” Guessing that the problem was with nursing, Anita spoke with a woman from the Le Leche League who suggested that she drink a little wine to settle her nerves and let the milk down. I am a preacher and I was not going to buy any wine. We talked Anita’s dad into buying it for us, but Anita felt so guilty about having wine that it made her more nervous. We flushed the stuff down the drain without her having tasted it. After a couple of days I was fed up. I packed Anita and the baby into the car and headed to a nearby doctor. It wasn’t our doctor, but he was close. He gave Bohannan a bottle of formula and he crashed asleep. Anita did nurse both of our babies but we had a back up bottle of formula around just in case!

As Bo got older his blue eyes seemed to me to have lights in them. To this day I can’t think of Bo without seeing those piercing blue eyes of his childhood. He still has them to this day, but the years have darkened his features and somewhat hidden those shiny eyes. Bohannan was always busy. I was sitting in our living room reading a book, I think by Jack Hyles that said something about you’ll know it is time to have another child when your youngest is too busy to hug you any more. I sat the book down and asked Bohannan to come give me a hug. He was too busy playing so I got up from the chair and told Anita it was time to have another baby.

When Anita got pregnant with our second child, we were without health insurance. Platteville Baptist Church in Platteville, CO had covered health insurance until Bohannan was born. When they stopped covering us, we dropped health insurance. I was reading a lot of John R. Rice’s stuff then and he was against the use of health insurance anyway. I did observe that as long as we did not have insurance we did not seem to need it, but whenever we did have it, there was always a reason to need it. Since we did not have health insurance we needed to find the least expensive way we could to have our next baby. The hospital in Seaside, OR, just 17 miles down the road, had a deal where if a mother could get in and out of the birthing room in less than 24 hours there was a flat fee of $700.00. Anita began seeing Dr. Sally Marie in Seaside and we began to pay down our $700.00. Anita’s sister Shirley and brother in law Larry were staying in Seaside the week that Caleb was due to be delivered and they had offered to watch Bohannan if our new baby happened to come that week. It was Saturday night when Anita began having those back pains again. We watched carefully because this time we were only driving 20 minutes, not 2 and a half hours and this time we HAD to be out of the hospital in less than 24 hours. When it seemed like we had to head to the hospital it was nearing 11:00 PM. We all packed up and headed to Seaside and I stopped by the motel where Larry and Shirley were and took Bohannan to their room. But they would not open the door. I could hear them inside, but they would not answer the door. Still carrying Bohannan I ran down to the office but it was closed. I ran back up the stairs to the room and once again knocked. Still they would not open. Again I ran down to the office and frantically knocked on their door. Someone answered! I asked the cal Larry and Shirley’s room. They thought I was just one of their friends there with them at the convention. We finally got Bohannan settled with them and headed to the hospital.

I got Anita into the hospital just a few minutes before midnight. The attending nurse had no help so she had to make a call to get some other staff in the hospital and to call our doctor. Caleb was born at ten minutes after midnight. He was as dark skinned as could be and had a full head of black hair. He looked as different from Bohannan did as he could have. But he was beautiful. After making some phone calls I headed to the house to get some sleep. I ran our little Volkswagen Rabbit bus route for Anita that morning and preached the morning services before heading back to get Anita and Caleb They were out of the hospital in plenty of time for Caleb to attend church the very day of his birth.

Caleb’s personality was just about as different from Bohannan’s as his looks. While Bohannan seldom slept through the night – even when he got older, Caleb slept through the night (at least much better than Bohannan did) right from the beginning. Caleb was quieter and much more given to hugging us.

My children have been the joy of my life since the day they were born. I cannot imagine what life and ministry would have been without them. They have not been perfect children and I have not been a perfect father. But I rejoice in my sons each and every day.