Thursday, October 27, 2005

Coming home from exile, Part 2

Fast-forward to August 2005 when I received an e-mail from Dr. Paul Alexander, a professor at Southwestern Assemblies of God University, inviting me to the first annual Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship (PCPF) retreat.

I checked out the on-line brochure and saw that six of the ten speakers were African-American. This has got to be the Holy Spirit at work, I thought.

The modern Pentecostal movement began when the Holy Spirit fell on an integrated congregation on Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 but the Pentecostal movement soon succumbed to the racism that is part of the fabric of our country and divided into black and white denominations.

Being at the retreat was a sheer joy for me. I discovered a group of Pentecostals and Charismatics who were reconnecting with their own Pentecostal pacifist roots. The early Pentecostal leaders were clear in their call to loving enemies and refusing to fight in wars. Most Pentecostals have lost touch with their pacifist roots.

Dr. David Hall of the Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal denomination that has not lost its pacifist roots, gave the key note address on Friday evening. Setting the tone for the retreat, at the beginning of his presentation he invited the audience to critique his ideas. That led to a half an hour of great conversation with Dr. Hall following his speech as he and the audience sought to explore the implications of being Pentecostals and pacifists.

My brain still carries lots of snapshots from the weekend. Dr. Paul Alexander, founder of PCPF, made my bed for me when I arrived--now that servant leadership! Sitting at lunch one day I listened to Church of God (Cleveland, TN) seminary professor and missionary Rick Waldrop tell the story of being kidnapped by Guatemalan guerillas.

Ah, the music. Sam Martinez played the keyboard at each worship and invited us to worship our incredible God. I was deeply touched when on Sunday morning Yvonne Williams, a member of Bible Way Church Worldwide, Washington, DC, led us in the spiritual, “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More”.

Another snapshots stored in my brain. Eric Gabourel, Associate Pastor of the Hot Dog church in San Francisco that serves an area of the city prone to gang violence, gave me a pamphlet he had created called, Have you considered nonviolence? The pamphlet urges people to consider Jesus’ way of peace as an alternative to violence. “We hand them out like tracts in our neighborhood,” Eric said.

Diana Aubourg, acting director of Save Africa’s Children, told a powerful story of African children, orphaned by Aids, trusting the Lord to provide when they had no food and then leading the young woman who was caring for them to the Lord.

By Sunday morning of the retreat I was deeply reconnected to my Pentecostal roots.

“In five years,” Dr. Hall said at a meal, “I think this will have grown greatly and when we look back, those of us who are here this weekend will say, ‘I was at the first one.’”

As the retreat came to an end I told Paul Alexander, “I juggle a lot of balls but I want to add Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship to the balls that I juggle. Envisioning is one of my gifts as is writing and I’m a blogger. I write for the sheer joy of it. Let me know how I can help.”

“You can write up your reflections on the retreat,” Paul said.

We serve an amazing God. As I sit at my keyboard I am filled with awe and gratitude to our God who has been so faithful to me during my on exile from the Pentecostal church, who gave me a new people among the Mennonites, and now has reconnected me with my Pentecostal pacifist roots.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Coming home from exile, Part 1

A decade ago while I was on a personal retreat I sensed the Lord telling me that he wanted me to reconnect with my Pentecostal roots.

On the weekend of October 7-9 I reconnected with my roots in a powerful way at the first annual Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship retreat at a Salvation Army camp near Midlothian, Texas.

My Pentecostal roots go deep. While I was still an infant my mother handed me to the woman sitting next to her to accompany my father to the altar of a Pentecostal church in northern Minnesota where he gave his life to the Lord.

At age nine I gave my heart to the Lord at a Pentecostal Bible camp near Lake Bronson, Minnesota. At age twelve I was baptized in the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues. The same year I sensed God calling me to be a preacher.

Then when I was sixteen I became severely disabled by rheumatoid arthritis. My church and I expected me to be healed. I answered many altar calls and we prayed fervently. Each time I limped back to my pew. I continued to answer altar calls for the next few years, feeling more and more desolate.

Finally I decided not to answer any more altar calls. I knew that God could heal me but he was not doing so through altar calls and the laying on of hands. To keep answering altar calls and not be healed was too painful. Thus began a slow and painful separation from the Pentecostal church.

About the same time I became a pacifist as a result of Jesus saying, “Love your enemies…” I couldn’t see any way to love my enemies and kill them. In my dorm room at the University of North Dakota I wrote out on a yellow pad my commitment to love my enemies and I signed it. When I became a pacifist I thought I was moving even further away from my Pentecostal upbringing.

Six years later I sensed the Lord calling me to serve him through a life of communal living. He led my wife, Sarah, and I to join Plow Creek Fellowship, a Mennonite communal group near Tiskilwa, IL. The Lord did much emotional and spiritual healing of me in our early years at Plow Creek.

Four years later Plow Creek called me to be one of their pastoral elders. The church laid hands on me on a Sunday morning in 1981, praying for me as I became one their pastors. I could hardly believe it. At age 12 I really had heard the Lord’s call to pastor.

Over the years I have known that, through my Pentecostal roots, the Lord has given me many gifts that help me in my life as a pastor. And I was clear that I am living out God’s call for my life. Still there was always a small ache in being an exile.

Then a decade ago I sensed the Lord calling me to reconnect with my Pentecostal roots. After meeting with a Pentecostal pastor and his wife and later another Pentecostal, I went away feeling empty. “Well, Lord,” I said, “if you want me to reconnect with my Pentecostal roots, you are going to have to do it because I don’t seem to be able to pull it off.”