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.”