Last time we saw the young man awaken in a small boat at sea, not knowing who he was or why he was adrift. By the end of the post, another person in a boat had been contacted. Please go back and read the previous posts in this series before reading this one. It’ll be more fun for both of us if a few of you follow along the whole way…
And look, I don’t have all the time in the world to really prune these posts and to make them titillating reading. I am doing this for posterity, so I ask you to bear with my writing, knowing it leaves something to be desired.
It was 2004, I was clean and sober for less than two years, and I barely knew my right hand from my left. I lived in a micro-apartment with rent of $330 per month, and worked night shifts at Tim Hortons, making just enough money to eat a little food and drive several miles each week in lil’ Murph, my 1989 Mercury Tracer hatchback. I had picked it up for $550 cash, and the air conditioning was a large rust hole in the back where the wind rushed in.
Aimless but Happy
Life was good, but I had no local church, no Christian friends, and no aspirations. Then I met Phillip at the Redemption Center in Brockport (see last post). Phillip was a short guy from Indian, Chinese, and Jamaican heritage. He had one of the more gentle spirits of anyone I’ve known, and he loved Christ with all his heart. He had been a Mormon for many years, but by God’s grace had repented and trusted the true Jesus.
I began spending all my time with Phillip, and no longer spent my time with non Christian friends. Phillip and I would read Scripture, pray, and go to the local Calvary Chapel together each week.
Now if you don’t know, Calvary Chapel is a non-denominational denomination (they claim to not be a denomination, but they are), founded by Chuck Smith on the beaches of southern California in the mid-’60s, at the start of the hippie revival (called the Jesus movement). CC from its beginnings in SoCal has been marked by profound biblicism, congregationalism (each congregation is autonomous), lack of membership, premillennial dispensationalism, Arminianism, Charismaticism, and contemporary music. There is also a strong culture of powerful, central head pastors, starting of course with Chuck Smith.
CC has a distinct culture, which everyone who has attended would recognize. For me, who had been a drifting boat all alone, meeting Phillip and attending CC were boons to my young faith. Remember now, this is the story of my search for the Church catholic; one of the powerful attractions to Christianity is our ancient, sacred culture. Although CC consciously tries to separate from the Church catholic (we’re a new move of the Spirit, maaaann), they still can’t help carrying the ethos of Christian family. Even though CC is a separatist-type denomination, by God’s grace the warmth of His fire may be found in many of her churches. In CC Westside (Spencerport, NY), I had been warmed by the glow of Christian family.
Am I Home Now?
I spent all kinds of time with Phillip in the Bible, attending home studies with other Christians, and seeing people from all walks of life with genuine, evangelical faith. The people of CC churches tend to be sincere and serious about their Christianity, and for me, it was revolutionary. I was finding what I had so sorely needed when I first went back to church as a Christian; here was a church where the pastor opened his Bible for 45 minutes, and taught line by line, precept upon precept. For the first time, I felt a fire growing inside of me for the Church catholic. Here I was, among my people. Here was my true, spiritual family. I began to feel my boat had landed in my homeland, that I was among my tribe, and that all would be well from then on.
As I grew tighter with my CC friends, Phillip also introduced me to his mentor Peter, and their mutual friend Roger. Peter was a man difficult to describe. He was a demonically possessed gang biker-turned-born-again Christian; Peter used to ride his motorcycle with a weird pigman mask strapped backwards on the helmet to make it look like someone was riding backwards on the bike. Before becoming a Christian, he also had cemetery gates welded to the front of his old truck, and little axes swinging from the bars. To call him a character would be a huge understatement.
Peter had a big curly shock of blackish gray hair on top of his head, and a burly beard covering his face. Charismatic to the core, he believed strongly in hearing directly
from God for anything and everything he was to do. Peter’s ministry was in public evangelism–he liked to paint Scripture on big signs and carry them about in cities, or as he also did very often, he painted up trucks or trailers with huge gospel messages for all to see. He also carved incredibly detailed, sometimes strange walking sticks, some of them with gospel themes, some just for the weird and bizarre effect they would have on passers-by as he walked through the streets. With all of his passion for ministry, Peter had neglected the local churches as being too tame, too comfortable, and too political. I can’t say I don’t understand where he was coming from, but you should note, I was being mentored by a man who basically forsook normal accountability in the local church.
Needless to say, I had fallen in with an odd bunch! But for all the zaniness of where I was ending up, these men loved Christ with a passion, and believed deeply in the work of evangelism. Within a short time I was traveling around New York State regularly with Peter and Phillip, carrying gospel signs and banners around the major cities and little villages. I even spent a week in New York City with about 8 men led by Peter,
as we went all across four of the five boroughs to proclaim Christ and Him crucified. What I learned with Peter was fearlessness.
This was life-altering stuff for me. Not only was I being fed the Word of God regularly in the local church, but I was being mentored by wild gospel men who feared nothing from man.
Campus Crusade for Christ
Rewinding a touch to the time I had first met Phillip and Peter, I also decided to go to college at SUNY Brockport. I was a little older than the other students, and didn’t live on campus, so I had no idea how I would meet people. Remember, only 20-something months before I had been in jail and drug rehab; college was an entirely foreign animal to me.
And yet, as I prayed for friends I came across chalk art around campus directing me to the Campus Crusade for Christ Thursday night meetings. Arriving full of fear, I was warmly greeted by a large group of students gathered to sing, mingle, and hear the Bible taught. Immediately I began forming friendships with these Christians, one of whom I am still friends with today, and who I actually led to Christ in his genuine conversion.
The bad news was, there was a multi-level-marketing thing going on at CC4C on the Brockport campus. Some of the more warm and friendly young men quickly took me aside to tell me how to get my own business. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say I was vulnerable, trying to fit in, and was soon parted from $500.00 for no good reason. I learned a painful lesson about Christians in that experience, namely, that not everyone in church/Christian fellowship was there to simply obey the Scriptures and to grow in the knowledge of Christ. Some people come into Christian circles for their own benefit. Ouch, that stung.
On the other hand, I began going around the campus with small groups of my new friends evangelizing the other students. We were painfully Arminian, and I mean painfully Arminian. I remember one Thursday night after a CC4C meeting let out that we all went out in groups of 3-5 to evangelize the campus. My little group came across three students sitting outside, and we interrupted to tell them about Jesus. The conversation lasted about 4 minutes, and I distinctly recall piping up to ask them if they ever wanted to see their dead loved ones again. Agreeing that it would be good to go to heaven upon death, we led them to pray after us, to receive Jesus and be saved. Ouch. Do I think they were saved? Probably not–we didn’t give them the gospel very clearly, and we forced a decision to pray based on emotional manipulation, but again, I was developing a zeal to see souls saved.
My affiliation with CC4C at Brockport would continue for another two years, coinciding with my time spent under the mentorship of Phillip and Peter.
In the next post, I’ll have more to reveal about what happened to me in CC4C. It became a life-altering partnership I had with the organization. These were days full of heady joy and excitement for me, and I remember them with true gratitude.
I hope to see you back here soon.
In the meantime, please listen to my podcast here, if you haven’t yet, and remember to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Grace to you.