Monday, July 9, 2007

California Dreamin'

Well, here it is; finally my update from my California trip. First, a super special thanks to a number of people, Dave and Susan Froese and their son Luke for hosting me and putting up with me while in Bakersfield (most of the time). They were more than gracious and God used them to bless me. They provided an office to work in during my down time, and Dave and Susan provided lodging in their lovely home. The use of one of their vehicles saved me considerable money and headache. I can’t thank them enough.

There are others I need to thank. My lovely daughter took such good care of me at the San Jose Mennonite Church USA conference. With around 6,500 people there, and her role at the conference, I don’t know how she had time to do what she did. Today is her birthday, and while she is at home in Kansas resting now, I have thanked God for her often over the last days. I heard her address the assembly and there is no way I can describe how moved and touched I was to hear her express her love for Christ and the need for the church to care for the poor, not just from a giving perspective but a receiving perspective. She shared her stories from the Congo and I was honored to hear others tell her how good she did, I concur. She also helped take care of various needs that arose for me during the conference.

I need to thank the fine folks at Third Day Church in Fresno. Dave Wainscott his wife Sonya and two beautiful children Sara and Tim hosted me for a couple of days. I have to admit, while God blessed the time in California, I was really blessed by seeing God work in this wonderful little up and coming church. I can only imagine what God is going to do here.

How do I start? I guess from the get go. I didn’t know how God was going to take care of me on this trip. It really was a journey of faith. For those who know me, you know this isn’t unusual. I was asked to present at San Jose 2007 at the Mennonite Church USA Conference. I decided to make this a ministry trip and with a little over a month out had my wife help and we started making contacts. Initially I only had the conference in San Jose to speak at but soon added Heritage Bible Church in Bakersfield. The Church is led by my former pastor and a dear friend Dave Froese. Dave wanted me to share the story of Anthony during a morning service while here. I knew the church would help with some of the financial needs, and as of yet, don’t know exactly how much that was because I won’t open the envelope until I get home. (good reason for this and will explain if asked.) At the time of my departure, this was the only income I knew I would get. I was lucky to only spend $352 for an airline ticket, (thank God for priceline) but I knew I didn’t have that much money to burn, but again, faith!

I arrived in Bakersfield late on Saturday. It was off to bed shortly after arrival, then up early to speak at church on Sunday. I’ll be honest; I hadn’t slept much over the week prior to arrival. My wife was at a conference and I hadn’t seen her or my son for an entire week. I had had less than 25 hours of sleep for the prior week and only a few hours prior to getting up on Sunday morning. To be honest, I was tired during my presentation. I had prayed the Holy Spirit would speak as he always had, and I was reminded again, it is the Holy Spirit that does the work, we just be obedient, even if tired.

At the conclusion of my presentation I was once impressed how God has used the story of Anthony to touch hearts and lives over the years. God always works when I share this message, he continues to be faithful. Numerous individuals responded and came to speak to me with tears in their eyes. God can use tragedy to bring healing. The good news is that Jesus is different than so often presented, even by those in the church.

Sunday afternoon also provided another treat. Another friend of mine from MySpace, Sabastian, his mother, (also a MySpace friend) and his little sister came up from Ventura to see me and spend some time with me. I guess at least a 3 hour drive and I was certainly humbled that someone would be willing to drive 6 or more hours, just to spend a couple of hours with me. I don’t know what Dave thought when I cleared out his living room to demonstrate some wrestling moves for Sabastian. We also spoke about other things and hopefully some of those things fall into their proper place.

God blessed the time and I was amazed at the ministry going on at Heritage Bible Church. One group doing real ministry here is a group called The Black Sheep, a group affiliated with HOGS. This group is involved in a motorcycle ministry specific to Harley Davidson Riders only. They recognize how Harley riders have negative perceptions towards other motorcycle groups. That isn’t to say that this ministry has these feelings, but their recognition and strict enforcement of membership rules to Harley Riders only has enabled them to have a tremendous and effective ministry. I was blown away with this group’s willingness to incarnate to reach a specific group of people who had much in common with them.

While in Bakersfield I also got to present my Faith in Film, Using Culture to Discover Spiritual Truths on Tuesday night to a local youth group. That went well and a number of young people asking me more about my story at the completion of my presentation.

After a couple of days in Bakersfield and additional ministry of meeting a few folks and spending some 1:1 time in ministry, I was off to San Jose California. Thankfully Dave and Susan loaned me a car which saved me from renting one.

I arrived in San Jose on Thursday morning and was a little shocked when I had to pay $18 to park. An old inner city boy like me had never paid that much to park. My daughter and I quickly hooked up and it wasn’t long before I got to hear her present. I was glad I made it in time. While there on Thursday I had the honor of meeting some wonderful people. From some serving the Hispanic Church, to the Mentally Ill, there are many within the Mennonite Church USA that has the desire to reach others with the message of Christ. I enjoyed the time with my daughter but there were a few bugs that she had helped me with.

I also got to meet several people, including MySpace friend Steve Kimes. We had some good interaction and I was impressed with his ministry of being pastor in a church comprised of Mentally Ill Adults and The Homeless. I was originally going to stay with Steve on Thursday night, but couldn’t touch base in time and I ended up booking a room through Priceline for $54 on a room at Candlewood Suites. It was well worth it. I got my first good night of rest in some time.

One of the problems I had was that I had made several attempts to communicate to make sure everything was set for my presentations, a multi media presentation using movie clips, power point and a good sound system. I had heard nothing back regarding my needs, via attempts at email and phone calls. To be honest, I was brutally upset after being redirected to 8 different people, none knowing who was responsible for helping me, and not knowing if I would have what I needed for my presentations. For those that think I am perfect, (Like yea who would think that?) think again, I got so frustrated that I was almost in tears and ready to leave. How bad was it? This was a headache up until the very moment I was supposed to present. In fact, I got started about 10 minutes late for my first presentation because I had to go to my car, get my projector, and a few other things that I needed. I am glad I had my projector. No one was available to help us set anything up, or explain the system and the room. We figured it out as we went, and couldn’t even turn the lights off for the first presentation because of the light box being locked.

I am glad I didn’t leave as God blessed the two presentations. They were among the two largest work shops of the conference. With 1,000 or more people attending the two workshops there was literally standing room only with the first workshop having 50 - 75 people standing because all of the seats were taken, and the second workshop having around 25 people standing. I was blessed and most everyone seemed to be impressed and pleased. In the first presentation, since I got started late I didn’t get to put out any promotional material I was hoping people would pick up to consider booking me in the future. This really hurt as future booking opportunities from this was one of the reasons for booking the conference at my expense.

There were many people I got to speak to before and after the presentations. I only had two complaints regarding the video of musical artist Pink I use called Dear Mr. President. I use the video to look at the serious questions people are asking, and the need for those who follow Christ to take seriously those questions, even if we don’t agree with the views of those asking the questions. Some were more in tune with the political system, than the intent of why that particular video was used.

Next was my trip to Fresno. While in California I had been able to finalize a speaking connection with Dave Wainscott pastor at Third Day Church in Fresno. Dave a MySpace Friend contacted me shortly after arrival in Bakersfield. Understand, prior to my departure this was not booked so this was like gravy on a biscuit for me. I was told the church would take up a love offering and I was just glad God opened up the door to minister someplace else while here.

The drive from San Jose to Fresno was not much fun. I was stuck in traffic and a trip that was supposed to take a little over 2 hours ended up taking over 5 hours because of a traffic jam on a two lane, California highway. The mountains were beautiful though and I listened to a Dodgers Baseball game which was kind of nice. I pulled into Fresno after 10:00 PM and was quickly off to bed again. I got up early and Dave and I visited with a couple of guys from the church at a local coffee shop. I didn’t know what to expect at first. I could lie here but after doing this for so many years, when meeting new people, truth is, you don’t know what to expect. Truth is though; I loved the time out for brunch on Saturday.

Third Day Church is a little different. It was one of the things that I think makes me a little different. I don’t go where I make the most money; I go where God opens doors. Third Day Church was a home church, (really a church complete and whole that meets in a home) where I was told to expect anywhere between 20 and 40 people. Of course closer to Sunday morning I was informed the worship team and their family was in Hawaii so there may be less than that. So here I was, I had just finished presenting to a moderate sized church, a large convention with over 1,000 people, and now was going to be in a home church with possibly as few as 20, maybe even less.

Let me start off with how I know God has a sense of humor. He plays these jokes on us that are what I call “gotcha” or “I told you so,” jokes all of the time. At least he does with me and this was one of the best. A group of over 40 people showed up, the setting, and everything about them touched me. I also busted my belt. That’s right; I had a wardrobe malfunction that almost had me pulling a Janet Jackson except with my pants. Thank God for the word almost, and a good sense of humor.

Dave asked me to share some about The Virtual Pew, then the Story of Anthony. I knew this would take longer, but he assured me to take as long as I needed. That is always a dangerous thing to say, but in this case, it was a wonderful thing to say because at that point I knew I could do the story, and ministry justice.

Despite what many may think prior to hearing me, I have to tell you, I don’t think I am boring when I speak. I have learned to watch reactions of people and know how they respond. One doesn’t have to take my word for it, contact anyplace I have been and ask them. Third Day Church was as filled with the spirit during my presentation as any I have done in awhile. While there were obviously many who needed to respond but didn’t, there were many others who did. I was blessed. It was after 1:30 before I was able to finish speaking to those wanting to speak with me, and this was par for the course this last week. I continue to be amazed how God can use anyone.

I spent a lot of time speaking to folks, listening to their thanks, about their broken hearts, and sharing about things they had never shared before. All along, for almost an hour, a little old lady who looked like she was at least in her 70’s came up to me with tears streaming down her face. She told me how the story of Anthony had blessed and touched her. She was apologizing because she had grown up in such a good Christian home and had never experienced anything like Anthony. She wanted me to know, the story of Anthony inspired her to do more, to love more, to serve more, and to minister more to the people around her who needed it. Imagine, this little lady, up in years, had been moved by the Holy Spirit to do more, not give up, not look at a full life but to keep on serving. My heart melts and my spirit is broken just thinking about how God used the story of Anthony to inspire someone like this, this little woman who many would say has lived a full life and should be getting ready to meet her maker. She wasn’t ready to meet her maker though; she was inspired to serve him all the more. There are saints among us who we don’t even recognize; this little lady inspired me to keep on. God is good!

There was more from Third Day Church. I discern carefully about churches I recommend people to. The church in Fresno The Virtual Pew will recommend people to is Third Day. There may eventually be others, but I based on what I know, these people are loving, honor God, his word, and help people be like Christ without all of the religiosity that so many attach to Christianity. I hope to come back to this church. I fully believe, you can’t put a price on blessing, and not only did God bless me financially here, he blessed my spirit.

There was more that happened at Third Day, I could write a long article about just this church. There were several wanting me back, wanting me at other churches, in fact, every place I spoke there were people asking for additional ministry in the future, asking for more, and asking for a return visit. One of the things that will also happen from this visit is we videoed the story of Anthony. We also have a professional audio recording that to my understanding will air nationally at live365 on a radio station and may be presented to Focus on the Family for consideration. My willingness to not be concerned about the size of the church, has led to the possibility of the story of Anthony being heard by the tens of thousands. God is still good!

This next little segment is for the publishers and editors out there. I never, repeat, never, present the story of Anthony, or any variety of other subjects where many people don’t come up asking for the book, or asking for me to write about a particular area, be it the urban church, movies and faith or any number of other areas, even stories of my experiences and fiction. I still need an editor but I can’t tell you how this story of Anthony has impacted people, and I pretty much tell it like I wrote it with the exception of not being nearly as detailed. There are always tears, and always people touched. I have to state the same thing each time, and I am aware of others becoming more aware because they are seeing it. On one hand I have people contemplating suicide contacting me, people with issues regarding sexuality, maybe drug issues, and abuse issues. That is all on one hand, then on the other, is the time it takes to market and try to sell or edit a book. Let me ask, which one you think is more important? For me, the answer is simple. The loss of life versus the marketing and work to get a book out is an easy decision. Those who know me from The Virtual Pew and MySpace, know this is no exaggeration. I would love to see the story get out more it is why I am giving away pre-edit versions of the book as people want, (Now averaging about 15-20 per week for the last year.) There is no marketing, no promotion other than brief mention on articles and postings. I will ask again, if anyone would be willing to help, or on any other component of The Virtual Pew, please let me know. .

Well, that is a lot. I got back to Bakersfield, have been getting caught up some today on emails, updating my mail list and then some. I may or may not have time to edit and publish this before I leave tomorrow, I don’t know. I do know this, God is good! He blessed the time in California, and the Northern Plains is next. I still need all of the dates I can get. I promise you, if living in that area, and you book me, God will use this ministry to bless you. Don’t take my word for it, there are others that will likely comment, or I can provide you contact information. Then again, what does it cost to give it a try? Oh maybe just a soul that God desires to touch, is that soul worth losing? I’m glad God don’t think so.

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