What if you opened up a letter in the mail, and found a legitimate check for $11,000 that you weren’t expecting, what would you do?
I know that for some $11,000 isn’t much money, for others it is. There was a time I had money, for most of my life, being involved in the work I do, I haven’t. For me, $11,000 is a lot of money. A little over a year ago, while I didn’t open up an envelope, I did suddenly get $11,000. I knew immediately what I would use the money for.
In 2001 I made a decision that changed my life and the life of my family. It was a decision where I was fortunate to have my wife support me. While that was a life changing decision, I had been though those types of things before.
Shortly after graduation from college in 1985 I started working in Christian Music on a full-time basis. I had actually worked in some capacity of Christian music since around 1978. I loved this experience and truly valued the bands I worked with, both Christian and non Christian, many of them bands you have likely heard of. While there was some things about this experience I loved, and some impact I had, some say I was for example the first person to successfully put Christian Bands into non Christian venues, (In 1988, Rob Cassels Band according to Performance Magazine, was the top grossing band in North America in theaters 2,500 and under, The Judd’s and Blue Oyster Cult was also in the top 3, and we had 3 of the top 10 Shows in North America in clubs 800 and under.) Then in early 1989 I left that work and decided to use my education, so I started working in mental health rehabilitation through a program called Fountain House Clubhouses.
While working in clubhouse, I did pretty well, but here, as opposed to with the bands; I actually did well financially. I assisted in writing the International Standards for Clubhouses, helped train programs in Australia, Japan, and in states from Mississippi to New Mexico. I also presented at International Conferences, and had articles published on mental health rehabilitation in various psychiatric publications. I started in a program I love with a passion to this day, Gateway House in Greenville South Carolina, became the director of a program in Hendersonville North Carolina, and eventually the Executive Director of a new program in Tulsa Oklahoma. I also became a member of the International Faculty for Clubhouses, appointed and recommended by one of the greats and legends in the field, Rudyard Propst, and did consultations and certifications of various programs across North America.
For those that know me, I have always been careful about giving respect in sharing my faith, that doesn’t mean my faith isn’t important to me. But in 2001 I begin to contemplate something that hit home. I was involved in a vocation helping others obtain their goals, obtain their dreams. I learned that most people at the time near death state there was something they always wanted to do and not doing it or trying it was by and far their number one regret. I had always wanted to work in full-time ministry. Early in my life I made the commitment to work in a ministry where I could share Jesus with people. I begin to explore this as a possibility. I knew I had done ministry, but due to the respect for the laws, I was cautious about sharing my faith. As I contemplated this, my former staff, and many in the field I worked would tell you, I was reluctant to proselytize on the job in any way, and in fact didn’t do it. If others started a conversation related to faith, and on private time, then yes I would talk about my faith, but always in a respectful way towards the other person. For those that have known me over the years I will let my reputation here stand on it’s on, characteristics like this don’t change easily, neither has my approach. Yet, I got a job evaluation that stated, and I quote: “In that faith is a personal issue, under no conditions shall Mike ever share his faith with members and staff of Crossroads, nor shall he invite them to his church.” For me, that was not only an illegal comment, it was a sign it was time to leave.
After receiving this evaluation, (the only negative comment I had ever received in an evaluation) I knew it was time to leave and pursue my dreams. I had spoken to my staff earlier than this about the reality that I was looking at the possibility of leaving, and this was the preverbal straw that broke the camels back. It was difficult as over the years I loved this organization, I still do, but there were some individuals who shared untruthful comments regarding what had happened and why I was leaving the organization. Every other single staff person at that organization was eventually either fired, or left employment after I left. I have maintained a good relationship with most of those former staff, and many of the individuals who were a part of the organization, but despite the difficulties, sometimes we must make the decision to move on. Seeing as I had made the decision, was exploring with my church and friends the option of moving on, I decided to give a 3 month notice to help the organization work through the change and eventually left employment to pursue my dream of going into ministry.
My church at the time, Westport Mennonite Brethren Church near Tulsa Oklahoma, now Discovery One, was wonderful in helping me make the transition. I actually worked as a full-time volunteer as a pastor of Reach-Out and Evangelism for a period of months. A lot transpired, a lot of experience was gained, and God begin to open up doors. Eventually, the pastor of the church left, which was hard, but doors opened up for me in the area of ministry in Merced California, Benkelman Nebraska, at Willow Creek near Chicago Illinois, and at the smallest church in the bunch, a little inner city Mennonite Brethren Church started by World Impact and the Mennonite Brethren in Wichita Kansas. After a great deal of prayer, my wife and I decided to accept the position at United at the Cross in Wichita Kansas.
It was amazing how God worked all of that out. I had put back enough money, and had enough retirement income in stocks, bonds and mutual funds that I figured I could live for about a year and a half. Then September 11, 2001 hit and as most will recall, the market took a huge dive. If I could have left the money in the accounts things would have been fine, but, I was living on that money, I suddenly only had enough income to provide for six months as opposed to a year and a half. The money was quickly gone, but God opened up new doors.
I could share a lot of beautiful things about the church in Wichita. I could share heartbreak from a variety of perspectives, but I loved this church which eventually had to close its doors. They initially offered me a salary of $20,000 a year and I quickly realized they didn’t have that much money so had them cut my salary to $15,000 per year. A lot happened over the years and despite some warnings, and a prophesy from one of the individuals in the church, I believe the enemy had his way and the church had to close down. I claim the victories of that church through Christ. There were some things that were said, but over the years, I have remained faithful, the story has never changed, and those that were involved know about the tragedy and beauty of that little church. I learned through this experience, I could say what I learned, but I will leave that for now.
It was shortly before this time I begin taking the steps necessary to start up The Virtual Pew, again, God was on time. I don’t know why at times in my life God opens up the doors during the times he does, but his time always seems to be perfect. The original plan was for me to continue working at United at the Cross and develop a team approach to ministry. It would allow me to be more of a bi-vocational pastor and to assist and train others in the church to take on leadership roles. I had one individual I truly believed in then, and still do, but things happened, some my fault, others not, that had an impact; as a result, the church had to close. I went from the $15,000 in income to almost nothing. I knew I needed to move on with The Virtual Pew. Then again, God was on time. The week I left the church, I unexpectedly got a check for $10,000 which assisted in getting The Virtual Pew going and through that ministry a ton of ministry has happened, much of it with people who were a part of that church.
As many may or may not know my personal story, especially while growing up is filled with tragedy, yet I haven’t let that stop me. I firmly believe, although at times it is hard, that greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world. My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do. I have found these simple truths of scripture and the songs of children to be reaffirming.
Almost 2 years ago now, my mother came down with cancer. I realized my own need to make things right with her, to forgive her and to tell her I loved her. For those that know my story, this could only be done with the power of God and the leading of his Spirit. Despite what people know, or think, a friend of mine a number of years ago, Glen Kaiser told me that I was only able to love to the measure of which God gave me the ability. Over the years God increased the ability, but it wasn’t a quick or fast process. Somehow I found the ability to love and forgive though and made a point to do that. It was truly one of the most liberating moments of my life.
My mother, almost a year ago now died. I was at home in time to be with her prior to her death, and was with my sister for a few weeks during the process. It wasn’t easy, but people again, came through to find a way to financially allow my wife and me to be there, I don’t think I will ever forget the kindness of people. You see while I am still working with The Virtual Pew, I took on the position almost 2 years ago now of Mosaic Wichita. While I didn’t think I would ever take a pastor position again, this was one I considered because I believed so strongly in the vision and mission of this church.
I could go on, but some time ago I started writing my story in a book called The Keystone Kid. I explored some possibility of publishing it but was just either too busy, or unwilling to change the language in it that made the story real, and the way it was. When my mother died I realized the need to tell my story. Shortly after her death I received almost $11,000 from her insurance policy. It was then, I made the decision, especially after finding out more of her story, and she would make it possible for me to tell my story. With the $11,000 from my mother, and an additional $4,000 from savings, I decided to make sure my book was done right, along with some money for promotions, and enough to get the script for a movie and a short done to eventually be turned into a feature. The book, The Keystone Kid will be in hand in the next month to 2 months, and the short for the movie is to be complete by the end of July. We will shop the short and book to raise approximately $50,000 to raise funds for the full-length movie. My hope, my prayer, is this will be multiplied like fishes and loaves in regards to financial needs, but more importantly, in regards to souls, hearts and emotions of people. My hope is the story inspires and provides hope to the hopeless that have been through similar situations.
So the question that I started with, what would you do if you opened up an envelope with $11,000 in it, or enough money to do something you have always wanted to do? For me, it is clear, I used it and all of my savings an additional $4,000 to get a book published and work towards having a movie made. While I am currently $50,000 for the complete purchase and making of the film, I know, God is always on time. God’s timing has been perfect, I am praying, and believing, it is perfect again. If as in the past, God uses this experience to touch someone, even if only one person that is fine as each and every single person is loved by God. Many of us say that, many of us allude to that, I am not so sure many of us believe that, but know this, I do, you are important, and if God uses this story, my story to touch you, I am eternally blessed.
What would you do though? How would you make a difference? What kind of sacrifice would you make? One of the blessings I have had regarding the book is the advance reviews that have come in, my hopes, my prayers, and my desire to see tragedy turned to beauty is coming true. Thankfully others have been a part of that, and others will be, but that is my story, what’s yours?
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