Christian By Birth–Baptist By Choice (Part 7)
God, I’ll Go Anywhere…Anywhere but Florida that is.
The more opportunities God provided for me to preach and teach the more I became aware of my need for continued schooling. As I prayed and searched through this with my pastor and my wife one choice became the clear front runner. Clear Creek Bible College in Pineville, KY. I liked everything about the school and had heard good things about it. Everything I found about it made it the logical choice. So we started the process of applying and getting ready to go.
At the same time there was another college that I had become aware of as well. It was a solid college and I liked almost everything about it as well. Almost… See there was a slight problem. Location…location…location. I didn’t like the location. Most people I knew wanted to live in Florida to escape the winter’s cold and snow. I , on the other hand, had spent all the time I ever wanted to in Florida years ago. In fact, shortly after that I had determined that I would never go back to Florida. (Did you know that God has a sense of humor…and sometimes I don’t think it’s very funny.)
As much as I didn’t want to go to Florida, God continued to bring Florida Baptist Theological College into my heart. This small college in the panhandle of Florida had a lot going for it. A little while before I had actually been able to meet the president of the college as he taught a study in West Virginia. Even though it was in Florida it had appeal. Andie and I decided to apply there as well. Secretly I was still holding out for Kentucky.
Within a few weeks we had our answer from FBTC. In an AMAZING confirmation, Ed, my pastor and closest friend and his family were also moving to attend FBTC and complete his degree. In spring of that year I got to help him and his family move and spend a few weeks in Graceville getting to know the area and the school. By the time I boarded the Greyhound to come home I knew without a doubt that we were Florida-bound.
It still amazes me to think about how God confirmed this path over and over again once we made the final decision. We were being totally crazy, but it was alright. We didn’t have jobs waiting for us…we didn’t have any kind of savings to rely on…the money we were able to put together and the scholarship I had been offered for the summer term would allow us a little over a month of living. Beyond that it was completely up to God. It was at once terrifying and exhilarating.
Loving and well-meaning people tried really hard to talk us out of it. Fellow believers pulled me aside to tell me how nuts all this was. But every time there was a negative comment or remark something inside of us grew even stronger and more determined. God kept bringing me back to Genesis 12 where He called Abram to follow him to an undisclosed place. He never promised that it would be an easy road to travel, just that he would be with him and would bless him. I claimed that promise as my own…If I would follow Him then God would bless.
On June 15, 1994, in a green 1976 Buick Electra and towing a 12 foot U-Haul trailer that contained all we owned our little family of four pulled out of the parking lot of the church, waving good-bye to our family and friends and headed south. I am convinced that angels surrounded our car. For example, the trailer hitch was only inches off the ground as we pulled out that evening, but we only dragged a couple of times pulling into or out of service stations.
God was calling…we were following…and it was thrilling.
We arrived in Florida in the late evening of the following day. We drove to the town of Chipley and got a room in a motel where my wife encountered some of the insects of Florida for the first time. I think she did finally fall asleep, but it was out of exhaustion not comfort. The next day we went to our new home and unloaded all of our many wonderful possessions into the student housing. It was not much, but it was home, and we were loving it.
I mentioned that my friend and pastor had already moved down before us. He was serving as pastor of a church there. So we had supper with him and his family that night. it was nice being together. I realize that God had been incredibly merciful in allowing things to happen the way they did and in keeping us close with Ed and his family. Many people have come and gone in our lives over the years, but Ed, Suzanne, and their children will always be very precious to us.
Classes began for the summer term on the following Monday, so we had to move quick in unpacking (not that we had much to unpack) and getting settled in. In addition there was the job-hunting that had to be done…we were going to have to eat and pay rent just like before, so someone needed a job. Grocery shopping introduced us to Piggly Wiggly…I only include that ‘cause it’s fun to say. My son was introduced to Florida Fire Ants when he sat down on an ant mound and was covered with the vicious critters.
I was reminded of how difficult college could be too. The summer term was a crammed together semester. The amount of work you would normally take a full semester to accomplish now had to be done in five weeks. I took a full load too—12 hours—because that was how I received the scholarship that covered our rent that first month. So I was in class from early morning until mid afternoon, and then I was locked in my room for hours of reading and homework. Before when a paper had to be written I would have a couple of weeks to put it together, now that was truncated to days. However, as difficult as it was academically, we were riding a spiritual high that just can’t be described. Knowing we were following the Lord was incredible.
Ironically, two weeks after I started classes in Florida I received my acceptance letter from the college in Kentucky. Needless to say, we stayed where we were.
In one of my classes I met and became friends with a fellow Vermonter. Glenn Hatch had been transplanted by God for school at FBTC and would be graduating soon and returning to Vermont as a church planter and manager of a radio station. He lived in Dothan, Alabama which was just above the Florida line and was serving as an interim pastor of a church a little over an hour away. We hit it off quick. My wife and I connected with Glenn and his wife.
A few weeks after we met, and about a month after we had started at the school Glenn asked if I would like to consider becoming pastor of the church where he was interim because he would soon be graduating. You could have knocked me over with a feather. There was no way that I was ready for something like that. Those old feelings of insecurity leapt on me from the past. Gulping hard and putting on a brave front I said, sure. I put together a quick resume’ and gave it to him to take to the church. I really didn’t think I would hear anything more about it.
Andie, in the mean-time had been able to find a job with a local day-care. She would be starting the next week. We could see the plan coming together right in front of our eyes. She would work at the day-care, and the kids could attend there as well. I would focus on school. That seemed like a really good plan. It had my stamp of approval.
And then my pastor and friend preached a message that…well, let’s just say it was a good thing that he is my friend and I love him. On Sunday morning he preached out of the book of Ruth about the famines that drive us from God’s plan for us. It was a really good sermon. I still have the notes I took. I liked the sermon, until my wife told me that she felt like God was telling her through that message that she was not supposed to take the job at the day-care because He had another plan for providing for us, if we would trust Him. I didn’t hear any of that in the sermon, and I thought I was listening pretty good.
As she told me this I pictured a few things. I pictured our food cupboard that, aside from a couple cans of pork and beans, was virtually empty. I pictured our bank account that looked a lot like the cupboard. At this point I had already been doing any printing I needed to for homework at the library or a friends computer because we were out of ink and couldn’t afford it. I knew in my heart that there was no way God could be telling her not to take that job—which she was scheduled to start the next day.
We argued, discussed, debated, figured, and tried to stretch my limited mind around this, but it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t see it working and I certainly hadn’t heard anything that crazy. I mean, this was the PERFECT job. She loved kids, our kids could attend with her, it was just two blocks away from the college. We could not have designed a more perfect scenario if we had tried. How could it be God’s will to pass that up when He had to be the one who put it together so perfectly.
Without reaching any sort of agreement we made our way back to church Sunday night. Ed was continuing his message from Sunday morning in his series on Ruth. I listened carefully, if not even a little cautiously. He spoke again about the things that move us from the place of God to the place away from God. He shared about how subtly these things happen and how gradually the drift occurs. In that message that night I heard what Andie had that morning. We went home from church Sunday night and she called her soon to be employer to tell her that she could not take the job.
That phone call was easily as difficult to make and surrender to as the whole move from West Virginia to Florida had been. We were both wondering what God had in store for us, because that just didn’t make any sense, but we both knew we had heard from the Lord, and He was going to take care of everything.
DON’T MISS THIS NEXT PART…
Fifteen – that’s 15 – minutes later the phone rang and James Gachet, the chairman of the search committee of Clio Baptist Church in Clio Alabama called to set up a meeting with me and the committee because they wanted to talk to me about becoming their pastor. Over the next two and a half years God would provide for us in incredible was as I served that church as pastor. I am convinced—and no one will ever change my mind on this—that our following the Lord in turning down that job was rewarded by the opportunity to become pastor of that church.
Clio Baptist Church, Clio, Alabama
(to be continued)