Some families gathered around the Christmas tree Christmas morn, while other began the day worshiping in their church homes. Our family did the latter, but we also said goodbye. You see — December 25th marked the last church service our little church would ever hold as we officially closed the doors. This day ranks up there as one of the hardest days – but it certainly wasn’t THE hardest. No – that day is already taken. But – let me start at the beginning.
Some might say this church, World Family Harvest – later renamed Crossroads Fellowship – began August 1996 and they would be right to a degree. But – the seed of an idea was planted many years before in the hearts of the two young men, my husband Kent and his little brother Jeff) in childhood. You see, Kent and Jeff were best-friends and did everything together – swimming lessons to swim team; fighting the neighborhood bullies and sticking up for each other; getting into mischief -all together. Yet one game they had was called Cat Troops where they would go to the nearby field and pretend to rally a massive army of cats to go into battle against unseen enemies. The boys would take turns making long, elaborate speeches to motivate their troops. I doubt they realized then that this would be a factor in their future endeavor.
Like I said, Jeff and Kent were best-friends. Jeff was always first to know the special events in our life – engagement, birth of our children, etc. Both brothers began theology school to acquire a Master’s in Theology with plans of someday becoming pastors. That was when Jeff announced he wanted to start a church in the Panhandle area. On one weekend trip to Amarillo and after hours of driving around with both Jeff and his wife Jimmie – the four of us felt like the church was to be in Amarillo. There really wasn’t any question or doubt in my mind that we’d join Jeff and Jimmie in this adventure – even with the strong warning a friend gave us. We’d gone to our Bible Study/Prayer Group and asked for prayer regarding this decision (which was in my mind a no-brainer). The leader said he felt like he saw this as a dangerous journey in which we would be pelted with a barrage of arrows of the enemy. He wasn’t trying to talk us out of us per say – but didn’t want us walking into it blindly. Blindly we did because love is blind. I remember having a tinge of “wait a minute” when our friend spoke those words -but I thought “we’ve done hard before and God led us through”. True –but a bit cavalier looking back.
So – August 1996, the church officially began in the living room of Jeff’s house. I became the first and only Kid’s Church Director because – well – I had three children under the age of 6 years of age. Within a few weeks, we moved to an empty church building – till a disagreement erupted between the building owner and Jeff – then we moved to another home. By now – the church had a small congregation – all seeking a bold move of God like the folks in Pensacola Florida had experienced. In fact – Jeff and Kent went to the revival in Florida in hopes we could experience that in our church. About December we experienced another move because the family’s, whose home we met in, had a “different vision” than we did – and one Sunday after church we were asked to leave. Truth be told – they wanted a Pastor they could control and that just wasn’t going to happen. By this point – Kent had become an elder and had Jeff’s back.
The church moved to the basement of Jeff and Jimmie’s home for awhile till we found a building to rent. It was at this location World Family Harvest really begin to take root and grow. One Sunday alone I went from having my three kiddos to 30! The four of us did everything together almost everyday. Then – Fall of 1997 – Kent and Jeff traveled to Washington DC to attend the Promise Keeper Rally. Kent was employed by IBM at the time and was praying about when to leave into full-time ministry. On this trip – he felt the time was now. He tried his hand at commodities – but that was a bust. It was one of those things that as a wife – you have this feeling it’s not going to work – but you don’t voice it because you think it’s just female fear of security issues. Yeah – I should have opened my mouth because that didn’t go too well for us. In the meantime, the church was going right along with a few bumps in the road –divisive people and witches. Yep – we had to run a few out – literally and through prayer. I remember seeing an odd group come in –all in black –and sit on the back row. I could feel the atmosphere change and I just remember praying for God to deal with it. I’m not saying that I alone made the little group flee – but within a few minutes they did make a beeline for the door. I later learned that Jimmie too had noticed them (as we all did being on the praise team) and had also begun praying for God to take care of it.
More witch-type folk. We had a woman attend who I honestly think believed she was a witch I don’t know if she literally was or not –but she was one odd duck. We had a musical, in which she played the part of a woman at the cross, and when she was crying at the crucifixion scene I could have sworn it sounded like hysterical laughing. I remember hearing people murmuring behind me “why is that woman laughing?!” I never felt comfortable around her – like the heebee jeebies. I don’t know if it was coincidence or not – but she gave Jimmie a Christmas present and upon receiving it – she became ill with a stomach bug within a few hours. We did not do anything at the time – but just waited. In the the meantime – we had some underlying treachery and plotting going on within the worship team – but it didn’t come to a head till the following year.
Then the biggest arrow. On Tuesday – April April 20th, 1999 – we watched in shock as news feeds gave us a constant diet of the tragic shooting at Columbine. Kent and I had just finished worship practice and had gone over to Jeff’s to get our children. We often traded babysitting nights with them –tonight they watched our three. Jeff and Jimmie had recently adopted a beautiful baby girl named Jordan Elizabeth and the little cousins all loved playing together! Jeff was glued to the TV and commented about how he probably should preach about this on Sunday. We said our goodbyes and wished them well on their trip to Branson, Missouri the next day. Friday afternoon, Jimmie called me at the church to touch base with me regarding the Women’s meeting we had that coming Monday. We were planning on singing together and she’d asked me to speak. Jimmie was a one of a kind with a heart of gold. I remember telling her I was a little nervous to which she replied “I’ve been praying for you – you will be great! I can’t wait to hear your lesson. I love you!” Saturday afternoon (April 24th) in Amarillo was cloudy, rainy and unsettling. I did not know why till later that afternoon – but I felt uneasy – like something was wrong. Later that afternoon – a man from our church called to see if we were home an if he could come out to the house. From my experience, I knew then – someone was dead. Jeff, Jimmie and Jordan, while driving in the torrential downpour in Oklahoma, spun out of control into an oncoming semi. They were killed instantly. The next day, Sunday, Kent assumed the unofficial role of Senior Pastor. He had the duty to inform the church the news and he tried to lead this church through the grief while he tried to handle his own. You see – within 6 months – he lost his two best friends. On a Sunday six months before – Jeff and Kent had lost their dad to a rare muscular disease. Jeff and Kent both spoke at their dad’s funeral to a crowd of at least 500 people. Both joked a bit about the fact this was the largest congregation either had spoken before. Jimmie and I made an agreement that if either of us die in near future – that we’d wear red (our favorite color) to the funeral. I am always amazed at how Kent held himself together during following days after the accident. We couldn’t just grieve normally because some chose to make their deaths a spectacle. Remember that divisive group I mentioned earlier? They chose this moment to start a coup and it began with their advertising a Resurrection Service at the funeral home to resurrect Jeff, Jimmie and Jordan from the dead. They had already staged secret meetings at the church plotting this and a take over leadership. Well – Kent told them he wasn’t in favor of this “resurrection service” because he knew it wouldn’t happen. “Don’t you think I’ve already begged God to bring MY brother back? God’s resounding answer has been No.” The service went on as “planned” and as I watched people fervently pray and cry out to God – I felt sorrow for them. It reminded me of what the prophets of Baal must have looked like praying, screaming and pleading to their God to consume their sacrifice. They were sheep lost without their shepherd. I don’t remember how much time past until Kent stepped forward and began reading from
Isaiah 61 the passage he and Jeff built the church upon.
The Year of the LORD’s Favor
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
He announced then and there it was time to begin the mourning process and bind the brokenhearted. The lost crowd dispersed. Some returned to our church, others drifted in search of someone “like Jeff” . The woman who we suspected was a witch of some kind – came to the funeral home demanding to see their bodies (it was closed casket for a good reason) because she wanted to see the “damage she’d done”. She honestly felt her curse had paid off I suppose when in reality it was foul weather and my brother-in-law’s tendency for speeding and/or falling asleep at the wheel. Need less to say – she was politely asked to leave the church.
Oh – I did keep my promise to Jimmie. She had recently given me a red dress of hers that she thought I’d like. I proudly wore it to the Monday women’s meeting we’d planned together. I lead the praise and worship of her favorite songs and instead of my message – I had a memorial tribute to my best friend & sister. two days later, Kent had the sad privilege of speaking before another 500+ crowd.
In the months that followed – we had several factions (arrows) rise up to assume control and cause dissent. We had some new leadership in place – but no one really assumed that support role that Kent was to Jeff. In the meantime, another six months down the road – I became seriously ill with an eye disease that rendered me temporarily blind in one eye. The only doctor familiar with it was in Dallas and –we had no insurance. This was part of what we lost when Kent left IBM. We thought blindly, no pun intended, that God would honor our faith. Not saying He didn’t -but common sense would have been good too. In fact, I had a few in particular who scolded me in prayer that I lacked faith and that was why I was not healed. I beg to differ – it takes faith to endure the pain (24/7) of this blinding, rare eye disease and faith to believe God will provide healing how He decides. God did work miracles in that the treatment was free because it was experimental, the amazing doctor (recently re-located to Dallas from John Hopkins) waived his surgical services, and two angels provided the rest of the money needed that completely covered the hospital costs (when surgery was needed). That year of 1999-2000 was the longest in our lifetime.
The years and events that followed all meld into one mishmash of events. I just remember several times we had people come “meet to talk” and it involved their saying they wanted to have Kent step down because they were to be in charge or they let us know they were leaving and they took a chunk of people with them. Once it was the whole worship team. Oh well. The majority of our trouble came from within the worship team – which is appropriate I guess since Satan was supposedly the worship leader in heaven right? Now the last seven years have not been the case and have been some of the best times of worship ever. Anyway – we began praying about five years ago or so whether or not to continue the church or not. A body can only withstand so many blows and direct hits before it collapses. I feel in my heart Kent couldn’t let the church go because in a sense, it would be letting Jeff go, But I was slowly watching this church take its toll on him. It’s something he held close to the vest – but we (his family) knew. I also felt that the last few years, inspite of attempts to resurrect life into the church through a name change and location change, that the church was really on life support – metaphorically speaking. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to pull the plug.
This had been the church my children grew up in, were baptized in and served in nearly their whole lives. This church had been a place of restoration to many hurting souls who entered our doors broken and in time, were able tOKo go back into the world stronger and whole again. Our congregation never grew by leaps and bounds, but seemed more to me like a place of recovery and growth because several good people are serving in other churches around town. That was part of the verse – to bind the brokenhearted. So when Kent began taking baby steps toward transition -it felt like the right thing to do. It was just a matter ot timing. He first began work in obtaining an MBA thinking that would open doors (he’d begun applying for jobs in Amarillo and elsewhere) but – nothing. Then about a year ago, I thought he should begin working towards becoming a Math teacher. He has a great relationship with kids and we’d have a similar work schedule, lots of perks right? Well – he obtained his certification, began interviewing and –nothing. Flashback a few years prior to the day we moved our son Daniel to Texas A&M and a not so random conversation with the dad of his roommate. Kent mentioned our future plans and his desire to possibly get back into Engineering again because he felt he needed to be able to be in a career to set aside retirement benefits – which hadn’t happened in the past 15 years. Nor had he had any health benefits. This past September, after another prayer time of asking God “What now?” This same dad calls Kent up and offers him a job as a contract engineer type person in the transmission line department. This is the same department he did summer intern work in back in college (he was an Electrical Engineer major). So – we knew unmistakeably that this was God’s answer. So – then the process to shut down and a new career begins.
As I sit here – I have no clue where God will take us next. It honestly doesn’t seem “real” that the church is gone. But is it really gone?? The building may be locked, the keys turned in, the sign taken down and items dispersed to another fledgling church – but is it really gone? Nah – we all know the church is people and like I’ve said – it’s been a resting place for folks before they are healed up to serve in other places. I know the same is true today –just this time — we will be the people entering a church needing quiet ministry and restoration before we can serve again.