Well I was invited by Ninth Street Baptist to be the youth pastor for the summer of 1973. The pastor was a shirttail relative that I did not know, but he heard of what I was doing. I prayed and felt God allowing me to do this, and I was going home for the summer anyway.
But, before the summer ended, the pastor resigned, and the small congregation asked me to be the interim pastor. Now I had to make a major decision, I planned to go back to Florida. Was I really ready to pastor? I did not think so.
But God did, because the more I prayed the more I was convinced this was God’s way for me.
Many things happened at this time, but in this story I also must share how God gave me the most amazing gift of my life.
First, my friends joined me at the church and we quickly sensed God leading us to start a ministry like the One Way House from West Palm. We began the process of seeking God’s direction, we renewed our Bible study at Mike’s house, and we began to hear God calling us to reach our city for Jesus.
I needed work and Lonnie my cousin offered to take me on as his sidekick in the drywall business. It was hard on him, he was already married and was working hard. There was a learning curve for the job and I really slowed him down but God used this time to give divine guidance to me.
The first hint God was going to give me a big surprise was at a prayer meeting at Mike’s house. We were on our knees praying for God to win our city, show us His will in this, and just surrendering to God’s ways.
But seemingly out of nowhere the Holy Spirit whispered into my heart “You will have a son.” WHAT? I didn’t even have a girlfriend, let alone a wife! Besides because I was afraid of lust, I already swore off girls to be faithful to the Lord. This was unexpected and very weird. Maybe I ate too much pizza before I came for our small group.
Well, that caused me to have some doubt about my future and finally I started secretly asking the Lord if he wanted me to get married? I was not asking Him to get married, I was trying to make sense of what I thought God said to me.
By this time I had only been a Christian for two years, and God kept surprising me with a lot of stuff. Or maybe that was the devil trying to mess with me to stop my vow of singleness and trap me into sin. Stupid thought now, but I needed God to make His will clear to me. Very clear.
Lonnie and I did not get laid off that winter, at least not right away, because our company got the drywall job for Hickory Village apartments off Apple Avenue and the builder got them up before the cold stopped construction.
Now you have to know, I never said a word to anyone about what I was asking God.
One day we were putting up ceilings. This meant we had our benches set up and while Lonnie measured for the next piece he would call down the measurements for me to cut the twelve foot board. Then without warning he blurted out, “Ran, are you praying for a wife?” I was stunned!
“No not really,” and I wasn’t, but that was some strange coincidence. So I asked him why he was asking. And he told me it was because he had a strong feeling God wanted him to me tell me something. And that something was… “You are going to get married soon.”
We are Baptist. Neither one of us went around claiming to have a message from God. But this was a once in a lifetime incredible event for me! I got goosebumps. God heard my prayers!!! He actually listened to me. The words from Lonnie rocked my world!
I recovered my thoughts and responded, “If you know so much, who am I going to marry?” Hey, I went for it, God got my attention and I was hoping I would get the whole thing at once. But no such luck.
Lonnie said this, “I don’t know, but it is somebody you never met.” But man those words were amazing and beyond the natural.
My head started swimming. But there are billions of girls, how does that help me? God always had a way to get me trusting Him, instead of a master plan for every step of the way. Oh and later, I found out just how important those words were.
I really did not know what to do with this new information, but we were busy now anyway. More young adults were drawn to the ministry and helped with the planning, construction, and preparation for the new outreach ministry. The 11th Hour Ministries including the Mustard Seed Coffee House were being born, and God was greatly stirring others to follow Him.
I kept a journal at that time, here is a small piece…
1-13-74 “This is Sunday – Saturday had a Coffee House meeting – today agreed to start the Ministry in the church until we can move, unless God doesn’t want us to – we didn’t pray about it – we just decided. We set up a date for the end of Feb. to open. Our whole need is money – God still hasn’t provided. Prayed quite a bit today…”
1-20-74 “Good thing this morning – voted to start remodeling = drop ceiling, paneling, lights, beams, carpeting, windows, etc Also passed to buy overhead projector, also it is okay to have coffee house in church. Last night at Coffee House Meeting decided to aim for last week February, I ask you Lord to stop us if it isn’t your will…”
During this time I became so hungry for God to miraculously pour out His Spirit that I read many books about the stories of God’s work in the past. I prayed and prayed for God to work in an unexplainable way. I was asking big and finding myself in a wrestling match with the enemy.
In the midst of the ministry preparation, many girls I had KNOWN for awhile began to show interest in dating me. Most were involved in this ministry now and even a mother started making it known that she wanted me to seriously pursue her daughter. I could not understand how so many girls suddenly were interested and stayed away from them.
With these distractions, setbacks, and spiritual battles going on to delay the Word of God, I started to get discouraged. I had strong, strong burdens for God to work, girls chasing me, and conflicts beginning all around me. One of my close friends got upset and quit the ministry.
2-26-74 “…The only thought is for revival – I feel so helpless without revival. I cannot live without revival.
The Evil One doesn’t want me to have victory, he is pressing me but I know that victory is in hand.
I have doubts about the Coffee House – I think this is from the devil.
Had good signs – Lynn wants to play guitar at the Coffee House. Also, Mary called has money to give to the Coffee House – that should supply for the paper.”
The battles raged on for God to release His convicting power and save sinners. We pressed forward to finish the building and begin the outreach. But we missed our opening date.
God was blessing His word and I recorded these thoughts…
3-4-74 “Sunday was pretty good the Holy Ghost was released through my whole sermon some said, I think this is the 1st time. Hallelujah!”
Then the day finally came, we opened the doors to the Mustard Seed on March 16! The problem was I got sick and missed the first night!
3-17-74 “This is Sunday – Coffee House opened last night – about 50 people. Last Sunday everything exploded with Barb – we are callous to her feelings. Monday Dick and I got into a hassle after Lonnie and I almost got into a car accident before we got to work. Wednesday Lonnie and I were fired and rehired and apologized to. Friday I went home sick from work, still in bed today. Maybe I’m Moses kept from the promised land or hindered by the devil – I just don’t know… was getting discouraged about everything.”
The war for the eternity of those around us was on! We fought on our knees and proclaimed the Good News of Jesus. But Saturday, March 23 was going to be a massive turning point in my life. On that night, God gave me a gift that changed everything!
I think Lonnie and I had to work Saturday, because I remember I got home and then rushed to the Mustard Seed for my first night! I was excited but late and when I got into the building it was dark except for the stage. We took the pews down stairs for Saturday nights and in the darkness I could tell there were lots of people sitting on the floor in crooked rows across the whole room.
In fact, I could barely step into the auditorium and had to sit down just inside the double doors because people were packed in. I don’t remember what was going on because from the moment I sat down the strangest thing began to happen.
A couple rows ahead of me there was a girl sitting, I only could tell in the darkness because I could make out her very long hair. She was a stranger that I did not recognize, but could not see her anyway.
But like a magnetic pull from within my spirit, not lust or anything like that, I was drawn to her. I mean pulled to the point I could not concentrate on the ministry or anything else. Nothing I could do stopped this “feeling!” I know I said it again, and it was not emotions.
I thought here it goes again, the devil is trying to ruin me again. I forgot the prayer at Mike’s, the words with Lonnie, and the promise of God. (See Part 4 of My Story) But this was different than any temptation I ever experienced. I could not even see this girl. Why was this happening to me?
Every effort I made to resist this was futile. The magnetic pull just grew stronger and stronger and stronger.
Finally I did the crab walk in the middle of what was going on, squeezed through a couple people, and sat next to this girl and said “hi” to her. And the Lord, my God, whispered to me, “This is your wife.” Before I even knew her name, I met my wife.
I gazed into her eyes for the first time astonished. The God of heaven knows the future. He knew her and her faith. He knew everything about her. And with all my flaws and weaknesses He picked Cheryl Stratton to be my life partner and even dragged me over in the middle of our outreach to introduce her to me. What a gift!
She was a beautiful young woman. I did not know what to do or say. But I could not deny this supernatural attraction to her. I had no idea what she thought of my crazy stunt, or if she would respond kindly to me. I only said hi, but trusted God.
Now I can’t speak for her, but she did conveniently ditch her ride right after the meeting so that she needed me to give her a ride home.
Love did grow, but in September she went to live on campus and attend Calvin College in Grand Rapids. That killed me, not sure if it did her, but she quit only after one semester and we planned our wedding for May 10th, 1975.
Well I tell you all this lengthy story to give you the right perspective, because perspective is everything. We must see the heavenly influence, the awesome hand of God in our lives. The Bible speaks of Eve. “Now the Lord God said, It is not good (sufficient, satisfactory) that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper (suitable, adapted, complementary) for him.” Genesis 2:18 (AMP)
The riches of God’s mercy and love makes our time together so precious. I want to give Him the credit, and the praise for our marriage. And again I share this because I want you to also give your life to Jesus Christ and become a true follower of Him.
Because Cheryl was given to me by God Himself, I see her as my “helper (suitable, adapted, complementary) for” me. Because of this I can reflect on her love, her strength, her compassion, her servant heart, her mature wisdom, and her endless labor for our family and the Lord because God is in her and she reflects His holiness.
By no means did this miracle change my mission, or the raging spiritual war ahead for all of us!
NEXT: This Means War!