Sunday, October 12, 2008

Onward Christian Soldiers

In the 1970s I attended a Preaching Conference in Dayton, OH, hosted by Dr. David Grubbs. Dave has since retired from pastoral ministry, but his son Marty leads a church family of more than 4,000 souls at Crossings Community in OKC.

Attending that preaching conference with me was self-described “Black Kojack” - Horace Shepherd. I have long treasured that experience, especially when Horace shared his story and preached his practice sermon for our small group.

Racially and educationally, we were a diverse lot. Horace was surprisingly intimidated, I thought. Most of us had white skins and several had higher educational degrees. Yet, some of us were far less gifted.

Horace, in his prime, was a powerful preacher-evangelist and had wanted to be an entertainer when young. His ability to entertain became a scalpel in the hands of a gifted gospel surgeon and I loved to sit under my older black brother’s ministry!

Horace’s boys are now preachers. Son Paul, spoke again at our summer North American Convention. Paul left his dad in Philly to take a small CA church under 50, a ministry now serving more than 6,000 people. It impacts communities like Mountain View, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City, and Palo Alto as well as Stanford University. Their members drive in from 153 different cities and towns throughout the Bay Area.
More than 100,000 persons tune in weekdays to “Enduring Truth,” Paul’s daily radio voice. The church supports full-time missionaries in Germany, Holland, France, Russia, China, Thailand, Sudan, Africa, and South Africa. Scores of members took short-term missions trips to Germany and Guatemala as recently as 2006.

Eric Denton is another preacher’s kid on a mission. I met Eric online, remembering him only as one of the Denton‘s (the Denton brothers remain a respected Church of God name). Eric’s dad, Wilfred, is now 93.

My earlier recollection of Eric was a bright young upstart. He was very different in style from what I thought proper at that time. Today his church faithfully ministers in Africa, Mexico, and elsewhere. His online newsletters from Siempre keeps me posted on events at their Tijuana orphanage. Their Jackets for Jesus ministry takes them weekly to the streets of downtown LA, where they minister with meaning to the down and out and the up and out.

In Lexington recently, I met a new friend, DeJesus Butto--all the way from Venzeuela. DeJesus works out of an Anglo church facility in Louisville serving Hispanics through Cantares Ministries Int’l. They present the gospel to the young through music and drama, via a mobile unit, and other social outreaches.
I have a stand-up cast metal memorial plate that celebrates 100 years at Warner Memorial Camp--1892-1992. As a retiree and care-giver I now find it difficult to maintain pace. At times, I feel my old body wearing down. Yet, in my heart burns a bright fire, even when needing retooling.

Etched on my Centennial Plate are drawings of D. S. Warner and Warner’s Home. Warner, Warner Camp, and the global movement of the Church of God significantly influenced my life. They shaped my belief system, occupied much of my life, and dominated my beliefs and behaviors.

Beginning with Warner, their passionate and powerful message resonated in a manner reminiscent of first century witnesses. Although I hear negative talk here-n-there about the church losing its way, look around and see vigilant followers of Jesus serving in His name--in the trenches. The Church of God continues to build community among separated races, extend open hands of friendship to vulnerable and dispossessed individuals, and heal the wounded.
Hurricanes of political upheaval, socio-economic crisis, and human failures increase our burden. Meanwhile, faithful witnesses heroically spread faith, hope, love and friendship - in Jesus’ name. Passionate pioneers birthed our beginnings, but there are 21st century saints leading passionate charges that are neither lost, detoured, nor dead.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Come, now, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we:
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity
Onward Christians soldiers, Wayne

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