I noticed Betty’s cute smile and immediately was smitten. We were both students at L.I.F.E. Bible College, and my decision to pursue her as my future wife was confirmed by my cousin and my best friend. I knew she was the one for me. We were married in 1943, and WWII was in full swing.
Citywide blackouts were commonplace in those years; people doused any lights on the streets and in buildings so enemy aircraft could not see possible targets on the ground. The concern in those days was that fighter planes might break through our security defense at sea and attack the West Coast of the U.S.
The beautiful stained-glass windows that encircled Angelus Temple were covered in black cloths so the lights inside didn’t spill out onto the streets below. Services could go on inside as long as the doors were locked during a blackout and the light was contained inside the building.
Our wedding ceremony was to follow a Sunday evening service at Angelus Temple, and during that service a blackout was ordered in Los Angeles. The service was uninterrupted, although people were told they needed to stay until the all-clear was issued allowing people to freely move about the streets again. This meant we would have 5,000 guests for the wedding, if we were able to continue with the ceremony.
Betty had been in another building outside the Temple getting dressed when the lights went out. Not only would she have difficulty getting ready, once she was dressed, she might not be able to get from that building into the sanctuary because of the blackout. God brought us together in the presence of many witnesses, and in spite of a wartime blackout, so we could become husband and wife.
As students at L.I.F.E. (now called Life Pacific College), Betty worked as Harold Chalfant’s secretary, and I worked in the basement of Angelus Temple, running copies on a mimeograph machine and also serving as Giles Knight’s errand boy. Giles Knight was Aimee Semple McPherson’s administrator and lawyer, and frequently he needed to get important papers to Sister McPherson at her home in nearby Silver Lake. I was the one who delivered those papers, and I often saw her walking her dog or watering her lawn, things that everyday people did.
She was always kind and very wise, and I learned many things from Sister McPherson’s ministry. Most important, though, was the way she encouraged us students to “tarry,” to wait in the presence of the Lord for His power and leading in our lives.
When I think that I almost didn’t come to L.I.F.E., I wonder what I might have missed. I grew up in the Texas panhandle and was saved in the Lubbock Foursquare Church. Although I had grown up in church, and everyone around me thought I had given my heart to Christ years before, I knew the truth. I didn’t have any noticeable vices, and for the longest time I resisted the idea of going to the altar to accept the Lord.
Icicles gripped my heart that night when the pastor asked how many people were ready if the Lord should come. I realized I wasn’t ready and that it was time to make things right with God. My conversion was different than that of many other people I have talked with through the years because I knew in an instant that I was radically different. I was saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, called to the ministry and ready to serve Him fully for the rest of my life.
The only thing standing in the way of me becoming a minister was a family quartet made up of my sister, two brothers and me. The quartet was my father’s delight, and we loved singing together—especially when he was in the audience.
Finally, at the urging of my cousin Jack Willis, I decided to travel to Los Angeles and attend L.I.F.E. It was quite a change from Northwest Texas, but I made good friends in Los Angeles and also met my sweet wife, with whom I would share life and ministry for the next 67-1/2 years.
Immediately upon graduation, I was made a missionary candidate, but still I was sent to pastor congregations in the States. Our first church was in West Hollywood, and later, we pastored in my home state of Texas; all the while I was considered a missionary candidate.
For 11 years, I was overlooked for a missionary appointment even though I faithfully sent in my application before every convention. Finally, someone told me the reason why: I was skinny, and the board thought I might not fare too well in tropical climates, and that I might be physically challenged battling illness and infection.
I will never forget a New Year’s Eve watch-night service we held when our daughter Linda was 8 years old. That particular church didn’t have a place for children’s ministry, and so the children sat with their parents. By 9 p.m. and with several hours still to go, the children were wiggling and bored. I called the children to the front of the church, and had them lift their hands and ask the Lord to fill them with the Holy Spirit.
Was I ever glad for the leading of the Lord during that service! Linda stood with her little arms extended to heaven for what seemed to be hours. She never moved. During that time, God filled her with the Holy Spirit and gave her a vision of the mission field in which she would serve. From that point forward, she was convinced that we as a family would be missionaries.
One year during convention, I had given up sending in my application for a missionary appointment, but we were headed toward one of the services anyway. We were running a bit late, and a dear friend—Leita Mae Stewart, Rolf K. McPherson’s longtime secretary—came running toward us.
“Where have you been?” she asked with panic in her voice. “They have been calling for you. You have been appointed to Nicaragua, and you need to get on the platform right now!”
We served briefly in Costa Rica and later in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Spain before returning to Costa Rica—our country for the next 23 years. By the time of my missionary appointment, I was 39, so I got started rather late in life. But I loved every moment.
When we returned to the U.S., Betty and I officially retired and moved into a little house in Southern California. We helped launch two Spanish congregations, and at 99, I continue to help when and where I am able.
The ministry God entrusted to me was always about discipleship more than it was about preaching. Discipleship is about reproducing “big” disciples and not about how big I might be. It can be a risk to disciple people, and I learned a long time ago that if I want to disciple big leaders, I must be willing to give them the power to hurt me. Of course, true disciples don’t hurt the one doing the discipling, but rather they are a blessing.
My definition of a disciple is someone who does something for the Lord to bless somebody else. I learned that from years of ministry and from the training I received from Sister McPherson so long ago.
A world war blackout didn’t keep Betty and me apart, and we enjoyed nearly 70 years of fruitful ministry together, with lots of “big” disciples to show for it who carry on the ministry to this day.