I had given my heart to Christ as a young boy and always wanted to live to honor the Lord. Something different happened when I turned 16. I gave my entire life to the Lord and told Him I would do whatever He called me to do.
During Mother’s disappearance in 1926, I began to worry about what would happen to her ministry if she never returned. Fortunately, she did return, and we began to talk more intentionally about my future as leader of the movement. I had not yet preached a sermon and knew little about the vast administration that was required to lead a ministry.
The Bible college Mother started—L.I.F.E. Bible College (now Life Pacific University)—prepared thousands of leaders to share their faith with others both at home and around the world. I had not even finished high school. I would hear the typewriter in Mother’s bedroom all night as she prepared articles for the Bridal Call magazine with more than 1,000 subscribers reading every issue.
I knew I wasn’t ready to lead but decided that I was ready to learn. When I told Mother about my encounter with the Lord at 16, and that I wanted to preach my first sermon, she was thrilled. The date was set for a Thursday evening service, and I began praying about the topic and text for my first message.
In high school, I ran the mile in track, and it seemed to me that 1 Corinthians 9:24 would be a good text for my message: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (NKJV). I planned to preach about running the race and reaching the goal. “Yes, that’s a good sermon,” I decided.
Some of my friends attended the service just to hear my first sermon, and some got saved! I felt joy that God had given me a message for the people that helped in some way.
Over the next few years, I became involved in every facet of the ministry, serving in the Commissary, the bookshop, the stock room and even on scaffolding as I painted the facilities. The Lord was preparing me, and I was happy to serve any way I was needed to learn firsthand about the ministry.
In 1931, when I was 18, I married Lorna De Smith in a ceremony at Angelus Temple officiated by Mother. Lorna De and I were Mother’s right-hand workers. Still, I prayed, “Oh Lord, don’t let this all land on me!” I felt I was still much too young to assume control of this vast ministry.
That same year, Mother got very sick, and doctors were not optimistic about her recovery. She had been at death’s door at least two other times in my lifetime, and each time God renewed her strength. To my relief, as the people rallied again in prayer, the Lord blessed, and Mother recovered.
During the Great Depression, financial difficulties struck everyone in Los Angeles, and it was as a difficult time for the ministry. Angelus Temple acquired debt and was pouring money into feeding the poor.
Mother needed more time to heal, and with every passing day, our ministry leaders expressed concern about the future of the ministry. Guest speakers filled the pulpit to give Mother a break while she recuperated, and we did everything possible to keep the ministry going.
The Lord gave me 10 more years to learn the ministry before He put the load of leadership on my shoulders. During that time, I attended L.I.F.E. and Southern California Radio Institute in preparation for overseeing KFSG Radio, the station Mother had started in 1924.
During the ensuing years, as God prepared me for leadership, I had some precious times with the Lord. “I built it, and I will keep it going,” He assured me on more than one occasion. My heart was really in it, but I knew I would need to rely fully on God in order to carry on at whatever time He decided to take Mother home.