How I found the people of God over 50 years ago

Feb 17, 2023

I was born ten years after the end of World War II in a small, hot, and dusty town in the interior semi-arid lands of Northeast Brazil. When I was six I was sent away from home to a missionary school in a city on the coast where I spent the school year away from my parents. My parents were dutiful Baptist missionaries who thought I needed an excellent education, and thought that the sacrifice was necessary. Needless to say, it was very difficult for me.

When I was seven and away at school, at the dormitory where I lived most of the year, I realized I was a sinner and accepted Jesus into my heart by saying the Sinner’s Prayer. For a brief day, I walked on clouds; I felt so light – or so it seemed, before I went back to being a sinner. I had hoped that having Jesus in my heart would change the way I treated others, and that somehow it would change the way they treated me. That did not happen. I was still selfish, got into fights, and punched my enemies in the face (who most of the time were my friends), and a number of other rebellious activities little boys get into. It all bothered me and mounted up in my conscience, weighing me down once again.

When I was fourteen, I began to search for God. I would get up in the mornings to look for him in the sunrise, and I would pray to him. My teachers and dorm parents did their best to care for me (and the fifty others), but they did not really understand what was going on in my thoughts, and I did not believe they could help me because, deep down, I saw and felt htat they were in the same place that I was.

I hated the way I saw all of us children treat each other. There were rivalries, fights, name-calling, and other such mistreatments, not to mention the things we did in the dark. However, there was no real solution. Yes, God was there, somewhere, but we were in the real world, and things were real. We lived in reality, not where God lived.

One afternoon, when I was eighteen, I was in my dorm room, alone, lying on my bed. I cried out in my heart and soul for deliverance — not only for forgiveness, because at times I actually felt forgiven — but for the power to stop doing what I knew was not right. My conscience was groaning not only for forgiveness from all the piled-up misdemeanors and subtle deceptions that were so much a part of my behavior, but also for the freedom from the daily portions of selfishness that sprung up in my soul. What should I do? Obviously, I did not trust my teachers to tell me.

Besides forgiveness, I needed someone to tell me what to do with my life. Life at boarding school was coming to an end, and ahead was the uncertainty of the future life every high school graduate has to face  —  and I felt very unprepared for it. My peers were all headed to college in the United States, and my teachers were all urging me to move on and do the same. But what did the God of heaven want me to do with my life? What was his will for me? Despite all my prayers, I had no idea.

Very special circumstances landed me at Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. It was the year 1973. Despite the fact that I was attending a Christian college, I was still completely lost as to what God would possibly want me to do with my life. All my Bible, history and philosophy classes did very little to help – seriously! Chapel, revival speakers, and basket ball on confirmed my uneasy feeling that we were all a bunch of lost Christians  —  lost in our selfishness with no way to follow, like an army with no commander.

During the winter break I drove out to Santa Barbara, California, where I had hopes of spending some time with a young lady I had fallen in love with during my last year in Brazil, but that proved to be a great heart-breaker. In the privacy of my room, on my knees, I broke down weeping, realizing that the God of heaven was telling me something, something very hard to take. In tears I surrendered my life to him. After a few days I retreated to a suburb of Los Angeles where I had friends. A kind family took me in as a son, bringing healing to my wounded heart.

On the weekend they took me to Calvary Chapel where I got my first taste of Chuck Smith’s Jesus Movement. I was impressed with the way the church was structured, much like an amphitheater, and the Sunday morning service was led by a soft-rock band – something I had never experienced during my years as a Regular Baptist. Nice music, friendly people – we even hugged each other at the request of the worship leader, but I did not find God’s will there. Nothing much touched my soul, despite the good feelings.

After visiting the mountains just north of LA and spending a day in Disney Land (What else was there to visit in Los Angeles?), I drove back to Tennessee with my friends.

During the following summer (1974), after my first year doing basic courses, I took a job mowing the college lawns, rented an apartment at the edge of the college, and rented a house in Dayton for my parents, who were coming up from Brazil on missionary furlough.

One fine summer afternoon after work, with the sun still high in the deep blue sky, I decided to walk down Bryan Hill, across the highway, to Dayton to check on the house I had rented. I stepped over the pavement onto the right side of the road, and as I began my leisurely walk down the hill, a big burgundy Buick driven by one of my senior neighbors from up the road, a bachelor of about seventy-five years, pulled up alongside me and stopped. Reaching across the front seat, the old man unlatched the passenger door and pushed it open. All I heard was, “Get in,” as if he expect obedience, and with due respect, I did. He never asked me where I wanted to go, and in silence we rode together into Dayton and parked in front of the local police station. No matter, though; my house wasn’t far.

Still without a word, he picked up his books, which were on the seat next to me, got out, and walked to the abandoned train station half a block away. Still wondering what was going on, I got out too, but headed in the other direction, toward the house I had rented, just a few blocks away.

I hadn’t gotten twenty yards away when I heard screeching tires behind me. I turned and saw a college friend of mine, in his big blue Chevy, pull into parking lot and park right next to the old man’s Buick. He popped out of his door and hailed me, inviting me to something I knew nothing about: a “rap session” (he called it, matter-of-factly).

“So, what is a rap session?” I asked.

“Just come on,” he shot back with a smile, “You’ll find out.” So, for lack of anything of real importance to do, I followed him in wonder to the same abandoned train station I saw the old man disappear into. In the darkness, we climbed a set of stairs up to an empty second floor, stripped of everything but bare walls and tall, empty windows. Just a few vacant halls away was a small group of people sitting in a circle “rapping” – no, not what today is called “rap” but a sort of open forum where all get to share what they think. That is where I met the Jesus people. They were talking about being “alive in Jesus.”

So, was I alive or dead in Jesus? I felt dead, and I said so. But I received hope that day, much to my amazement at the turn of events. And the funny thing is that from that day on I knew what to do with my life. I received an answer in my heart and soul as to what God’s will for me was. I left college the next summer and joined them. That rap session happened in 1974. It is now 2023, almost fifty years later, and I am still with those “Jesus people.” They live together and share all things in common, just like the early circle of believers.

Thinking back on those years, thousands were drawn into the Movement during the seventies, like so many sheep without a shepherd – but where are those thousands today? What did they do after the excitement of the Revolution? Did they find God’s will for their lives? Where did Chuck Smith and Lonnie Frisbee lead them? Were they the shepherds of the flock? Did the Jesus Revolution just fade into the churches of today? It seems so. The open arms of the Christian churches embraced them and carefully placed them all – or almost all – back into their proper pews. The Christian leaders of that day only knew how to lead them back into the old wineskin of the established Christian churches — back into going to church, but not being the church.

All I know is that I found what I was looking for that day I climbed those stairs to the second floor of an abandoned train station. What I found was authority – the shepherd, you could say – someone who would answer the question that plagued my soul. From those people sitting on the old, dusty floorboards of the old train station, I heard the words that led me to the King of the kingdom of heaven, and he told me what I could do with my life. Do you understand this?

Isn’t that really the question? How can I find out what God’s will is for my life? Or maybe, “What does God want me to do with my life?” After hearing the words spoken by the ones with the delegated authority of the One who has “all authority in heaven and on earth,” the convicted people in Acts 2:37 asked those apostles (sent ones), “Brothers, what shall we do?” So Peter, having been one of those sent by the Master himself to make disciples and teach them to obey everything he had been taught (Matthew 28:18-20), told them to repent, to turn away from their sins and be washed in the waters of baptism. Then their sins would be washed away from their consciences (1 Peter 3:18-22), so that they could receive the gift of the set-apart Spirit of the God of Israel.

Peter continued on with many other words (Acts 2:40), testifying and exhorting them to separate themselves from the perverse society they lived in. As a result, all who believed lived together (set apart from that perverse society) and had all things in common. Not one of them had need because all contributed what they had, laying their possessions at the feet of the sent ones.

That was the real Jesus Revolution, but where is it now? Well, it is here. From the midst of the Jesus Revolution of the seventies, a “grain of wheat” fell into the ground and died. And that seed did not “remain alone” (John 12:24-25), but gave rise to a movement of holy angels drawing those who are willing to do God’s will, which continues on to this day.

During the turmoil of the seventies many “grains of wheat” were sown across America during what has been called by some the “greatest spiritual awakening in the history of the United States.” One of those was a man who cried out to God from his bed in a rescue mission in California that all he wanted to do was love people. Having grown up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the very buckle of the Bible Belt, he finally understood the most vital message that the Savior was trying to communicate — “Give up your life!” That is the cream of the gospel, the good news:

Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. (Mark 8:34)

What does it mean to deny yourself? It means to live your life for others, serving them. It means hating your life in this world, and not living for yourself anymore. This, then, produces more life — many such grains of wheat that go into the ground and die.

This man lived his life that way, giving up his life for others, loving them just as the Savior loved us. Now we follow in his footsteps, true sheep under one shepherd, under the authority of the true savior, Yahshua the Messiah (called “Jesus” in most English translations of the Bible).

The real Jesus Movement is in motion, waxing, not waning. If your heart is stirred, and the question comes to you, “What do I do now?” The answer is “in the wind” — in the Spirit who lives in a people who are being gathered. Come and see!


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