On August 1st, 1982, Karen and I attended a worship service at Trinity Baptist Church in Santa Barbara. The next morning, I wrote:
“Last night I felt like you were calling me into seminary, so that I could learn to do what Ron Walters does so well: teach. But I think in some way that was simply a way where I could access his humor and speaking talents — which are your exclusive gifts to him. Forgive me, Lord, that I always look toward the easy way out. The way that doesn’t take effort on my part, but where the RIGHT circumstances will fall upon me. So, Lord, I am not shutting out the idea of seminary, just trying to learn to shut out those ambitions which are in actuality selfish: to gain my own contrived ends…. I will follow you.”Journal entry August 1, 1982
It was six months later, February 1, 1983, I felt desperate. I had worked for Adventure Travel, in Santa Barbara nearly two years post college. Already, it felt this was not the place I wanted to give my time. Seated at the front desk, on a bright, sunny day, between calls, I jotted a prayer down on a slip of scratch paper. And God began to move.
I found the yellow piece of scratch paper a decade later when cleaning out the briefcase. Here’s what I had written:
Two weeks later, while at a weekend retreat, I picked up a sharp, pointed rock. I had been sent to find an object which symbolized God’s work within me. As I looked at the rock which almost looked like an arrowhead, the verse came to mind, “and the shield of faith with which to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). I had picked up the symbol of such an arrow. God spoke: “Son, instead of extinguishing the arrow thoughts sent by the enemy, you receive them. Indeed, the enemy need only prick your skin, but you grab the arrow thrust it deeply into your heart again and again, harming yourself with it. Today, I am uprooting this habit of self-hate. We begin today to choose life not death.”
What happened as this first layer was removed? A door opened. Jesus sent multiple people at both our workplaces and church over the next six weeks who asked me and/or Karen whether I had considered ordained ministry. These people had never approached me before. I had never even thought of more schooling or professional church leadership. The questions from all these people came out of left field to us.
Then on Maundy Thursday, March 31st, the minister of evangelism, Jimmy Gibson spoke at our church. His messaged titled, The Importance of Last Things riveted me. I couldn’t shake it. After 38 years, I can still recite his outline, illustrations and main point. The next night Karen and I were at Jimmy and Betty’s house. I planned to lead a tour to Oberammergau and Europe the following year, with Jimmy as our spiritual director. While Jimmy and I discussed our itinerary while looking at the map of Europe spread out on the table, he looked up and said emphatically, “When you go to seminary, go to an Evangelical school for they teach the Bible!” Then, as if he had not said this at all, turned back to discussing our tour.
The phrase “when you go” was like a neon sign in my heart. When? I had never thought of continuing with school. Okay, when finished with my BA in German Literature and Language, March 1981, my professor told me the only future with the language was to do a PhD. I had decided to train instead in the travel industry.
I was so blown away by Jimmy’s statement, I asked Karen if she had heard him say it. But she had been out of the room with Betty making us snacks at that moment. As we left for our apartment at number 1, Verano Drive, the phrases “when you go,” and “the importance of last things” flashed in my mind. This was the last thing Jimmy said to me. He didn’t make church on Sunday, due to illness and died three days later, on Wednesday, April 6 at 73 years old.
The following Saturday, April 9th, I attended Jimmy’s funeral. I was a mess, sitting in the back row of the church by the plate glass windows weeping. I heard God calling me, “Take it up, child. Take up where he left off.” Jimmy had been an evangelist all over the world for 45 years, had received multiple honorary doctorate degrees, was this immense shining star. And, I was only me.
The next day, Sunday, across the country, a friend named David was typing me a letter. He was originally from Santa Barbara. He typed Dear Brian and then tabbed across and typed April 10, 1983 in his New York City seminary dorm room. He knew nothing of what had transpired since February 1st. I almost dropped his letter as I read it later that week:
“A thought occurred to me the other day and I wanted to share it with you. Have you ever thought about going into the ordained ministry? You seem to have an aptitude for it. You work well with people, you have a very deep faith, and you would make a better minister than most of the people I go to seminary with. Could God be calling you? …”David G.
During the month of April, God continued to prod and push me. He awakened me at midnight on April 24th to underline his intent for my life. While kneeling and worshiping in the darkened living room, the presence of God tangibly filled the room and the Almighty reiterated the call. I told him yes. What else could I say after being hit with God’s two-by-four?
Over the years, I’ve seen how God had been working on my heart since I was 5 years old, preparing me for such a call. Over the years, this call to evangelism never wained. I served congregations for 33 years. In March 2018, I heard the Lord telling me I had just two years left pastoring at the church where I currently was and he was leading me out into new places. In September 2018, I asked for clarity, that by June 2019 I would know where I would be heading in July 2020. God answered.
June 3rd, 2019, I met the daughter of a man working in mediation who had previously been a pastor. I contacted Randy. He has over 10,000 hours in mediation experience. I took his 40-hour training offered that month, and began to pursue the growth needed to step into business. It was new in some ways: a new language, new approach to people, undergirded by the central opportunity to bring peace to people caught in conflict. In other ways familiar: I had been doing mediation with many individuals and groups over years of ministry.
Currently, I am spearheading a new direction in mediation focused upon the conflict in homeowner associations. My desire is to bring people peace, for everyone deserves to live in a peaceful community. Over the past year I named, branded, created a website, focused the business and as of July 1, 2020 stepped away from the church to pursue this full time. As with all startups, it takes a while to get the flywheel going. But everyone within the world of Homeowner Association boards and Community Manager organizations I speak with are thankful for this focus. The need is great.
Strangely, this all feels consistent with the God who called me to preach and teach like Ron, and take up what Jimmy laid down. I’m meeting people I never would have met without this shift in direction. And on top of the startup work, another door has opened.
As a side benefit of COVID, all Biblical Storytelling courses (with Simply The Story) have been moved online. Instead of needing to take a couple weeks off work to travel around the world to help lead classes, they have all come to me. The workshops are being offered monthly online. People are able to take classes, who previously could not take off the time or travel out of country to do so.
In July we had online students from Thailand to Ireland in one 30-hour training packed into one week. During October, I’ll be involved in two classes occurring 10-hours every week of the month. The students come mostly from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, then England and the states. I’m also leading Chinese college students in Bible stories. What a privilege! Many doors have swung wide open.
In the middle of all this, some days feel precarious. There’s the lack of income, the questions about future bills coming due, the lack of business, and the unknowns. It is like looking into a fog with zero visibility.
But then, I turn around. Jewish friends remind me, we walk into the future backwards. This means we face the past not the future. What a glorious description. What happened before is all we see. And look what I see? The clear evidence of the goodness, the mercy, the power, the presence, the call, the leading of God who has brought me this far and won’t let me nor Karen down. He’s got us. He’s got this season. God remains God no matter what may happen in this life. In God I trust.
Look back and see what God has done in the past and you can have more confidence as you walk into the future, backwards.