OLIVE TWIST ©2012
These are true stories of the lives of people from the Church of God by Faith. New portraits will be added every so often.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
A professor once referred to these stories as “hagiographic portraits,” and I agree with that assertion. I am pleased to introduce my spiritual family in this fashion. These profiles deal more with the mystical realm than the natural, but I have made every effort to enable you to see my friends in both worlds.
For those who have never had the privilege of observing holy people going about their daily lives, I am delighted to share this treasure.
“It is nothing extraordinary to be holy. You must believe it is a normal thing for everybody.” –Mother Teresa
TREASURE HID IN A FIELD
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Matthew 13:44
I first discovered The Church of God by Faith when my sons were very young. I can still remember my eldest son telling me in the car after the services, “Mom, I never want to go to any other church again”. He was only five years old, and I should have listened to him.
I also recall the sermon Elder Foster preached at our first visit. It was about Joseph in the Bible who went from the pit to the prison to the palace. He talked about how the Devil can cause those around us to be jealous and angry about our relationship to God, but how God ultimately will deliver His children and He never abandons them. I had felt the Spirit in the midst of the congregation. I remember the children getting dust rags and dusting the pews and the windowsills after the services. I also remember hearing the sound of the wooden floor shaking from the movement of feet on it, as we got out of our car that day. It was the sound of joyful praise within the church.
I revisited the church around Christmas many years later, because people from the church never stopped inviting me to come back whenever I saw them, and I was in a state of deep depression at this point in my life. When I finally went back, I felt the Spirit again and felt welcome and loved and I knew that I had to keep attending. I brought my three sons with me after that and I really enjoyed the testimonies, the prayer, the Bible teaching, and the anointed preaching of Elder Foster. Most of all, I loved the sense that Jesus was in the room. I had longed to find a church like this for many years.
One day as I was reading one of Jesus’ parables about the treasure hidden in a field, I felt as though the Spirit was speaking to me about this church. It is a sanctuary overflowing with spiritual riches, but hidden in an unlikely place, in the poorest neighborhood in town. I knew that to leave it would be to forfeit tremendous empowerment and blessings in my life, and that it did not matter what people thought about me attending a black church. I wanted to be where the Spirit was active and touching people’s lives, without all of the side shows.
So I joined the congregation, and was appointed vice president of Home Missions and Adult Sunday School teacher soon after that in the Business Meeting. I felt quite honored to have these opportunities to serve Christ.
I have also felt deeply honored to have gotten to know some of the most amazing and sincere and spirit-filled saints I have ever known. They are deacons, leaders, and mothers in the church. They have taught me many profound things about faith and walking with God, and they have been a great inspiration to me.
ELDER AND MOTHER FOSTER
Elder Foster is graceful with hands that swim like fish around him as he speaks. He bows from his slender waist and lowers his head slightly, greenish brown eyes looking up to others with humility. His caramel-colored suit is well-tailored, his shoes polished, his white shirt crisp.
Mother Foster has amazing hats and weathered hands and I have seldom seen her silver hair. She braids it tightly against her scalp and tucks it under her hats. Her waist is nicely trim for an elderly woman, the collar of her dress edged with white lace, her black ballerina slippers small and cozy. Her smile is broad and warm and her eyes always seem to look upward and inward to invisible things.
Elder and Mother Foster are my spiritual parents, and I am just one of their clumsy and confused children.
Elder Foster has ministered to his church for almost forty years, and he is still the most energetic pastor I have ever seen. He seems much younger when he preaches because he jumps and shouts and runs down from the pulpit into the congregation. His agility is amazing at these times.
He can be so fiery during his sermons, yet he is so gentle and humble afterwards, when he shakes my hand and says, “Are you behaving yourself, Sister Olive?” or “Be encouraged, Sister Olive.” I guess this is why one preacher who visited our church refers to him as a “Gentle Giant”.
Many times Elder Foster speaks directly to me about things in my life that he has no way of knowing, and he encourages or corrects me with great gentleness. I recognize in those moments that the Spirit is speaking to me and that I have to be obedient, if I want to grow spiritually.
Elder Foster once remarked, “You know the trouble with many of us is that we trust the mailman more than we trust God. When we address a letter and put a stamp on it and place it in the mailbox, we have confidence that the mail will arrive where it’s supposed to go. We don’t call the mailman or the postmaster to keep track of the letter, or call to make sure it arrives at its destination.
“But when we address a prayer to God, we don’t have confidence that it will get to God, or that it will accomplish the thing that we are asking. Our lack of faith is why many of our prayers are unanswered.”
Elder Foster puts more money into the offering plate than he receives from the district for his services. He is always speaking about people who exemplify the life of faith. He tells of a poor preacher who had no money, but went to the grocery store and got a cart and put the food he needed in it, and he prayed and trusted God to take care of him. The preacher walked up to the cashier lane, and a man stepped up with his wallet open and said, “Pastor, let me take care of that for you.”
Our elder also speaks of a minister who heard that someone in his church had died. The minister went to that house and the man’s wife had covered him with a sheet as she awaited the mortician. The minister said “The Spirit didn’t say anything to me about this brother dying.” Then he pulled back the sheet and the man got up.
One Sunday a strange man came into our church to leave an offering envelope for a family member. As he came down the aisle, I noticed the intensity of his face and eyes as he looked around nervously. He hurriedly handed the envelope to Sister Shirley near the altar and left.
Elder Foster was preaching later in the service, and told us that he had had a dream the night before, about being down by the fish creek and meeting a man who was demon-possessed and that he had cast the demon out of the man. When he awoke he thought that he must have eaten something the night before that caused him indigestion and strange dreams. But then the man from his dream walked into church and left the offering.
The elder often speaks about the importance of preaching the gospel “in season and out of season”, because you never know when that Death Angel will come around and take someone. He says that one night a phone call came for Mother Foster from a woman that she worked with at the paper mill. Elder Foster did not want to disturb his wife while she was sleeping, so he told the woman to call his wife another time. Mother Foster went to work the next morning and the woman had died.
Elder Foster also recounted this story with great sorrow: “A man came up to me one Wednesday night after the service was over, asking how to get saved. I was in a hurry that night, and asked him to come and see me on Sunday. When he didn’t come on Sunday, I inquired about him and found out that he had died. I have learned never to make anyone wait again, because the Devil will try to cut them off beforehand.”
Mother Foster is an amazing spiritual leader as well. She diligently taught all of her children about prayer and faith while they were young. Several of the Fosters’ sons are preachers now. Mother Foster says that one of her boys, Aaron, used to preach through the open window from his high chair when he was a baby, and would tell people about Christ. She says she used to have terrible migraines until one of them put his tiny hands on her and prayed, when he was only a little baby boy.
She says they have never had a lot of money but they acknowledge that God always provided for their needs. Mother Foster once testified about a woman with five children that lived down the street from her years ago. Sometimes the woman would come to her door and tell her she didn’t have any food for her children. Mother Foster said that she always bought just enough food for her family for seven days at a time, but she would open her refrigerator, and give the woman some meat and vegetables and bread for her children. As Mother Foster gave the bag of food to the woman, she would say to her, “Now, come back around here this evening, because I want you to see what the Lord is going to do for me, because I gave you what you needed.” She said that without fail, someone would show up before dinnertime, and knock on the door and say, “I just caught some fish, and I have more than I need. Would you like some?” or someone would bring her greens and vegetables from their garden. She says that God always provided whenever she was obedient.
Mother Foster told me an amazing story about a woman who asked her to come to her house: “I went to visit this poor woman and she told me that her husband had been abusive to her for many years, and I told her ‘God would never want anyone to place themselves in danger. So we are going to take this problem to God, and pray that your husband will leave and never come back. First I need you to go to the closet and get a pair of his shoes, and bring them here.’ The woman went and got his shoes, and I told her to put them right in front of the door, with the toes pointed as if they were about to walk out. She did this and then we started to pray out loud. We prayed and prayed with all our hearts, until I had a clear feeling, and I told her that it was done. I told her she had to believe that God was going to do answer our prayers. I said, ‘It might not be today or tomorrow or even this week, but you have to trust God.’ Well, it turned out that her husband came home that very night, and took all of his belongings and left, and he never returned home again.”
Mother Foster taught me to pray earnestly on my knees until I sense that the work is finished, and then to believe God. My prayers were never answered until I learned to pray in the proper way. Mother Foster taught me that God loves to act of our behalf, when He knows that He will be glorified in it.
I have learned so much from the Foster’s about living by faith, and “pressing on” until death, and I am eternally grateful for their testimonies, and their examples.
“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” (I Timothy 6:12)
“He spoke as one having authority, and not as the scribes and the Pharisees.”
Deacon Proctor has been like a spiritual brother to me for many years, and we have enjoyed deep mystical communion. He is tall and broad with a flat top haircut and a severely twisted hand. His black hair has an ever-widening section of white on one side, and he has suits in an array of various colors.
Once I remember him teaching about the verse in Isaiah which says “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” He looked at the arms of his suit and shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s funny, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to wear this suit today, because it has a bleach stain on the side, but it illustrates this passage. “ The suit was appropriately wine-colored, with the white spot near the pocket.
The deacon’s movements are marionette-like, the tilting of his head, the raising and lowering of his arms and shoulders. Affectionately known by Elder Foster as “Brother Love”, he is a tremendously gifted teacher and man of faith. He was the Sunday school teacher before I was appointed to the task, and I was quite terrified about teaching after him.
I have never heard anyone teach as Deacon Proctor does. He is like a great waiter at a restaurant. A bad waiter can ruin even the best food. A professional waiter can make any meal even better, by presenting it with grace and style and timing. This is how Deacon Proctor serves the Word of God. He presents it with love, simplicity and clarity so that even a child could understand it. It is evident that he is a man who loves to study in order to gain more wisdom.
I asked Deacon Proctor one day about his deformed right hand. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said, “It was from an accident a couple of years ago. I was working on someone’s car motor with a rag in my hand. I got distracted while I was talking and the rag was pulled into the fan belt along with my hand. It tore my hand up but I never felt any pain. In the hospital, the doctor kept saying ‘Why don’t you quit being so macho, and let me give you some morphine?’ and I kept telling him it really didn’t hurt. I know that God kept it from hurting.
“Two weeks before the accident happened, I had a vivid dream about a cat clawing up my hand, and I asked Mother Foster what she thought it meant. She avoided me for a week or so after that, like she thought I was weird,” he said chuckling. “After this happened, we all understood it. The Spirit was warning me in advance.”
Another deacon from the church told me that it was incredible to him how Deacon Proctor never complained about his hand being mutilated, or about having to live with the inconvenience of it from then on. He behaved almost as though nothing had happened.
Deacon Proctor was also in a terrible wreck while driving a huge concrete truck, and he struck the driver side of a small vehicle. He says he jumped out and checked the man’s breathing and pulse, and he was sure the man was dead. He said, “I began to weep and kept pointing at the man and crying, ‘You can’t die, no, you can’t die.’ The ambulance came and the medics couldn’t revive him, so helicopter came and took him. I found out later that the man lived and he is doing fine,” he said shaking his head. “I really believe the Holy Ghost raised the man, because I kept pointing at him and saying he couldn’t die. He explained how Jesus told His disciples that they would do greater miracles than He did, and the scriptures say God quickens the dead and calls those things which are not as if they are.”
The deacon frequently has dreams and visions and hears the voice of the Spirit. On one occasion when I was feeling great anxiety, I had heard an inward voice say “Trust in Me.” I went to church the following Sunday and Deacon Proctor said to me, “The Lord told me this week that I just need to trust Him.” This surprised me, because I had not told him about the voice that told me the same thing.
Here is one of the most interesting dreams that the deacon told me about:
I dreamed that I was at a crowded fair surrounded by games and noise and music and bright lights. A man walked up to me and said, “Follow me” and then began to walk away. I decided to do what he said so I walked right behind him. The man kept talking to me over his shoulder, and I kept trying to get a look at his face and to hear him better. With all of the noise and confusion of people around me, I could hear his voice, but couldn’t understand his words. I never got a look at the man’s face, but I kept following anyway. The man kept walking in all different directions, and I stayed right behind him the whole time. The moon was really large up in the sky, and it had a face on it, which seemed to be watching me.
The next day, Deacon Proctor mentioned the dream to a co-worker at his job, because he wondered what it meant. The co-worker said quickly, “It looks to me like God just wanted you to follow him, and he wanted to see if you would or not.” The deacon almost cried when he heard it, because he knew that it was true. I added that I thought the face on the moon was the face of God watching from above the whole time while Deacon Proctor was following Him on the ground. Even with all of the distractions and amusements that could have lured him away, he did not turn aside. I thought the fair represented the worldly temptations that can keep us from following God.
The deacon says he was talking with Elder Foster one day when the Spirit told him to go to his son’s house and pray. He and Elder and Mother Foster walked to the house and no one was home. So they returned to the church where coincidentally, the deacon’s son pulled up a few minutes later with his girlfriend in the car. The deacon told him about his sense of urgency to pray for him. His son was not a believer, but he accepted the prayers of the three of them.
About a week later, a sense of heaviness came over the deacon during street services, and people noticed that he was acting strangely and pacing about. Right after services were dismissed, Deacon Proctor learned that his son had been stabbed in the neck by the girlfriend that had been in the car when they prayed for him, and he had been rushed to the hospital. The deacon hurried there to see his son and the bleeding was so bad, that the family did not think he would make it. But miraculously he did survive, and Deacon Proctor says that it was because of the prayer of intercession that had been offered a few days before, prompted by the leading of the Spirit. He said he shudders to think of how it would have ended up if he had not obeyed the Spirit and prayed.
Deacon Proctor has encountered many trials at work and the Lord has been faithful to protect him. He told us one day at church about a series of events that happened to him.
One of his knees was hurting very badly one day at work and he mentioned it to one of his co-workers. The man began to mock him and said that he was just faking it to get out of working. Deacon Proctor ignored the man, and didn’t say anything. The next day that man came in with his knee in so much pain, that he could barely walk on it for several days.
Then one day his elbow was hurting and he complained about it to someone, and they began making jokes about it. That person developed a pain in their elbow that became so unbearable that they ended up having surgery on it.
Then a supervisor was bragging to people about how he was going to get the deacon fired and give his job to someone else. The next day that man was fired, and Deacon Proctor was promoted into his job. When reports got around about these events at work, the other employees became afraid because they realized that the deacon was under divine protection.
Deacon Proctor and I talk from time to time about the need for a true revival of the church, and he told me about one that occurred years ago in Saint Augustine. Tent services were held outside, and an evangelist named Walter Camps came to lead them. The revival went on for a month, and the Spirit moved so intensely that all of the bars in the surrounding area had to close, because they had no customers.
The deacon said he used to mock people who fell down when touched by preachers on television and other services he had attended because he thought it was a pretense. But at this revival he went to the altar for prayer, and Reverend Camps asked him what he wanted prayer for. Deacon Proctor told him that he wanted prayer for his mind. The evangelist gave him a peculiar look then he put his hand on the deacon’s forehead, and Deacon Proctor fell down unconscious. He testifies that ever since that day, he has never been the same and he has no more of the problems that he had at the time. He also doesn’t doubt God’s power.
I feel immensely honored to know a great man of faith such as Deacon Proctor who is so wise, and yet so humble before God and man.
“Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” I Peter 1:23
I had heard Minister Robert Burney speak about his father and the second stroke that impaired him with almost complete paralysis. He said that while his father was in the hospital bed a fellow preacher sent a message to him saying, “Don’t forget that you still have a tongue.”
At that time, I had never heard the Elder Burney preach, but I finally did during the January district service.
Elder Burney is a broad-shouldered and well-dressed man with a warm and wise face, sitting in a wheelchair. I have never seen such a paradox of weakness and strength in one man, and I was totally unprepared for that mighty tongue.
The elder began speaking in a gentle voice about the woman with the alabaster box of ointment who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. He explained how the men who were present when she did this began to mock her and assault her character, but she was so in love with Jesus that she didn’t care.
In only a matter of a few minutes, I felt something stirring inside of me. A sudden tide of joy rolled over me like an ocean wave. Before I could catch my breath, another one struck, and then another. I looked over my shoulder and realized that I was not alone. It was high tide. The waves were rolling over the congregation with such force that many people could not remain seated or keep silent. Elder Burney said quietly, “I don’t believe in interfering with the Spirit of God.” He sat silently as the Spirit burst forth like a tidal wave and flooded the entire room.
I attended another district service a few months later, and I noticed on the program that Elder Burney was the speaker again. I thought to myself that it couldn’t possibly be the same as the last time. Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.
This time, the elder began speaking about the woman at the well, and how Jesus told her He would give her living water, and that she would never thirst again, and that it would be a well springing up into everlasting life. Without warning, water began to flow from my eyes. I was surprised by this, and wondered what was going on, because I was not sad. Then the elder said, “When the Spirit gets ahold of you, water is gonna come out of your eyes when you’re not even sad.” I began to laugh with surprise.
It’s very difficult to explain but it seemed as if the Spirit flowed like waves out of the elder’s mouth as he spoke, and began to fill up the room, and then tears sprung out of my eyes.
One great mystery is the way that the elder’s preaching lingers with me for a long time afterward. He plants a powerful seed that germinates and flowers into a deeper understanding of God. It reminds of the story of Jack and the beanstalk. Someone gave Jack some magic beans, and he found himself in an amazing adventure. He climbed into the sky to a new kingdom, where he slew a giant, and won an amazing treasure. Elder Burney’s preaching is like those magic seeds that have somehow given me a new identity and purpose.
Once he preached a message about the City of God. He said that there are twelve gates to the city, and that he believes we will enter at the Southern gates and the streets will be pure gold. He spoke about the Tree of Life with the twelve fruits that would heal every kind of disease, and the crystal river that flowed from the throne. He said that he had resolved in his mind that he was going to go to that city, and that the power of Hell could not stop him from making it there. He said, “I look forward to seeing my mama and daddy when I get there. But they’re gonna have to step aside so I can see Jesus.” Soon after that, I dreamed that I was searching for a city, and I saw a familiar man by side of the road. I asked him the way to the gates of the city. He did not speak but simply handed me a key.
In another service I attended, Elder Burney cried out, “I am rich beyond measure! Praise God, I’m rich!” Those words began to sprout within my mind. I knew that he was speaking of heavenly riches. I read the scripture that speaks of how I belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God, so I am an heiress. I found myself beginning to identify with Christ, and not with the world, and it began to transform my whole way of thinking. I realized that I had no need of anything, that the world had nothing to offer me. I became less worried about success and worth in the eyes of other people. I only wanted to please Christ and bless others.
I recognize that Elder Burney has planted some divine seeds in my heart. I am overwhelmed and humbled by the way God has used him as instrument of power and mercy in my life.
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree…” (Matthew 13:31-33)
DEACON & MOTHER JOHNSON
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature…” 2 Corinthians 5:17
Mother Ella Mae Johnson was converted long before her husband, and she prayed for him and suffered many things in their marriage. He was unfaithful and abusive to his wife. He owned a bar and before his wife became a Christian, the two of them often participated in dancing contests. It makes me smile to imagine that now.
Deacon Johnson is a big and strapping man, and Ella Mae is very petite. The deacon says he got angry with his wife on one occasion before he became a Christian, and that he drew back his hand to strike her. Ella Mae backed up and cried out, “You better watch out what you’re doing, because I’m a child of God and the Lord is gonna take care of you.” The deacon says her words terrified him, because somehow he believed it. He decided not to do as he intended.
His wife left him for awhile, and he says he was shamed by the humble way that she left. She got paid from her job and instead of taking her money and leaving, she made sure that all of the bills were paid first. He said that this made him see the godliness of his wife.
After they reunited, he still did not straighten out for a long time. He would always have his whiskey and orange juice on the end table by the bed. He would climb into bed with his cigarettes and smoke even though he knew it bothered her. But he wanted to dominate everything in his household.
Ella Mae says “Before he got saved, I used to come home after church and tell him what I great time I had, and he would look so puzzled. He started to fuss about me being at church so much, and he would say, ‘I bet all of those deacons and preachers down there are checking you out’ and I said ‘Maybe they are, so you’ll just have to come and see for yourself.’ He finally got so worried that he did come, and he gave his life to Christ.”
The deacon talks about it laughingly, “When she told me what a great time she had at church, I didn’t get it. I had been at the bar, and I thought I was the only one having fun, so I was really confused.”
Deacon Proctor says that he remembers when Brother Johnson came to church, and how he sat anxiously on the edge of the front seat as though he wanted to say something. Deacon Proctor finally asked him, “Brother, were you wanting to say something? He just sprung out of his seat and ran to the altar weeping.” Johnson was dramatically converted that day.
He says that he used to be full of rage all the time, and that he would “hit or cut anybody” that got on his nerves, but he said the Spirit completely changed his ways. He tells this story that I enjoy hearing:
After I got saved, I was down at the bar and a man came in and started yelling at me. He got so close to me that the spit was flying into my face, and I just couldn’t get mad like I used to. Then the Spirit spoke to me and said, ‘Tell him to step outside.’ I thought that sounded real good, so I did. Then the Spirit said, ‘Just stand there and tell him to do whatever he’s got to do.’ So I did, and the man seemed baffled and started talking and then started crying and I started hugging him to comfort him. It was so crazy. I’d never acted like that before I was saved. A few weeks before, I would’ve body-slammed that dude in a heartbeat.
Deacon Johnson was a thirty-second level Freemason in the Masonic Lodge when he became a Christian, and he talks about how hard he worked to achieve this level. He says that Elder Foster saw the bumper sticker on his car and talked to him about it. He gave him some Bible verses pertaining to secret clubs and organizations. Deacon Johnson’s commitment to Jesus was so complete, that he gave it all up. When some of the other Masons came to see him about it, he talked to them about Christ, and they couldn’t take it so they left.
Deacon Johnson says that he knew nothing of the Bible or of faith when he came to Christ, and that he had never spoken in front of people. But now he teaches Sunday school and speaks to the church with tremendous boldness and knowledge. He goes to his old hangouts to talk to those who are in the situation that he was in. When he goes there, the young people show him honor and respect. They hide their bottles and dope when they see him coming, and they listen to him. God has completely transformed him from who he used to be.
“Let your speech be always with grace…” Colossians 4:6
I especially remember Mother Gladys’s straw hat, her faded dresses, and her wooden walking cane. I loved it when she would strike the tambourine and begin singing, “Oh I want to see him, look upon His face…” or “It’s gonna be the crowning day…” She had a resonant voice, passion for the Lord, and a sweet and humble spirit. She was tall, slender and stately with a broad smile, and it was obvious that she was lovely in her younger days. She had tremendous faith in God and had an air of holiness and grace about her.
After Mother Gladys retired from her job at the school for the deaf and blind, she became the “nurse” of her neighborhood. People say that she would walk house to house taking care of people who were sick or elderly. She was always poor, but if you visited her she would go straight to her garden, and give away some of her fresh vegetables. She never refused anyone the help that they needed.
She was a great encouragement to me personally. After we had been having tent services for several nights and I had testified a few times, she was the first one to approach me with a warm smile and a hug, and say, “There’s that missionary.” I felt honored by the way that she said it to me.
Mother Gladys was diagnosed with cancer, but she never lost her faith. When I went to visit her she said to me, “If the Lord wants me to get up, I will get up, and if He doesn’t, I won’t.”
Whenever people visited her, she would say that she just wanted to “have church”. Sister Doris says that when people would ask her what songs she wanted to hear, she would say, “Anything with blood in it” (referring to the blood of Jesus). She never complained about her suffering, because she did not want to cause her family or friends more grief. So she just stayed in her bed at home, and gradually stopped eating and speaking. She was a sweet and godly woman her whole life.
I did not know her for long enough, because she died soon after I joined the church. It will be amazing to see her again someday in the Kingdom of God.
“A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” Isaiah 42:3
I first saw and heard Elder Thomas at the district services. He was hosting a Friday night Missions service, and I had never met him before. He stepped up to the pulpit, a dignified and well-dressed man looking over his glasses at the congregation. Because I thought his voice to be somewhat gruff, I thought that he must be stern and irritable, and that he was someone I would not want to annoy or make angry, because he wouldn’t put up with very much. It is funny how we perceive people at first observance.
The second time I saw Elder Thomas was at a pastor appreciation service, and suddenly he ran down from the pulpit area to the front of the altar, where he began to dance in the spirit. My whole conception was thus thrown out the window.
The third time I saw him, he was again at a district service, and he opened the service by saying, “You’re in the Holy Ghost headquarters now.” I laughed when he said it, and my two guests also laughed about that. I knew then that I really liked this man, and that I needed to hear him preach.
Soon thereafter, I visited a Sunday service at his church for the first time with my son. That Sunday, Elder Thomas preached from Ecclesiastes 12, and it was one of the most enjoyable and concise teachings I had ever heard. Not only did Elder Thomas have a gift of teaching with great clarity, but he could make people laugh and enjoy the studying of it. Whenever I cast a sidelong glance at my son, he was smiling a broad smile or laughing.
I don’t know quite where to begin to describe the incredible giftedness of Elder Thomas. He is remarkable in so many ways. He says that when he was a young boy, he knew a great evangelist in the area named Mother Benjamin, and that he sought for God to give him a portion of the Spirit that was upon her. He says it was quite difficult even as a young man to keep up with this tireless woman. But, like Elisha who refused to leave Elijah, he followed her to the best of his ability until she left this world.
Elder Thomas is a gifted preacher, prophet, servant, shepherd, and prayer warrior. He has a huge heart of compassion for the lost and suffering, and has a word from the Father of Lights for every occasion and every need. He knows how to guide God’s flock to higher and deeper faith, and to their own personal callings from the Spirit. I have seen people line up at the altar to receive “the Word of the Lord” from his lips, and I have seen God use him as a mighty instrument of mercy.
He has truly touched my life by his earnestness about the things of God, and his desire to see his people grow, and not wax cold and stagnant. He knows how to encourage and how to correct, and with such skill and wisdom that only God could give.
DEACON WAYNE & SISTER GLENDA
The first time I saw Deacon Wayne in church, I noticed how animated and joyous he was during worship services. He would have made a great Levite priest in the tabernacle, because they had to wear bells along the hems of their garments, and they were forbidden to stop moving. If those bells stopped jingling, they would die instantly by the hand of God. Deacon Wayne was slender and constantly in motion, and was immensely graceful. His bearded face had an Abe Lincoln honesty to it, and I could always see reflections of Christ in his persona and demeanor. A few weeks after I met him, I learned that he was the son of Elder and Mother Foster, and this made perfect sense. He was married to my dear friend Glenda.
Deacon Wayne was an incredible vocalist with the “Men of Faith” singing group. His voice was rich and deep, and my favorite song that he sang was “My soul loves Jesus.” He was very modest whenever I complimented him, and would say humbly “Pray for me.” Whenever I asked him how he was doing, he would say “I’m maintaining.” I liked this saying very much, because we have to maintain our faith, like we maintain our yard, our car, or our marriage.
Sister Glenda has spiritual dreams, and sometimes they reveal future events. When she first recounted one of her dreams to me, her daughter Tameika was twenty-nine and unmarried and feeling that she would never find a companion. Tameika had encouraged by her friends to look for a companion through the internet. She was matched up through a website with a man that she visited, and she found that he was disabled and unable to work or drive. She told her mother about the man, and Glenda told her that God had something better for her if she would just wait on Him. Tameika told her mother that maybe she should give the man a chance, but her mother discouraged the idea. Reluctantly, Tameika listened to the advice of her mother, although still thinking of the man.
About this time, Glenda had a beautiful dream. She dreamt that Tameika was in a gorgeous wedding gown with a huge diamond ring on her finger, and she was just floating with happiness. In the dream, they were in a church in Blountstown. She recounted the dream to her Tameika, who didn’t take it very seriously.
A couple of weeks later, in the month of August, Glenda and Tameika were in Blountstown, and a preacher named Christopher came to a house they were visiting. He was immediately attracted to Tameika. The two of them went on a date that same night, and when they returned, the preacher told her family that he had “met his rib”. The whole family was shedding tears of joy. Glenda told me that the preacher was “just precious” and that she was so happy for her daughter. Her dream had been fulfilled. The preacher gave Tameika a ring right after Christmas, proposing to her in front of her parents and sisters.
Tameika married Christopher a few months after, and he relocated. I had the privilege of hearing him sing in our Mother’s Day service, and he delivered the message the following Sunday. I can only say that he is amazing and kind and humble.
Another amazing thing to me is that Tameika’s entire family is so musically talented, and so is the preacher! I have brought my guitar for visits to their house, and we sound like a professional gospel-singing group when we get together. I have learned from them that it is better to wait on God than to try to handle things ourselves, because we can really mess things up on our own.
About a year after their marriage, Deacon Wayne suddenly died. He had just arrived at the paper mill where he worked as a supervisor, and a young woman came in to give him the shift report. As she began to read it, his whole body began to shake, and then he just slumped over. The woman called for emergency help, but he died before anything could be done for him.
I remember that Friday night, because the Foster’s were all called out to the hospital from church, and his wife Glenda was supposed to sing a solo that weekend at the district service. I am told that Deacon Wayne was gone before any of his family arrived at the hospital and no one got to say one single word to him.
His wife recounted the night of his death in great sorrow:
“He worked the graveyard shift at the paper mill, and I cooked him fish for his last supper. Oh, Sister Olive, he kept telling me he was so tired, and I was trying to encourage him. I rubbed the bald spot on top of his head while he sat at the table and I kissed him. I reminded him that it was only two weeks until his vacation.
“Our new home had just been finished, and we were moving everything into it. As I think of it now, it seemed like he was in an awful hurry to fix it all up, like he knew something was going to happen. We had been decorating it and dreaming of many years together, and hoping for new grandchildren since our daughter had just gotten married.
“I feel almost like it’s my fault, and that I should have made him stay home, or done something different.”
She described the children crying themselves to sleep at night in their rooms, and how she was torturing herself inwardly. Mother Foster shared her anguish at church openly on several occasions, and Elder Foster suffered more privately. Seeing the grief that this family suffered made me realize that we have to cherish those that we love, because we never know what can happen. I will always remember Deacon Wayne as a great father and husband and man of God.
Sister Shirley is a radiant saint with a gift of mercy. I have heard her speak about how she loves to visit the elderly people in her neighborhood, and rub them down with oil and give them comfort. She visits people in the care home and sings songs about Jesus to encourage them. She doesn’t mind doing the dirtier jobs and dealing with the more aggravating residents who no one else has patience with. There is one woman who always had stool under her fingernails, and a nasty disposition to go along with it, but Sister Shirley sits by her bed and cleans her nails and talks gently with her.
Sister Shirley has had a lot of tragedy in her life, such as the drowning of her son when he was a teenager. One Sunday, Deacon Proctor asked her if it was okay for him to speak about her son and she nodded. But as the deacon talked about being in the hospital room when Sister Shirley’s son died, I saw her glasses fogging up with a mist, and she kept taking them off to clear them.
Sister Shirley was once stabbed by a woman and was taken to the hospital. The doctor told her that the knife had missed her heart by less than an inch, and that she could have died. The woman who stabbed her has been released from jail and Sister Shirley always speaks to her with kindness whenever she sees her at the grocery store. The woman glares at her as if she is crazy.
Sister Shirley had a terrible marriage, but remains friends with her ex-husband and often speaks to him about Jesus. She has a son in prison that clings to her desperately whenever she visits and often calls her just to talk.
Sister Shirley has a quiet faith, despite all of the bad things that have happened to her, and she is a beautiful example of the love and compassion of God.
Sister Brenda was the wife of Deacon Proctor. I always loved to hear her rich melodious prayers, and the way she clapped her hands as she prayed on her knees. She had a beautiful glow about her face, and fiery eyes.
She composed her own spiritual music, and I learned many of her songs. She and her husband would say that Brenda had a terrible speech impediment before she became a believer, and she used to be ashamed to talk to people. But she said when she was reading about Moses and his fear of speaking, the Spirit assured her that He would help her. I couldn’t tell that she had ever had a problem, but the deacon says she stuttered badly at one time.
One day in church, Sister Brenda was testifying and said, “Sometimes when I ask people if they are saved, they tell me they are just to keep me from bothering them anymore. So now when they say that, I ask them what they were saved from. If they can’t answer that, they probably aren’t saved. A person who is truly saved is always anxious to tell people what God delivered them from.”
Once Sister Brenda approached me at church and said, “I dreamed about you last night. You were climbing up a ladder, and I was right behind you.”
“Wow, that’s a really good dream,” I said. “I hope you haven’t had any dreams about us falling into a pit or anything.”
She laughed and shook her head, saying, “Sister Olive, I would’ve called you if I had a dream like that, and I would’ve said, ‘We need to shape up and get back on track.”
Sister Brenda died before I had finished writing about her. It’s ironical that she reached the top of that ladder ahead of me, and I am still trying not to lose my balance or fall down.
She passed away suddenly one Sunday morning in June. I was in Tennessee at the time, and Elder Foster called to tell me the bad news. He said, “As I was driving into the parking lot, I heard sirens and saw the ambulances pulling up,” he said. “I thought it was one of the older members who had been having health problems, but as I went in, I saw Sister Brenda on the floor in front of the altar and the paramedics working hard trying to revive her. They finally put her on the stretcher and took her in the ambulance, and she died at the hospital the next day.” Sister Brenda was among the youngest women in our church, so it was a terrible blow to all of us.
Deacon Proctor lost his mother several weeks after losing his wife, and is still holding on by faith and inner strength. Ella Mae tells me that she finds it almost unbearable for her to hear anyone else sing Sister Brenda’s favorite song in church. I can still hear it right now in my mind:
Just another day that the Lord has kept me
Just another day that the Lord has kept me
He has kept me from all evil
And my mind stayed on Jesus.
Just another day that the Lord has kept me
THE BRIDE OF CHRIST
Today is September 14, 2008 and I am standing before the church. I can see Elder Thomas over my right shoulder as he reclines behind the lofty pulpit on a dark carved chair with velvety red upholstery. To my left, his wife Annie and daughter Sheilah are seated with the church mothers, facing the altar. I see Mother Lee opening her Bible, Mother General with her handbag tied to her walker, and Mother Hendrieth with weak shaky feet walking slowly down the aisle clinging to the arm of Donquarius. Here comes Mother Craine towards the front row. The ladies hats are circled with lace and netting and brocade and braids of gold. Their hats nod as the women whisper softly to one another.
To my right on the other side of the altar are the brothers: Deacon Williams with his stout strong frame, Deacon Hatten leaning forward with his hands on his knees, and Deacon Ronnie wearing orthopedic pads and braces, while his crutches lean against the pew. His brother, Deacon Sammie stands near the white-gloved ushers at the back of the church.
Directly in front of me, I see Brother and Sister Spotford, who have been married a few months. Her shoulder rests against his and their fingers are entwined. Sister Hatten has come in from the kitchen to sit down next to where I usually am seated. Sister Green, slender and graceful, is surrounded by her four lovely young daughters a few rows back on the right, and her mother rests at the end of the same pew next to the wall. Sister Angela Passmore sits just in front of her, smiling softly and Sister Bertha is walking out of the office.
These are my brothers and sisters and parents by the Spirit. Everyone is dressed in white today, because it is Missions Sunday, the second Sunday of the month. How appropriate it is, considering the words I have been given about the bride. They look like a wedding party.
Today I shall be a mouthpiece for my Father. I have a message from the Spirit. Two weeks or so ago, I was in prayer when I received this Word. With apprehension, I asked God to give me a platform if it was truly His will for me to deliver it. I never like to speak until I am sure.
Then it happened. Sister Thomas, the pastor’s wife, called me yesterday and asked me to be the speaker this morning. She said she would email me with the topic and scriptures. After checking the email several times, I called her to let her know that her message had not come through. I only had one night to prepare and now she was away from her computer, so she said “Just go ahead and speak on whatever you like.”
That is when I knew it was time.
I prayed earnestly last night, knowing that God had indeed given me the message and the platform. The burden of the Word weighs heavily in my mind. I have no notes except for a scripture verse on a little card which is in my Bible. All I can do now is to pray that His Spirit will come out of my mouth and do the work. Now it is time, and I am standing before the people of God. This moment will always be frozen in my memory, as the day God let me speak with His voice inside of me.
I thank God for this opportunity to speak with you today. This may come as a surprise to you, but God gave me a message for His people about two or three weeks ago. I was in prayer by my bed after tossing and turning most of the night, as I kept pondering the state of the church, and why it is so powerless and hated in the world scene. I wondered why our district elder has been in his wheelchair for eleven years, and all of the saints together cannot pray well enough to bring about his healing. I kept crying and asking God, “What is wrong with us? Where has our power gone?”
The next morning, I awoke crying again and knelt by my bed and said, “Lord, why am I crying like this?”
The Spirit of God broke into my thoughts, and said, “Because my heart is breaking, and I am sharing it with you.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because the hearts of My people who are called by My name are not right before me, and I can’t come into my house, because I am holy, and I can’t come into an unholy place.”
“Why are you telling me this, Lord?” I cried.
“Because I want you to tell my people that I am holding them responsible for this lost generation, because they are driving people away from My Kingdom.”
I told the Lord that I would speak His words if He gave me a platform, because then I would know that they were true and not just my own imaginings or emotions.
As you can see, God confirmed his message. Sister Thomas called me yesterday to ask me to speak, so I am doing as I promised God I would do.
I will call this message today “The Bride of Christ”.
I will begin with a scripture in which Jesus is telling the Pharisees, “It is not enough that you will not enter the Kingdom of God yourselves, but you are also preventing others from entering. You travel over land and sea to find one convert, and then you make him twice as much a son of Hell as yourselves.”
Today, churches are still doing the opposite of what Jesus intended them to do. We are driving people away, instead of drawing them in. The world sees the corruption and greed in the church and wants no part of it. They see through our programs and our polish and see everything for what it is. Who do we think we are fooling? We aren’t fooling people. Or God, for that matter.
There was a time when the world came to church when they had a need that they could not deal with on their own. When they had exhausted all of their human powers and needed divine intervention, they came to church. But now, the church is going into the world looking for what it has to offer. One elder I know called this “spiritual adultery.” The church is Christ’s bride, and has no part in the world.
But we cut on our television and let the world tell us how to dress and wear our hair, how to make more money, and how to have a better sex life. We have learned money-making skills from the world and are using them in the church. Religion has become a business today, a highly profitable business.
But God doesn’t operate like the world does. We should be focusing on God for all of our needs and letting Him guide us, but we are learning from people who are ruled by a different set of values. We are citizens of another Kingdom, but we are bowing to the gods of the world.
People make many excuses for why the church is so worldly. “The church is a human institution” they say, so it can’t be perfect. But it is not a human institution, and it is supposed to be without a spot or blemish, according to the scriptures. It is a divine institution, and the first time the word “church” appears in the Holy Scriptures is when Jesus spoke of it to Peter and said “Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”
The world judges Christ based upon its view of the church, and that is how it will always be, regardless of the excuses we make. You cannot tell the world to ignore the church and look at Christ. They know that the church is supposed to be founded upon Jesus.
The Bride represents the Bridegroom. Married couples represent each other whether they are together in public or apart. Mrs. Spotford here represents Mr. Spotford and he represents her even when they are absent from one another.
The church is Christ’s Holy Bride, and her only focus should be making herself as pure and beautiful as possible to meet Him. This is all that she should be concerning herself with. Pleasing Christ.
Think about a wedding you have been to. The anticipation of the Bride is intense. Have you ever seen a bride looking ugly or ragged? No, the bride prepares herself to look radiant and graceful and without a blemish. The crowd enjoys seeing the flower girls, the ring-bearer, and the bridegroom waiting there. But all eyes are looking for the Bride to come down the aisle. She is the centerpiece, the jewel of the ceremony. When the piano plays the bridal march for her coming, the crowd stands and stares at her glorious elegance and beauty. Has anyone seen an ugly bride? I never have.
But the Bride of Christ isn’t looking good at all. She doesn’t even look like a bride. She looks like something else. (Chuckles come from the congregation.)
The world is looking for a suitable Bride of Christ, and cannot find her. As long as the Bride is corrupt, the world will continue to play and behave as they do. When the people of God get serious, the world will follow suit. When worldly people observe the saints falling at the altar weeping and repenting, they will do the same thing.
We must address the greed and the corruption. God never said that money was a seed of the Kingdom. The seed was the Word of God. We must stop trying to sell Jesus and the gospel to people, and stop oppressing the poor by constantly nagging them for money. When evangelists on television and in our pulpits tell us to sow a seed (referring to money), they just want to reap a harvest. Jesus said the seed is the Word of God, and the harvest we are seeking is souls. Not money. People are being tricked by religious leaders.
Jesus said if we cause one person to stumble and turn away from Him, it would be better to have a millstone tied around our necks and to be cast into the sea. God is not pleased with His church and the scriptures say that judgment will begin in the house of God.
I had a dream once that I was standing in a hotel lobby and a man came running in shouting “We need a sanctuary! We need a sanctuary!” Then there was a sound of weeping inside one of the hotel rooms down the hallway, and the door was open so I saw the man run inside that room.
When I awoke, the thought came to me that a hotel room is where you go when you can’t go home. The Spirit placed the thought in my mind that God cannot go into His House anymore, so He has to go to wherever people really want Him; in the hotel room, on the street corner, in the jail, in the hospital.
Many times I have felt like giving up on the church, because I am so weary of the lies and deception. But I love Jesus so dearly. I also love God’s congregation, and I have a vision of the Bride of Christ glowing and drawing people to God with her radiance and beauty and gentleness and love. I just can’t give up on this vision. I hope that you will help me make this dream come true.
I am going to kneel at the altar now, and you may join me there if you like, but first let me read this scripture from Revelation 19:7-9:
“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’”.
It is done and I kneel at the wooden altar, and there I leave some diamond tears as a gift for my Beloved. He comes to my side and places His invisible hand upon me. He is pleased with my offering today.
Then I feel an arm around my waist and a cheek pressed against mine. It is Sister Hatten who is kneeling beside me. “That was beautiful,” she says softly. As I pull myself off my knees, Sister Michelle comes and embraces me tightly, then Brother Spotford, then the pastor. Elder Thomas’s eyes are sparkly and wet. “We need more messages like that,” he says with earnestness.
OLIVE TWIST ©2012
(Photo from http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/)
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