Archive for the ‘Cloud of Witnesses’ Category

(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

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

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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 has 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.

 ╬

(For More Portraits like this, see “A Cloud of Witnesses” category or page.)

Read Full Post »

“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.

(For more portraits like this, visit the page or category entitled “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

Read Full Post »

(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

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.

Read Full Post »

(From “A Cloud of Witnesses)

“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.

~♥~

Read Full Post »

(From “A Cloud of Witnesses”)

“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)

~♥~

Read Full Post »

A Cloud of Witnesses:  Portraits of Faith

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)

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

**********************

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: