5. The Formation of Desire
Here is the story of my life, particularly my life in Christian community. Why I am writing this I hope to discover. The charge given to every writer is: "Write what you know." I do know something of my own life; I can write about from the heart. I simply share what I felt, what I thought, what I experienced. Christ is made personal through me.
5. The Formation of Desire
Here is the story of my life, particularly my life in Christian community. Why I am writing this I hope to discover. The charge given to every writer is: “Write what you know.” I do know something of my own life; I can write about it from the heart. I simply share what I felt, what I thought, what I experienced. Christ is made personal through me.
I have no desire to shed a poor light on anyone. All of the people with whom I have related these many years are dear, precious Christians. But I want to be honest and to share exactly the way I remember things were. My purpose in looking at any mistakes, both mine and others, is not to expose but to learn.
At the same time, I have tasted the glory of God. I have been a part of much sacrifice and commitment to a vision. I have always longed to be involved in something radical, something closer to the heart of God than the typical Christian life in this world. Most people do not know there is much more in God than they have experienced. Even we who long for more do not know what it is we long for. I want to share the glimpses I have seen of what that “more” is.
I have a secret purpose in writing this account. Somehow, I want to capture a picture of what I myself still long for in my own heart, a picture that others can see as well. And maybe, as the Lord wills, out of this account could be birthed a more glorious vision of a people walking together in God.
I grew up in the public school on the one hand and the Mennonite church on the other. I had long viewed this as a disastrous combination, now I know God has purpose for everything. The Mennonite church had a form of religion, but lacked any life or power. The adults in the church bent over backwards to accommodate the “wayward” youth of the sixties and early seventies in order to keep them in the church. Those few who wanted to know the Lord were not the center of attention. At the age of fifteen, I was pressed by the fact that to be accepted in the church and in the world, one had to smoke pot and listen to rock and roll music. I did both and for a few years found satisfaction there, but not for long. At age fifteen, I also quit going to church, seeing no purpose in it. However, before that happened, two things took place.
The first was in the summer of 1972; the Holy Spirit came upon my family. First my older brother and his wife, then my mom and dad received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, in a moment of loneliness and rejection by friends, I picked up the book Prison to Praise by Merlin Carothers. As I read it, the sweetness of the Lord came over me, sweeping away the darkness and loneliness. I had never experienced anything like this. Love and joy filled me full; I even kissed my little sister and told her I loved her! For the next two weeks, I went to every Bible study and service I could get my parents to take me too, but somehow in Oregon at that time there was not the teaching that could hold me in the pressure of adolescence. I longed for truth, but it was not visible to me. While on a camping trip with my unsaved friend, I felt the “good feeling” disappear, and I did not seek it again for 3 ½ years.
The other defining moment for me before I left the Mennonite Church was a get-together my youth group had at the church. We spent the weekend there with the youth leader and his wife, from Friday night to Sunday after church. We slept in the classrooms and ate together in the kitchen. We also listened to the Rolling Stones in the church basement, allowed because that’s what the popular guys wanted to do, and some of us snuck outside to smoke pot. It was not a spiritual experience, but for me it was a defining experience. I loved the sense of community, living together in the church. Somehow, I knew, this was right.
The next three and a half years was a dark time for me emotionally, a time that need not be explored, though it was years later that God delivered me from some of the twisted emotions I picked up during that time. In the summer of my eighteenth year, I sensed God moving again upon my life. For six months I struggled before finally I saw the doors to that part of my life closing and God seizing my heart for Himself. That was December 23, 1975; He has never let me go since.
A close friend of mine, Andy Wyatt, was restored to the Lord at the same time. We spent much time together over the next year, growing together in the Lord. We attended the Assembly of God church in Lebanon, Oregon for several months before switching over to the Skyline Assembly of God in Scio, nearer to where we lived. In the fall of the year, Andy and I rented a house in the Lacomb area and moved in together. We lasted for three months after which we did not speak to each other until I returned from the north over a year later. It was like tying two tomcats together by the tail and slinging them over a clothes line. To make it worse, we were also working together on the same framing crew. We did not know how to get along.
Yet, I had a dream of a community house of refuge, but I lacked the knowledge of Christ to make it happen. From then until now, God has taught me community, my own lacks and needs, and the strength of the vision that still commands my heart. I continue to dream of the same thing – a Christian community where people can come for encouragement and help.
I moved back home. I still worked on the same framing crew, but I was getting very tired of it. I especially hated just framing a house and not seeing it finished or who would live in it. We were building for a construction outfit whose sole purpose was to make money. We were not building homes for the people who would live in them. To me, it was purposeless. I longed for something different.
Some long-time friends of our family, Jim and Del Buerge, had both moved with their families to the far north of British Columbia where their brother Tom and his family had been missionaries to the Indians for many years. I knew that Jim and his family were living with some Indian families at a trapline location deep in the heart of the northern BC Rockies. The Buerge’s had always sought the Lord and desired to serve Him. They were the only family from my Mennonite background that I respected. Jim and his wife had received the fullness of the Spirit years before. Del and his wife, Virginia, were fellowshipping together with my brother, Franz and his wife, Audrey when they all received the Holy Spirit in the summer of 1972. During the time that the Lord brought me back to Himself, I had tried to find Jim Buerge, thinking he was the only person I could talk to, only to find that they had all moved north. Sometime in 1976 we heard the devastating news that Jim’s wife and three younger children had been swept away in a flood while trying to cross a mountain river on a raft and had been drowned. Jim and his three older children continued on where they were.
Jim had been an elder at the Skyline Assembly of God where I was now attending with my parents. He continued to maintain ties with the church and communicated occasionally with the pastor. In February of 1977, the pastor read a letter from Jim to the church in which Jim stated that he would be coming to visit in March with his three children. This letter sparked the thought in me that I would like to spend time with the Buerge’s in the Canadian wilderness.
That same February, our church held a snow camp in the mountains. Everyone in the church was invited to spend the weekend together in a lodge up near the top of the Cascades. Quite a few went, including me. All the men slept in one large bunkroom and all the women in another. We ate our meals together and fellowshipped in a large hall with a stone fireplace on one wall. We played together in the snow. As the weekend went on the sense grew in me, “This is right; this is right. This is the way Christians are supposed to live.” I had never heard of Christian community, but somehow, I heard its call.
I drove home from that weekend by myself, weeping all the way. My heart had been deeply touched by the experience of Christian community, and I did not know where I could find it again. I thought maybe living with the Buerge’s would answer my cry.
The Buerge’s came in late March; they shared at the Assembly of God church. I went to visit with Jim at his mother’s house after the services. I shared with him my desire to spend time with them in the north.
“It may not be possible for you to come right out where we are,” he said. “But my brother Del is living in a community called Graham River Farm. That is where we lived before we moved out to Eagle Rock (the trap line in the Rockies). I would suggest you spend some time there and get to know what we are about before you consider coming out to Eagle Rock. Graham River Farm covers us and they have a say as well in who comes out with us.”
As he suggested that I go to Graham River first, I felt a peace flow into my heart that it was the Lord. “Yes, I would like to go there,” I said.
Jim and his children had driven down in his little Scout. He was in Oregon to close out some business endeavors he had been involved in and to buy a plane to take back north. He asked if I would drive the Scout back up to Graham River Farm while he and his children flew the plane. I was quite willing. Thus, in April of 1977, I headed north into what was for me the uncharted wilderness of northern British Columbia. I was twenty years old.
I knew next to nothing about the things of the Lord. We were taught little about our relationship with God in the Mennonite Church we attended. Before I went north, there were two things the Lord made real to me while I was reading Watchman Nee. The first was that I was in Christ. When God reveals the meaning of that to your spirit, it is a big deal, and God alone can show anyone what it means. The second was that Christ is in me. That means Christ is also in my Christian brethren. This was a difficult concept to us at the time. When I shared this with Andy, he would not hear of it. We were learning about the various levels of hypocrisy in the young people at church and the idea that Christ was also in them in spite of their shallowness was more than Andy could accept. These two revelations from God began to shape the direction of my thinking. In the winter before going north I read the story of Rees Howells by Norman Grubb. This book had an enormous impact on my life. Here was a man who sought more in God than most Christians settle for, and he found it. It opened my heart to the idea that a man could walk closely together with God.
Step by step my heart was turning in the direction the Lord would direct my feet.
I listened to the tapes of many great charismatic teachers of the late seventies, including Derek Prince and Jack Hayford, and I attended a number of conventions including a Full Gospel Business Men’s convention in Portland. My heart longed for more of the Lord than I was finding in the Assemblies of God. I learned some from the charismatic teaching but I was also frustrated by its shallowness. It seemed that many of the teachers would spend half their sermon trying not to “offend” any of the congregation they were speaking to. There was occasional truth scattered in these teachings but not enough to answer the deep longing in my heart to know the Lord more fully.
I had a strong view of the Bible, however. For me, God reveals truth through the Bible. What Christians “believed” never was sufficient for me. If it was in the word, particularly the New Testament, it was true, and if it was not in the word it was not. For me, if the Holy Spirit opened my eyes, and I saw truly what the word says, that settled it. It has been very disconcerting to me over the years to find that most Christians don’t believe the same way. You can show them exactly what the New Testament says, they look at it and nod their heads, but it makes no impression on them whatsoever, they believe “Christianity” and that’s that.
I read the Bible from beginning to end, trying out different versions each time. Over the years I have read the entire Bible through more than 20 times and the New Testament more than 40. I have spent much more time, however, searching out what the word has to say on any number of topics. Another thing I liked to do was to write out or type books of the Bible. I have done so with many. This took my Bible “reading” to a higher step for me. As I wrote, I could see much more clearly what God actually says. Over the years I have filled out many notebooks of verses doing word studies. That is how I like to get the Word inside me.
One of the defining characteristics of my life has been, though, that any question thrust at me concerning the truth drove me into the word. If I heard any “new” truth that I had not heard before, I was not satisfied until I found it in a wide search of the word or until I found there a clear rejection of that challenge. Often that included writing out large chunks of the Scriptures. This was no small thing for me, but the obsession of my life.