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15. A Time of Pruning

Through all of these emotionally devastating blows, the Lord was working to open me up, a process that would take many years. Another vision received for me during this time showed me as a large rock with gold deep on the inside. It took great hammering and much work, but slowly cracks appeared in this rock that was so effectively hiding the gold.

15. A Time of Pruning

© Daniel Yordy 2011
 

I shared earlier that upon my arrival at Fort St. John in June of 1977, I entered a time of judgment during which God began to dissolve the hard shell that encased me. I went through difficult situation after difficult situation. It seemed that I hardly got over one before I was hit with another. Very little of this was caused by other people’s actions, most of it was caused by my own sensitivity or stupidity, whichever was convenient for God to use at the time. At least, that is what I thought then. I had no idea then, nor did anyone else, that I was autistic and lacked social understandings that most everyone else simply takes for granted.

Two incidents happened early on in my time at Graham that seemed “insulting” to me. A brother whom I became good friends with later, Bill Williams, came up to me one day in the Tabernacle with a vision God had given him for me. In the vision, he saw a chicken foot that gradually, over time, became the foot of an eagle. It seems silly now, but at the time, I took that as a personal insult from God. Me, a chicken foot? I was much more mature than that! The other incident was similar. I was reading Watchman Nee’s The Spiritual Man. As I read the chapter on the experience of a soulish believer, I was reading a description of myself. I was stunned. I had considered myself to be a mature believer, not a “fleshy” one.  That blow burdened me for nearly two weeks.

As I said, it seemed that I hardly got over one such blow, before the Lord through circumstances hit me with another. The worst single incident happened in the fall of the year. I went with Brother Eli Miller and Bobby Cole to a neighboring rancher, several miles from Graham. We spent the day putting up a corral fence for him in return for access to firewood from property he was clearing. As a young man in the north country, I had an unceasing hunger, and the food was really good. I ate a lot. We went in for dinner, the men of the family joined us, and the wife and daughter served us. I had seconds and thirds. I cleaned out the last of the stew.  It was so good.

On our return to work, Brother Eli said, “Hey, fellows, take it easy on the food.” Why, I know not, I answered, “Brother Eli, swallow your pride and join in.” “Don’t you realize, the wife and daughter had not eaten?” he answered, “You finished off their dinner.”

Had Brother Eli swung a 2x4, it would not have hit me as hard. I was embarrassed, humiliated, mortified. I was so ashamed, I could hardly look at Brother Eli the rest of the afternoon or for several days after. I hardly wanted to leave my room; I was sure the whole community now viewed me as a pariah.

This incident was the most devastating of the several in which I felt like such a fool, but it certainly was not the only one. I was very sensitive and withdrawn, on the one hand, but very ready for adventure and new things on the other. Let me say a word in my defense. I was helplessly naive, quite ignorant of other people as well as myself. My personality ranges between a designer and an achiever. Asperger’s means I always feel threatened by others, and it includes a fear of confronting people or dealing with difficult relationships with people. I had no one to help guide me through the emotional turmoil of adolescence. I had gone through some pretty black times emotionally. I was often ridiculed by others for saying something stupid. I had no idea why, so I closed my mouth and withdrew. I still liked to be around people, I just learned not to say anything.

With these problems, I entered community. I liked being around people, I loved the meals together; I just did not know how to relate to people. Though I usually kept to my room studying the word, the Davison house was a gathering place for the young people of the community. They would sit in the living room and chat; I could hear the hubbub of their voices through the thin walls of the cabin. One day, after quite a number of them had visited for over an hour, I joined them. I got a chair and quietly sat on the outside of the circle. I said nothing, but just enjoyed the conversation. A minute or so later, Mallory announced that he had to do something, got up and left the room. In less than five minutes I was the only person left in the room, sitting numbly in my chair. This same scenario happened a second and a third time as well. I did not blame them, but I did not understand why.

After I had lived with the Davison’s for two months, Brother D and Sister Ethelwyn made plans to go on an extended ministry trip. In order not to leave us young people by ourselves in the cabin, they asked Del and Virginia Buerge to move into the cabin with their three children. Del and Virginia took D and Ethelwyn’s room and their three small children had a small room on the other side of mine from Mallory and David’s. Solomon said, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Del was that to me. Del had a very different personality and view of life than mine. I enjoyed working, but it was not my life. To Del, work was everything. Someone taking a few minutes extra before going to the work schedule was inexcusable. Del was very exacting, and the slightest variation from his exact standards drew his wrath. Incident after incident built bitterness in my heart toward Del. One time when I went to town, he asked me to pick up some coffee, the cheapest I could find. I spent several minutes laboring over the decision. Finally I picked what I thought was the cheapest coffee on the shelf. Upon arriving home, however, I was strongly informed that I had wasted his money irresponsibly. I had bought instant coffee, not regular. I had no idea at the time that without any means of making regular coffee, he would not want instant. Every one else at the farm used instant. Another time he sat me down and took me to task for using too much jam on my crackers. 

Del was the oversight of the goat program. In the fall, we began a remodel of the interior of the goat barn as well as adding a large haymow on top. So there I was, working all day with Del, eating with him and his family at the same table in the tabernacle, and then going home to the same house. I became bitter, and the bitterness blocked my relationship with the Lord. I finally had to choose, would I be bitter, or would I humble myself and ask forgiveness. When I lived with Andy, I had faced the same thing, but there I just moved back home. I could not do that this time. Finally, I went to Del and asked his forgiveness for the way I was feeling towards him. The difficulties did not end, but the bitterness was broken. I still had ill feelings at times, but for the first time, with the Lord’s help, I had overcome the emotional turmoil within. (I must say that though I did not see Del often in later years, yet I counted him as a friend, and Maureen and I spent a happy couple of days on our honeymoon enjoying Del and Virginia's hospitality at their home in the Yukon.)

This is one of the great advantages of Christian community. We can be so deceived about our own spiritual maturity. We can think we are making great strides in our relationship with the Lord. We go to church on Sunday and are greeted with warm smiles and friendly handshakes. But when thrust into the closeness of community with these same beautiful people, we discover that they are not quite as beautiful as we imagined them to be. Then comes the proving. I don’t know how many people I watched over the years who imagined themselves to be spiritually mature, but who, in the crux of simply walking together with other like-minded believers, found that the press of bitterness and unforgiveness, not loving their brother as Christ loved the church, was more important to them than their relationship with the Lord, and away they went, bitter.

All of this, though, was only the smaller part of the circumstance the Lord was using to work on my hard shell. The larger part was my desire to be married. I had my eyes on a particular girl, about three years younger than me. Somehow, in my thinking, I came to believe that she was God’s choice for me. God never actually spoke that, but I interpreted circumstance after circumstance to indicate that it was God’s will. As an autistic young man, once I thought I liked her, I could not possibly speak to her. Needless to say, I experienced innumerable disappointments. Another boy was also attracted to her. I did not know this, but I picked up on it after awhile. I considered him to be less interested in the Lord than any other of the young people. My personality, my desire for a wife, and my inhibitions all conspired to create many deeply disappointing moments through my time at Graham River.

Through all of these emotionally devastating blows, the Lord was working to open me up, a process that would take many years. Another vision received for me during this time showed me as a large rock with gold deep on the inside. It took great hammering and much work, but slowly cracks appeared in this rock that was so effectively hiding the gold.

Sometime in the late summer I traveled to Dawson Creek at the start of the Alaska Highway to see Mr. Winham, the immigration officer. My three months were up, so I needed to ask for an extension. I was apprehensive when I presented my request to Mr. Winham; I did not need to be. In all the years I went to see Mr. Winham, he never cracked a smile, but he always gave me an extension. Mr. Winham was a tremendous help to the people in the communities over the years. When his office was finally closed and he retired years later, we invited him to the Blueberry community for a special evening to honor him.

~~~

In September of 1977, I went to my first convention at Hidden Valley, south of Dawson Creek. A majority of the people from Graham River as well as from all the communities in the area – several hundred people, attended the convention. Hidden Valley had its own unique flavor. Most of the cabins had basements with the stove in the basement. This is a wise practice in the north country, but most of the communities did not follow it. I took a sleeping bag and slept on the floor of one of the cabins. That was the last time I failed to take a foamy with me to convention.  Sleeping on a hard plywood floor with no cushion was not fun.

Many ministries from the local area, from Alaska, and across the states came to the convention. The move conventions were quite different from the charismatic conferences I had been to before. There was no program for the meetings. No one knew who would lead praise or who would preach in a given service. That is the way it is in all services throughout the move. The Spirit of the Lord directs who will lead the praise and who will minister. Time and again I was awed at the clear thread that God wove through the songs chosen, the words that had been prepared and the prophecies that were given. When the Lord is given room to direct the flow of the service, He does a much better job than we do. It was evident throughout that the anointing of the Lord was the focus and carrier of the meetings.

It was at this convention that I first saw Brother Sam Fife. He preached a word called “The Long Run,” on endurance. By this time he had realized that this thing would not be over in five years and that it could well last much longer than that. His word was that those who endure to the end will be saved. I have never heard anyone preach the way Brother Sam preached. I have never known anyone before or since who was more committed to the Lord, to His voice, and to the vision the Lord has for His church. Brother Sam was small and wiry with gray hair. He was around fifty years old at the time. For the first time, I heard someone preach with authority. I did not understand all that he said, but I did witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit that attended his words. This little man, with his iron devotion to the revelation of Jesus Christ, would impact my life more than any other. I had lived in community for three months, but for the first time I began to believe that this was, indeed, the move of the Spirit of God.

The word flowed endlessly. At this time in the move conventions, a short word was an hour-and-a-half long. Usually two or three preachers ministered in each service. The convention started on Wednesday evening and went until Sunday afternoon with two services a day. I counted a total of forty-three hours of praise and word. I was drawn in my spirit to the word and the anointing, but my human person was torn at the same time. It was an excruciating time for me, glorious and terrible. 

I was not a blind believer, through all this my cry to the Lord was, “Lord Jesus, show me if this is of you or not.” I wanted to know the Lord Jesus Christ above anything in this world. I know there were many others throughout the world with the same cry whom the Lord led in different ways, but this is the way He led me. Even now, I have to say, “Lord, I trust You.” By this time, everything I had believed was Christianity had been ripped to shreds. Bit by bit my understanding of God and His word was being rebuilt.

~~~

I continued to have a range of tremendous experiences at Graham River. Sometime in late summer a couple of the men, Harold Witmer and Ralph Vega, took the young people on a several-day camping trip. We climbed the hill to the south of the farm and descended to Kobe’s Creek. We crossed the creek and climbed to the top of Butler Ridge. From there we could see the peaks of the Rockies receding into the distance. To the south we could see the blue western arm of Williston Lake, though the huge Bennett Dam was hidden from view. It was fun to do something like this together. The northern wilderness is beautiful and its wildness and remoteness exhilarating. Some of the young men talked about going on a different kind of wilderness trek the next summer. On this trip we carried our own food, but they were planning to go for several days without taking food, learning to live off what could be gathered from the land. I so wanted to participate in such an endeavor, though I never got the chance.

In the fall, also, I started working at two tasks quite new for me. The first was the butcher shop. I joined Harold Witmer and his sons, Steve and Doug, along with Mallory, and a brother named Al Rotundi. The butcher shop was a warm and inviting place to be. The men were kind and friendly. The work was different and interesting. Steve was in charge of the rabbit program that produced enough rabbits to feed the family a meal once a month. Butchering rabbits was kind of fun. The other young fellows could do one rabbit a minute. I never got that fast, but I did pretty well. We butchered bear, moose, pig, sheep, and even a horse. We ground meat, rendered fat into lard, and made cracklings.  It is a fond memory.

The other task was herding sheep. I did that with two other younger fellows, one I believe was Blake Cole. The sheep were kept just beyond the farm property in a sheepfold up the river. We had license to graze them on crown land. We saddled up the horses in the morning and rode out to the sheepfold. We let the sheep out and then followed them with the horses as they grazed in the meadows along the river. It was fun just riding a horse all day through the fall of the year, watching the leaves turn yellow and gold. At first, I thought it was up to me to keep the sheep together. When they scattered through the trees, I panicked, trying to get them all back together again. I soon learned, however, that sheep with a shepherd stay together anyhow, and that the horse will always follow the sheep. So I lay back on the horse with my legs crossed on its neck and looked up at the sky and the leaves of the trees as the horse followed the sheep and the sheep stayed together. It was a great time. I learned a lot about sheep as well. The first thing I learned is that they are generally stupid. You can work and work to get them into an area of fresh grass that they have not trodden down, and they will run right through it, not taking a bite, and head back to familiar trodden pastures just as quickly as they can. They are also blind followers. If one leading ewe breaks through the fence into the grain fields, all the rest will certainly follow – where they would all die from eating too much if you didn’t chase them out. 

Then winter came. Winter is the main season in the north. For six months the temperature stays below freezing, and snow covers the ground. The first morning that the temperature hit 55 degrees F below zero was quite memorable. We hugged close to the cows as we milked them, not daring to touch the metal buckets. Lucky for us that the cow’s teats were warm, because you could not milk with mitts on. Once the temperature drops to minus 30, all outside work stops. Lungs can freeze at this temperature and machinery can crack. More than one person has tried to go jogging in this “free” time and was laid up for days as a result. On the other hand, the average temperature is around twenty below. In the north country, once it drops below zero, there is very little wind. Twenty below with the sun shining is actually comfortable. You dress for the weather, of course, but since the air is dry, if you dress properly and keep moving, you stay warm.

I had many memorable experiences during the winter months. One day I was assigned to go with Al Rotundi and Warren Bowles on a daylong trip to get some firewood logs from a site on the other side of the river. The men had made an ice-bridge across the Graham River during the winter months. They laid slabs and pumped water onto the ice until there was a slab thick enough to carry big trucks across the still fast-moving water. We went on a sleigh pulled by two horses. They did not travel fast. It took us most of the morning, going through the sunny, still woods, listening to the clip-clop of the horses and the soft slush of the sleighs sliding over the snow, and talking quietly together. When we arrived at the log site, we spent maybe an hour of hard work loading them onto the sleigh. Then we built a fire, warmed our frozen sandwiches, boiled some tea, and ate lunch. It took the rest of the afternoon to ride back to the farm. It was one of those rare memorable experiences one has in life.

Another time, all the men went to the river to get ice for the ice house. This was straight out of Farmer Boy, a book I had read as a child many times, but never dreamed I would get to experience. The only difference was we used chain saws to cut the ice instead of crosscut saws. We sawed the ice into large square blocks and used metal tongs to hoist them out of the river. We loaded them onto a wagon pulled by horses and took them to the ice house where we packed them in sawdust. These blocks of ice would last through most of the summer, giving us ice for drinks and ice cream, and to cool an ice refrigerator.

In the late fall, Dan Kurtz, one of the elders, came to me and asked me if I would remodel his cabin’s enclosed porch. He wanted me to install a ceiling and a closet so that someone could use it for a bedroom. Dan Kurtz had a poor reputation among the young people, so, having absorbed some of their thinking, I resented doing the job. I ran into some problems that made it difficult work, so I did not relish the task. One day, I had time to work on Brother Dan’s porch, but I did not want to. I chose to clean the cow barn out instead. As I walked past the Kurtz’ cabin towards the barn, I heard the Lord speak to me, “Jonah.” It was clear what He was insinuating. I was trying to find some other good deed to do to avoid the thing God had put before me. Reluctantly, I turned and went back to the porch job.

A few days after I completed that job, Brother Dan came to me and said “Daniel, we would like you to come live with us.” If God was finished with my time with the Buerge’s, so was I. I readily agreed. Here all those weeks I had been working on my own bedroom! How the Lord must have chuckled. I spent three months with the Kurtz’s. It was the best three months I had in eighteen years of living in Christian community. Within the first week I was there, Brother Dan said to me, “Daniel, I see that you help yourself to the things in the kitchen cupboard. I’m glad you feel at home with us; you’re welcome to whatever we have.” What a difference between that and my previous experience. I have never felt more welcome or part of those I lived with than the time I spent with the Kurtz’s. This is what I have always believed community should be; this is what my experience in community has not usually been for one reason or another. To be part of a community that has as its focus the intent of making any who comes feel utterly welcome is the desire of my heart and the reason why I am writing this story.

Dan and Joann had seven children, four girls and three boys. I do not remember all their names. The oldest, a girl, was maybe fifteen. They ranged from there down to a recently born little boy. There was also a single girl living with the Kurtz’s, Katy Kiezebrink, who was walking out a year (pre-engagement) with Harleigh Knapp. We all lived in a cabin 20’ by 25’. I had my own room, the porch, Katy had her own room, Dan and Joann had their room, the four girls were in another room in two sets of bunks, and the three boys were in the last room. There was also a living area with a kitchen counter in one corner and a small bathroom. There was no shower; we took basin baths. The cramped quarters were not a problem.  We had the Spirit of Christ and a Christian love for one another.

In February we all loaded into vehicles to ride to Headwaters Farm for another convention. This time, many of the men got into the back of our wood truck, a large yellow Ryder truck. This was the only way for us to get to convention, so we did it. We did not see a thing, of course. What had taken twenty minutes by plane the summer before, now took two hours. By the time we arrived at Headwaters I was feeling pretty poorly. Headwaters, 1978, was my second convention. I do not remember much about this convention, except that I was once again overwhelmed with the intensity of the anointing of the Spirit of Christ, and the flow and depth of the word. I do remember that at one point, while Brother Joe McCord was preaching, I was wondering to the Lord about what I was hearing. I asked, “Lord, is this really Your move, is this really Your word?” I felt a deep assurance sweep over me, “You can trust this ministry; I have sent them.”

When we returned to Graham, I began to think that my time there was nearing an end. Mr. Winham had given me a six months extension, due to run out in March. At the same time, I owed taxes to the US government for my work the year before. I needed to earn the money to pay those taxes before April 15. So in early March I boarded a Greyhound bus in Fort St. John and headed south, back home to Oregon. As I left Fort St. John, I felt an overwhelming peace flow over me. Then, it seemed as if the heavens opened and the Lord revealed to me that I was His son. The whole trip back to Oregon was filled with a precious fellowship with the Lord. It seemed that the spirit of judgment that had covered my life for the last nine months was for that time only. On a regular basis, at Graham River, I had done or said the most stupid and embarrassing things. That particular type of embarrassment did not happen to me again.