I was born to a full household, which included my father, a Minister, my mother, and 5 preceding siblings. So you could use that old term I "teethed on the church pews", I suppose. I grew up in church - every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and any and all additional "special" services or events - I was there, along with the family.
However, I didn't give my life to Jesus until I was 9 years old. This seems like a late age, considering I had likely heard the gospel a thousand times by then! But, it was that year, in August of 1971, at Canby Bible Camp, in Canby, Oregon, that I responded to the altar call, while the song "Just as I am" was played. I remember walking so bravely up the sawdust aisle, so focused on that wooden altar. "Just get there..", I remember thinking. I did. I cried, and repented of all the sin a nine year old could harbor, and asked Jesus to be Lord of my life. I meant it. I told Him, "I'll follow you, always".
I loved every minute I could steal away with my mother, alone, for her to read me Bible stories from the "blue" set of volumes published by Pacific Press. She would read to all of us, but I would sneak back downstairs after all the others had gone to bed, and beg her to read me "just one more"... which usually ended up being three or four more. I loved how she read, and I loved those wonderful stories! I still do.
Shortly after my conversion, I was baptized by my dad in our little church in Milton-Freewater, Oregon. I remember tearfully testifying, that "I just love Jesus.". It wasn't too long after that, that my dad requested that I play a "special offeratory number" on the organ. I had been taking piano lessons, but was not yet comfortable with the organ - or even playing in front of anyone. So, as I played "Faith of our Fathers", I fainted in the middle of the song, and fell backward off the organ bench.
Thus were my humble beginnings in ministry.
At the age of 10, I remember leading my friend, Lorie, in the "sinner's prayer". My first convert! I was so excited! It made me feel so good inside, I wanted to do more.
Later I asked my dad if I could teach the beginner's Sunday School class, as the church was small, and we were short-handed. After some time, and I'm sure debate with himself and my mom, he agreed. I leaped, joyously, into this new role! I was constantly trying to find new ways to tell these young preschoolers all the Bible stories that I so dearly loved. I had my brother help me make some wooden blocks, and also a "kitchen center" out of cardboard boxes, for their "play center". I remember I wanted them to remember that Easter was not about Easter eggs, but about Jesus' resurrection. So I found several small, stiff pictures of Jesus in the garden, so I cut them all into egg shapes, and framed them with tin foil, and colored paper. The kids made the connection. I was a good teacher, and I loved to tell the story!
My little brother, Donnie, seemed to share much of this same passion. Around that same time, he and I used to double up on my sting ray bike, and ride down to the empty playground at our elementary school on Saturdays, to play. We happened upon 2 or 3 "hoods" (teen-aged hoodlum boys) hanging around the fire escape, just looking cool and smoking. We decided we would try to get them saved! We began right then and there. We preached our little hearts out, and told them how much Jesus loved them. We met them there every Saturday, bringing along our "Gideon" New Testaments in our back pockets. They would scoff, mock, blow smoke at us, but they humored us some too. One Saturday, we were out of town and didn't make it. The following week, we showed up, and the boys asked "Where were you last week? We were here waiting for you!".
I don't know if those boys ever made a decision to follow Christ, but I do know that this experience was instrumental in stirring up the passion that I had to evangelize the lost. I still have that same passion, and I hope I never lose it. I want to be so tuned into God's call that I will go wherever there is a heart that will listen.