March 23, 1963, the school bus left early from Monahans High School carrying students to University Interscholastic League (UIL) competition in Alpine, Texas. I was among those going to engage in the competition that day. I was entered in contests for Slide Rule and Persuasive Speaking. On the way to Alpine I sat with Jimmy Fulmer, one of my Slide Rule students and one of four contestants in that competition from Monahans.
By my senior year I had taken all of the math and science courses available at my school, and taught a course in Slide Rule on a volunteer basis after regular school hours. Anyone interested in learning how to use a slide rule was welcome to attend. From that class Jimmy Fulmer, Sharon Reed and one other (name forgotten) besides me were selected to go to UIL. An interesting note on all this is that although I taught the class and knew the most about how to use a slide rule, I was the slowest in actual operation, because I could not move my hands as quickly as the others. All my students finished the test ahead of me.
In Persuasive Speaking I won first place. In that contest we were given a current news topic and access to a room with magazines and research material with a specified time to study and compose a speech, which we then had to present before judges. The speech was to fall within certain time limits. At this point I do not remember the topic, but I do remember that, when I opened the slip of paper with the subject of my speech written on it, I did not know a thing about it. Fortunately my competition evidently knew, or found, less than I did.
The corporately most memorable thing about that day involved the president of the student council and two girls – all of whom shall remain nameless in this reminiscence. These three went to a restaurant for lunch. One of the girls thought it would be great fun to play a trick on the boy, so she wrote on a napkin, “Help. The man in the black suit has kidnapped us.” Despite the fact that this part of town was overrun with high school students, when the waitress who cleaned up the table found the note she notified the police, who immediately went into overdrive and called in a Texas Ranger.
Things got complicated when the boy went his way and the girls went shopping. When the boy was apprehended and identified no one could find the girls. He had no idea where they might have gone. I remember standing in the street next to an officer who was yelling up to the boy as he looked out the barred window of the jail on the top floor of the courthouse. The officer was berating him for all the trouble he was causing. It was during this tirade that I found out a Texas Ranger was on his way from El Paso. The boy was totally bewildered and had only had lunch with the two girls.
When they finally located the girls and got things straightened out, we all loaded back up on the bus and headed home. Seating arrangements were on a first come, first served basis, so my friend and I wound up sitting in a different place. Somewhere in the course of the trip home I needed to get something from my attaché case, which I had left in the overhead rack above where I had sat as we went to Alpine. I did not have room to open the case sufficiently while it was still in the rack, so I took it out and sat down in a vacant space on the seat. As I was looking through the attaché case I got to talking to the girl, a junior, who was seated by me, or I guess more accurately, by whom I had sat. The events of the ‘kidnapping’ and its ramifications gave us a topic for conversation. One subject led to another and soon we were discussing our contests and results of the day. She had won first place in the Ready Writing competition. After reading her composition I asked for permission to have her read it into my tape recorder.
As a side note here I might explain that I had fairly recently obtained a reel to reel tape recorder and was making recordings of memorable things from my senior year. Among those recordings was a campaign speech by my friend Richard Russell in his successful bid to be the president of the student council the following year. (I am glad to report that Richard, who was voted ‘Most Intelligent’ and ‘Most Likely To Succeed,’ stayed out of jail, at least while I knew of his whereabouts. I lost track of him later, but am fairly confident he behaved himself.) So I was on the lookout for material to record. Carolyn Maxwell’s composition would fit right in.
A few days later I went to Carolyn’s house in Wickett, a small town near Monahans. When I arrived I met Carolyn’s mother and older and younger brothers, Wayne and Charles. After I had visited for a while with the family, Carolyn recorded her paper and then we all visited some more. At some point in all the conversation the topic of church came up. Carolyn invited me to her church, and in reciprocation, since I was a Sunday school teacher in the largest church in town, I invited her to mine. Somehow she never made it out to my church.
Although we attended a small high school, 96 in the class of ’63 and 132 in the class of ’64 (with fewer than that graduating), I only remember briefly seeing Carolyn once before that trip to Alpine. After the UIL meet our paths crossed frequently. There may have been no change in frequency, just now I knew who she was, and we had topics for conversation. I know that very early, maybe on my first trip out to Wickett, the subject of speaking in tongues was mentioned. Baptism in Jesus’ name was also introduced early, but, since I had no referent background, these things just went over my head until memory brought them back to me at a later time.
At some point before my first visit to her church, Carolyn let me know that when I came we could not sit together, as there was a rule/custom that the church girls did not sit with ‘sinner’ boys, though she phrased it much more diplomatically than that. So when I went to the United Pentecostal Church of Monahans, Texas, Carolyn sat on the second row on the left when she was not playing the piano and I sat on the back row of that same section with her older brother, Wayne.
That first trip was almost my last. I have since learned that what we are used to we consider ‘normal,’ and other ways and approaches ‘wrong.’ The memory of my shock at that service has helped me better understand a newcomer’s difficulties in relating to our often ‘strange’ way of worship. From the age of six I had been a member of a well to do denominational church where reverence and rigor mortis might have shared some characteristics. All of the clergy was male. I remember the stir that was caused when the pastor, board, or somebody in another church of that denomination, appointed the first female song leader. It rocked the church for months. Yet this same group sent women – single women – oversees as missionaries. Somehow female missionaries were not considered preachers.
I taught my first Sunday school class at the age of nine when our teacher got delayed on his job in the oil field and could not come. This happened several times. By the time I was fifteen I was the regularly appointed teacher of a class of nine year old boys. I made sure I did not miss.
With that background you may imagine my shock when I walked in to a smallish building with some burned out bulbs in their fluorescent lighting system and many of the people were on their knees at the benches and altars praying out loud – very loud – before service. Several people greeted me and told me to make myself at home – an utter impossibility under the circumstances.
A man stepped to the pulpit and said, “It’s time to get started.” This was Bro. Capps’ opening line at every service. The hymns were strange, the singing boisterous, and they even CLAPPED THEIR HANDS! Then after a testimony service and a special song, the pastor, SISTER Edna Capps began to preach. And did she preach, with loud voice, hand waving, foot stomping and solicitations for the congregation to join in with “Amen,” “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord,” and raised hands. Every time Wayne would wave his hands the bench would shudder – it had been stressed a bit too often.
In my home church there was only one man in a membership of over a thousand who would ever say, “Amen,” to some point the preacher had made. Whenever he did, heads would turn from all over the auditorium to see if anything else strange might happen. So when I attended this service I was sure that I had stumbled onto the biggest group of Pharisees and hypocrites within 500 miles. And Carolyn seemed so normal. I resolved never to return.
But as a song I did not know at the time says, ‘something got ahold of me.’ I soon found my Sundays filled by teaching my class in the morning and attending service at ‘my’ church, then attending the evening service at ‘my’ church, driving across town and arriving at the UPC in time for prayer meeting before church.
As I got more involved in the UPC and interested in their teachings I would attend area youth rallies and fellowship meetings where several churches from neighboring towns would come together to sing, worship and hear someone preach. On one of these trips I met Rev. Howard Smelser, pastor of a UPC in Odessa. He had led service that night and after service someone introduced us. In greeting, Bro. Smelser reached out and hugged me. SHOCKED does not describe my condition. He later said that he noticed I ‘kind of stiffened up.’ I just thought I had learned about these Pentecostals. Evidently there was quite an education awaiting me.
Carolyn would not go on a date with me (see above about sitting together), but would occasionally allow me to buy her a soda at the Dingo, a local drive-in. When we were together we discussed a lot about the Bible. As a teacher I knew just enough to really embarrass myself as she open the treasures of the Word to me like a patient teacher presenting the obvious to a very slow learner.
In May I was graduated from high school and left the next week for classes at the University of Texas in Austin. I was enrolled in aerospace engineering, a four and one half year program. I wanted to get the half year out of the way first by taking chemistry and analytic geometry during the summer. Because I had arrived a little early my room at the law dorm was not ready, and I spent the first week and a half at the YMCA sharing a room with Saeed Somethingunpronounceable, a Muslim from Saudi Arabia. Later that summer I had a Methodist roommate for the first part of the summer session and a Jewish graduate student the second half.
The first Sunday in Austin I attended a large, nearby church of ‘my’ denomination. Among the illustrations used by the minister were the movie The Ten Commandments, and the book To Kill a Mockingbird. He noted that the movie was religious, but not Christian, while the book was Christian, but not religious. Having been around Pentecostals for the last two months, his example did not sit well with me. That afternoon I wrote Carolyn asking for the address of a Pentecostal church in Austin.
Before the week was out she wrote back with a list of the UPCs in the Austin area and contact information for each. She recommended that I contact Rev. Raymond Light at the First UPC. She also admonished me to be sure I attended a UNITED Pentecostal Church because, “others might seem to be the same, but there are important differences.” Upon contacting Bro. Light we made arrangements for him to pick me up Sunday morning at my room in the law dorm where I had settled in for the summer session.
Sunday morning an ‘elderly’ man knocked on my door and asked if I were the young man who had called about attending church. Upon my assurance that he had the right place, he led me out to his large, old green Buick, where an even older man was in the front passenger seat. After proper introductions we set off on the two mile journey to church. Along the way Bro. Light asked if I had the Holy Ghost. My rather terse answer was, “I am a (denomination name).” This put a bit of a damper on conversation. Later I realized that we took a rather circuitous course that morning and avoided going by a rather large church of that denomination which was on the shortest route.
The church at 4115 Avenue D was an old style building with a small vestibule, a central auditorium with overflow wings on either side, and the platform area completing the shape of a cross. In the back of the building was a fellowship area along with other small rooms. Connected next door was a two story educational building for Sunday school. It was in this church building that my life changed, literally, forever. (See picture below.)
I was introduced to Nelson Neeland, a young preacher who invited me to sit up on the second row with him and his wife. Accepting this offer put me only a couple of steps from the altar. Eventually, the Neelands moved to another seat, but I stayed up front until I left Austin about a year later.
The worship in Austin was much like that in Monahans, though Bro. Light was not as demonstrative as Sis. Capps. He was just as fervent and sincere, but not as evangelistic in his delivery of the Word. What I did not learn until years later was that shortly before I arrived there had been some church problems, and a group had left to worship elsewhere. I did not realize that the worship and praise was that of a subdued and hurting congregation. I felt so much of the power of God in that place I hardly knew how to respond. Therefore I reverted to all I knew: sit quietly, sing the songs, but not too loud, and occasionally be so bold as to clap a little.
The summer session consisted of two six week terms with classes every week day. Bro. Light continued to take me to church Sunday morning and evening, and eventually on Wednesday nights as well.
All this time Carolyn and I kept up a steady correspondence. I was studying the Bible along with inorganic chemistry and analytic geometry. And I had questions – mostly about the Bible. Our letters consisted largely of my questions and arguments and her well reasoned and researched answers. Having now participated in this sort of thing from the other side, I realize that she was likely using Sis. Capps for material to send me. But whatever the source, scripture was doing its work. I remember one exchange in particular. I had been taught that the day of miracles was passed and that we should look to doctors and medical science for healing. We had touched on this subject lightly in conversation, but went on to other topics rather quickly as I was full of questions and opinions. Trying to show myself at least a little spiritual, I wrote in one letter that I really liked Isaiah 53:6. Carolyn wrote back that, yes, Isaiah 53:6 was indeed a powerful verse, but one of her favorites was the verse just previous, Isaiah 53:5, which ends with the words, ‘…and by his stripes we are healed.” I was stunned. I realized how selective and narrow my knowledge and memorization of the Bible really was. In concentrating on a favored verse I had completely missed a scripture literally next to it that refuted what I had been taught and plainly said otherwise. What else had I missed?
Soon after this I found myself in a state of confusion about who and what to believe. I made the conscious decision to lay aside what I had been taught growing up AND all the Pentecostals had been telling me. I decided there was only one place to find what was right: the Bible. I realize now that I could, and probably should, have made a wider and deeper study than I did. What I did proved to be sufficient. One evening, having asked the Lord to help me, I began to read in Matthew chapter one and continued through John chapter 21. At this time my real confusion was over the proper method of baptism. Immersion was plain, but what should be said? Without even getting into the book of Acts where the record of early Christian baptism is given, I found the answer I needed. As I read through the Gospels it seemed as though every time I came to the words, “in my name” (17 times), “in his name” (3 times) and “in the name” (9 times referring to deity) that these phrases stood out from the surrounding text, enlarging and rising up off the page in emphasis. By the time I finished John, I was convinced that baptism in Jesus’ name was the Bible way. I still did not have a full understanding and explanation for Matthew 28:19, but I knew there had to be one. To me, the other evidence – even in just the Gospels – was overwhelming. That baptism in Jesus name was correct gave me confidence that the Pentecostals’ view of receiving the Holy Ghost might also be correct.
The next Sunday morning I asked Bro. Light a simple question on the way to church: “Do you believe in taking Communion?” When he replied in the affirmative I made some comment about not wanting to get into something that did not observe the Lord’s Supper. Why I asked that question and made that comment still puzzles me. Until that moment I had not even thought of Communion. In church that night Bro. Light made the announcement, “Things have changed. We are going to have a revival. Bro. Howard Smelser from Odessa will be preaching for us.” After service I mentioned that I knew Bro. Smelser (I later figured out that was why he had been invited.), and that I was looking forward to seeing a real Pentecostal revival, because their regular services would have been counted as a major revival in ‘my’ church.
As I look back from a vantage point fifty years down life’s road and after forty- nine years of active ministry, I am amazed at my actions and God’s grace and mercy. When the revival started I attended the first few nights. Although I do not remember the scripture or topic of any of Bro. Smelser’s sermons, God touched my heart and I came under conviction that, though I was a church member, I was a sinner in need of salvation. On about the third night of the revival I knelt in the altar and began to repent, asking God for forgiveness. My first words were, “Lord, I’ll tell them. Lord, I’ll tell them.” During a tent revival at a former church, when I was eight years old, I had acknowledged a call to preach. In the succeeding ten years I had pushed that call aside in my fanaticism with rockets, space and science. When I began to really get right with God that call surfaced again, and I made a temporary acknowledgement of it.
Another thing that I had to deal with in another trip or two to the altar was related to something that had happened a few months before my graduation. I had been shopping in Odessa, some 35 miles from Monahans. When I paid for my purchases the clerk gave me a dime too much change. I realized it, but walked out with the money. I did not think about it again until it was brought to my mind as I knelt praying at that altar in Austin. A dime is not nearly as much money now as it was then, but the amount was not the point. I knew that, if I wanted to get right with God, I had to get that problem resolved. I wrote a letter to the store explaining what had happened, and that I wanted to make things right. I taped a dime to the bottom of the page and mailed it.
Then I skipped some services in order to study for the finals of the first six week session. Upon finishing the tests I boarded a Greyhound bus and went home for the week-end before the next session started. I took the bus because in those days UT freshmen were not allowed to have a car in Austin.
I had a good visit with my family and saw several former classmates who were still in town. Then on Sunday I attended the UPC. Sunday night I went to the altar in Monahans, but there was not in that service the urgency I had felt in Austin. As I knelt there I got to talking to Wayne Maxwell and asked him about something that had been bothering me. I questioned why we had to be baptized in Jesus’ name and receive the Holy Ghost, but the thief on the cross had to do neither. Wayne’s answer, “That was in a different dispensation,” backed up by a hearty nod and, “That’s right,” from Sis. Capps, settled my mind. This was in spite of the fact that I did not know what a dispensation was, or how that could make a difference.
During that time in Monahans my mother talked to me about where I was going to church. She said I should not change churches because of a girl. She noted that I might later be “interested” in another girl who attended a different church. She had no idea that this was not a matter of “interest” in a girl, but had become a matter of a relationship with God. I wanted to be right with Him.
On the bus back to Austin I sat in front of two ‘old’ men (who were probably younger then than I am now) who spouted their warped philosophies of life to each other for seemingly endless miles. The longer they talked the more determined I became not to wind up like they were. Upon arrival in Austin I walked back to the dorm from the bus terminal and then decided that rather than calling for a ride I would just walk to church. It was only about two miles.
My arrival surprised them, as they had no idea I was back in town. I had at last shown up in the second week of a revival that had been, without my realizing it, scheduled for my benefit. And I had taken out, literally, in the middle of it. That night when it came time for testimony service I surprised myself by standing and telling about the two men on the bus and ending with the statement, “I don’t want to end up like that.”
Again Bro. Smelser preached a message I do not remember, but when the altar call was given I did not hesitate to go to the altar and seek the Lord. After only a few minutes I began to have stammering lips. I heard Bro. Light say, “That’s it! That’s what you want.” At that point I began to speak in a new language as God filled me with His Spirit.
While in high school I had dabbled with hypnosis and studied esp, telekinesis (mind over matter), and other psychic phenomena. Never had I run across anything like this. An indescribable feeling of joy and peace flooded over me. I perceived myself both at the altar worshiping and as an observer near the ceiling at the back of the church watching myself as I experienced the beginning of a walk with God that has spanned half a century. This was no mere emotional excitement destined to fade with the sunrise. God had changed my life. I had many spiritual miles to travel and battles to fight, but the journey had begun. When I stood up and looked around the first thing I did was hug a brother who was standing nearby. I felt such an overwhelming love that had to be expressed some way. It was after this that Bro. Smelser told of the time he had hugged me, and of my reaction. God was already making changes.
I only spoke in tongues for a short while and remember Bro. Light encouraging me to keep worshiping, with an implication to keep speaking. I think he was afraid I had not gotten enough of a touch of God to hold me. But the scripture only says that God will give us utterance to speak in tongues – without a time limit in either direction. A sign does not have to be a billboard to be a sign.
When things calmed down a bit we made arrangements for me to be baptized the following night. Bro. Light wanted to be sure I was baptized right away. He did not know that I had seen and accepted that Jesus name baptism was the scripturally proper procedure. What I had been unsure about was the reality of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Now that was definitely settled.
That night was a glorious time of beginning again, but the next morning was one of the hardest times I had yet faced. The difficulty came in the fact that I needed to notify my parents of the change that had happened. I can still well remember the weight of gloom that oppressed me as I sat in the phone booth under the stairs in the dorm and placed a long distance call to Monahans. I was still not comfortable with using Pentecostal terminology, and my parents would not understand the words and phrases anyway. So when Mother answered the phone I told her that I was joining the Pentecostal church. I also asked her to call Carolyn and tell her about my move. The call was short, and I am sure that some of the burden that lifted from me settled on my mother. For years I faced opposition from my parents until my mother received the Holy Ghost in a revival preached by Bro. Larry Booker, and I made a trip to west Texas to baptize her in Jesus name.
On July 17, 1963, Bro. Raymond Light baptized me in the saving name of Jesus (Acts 2:38; 4:12). I seem to remember that in my exuberant worship that evening I splashed a lot of water out of the baptistery. The quiet, denominal, engineering student was on his way to becoming a Pentecostal preacher. Someone in the congregation had brought a movie camera and recorded the baptism. I never saw the developed film, but it may still be extant somewhere.
Upon my arrival at church the next Sunday one of the men asked me if I still had the Holy Ghost. I did, of course, but had not yet enough knowledge to know a proper answer. I had a long way to go, on several levels, before I really began to understand what had happened, and what God was doing in my life.
My first job in the Austin church was that of greeter. At each service I would stand in the vestibule and greet everyone who came in and then bid them farewell after service was over. On Sunday mornings I would pass out Eight Point System reporting slips to all attendees as they arrived.
Some months later I was assigned to teach the Young People’s Sunday school class. I guess they thought I was making sufficient progress in learning the doctrine. Whatever the reason, they took the chance and gave me an opportunity to learn by teaching. After I had begun to talk to Bro. Light about a call to preach, he had me take up the offering during a revival. He probably figured that if I were still interested in preaching after that, he would know I was not doing it for the money.
After I received the Holy Ghost the Lights made it a practice to have me over to their house for lunch on Sunday, and then stay over until church time. During those times I was permitted to read some of Bro. Light’s books. I read The Winds of God by Howard Goss and Azusa Street: How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles by Frank Bartleman, among other books about the modern Pentecostal outpouring.
I also bought a Scofield Study Bible and wore it out to the point of a loose cover and loose, tattered pages during the year I was in Austin. For the last month or two I was there Bro. Light loaned me one of his old Thompson Chain Reference Bibles. I later became a salesman of Thompson Chain Reference Bibles to help put myself through Texas Bible College in Houston. Until my eyesight began to fail from cataracts I used Thompson Chains as my main study and preaching Bibles. By the time I resigned from pastoring I had at least 56 different hard copy translations of the Bible and several in electronic form in English, besides about eight more hard copies in various languages, picked up as a result of missions trips.
All did not run smoothly in those early days. I have already alluded to the fact that I faced family opposition. For instance, once when I was home my mother wanted me to talk to a preacher of her – my former – denomination. We had attended different churches, but she did not choose either of those pastors. There was another church across town whose pastor she thought would be more convincing. When we arrived for that meeting my Scofield Bible was still new as was my experience with God. I knew so little of what I was about that I was a sitting duck for his arguments. I had no solid answers. But I had an experience. I knew (at least a little of) what God had done to change my life, and no argument, no matter how well reasoned and supposedly backed up with scripture, could negate what I had already been through.
That preacher did have some interpretations of scripture that, at the time, I could not refute. One of them was centered on Hebrews 6 and dealt with the eternal security doctrine. Fortunately at that point it made no difference to me whether that doctrine was true or false. Since I was determined to live for God it was of no import in my situation. It was a solid thirty months before I finally got an understanding of what the Bible was really saying in that passage. I then saw how he had misapplied and misinterpreted that section of scripture. Through this test I learned that I do not have to have clear understanding and complete answers to keep going. Generally, if I keep going the answer will eventually come as I continue to study and pray. I found that I do not have to have an answer for there to be an answer. A good rule to follow is found in the Living Bible translation of Proverbs 19:27, “Stop listening to teaching that contradicts what you know is right.”
One of the things that helped me not to be too shaken by my ‘loss’ in that session was that upon arrival back home I looked up some of the scriptures he had used. It did not strengthen his case when I discovered that he had clearly misquoted, and misused, Ephesians 4:28.
Proverbs 18:13 (He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.) also came into play. Since he did not really understand what had happened to me and never took the opportunity to find out, the baptism of the Holy Ghost and baptism in Jesus name were not real topics of discussion in that meeting. He argued doctrines that were important to him, rather than finding out what was really the cause of my change. But I left that meeting shaken, nonetheless.
Before the school year was over I received a renewal of my call to preach the gospel. I argued mightily that I could be of more use as an engineer than as a preacher. I could have more money to support the work as an engineer. Somewhere in that long night I received a clear indication that I could preach and be saved or be an engineer and be lost. After that it was not difficult to make the decision. After that all that was left was to change career paths, notify my parents of the redirection and develop a ministry. The journey had just begun.
(Note: Dates are my best approximation from memory and calculation.)
This is the Google Earth© picture of the former First United Pentecostal Church in Austin, Texas. It was not bricked when I attended. The landscaping around it has also been improved. The two story building to the right with the green canopies was the Sunday school annex when I went there.
I do not have a picture of the Monahans UPC, as the building was destroyed in a fire. The church was relocated. The McDonald’s restaurant now sits on the old UPC property.