My ministry trip continued in Florida, traversing the Panhandle and landing in my aunt’s retirement apartment in Pensacola—a typical senior citizen setting—overlooking a pond maintaining a resident alligator. We investigated the city, ogled the beaches, and tested the restaurants, her for the millionth time, mine being the first. Her apartment, located a few blocks from famed Brownsville (a church known for its constant state of revival), made it easy for me to attend some of their meetings. I coveted revival. I wanted to grab it and run with it, whatever it was.
The first day my aunt dropped me at the church about 11:00 a.m. to stand in line, which I discovered was too late because the line weaving between me and the front door filled the main auditorium. The masses of people, staking their claim ahead of me, were already lounging in their lawn chairs, reading newspapers, making new friends, talking to each other about their experiences with God and what was happening in Brownsville. One miraculous story followed another. A sort of “Let’s see if you can top this one,” happening. We clumped up, whiling away the time, holding each other’s place in line for bathroom breaks, or food runs.
We returned to the States in time for Thanksgiving and to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday. She and my step-dad came to Texas to visit us, and to make a big deal of her big birthday we took her to Corpus Christi, which she hated. I adore Corpus Christi, but it was like sharing my best china with a raging bull. I was putting forth my best effort at creating a party atmosphere with the clamoring grandkids while my tight-lipped mother and stepfather pouted. At that point in time I didn’t need dissension in the ranks, so I didn’t handle it well. We muddled through the birthday.
In spite of December being so full of activities, which I had no heart to participate in anyway, I made time to fast and pray for John, staying up all night, as I like to do, until I heard the Lord speak. I secluded myself in the spare bedroom, praying, worshiping, and finally at 4:00 a.m. He obliged me. He said, “I have an acceptable will, a good will, and a perfect will. My perfect will for John is for him to be totally set free. When he is free, I have a ministry for him in France. I want him to be an administrator for Me.” The Lord told me the name of the ministry, and I could see it was a perfect place for him.
A month later, John and I left for France. Our itinerary called for traveling for two months, and I anticipated the sharp scent of autumn, lumbering wagons hauling grapes, vineyards turning red, wrapping myself against a cold snap. France wears a coat of full fall, and I relish it.
I did not want to take John along, but he plaintively asked to go, and it seemed cruel to leave him home. Paul and Ann, our friends from Dundee, joined us for the relaxing first week, and then Ann and I left the men in France and accompanied Marie-Louise on a rollicking road trip, taking us to minister in Italy and Switzerland. Marie-Louise, an inspiring French woman, and I had become mutually admiring friends in Bible school, and she now pastored a church in Sospel (no connection intended with Gospel). Unsuspecting of the discomfort they caused, neither of them knew of John’s “condition,” the two women chattered about us as a couple as if nothing were awry. Since I wasn’t ready to reveal anything, I felt like taffy being pulled on an automated machine, demonstrating its wares in a windowed candy shop.
After Paul and Ann left, John and I visited with Charles and Barbara, staying in a little apartment cozied underneath the welcoming home of the newly-elected director of the Christian Businessmen’s Club. Pampering us, the harvesting weather stayed warm, which facilitated our use of the toilet just outside our front door, couched in a cubicle tucked under the stairs. The shower had a 5-liter capacity, which meant you got soaped up and ran out of hot water! But these people were such a blessing to us. Beyond the toilet, like an exquisitely appointed tea tray, laid a beautiful garden, and I had peace and quiet to write my sermons as I ministered in various places in the area.
Being able to attend the meetings given by the South African Evangelist in Orlando required a two-hour drive. It was worth it. One Friday night I went by myself, feeling the need to touch God and have Him touch me. After the brother preached, he called for the ministers to be the first to come forward for prayer. We lined up, and he went down the line laying hands on each one. A spirit of laughter came over us; we laughed uproariously, some of us sitting on the floor because we could no longer stand we were laughing so hard. Periodically, when the laughter subsided, the brother would wave his hand at us and say, “Have another dose!” and we would fall to hard laughing once more.
At the end of the evening, on his way out of the church, the evangelist passed me sitting on the floor. He put his hand on my head and said, “Have a double dose.” I did not fall back laughing. From my old drinking days, before I was born-again, I recognized this dose as being one drink too many. There was always a limit where, if I drank one more drink, I would be sick. It felt like that. I had taken one spiritual drink too many. I pulled myself off the floor, staggered to my car, and drove home in a stupor.
France seemed like an aborted vision by now, even though the Lord spoke clearly to me during my son’s graduation from Logos. One evening while in Texas that May, we attended an event in the Civic Auditorium, a meeting given by a big-name evangelist. I don’t remember the plea he made, but my heart, wide open, responded to it by saying, “Lord, I’ll go. I’ll do whatever you want done. Send me.”
My eyes, wide open, looked at the podium and suddenly, before me, stood Jesus. His face practically touched mine, and He said emphatically, “Marty, I said France.”
Responding to His words, I hung my head in shame and said, “I am so unworthy.” Instantly, Satan stood before my still opened eyes.
I jerked my head up and saw Jesus once again. He repeated, “Marty, I said France.”
John and I visited Jo to help her while she gave birth to her third baby. We stayed several weeks taking care of the house, feeding the kids, and one evening Jo, the baby, and I went to a certain movie playing on the military base. The content of the film revolved around an abused wife’s revenge.
Jo made some comments on the way home that bothered me, and I determined to talk with her the next morning. When I woke the next day, I asked the Lord what kind of a day He had made. He said it was to be a day of truth. I had no idea what He meant.
Later in the morning, I took Jo into Bridget’s bedroom and asked about her comments. One thing led to another, and I asked, “Jo, do you hate men?”
A certain evangelist in town organized the restaurants into giving the ministers in the area a breakfast once a month at a different restaurant. Of course, they had to be big enough to seat about a hundred people, but he pulled the plan together. At one of these breakfasts I sat next to a man I had never met. He had his notebook open to a page where he had written the initials S.I.D.A. This is French for A.I.D.S. I leaned over and told him I knew French, so if he ever needed someone to speak to a French person, I’d be happy to help him.
He whispered back that S.I.D.A. is Spanish, and he didn’t know either French or Spanish. We laughed, but he took down my phone number. This was my first encounter with the possibility to speak French to someone, and I wondered if this was why I had taken the intensive French classes just before moving back to the States.
A friend of mine looked at Jo one day and said, “You would be perfect for my son. I’m going to have him write to you.” He did. He returned home from the Orient with his Marine unit, came to see Jo on Valentine’s Day, and soon after they planned a wedding.
Between the wedding and a heavy counseling schedule for John, I gave up all efforts to minister or to raise money. It seemed prudent since all the doors I opened slammed in my face. I wrote, instead, working away at JJ’s computer, as we gave him a new one for graduation, an upgrade he needed for law school.
The Lord told us to move back to California where we knew people. So, in May, in time for JJ’s graduation from Bible School, we wrapped up our business in France and returned to California. We wanted to set up base in the gold country, having always wanted to live there, and after a few frustrating days of finding nothing to rent, John pouted, “See? I told you we shouldn’t come back. If the Lord wanted us here, we’d have a place to live.”
The next day, I took a drive, just Jesus and me. He told me where to go, arriving at a community I didn’t know existed, a little town called Cool. There I stopped by a Realtor’s office, and since I always try to check a person’s spiritual pulse, I discovered her to be a born-again woman. She said it would be a joy to find something for me.
Jo came bouncing in and plopped down on the sofa. Jordan, like a tin soldier, marched through the living room and sat rigidly beside her. She took his hand. He had the air about him of “Oh, sure, right, yeah, that’s what we should do, hold hands.”
I said, “Well, Jordan, this is rather surprising news. What do you want to do about this?”
Giving an excellent impression of a puppy dog he looked like he should have his tongue hanging out dripping saliva. “We should get married, don’t you think?”
Jo chimed in, “We want to get married. I don’t want to go to France.”