On My Journey: Kansas

I graduated from high school in 1960. I was just a kid with no direction in life. My parents told me to find work so I went looking for a job. Jobs were difficult to find and added to that, if you were classified as 1-A draft status, it was difficult for employers to take on new employees and train them for a job and then the government comes along and drafts them and the employer’s investment is lost.

So, after several months of looking, I decided to join the military and get that behind me. I researched all the standard groups: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. I settled on the Air Force, took the entry exams, settled on a date to depart, and then told my parents. I knew that if I told my mom, she would freak out because my older brother had enlisted in the Marines and I remember the hassle in the home.

I was supposed to depart in early June 1960 but was called and my departure time was pushed out by one week. I have often wondered over the years, if I had of left on the original date of induction, where I would have been today. Would I have gone to the same places? Probably not! Would I have met the same people? Probably not!

Lackland Air Force Base Basic TrainingI went through twelve weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, then went home for a two week leave, and then off to my first duty station, which was Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka, KS. This was the furthest I had ever been from Florida by myself. I was truly a small town boy. When I was settled into the routine at Forbes, I began to look for a church. Remembering my pastor’s small lecture before I left and my mom’s firm belief that the Church of God was the only true church, yes, she really believed that, and to some degree so did the pastor that took me for a stroll before I left home.

So, I went looking for a Church of God in Topeka, KS. I started my search in a phone book. Remember those? Well, some of you may. There was no google or GPS, just a street address. On the first Sunday that I had an opportunity, I arrived at the church building a few minutes early; when I entered the building I didn’t feel safe. Remember, safe for me was eighteen years of being in one kind of church and being taught that all other churches around were not really followers of Jesus. I sat through the service and found that they were a part of a denomination of a group of churches from Anderson, ID. I felt like I had disappointed Jesus by stepping outside of the church of my youth.

I discovered that there was no church of my youth in Topeka. Nope, not one! In the flight that I was assigned to at Forbes, I met a young airman during the next week that just walked up to me and invited me to attend church with him the next Sunday. I asked which church? He told me it was an Assembly of God church. Really, I thought: there is only one word difference. So, I said yes.

That Sunday when I arrived with him, he introduced me to some folks and we picked a seat. While looking around, I turned to him and inquired, “who is the pastor and who is the pastor’s wife?” He first pointed out the pastor’s wife. I was dumbfounded. I gasped, “she can’t be the pastor’s wife.” He had a puzzled look on his face and I explained. “She has on a sleeveless dress and jewelry, and is wearing lipstick!” He had no idea what I was talking about. You see in the church of my youth, when you were accepted into the church as a member, you had to openly swear to abide by certain clothing rules and for women, it was blouses with sleeves down to their wrist, not unbuttoned buttons, hems at least two inches below the knees, no jewelry, and no makeup, absolutely no makeup. Women therein who joined were asked to abridge their clothing attire to meet the standards of the church’s holiness code. This pastor’s wife failed the test of the “be faithful to the Church of God,” because this lady was definitely not dressed correctly and her rosy lips must have been an abomination to God. I knew that it was the wrong kind of church and that God’s presence could and would surely not be discovered there. At the conclusion of the service, my friend wanted to introduce me to the pastor and then to the pastor’s wife. He shook my hand warmly, and she reached out and gave me a big hug. I thought Jezebel had snatched me from the hand of God. I almost fainted. And the only solace I had is that I didn’t hug back and I hoped that God had noticed.

Since, it was the only church that vaguely had the feel of the church of my youth. I stayed there during my tour in Kansas. I grew to love the people and broadened by perspective of who was in the family of God. It was during this church experience that I discovered two life-long friends. They have remained friends for all these years even though our paths don’t physically cross often and we don’t share some of the same church values that we all may have had when we met.

Two other exposures were formative. First, this church took communion on a regular basis. For them regular was once a month. The Church of God that I grew up in only shared communion once a year and then it was just a brief moment of segregated, i.e., men on one side of the church building and women on the other side of the building. The first Sunday at this new church in which communion was served, I thought that it must be that time of the year for them to do this. The way in which it was shared was also different, families took the emblems together and even though I had no physical family there, different families would include me until one kind of adopted me.

When the next month came around, I was shocked that they were doing this again. I asked some budding friends how often this group did this? When they told me once a month, I was amazed.

Another exposure was the openness of the so-called spiritual gifts especially speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, and praying for healing. In the Church of God in my youth, they spoke in tongues, but usually all at once, or one dear lady seemed to speak in tongues at almost every service and spouted the same interpretation after each outburst. She also seemed to be highly esteemed because she did this and folks would talk about how spiritual she was. Here in this Kansas church, different folks took part and it seemed to be normal without an accompanying thought of how spiritual a person was that did these things.

There were lots of Air Force servicemen who attended this church. The flight on the base that I was part of had some folks that would leave and go to Japan for a six month temporary duty (called TDY). On one occasion during the mid-week service, one of those airman who had returned stood up and began to say the names of several Japanese cities, like Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, Okazaki, Tachikawa, and repeated them several different times and in a different order. Some of the airmen who had been on temporary duty in Japan understood the different city names and some of them snickered at what had just happened. The pastor smiled and said to the young man, “Thanks for those Japanese city names spoken with such fervor and with clear pronunciation.” The congregation broke into laughter and, of course, the young airman was a bit embarrassed. The service continued without missing a beat. My take on what he had done was because others participated in a display of spiritual gifts, he did so to fit in and be accepted by the group. Years later, I would observe in another group the same kind of “I want in” behavior using another one of the so-called spiritual gifts as an entry point for acceptance in the group.
Over the next months, I slowly but painfully came out of my legalist grooming by the Church of God. I entered into the ambience of the services as best I could.

Formation is an ongoing part of our lives. We learn from the experiences we encounter. Here are a few things I began to learn from this time in Kansas.

  • I learned later from this time in my life that sometimes God’s choices for us opens up different paths for the journey that we have ever imagined.
  • I began to learn that the church was bigger than the little group into which I had been birthed.
  • It also began to be clearer that the church was a system of events designed to keep people dependent on a specific group and that the services that were delivered were not free, but there was an expectant payment in the form of a specific amount: ten percent.
  • I learned that the holiness code that I had been impregnated with turned me into a narrow-minded legalist by the time I was eighteen years old.
  • I learned by my continual exposure to communion on a monthly basis that this celebration was helpful as a tool to remember what Jesus had done on the cross. I learned by repetition that it was a time of quiet and somber reflection. Ove the years, I have questioned that particular idea, because in the earliest documents that we have that tell us about this, it was a festive part of a meal that was shared when the ecclesia came together in their homes.
  • I learned that the so-called spiritual gifts were just normal things that happened, not some weird, far out, super spiritual event that made the one participating out to be a spiritual person. I also learned that some dumb things happen under the guise of spiritual gifts and that discernment in a public setting needs to be spoken in the public setting: not everything is of the Spirit. Finally, I learned that folks want so desperately to be a part of something they often look and find the “door” and then imitate an experience to be accepted into the group.

After this sojourn in Kansas, I was changing from a boy into a man. I discovered that I could make friends and live life outside the Church of God.

More to come, stay tuned.

Disclosure of Material Connection: If links are included in the posts above, some may be “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I do recommend books and other resources from time to time. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”