“My mother was eighteen when she conceived me in an adulterous relationship,” said Bill.* “A family member advised her to get an abortion, so she drank some stuff that was supposed to abort me. All it did was make her sick. My mother’s sister was childless and agreed to take me if I was a girl. After my mother gave birth to two more sons, she told her sister that she might never have a girl, so she might as well take Bill.
Bill’s aunt decided a boy wasn’t so bad and took him to Los Angeles where she learned to love him as if he were her own. “I called her Mommy and she treated me as her son, but I knew she wasn’t my real mother,” said Bill.
Bill’s aunt, a devout Baptist, brought him to church every Sunday. One Sunday, Bill walked to the altar with tears streaming down his face. He doesn’t remember what brought him to the altar that day, but he never forgot his pastor’s promise. “Bill, I’m gonna turn you into a preacher.” Later, his Aunt moved her membership to another church thwarting the pastor’s plan.
He didn’t understand salvation until he visited his mother when he was twelve years old. She had stopped smoking and drinking beer. Soon after his arrival she read Revelation 21:8 to him.
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (NIV).
“That was the first time I understood Hell as a literal place,” said Bill. “Later that day, I thought about the things my mother told me and asked Jesus to forgive my sins and save me. I returned to Los Angeles with my aunt, but my mother had the greatest influence on my life. Her letters of encouragement and admonition taught me more about God than I learned in church. I tried to live a Christian life but eventually strayed from my commitment.”
While Bill grew into a young man in Los Angeles, Sally struggled to survive in her dysfunctional family. “I was a rebellious child,” said Sally, “always getting suspended from school for fighting. I believe a lot of it stemmed from my Dad’s aggressive behavior. I could not stop him from beating my mother, so I took out my frustration on the students at school. My Dad didn’t want my mother to go to church, but she brought us anyhow. Her faith in God was a lifeline that held her together through difficult times.”
As Sally entered her teenage years, her mother repeatedly told her “If you give your life to the Lord, he will send a godly man to be your husband. If you don’t, you might end up experiencing the same things I do with your Dad.”
By the time Sally reached fourteen the desire to be a proper young lady replaced her aggressive behavior. The following year, her pastor preached a sermon about Hell. “The Bible says the beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord,” said Sally, “and the message about Hell put the fear of God in me. I committed my life to Christ, and the next day, God filled me with the Holy Spirit.”
One day, Sally stopped to shake her pastor’s hand after a service. “Sally,” said the Pastor, “what kind of husband do you want?”
“I want a minister.”
“If God has to bring him all the way from Europe, he will bring a godly man to be your husband,” replied her Pastor.
The pastor’s declaration proved true. God had already brought Bill back to New Orleans.
“I was sixteen,” said Bill. Every time we came to visit my mother, my aunt asked me if I wanted to stay, and I had always said no. She was shocked when I said yes.”
Bill learned about the baptism in the Holy Spirit when Sally’s pastor preached a revival in his church.
“For the next three weeks, every time the church had a prayer service, I attended and asked God to give me the gift of the Holy Spirit,” said Bill. “One Saturday night, I prayed God would prepare my body to receive the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, I felt a burning which started in my belly and spread throughout my body. It was a tremendous experience that lasted all night. When I went to church the following morning, Sally’s pastor was the guest speaker. He saw me standing at the altar and said, ‘I can see the Spirit of God in your eyes.’ I collapsed on the floor and started speaking in tongues.”
Sally picked up the story. “God used my Pastor to prepare Bill for me. In January 1971, I was eating a box of Cracker Jacks. The prize included a fortune that said, ‘You are going to meet a man name Bill.’ I threw it away, but before the month was over my family was invited to perform in a concert. I met Bill that night.”
“I almost didn’t go to the concert,” said Bill. I had been working in a cafeteria all day. The best clothes I had were the ones I was wearing, and I couldn’t find my comb. My mother reminded me I had made a promise to play the organ at the concert and needed to keep my promises. I spotted Sally while playing the organ and liked what I saw. After the concert, I asked for her phone number.”
“God connected us that night,” said Sally. “Two months later, he met my parents and then I met his. We visited each other’s church and he gave me a sweetheart ring.”
Then God dealt with Bill about ministry. “I had always felt there was a calling upon my life to be a pastor,” said Bill, “but I didn’t want to force anything.”
While attending a revival meeting the Holy Spirit moved Bill to speak with tongues. Another minister interpreted what he said as “The Lord is calling you to preach the gospel.” When Bill questioned if the interpretation was valid, his friends encouraged him to seek God for an answer.
“I fasted and prayed. One afternoon, I said, ‘Lord, I’m just a child, I can’t do this. What am I going to say? I’m too young and inexperienced.’ That night Sally’s pastor spoke at my church. He opened his Bible to Jeremiah Chapter 1 and read:
“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Ah, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.” Jeremiah 1:5
“As the Pastor read that scripture something clicked. I left the service knowing God had called me to preach the gospel.”
Bill and Sally married and immersed themselves in ministry. Sally led the choir. Bill became a youth pastor. Both taught a Sunday School class. But their efforts to sponsor community outreaches were discouraged by the pastor.
“I was initially licensed in my church,” said Bill, “but denied ordination. My ministry had come to a stalemate. When I heard God was moving in a mighty way at a nearby Assembly of God, we visited the church.
“It was hard for me to leave the church where I grew up,” said Sally. “Bill prayed for me and committed the matter to God. The following year, he asked me if I was ready to leave, and this time I said yes. We were attending an evening service at First Assembly when Bill questioned what we had done. I tapped him on the leg and said ‘it’s going to be alright.’ My words proved true. Everything turned out for the best.”
Bill grinned. “At my church we felt like we were banging on a door that no one answered. In the Assemblies the door was wide open. I already had already obtained a license to preach when I was approached about pastoring a satellite church. I accepted the position and six months later became an ordained pastor.”
Eventually, First Assembly decided to close their satellite churches. Bill and his congregation took over the expenses to continue the work. The congregation grew and they moved to a bigger building. They were forced to move to a temporary location when a nearby restaurant purchased their building. About that time Bill learned about a church in need of a pastor and he began negotiations to merge their congregations.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Bill. “The church was bankrupt, and the resignation of their pastor had left a lot of people bitter.”
“I was young and naive,” said Sally. I was so excited about having a bigger church family. I wanted to hug and embrace everybody, but they kept me at arm’s length. I could barely get a handshake. It was like someone took a big juicy orange and squeezed all the sweet juice out. I cried out to God, ‘Why did you bring us here?’ God responded, ‘Your husband is the only one who will stay here.’”
“The next three years were difficult,” said Bill. “I use to read about the children of Israel in the wilderness and wonder why they were so hard to deal with. I saw the same things in my church and concluded people are the same in every generation. But I learned to be patient and saw some of the worst people become the best Christians.”
“I began to seek God like I never had before, and had a supernatural encounter with God,” said Sally. “It was my habit to go to the church and pray after my children left for school. One morning, I noticed a book on my husband’s desk titled Ordinary Christian. I thumbed through the book to get a flavor of its message, and then went to the sanctuary and said, ‘Lord, I don’t want to be an ordinary Christian. I’m not leaving the church until I know you better. I don’t care how you do it. If you have to give me an out of body experience I want to know you.’ As soon as I started to pray a tingling sensation came over me and then a weighty feeling and uncontrollable weeping. I remember being on my back and thinking I was having a heart attack. I stood up to go to Bill’s office and felt like I was wading through a pool of water. When I reached his office, my hand was heavy and trembling so much I had difficulty opening the door. I told Bill what happened. He motioned for me to return to the altar. When I reached the sanctuary, I heard the sweet voice of the Holy Spirit say, ‘It’s me. I am calling you and anointing you to worship me, to preach my word, and to be a better help for your husband.’ The experience changed my life, but I questioned that a woman could be a shepherd.”
As Sally did a systemic study of God’s word, she discovered that Rebekah tended sheep with Isaac and accepted the call to tend God’s sheep by her husband’s side. She accepted her calling to be a shepherd with her husband. They have served their church faithfully for two decades.
*Names have been changed to preserve the privacy of those involved.