Note: This is Part 1 in a 3-Part Testimonial.
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! – Psalm 27:13-14 (ESV)
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… – Romans 5:3-4 (ESV)
I can’t rightly rejoice and talk about the launching of Sanctuary Apostolic Fellowship without backtracking a bit over the past two years…two and a half, almost exactly, to be specific. The truth is that we rejoice up front and are excited when God moves, as we all should be. That is the progressive order of excitement, all things that God seeks to do within our lives. But God has asked me to take some time and talk about the reason for the rejoice, for our joy over God’s move and the fulfillment of His Word. If you hear the pain in the promise and the fight, the often deep and intense battle since Sanctuary was first suggested, it makes this advance all the more exciting and empowering.
Having a church, or shall we say, a direct church division for Apostolic Fellowship International Ministries, was never an intention of mine. I have always been a minister who wanted to travel and go different places and was not very comfortable staying put for long periods of time. I like the idea of bringing the Word with me, wherever I have the opportunity to go. I am not a pastor, never have been, and never will be. While I had pastored earlier in my life, it wasn’t something I did well, nor something I ever intended to do again (and it’s still not). This meant I had no idea how I would even take a direct church situation on, given I don’t have the grace or the ability to pastor, myself. People would always say, “You can train someone,” but I have long found that’s easier said than done in today’s church, because people are very eager to take on their own ministry visions after receiving papers, rather than staying a part of a leader’s ministry for a longer committed period of time. Plus, we all know how merging church visions can be, and after experimenting with that idea, I decided not to pursue that for my own vision. The idea of a church division that I had to start and oversee seemed like it would take time and effort away from the churches I was covering, and from the ministries that had already been started that had other people prepared and running them for God’s glory. I hadn’t the least interest in pursuing a church division, we already had the women’s ministry and Apostolic University, and at the time, I was co-running an HIV/AIDS ministry that was not doing well because the other minister involved never committed herself to the project like she needed to in order for us to be productive with it. This was all in addition to my life at home (which was complicated, to say the least) and my for-profit companies, Rose of Sharon Creations (which was doing semi-well) and Righteous Pen Publications (which wasn’t doing much, save a few magazines).
The ministry was going relatively steadily financially, even though we hadn’t had a lot of movement in it for awhile in terms of new people and much “new” coming out of it. Let’s face it, most ministries are never rejoicing in the flow of money, but the money we had coming in was regular and reliable, even if it wasn’t much. The people who were with me had been with me for an extended period of time, save one new person who breezed in about 1/3 of the way through the year and was already itching to get out by the end of it. That is a story for later, however. As far as ministry outlook went, things were relatively good. No questions asked. I anticipated a great year, one without a lot of hassle, and one without a lot of questions. I assumed things would stay the way they were.
Oh, how things change.
This was all in early 2013, right around the time I was invited to travel to Europe (the Netherlands, to be specific), and minister for a women’s conference over there. They were going to host me for the 13 or so days I was going to be over there and all I had to do was pay for my airfare over there. It had long been a dream and a well-purposed vision of mine to minister in Europe. At the time, I had the money (without question) and the ability to go. I didn’t think much about the details of the trip: I wasn’t real excited about getting to go to Europe, after so many years of feeling called to go over there. I chalked that up to never being real excited (which, as a rule, I’m not), overlooked the fact that nobody who had planned on coming was able to come with me (I figured maybe they weren’t supposed to be there), and moved forward. Most people I knew, although maybe a little hesitant, were encouraging about the trip and excited that I was going.
One thing I started noticing was how gravely unhappy many people were with their churches. It seemed like every time I turned around, someone was upset with something going on where they attended. They would go visit somewhere else, but not feel right about the general spirit in the places. It wasn’t just “church hopping,” as we often call it. These were sincere, dedicated individuals who recognized something was wrong and they didn’t have somewhere to go that was right. They were sick of politics infiltrating the church, both church politics and national politics. They complained that their ministries had been hijacked by Republicans (their words, not mine) and that they felt the church had more of an air of causes rather than genuine Gospel truth. They were tired of having to turn their heads the other way and tolerate negative attitudes about women, unwelcoming attitudes toward people who were not members, even a general feeling that they were all just there because of some sort of upholding of tradition. They didn’t want to stop attending church, but they didn’t see another option because no matter how many places they tried, they just didn’t find what they wanted where they were going.
I started thinking about what they were talking about and I remembered all the times I wished I could have gone to a church in the area without having so many questions asked. Every time I went to a church just as a visitor, I was treated as if I was a non-believer or a rebellious heathen who needed to “submit” themselves to that local ministry and attend every week. Forget the fact that I spent several weekends out of the year on the road or in conferences, and that I do know about ministry order and I was not going to sit up under a pastor as an apostle, because that would be out of order for me to do so. Let’s also put aside the fact that I visited the church one time because someone invited me and I wasn’t the least bit interested in joining based on what I had seen. I knew that going to visit a church, just to visit, just to be with other people in a moment of need, wasn’t an option because of how I would be treated in the process. I began to understand what people were talking about (maybe better than I wanted to admit) and I wanted to create a place for them to go, somewhere where the regular members know God is there, want to bring their friends there, and who recognize the responsibility of keeping that place readily available for those who are seeking something just like it.
I left for Europe, making a layover in New York City to visit a friend of mine for a few days before I flew out of JFK. While on that trip, I talked to my friend about the vision I had and the kind of place I wanted to create. Sitting on a bench somewhere between Harlem and the Bowery, he said to me, “And you know what you are going to call it?”
“Um, no.” I had no idea where he was going with that.
I loved it, and I was ready to move full-steam ahead. In fact, it was thoughts of that work that kept me the whole time I was in Europe. The trip was difficult, I had a bad host and nothing went as planned. I spent nights in the room I stayed in thinking about exactly how I was going to make this vision, this “Sanctuary” come to pass.
After I got home from Europe, it was as if everything changed. Sanctuary was definitely put on hold. I had trouble focusing, I had trouble thinking, and I had chronic migraine headaches (which I’d had all my life, but hadn’t had as frequently as I was experiencing them). I was trying to finish a manuscript that was difficult enough to write about, let alone trying to write on it in that state. I found myself sad and displaced many days, unable to adjust to being back and unable to focus enough to make things move forward. I even considered moving, relocating to another area. If this had lasted for a day or a week, I would have said all right, but it went on for months. Because I didn’t understand it, I didn’t talk to anyone about it.
About 3 months passed and I got an inbox from my (former now, then current) leader. She never said much to me and was never real involved in anything that was going on, because she never head to be. She knew I could handle matters and, if I needed something, she would advise to the best of her ability. I had been in ministry far longer than her, and my experience in the ministry not only made her look good, it meant I was an easy cover and she didn’t have to do much for me. I was very surprised to receive her inbox, because, as I said earlier, she never said much. In fact, I think in the 3 ½ years she covered me, she might have directly come to me about things on 3 separate occasions. This time was the second of those 3 times, and was in regard to a supposed concern she had about a program I was doing via webcam with the woman who hosted me while I was in Europe. Even though the trip was difficult and did not go well, I still tried to be considerate and kind to her, now that I was back home. I told only two people how the trip really went (neither of them being my leader, who I was not comfortable sharing with about it because she seemed to be very good friends with the minister overseas), and let everyone else think things went well. I had no desire to disgrace her, or her ministry, even though I had severe misgivings about it. When she invited me to do a few long-distance programs for the internet, I saw no harm in it, especially given my own leader seemed very supportive and encouraging about her. The inbox I received spoke of something very different than what she was relaying to everyone on the surface. It sounded like concern, but what it really was, in hindsight, was manipulation. She told me that she had “concerns” about me working with this minister in Europe, and now felt that she was running a cult over there and the reason I had gone over there was to warn everyone over here about her. She started listing a number of things she didn’t like about this other woman, and preceded to tell me that if I continued to work with her, that it would cause her to question my own calling and anointing. She also relayed back to an incident she had run into with a former leader of mine, when I chose to stay with that leader instead of follow her, because they’d had issues.
I didn’t like the position I was put in, not in the least. I was smart enough to know that I was basically being told – stop doing this or I will look down on you. The truth was that after doing two or three of the programs with the woman in Europe, I didn’t feel right about doing them, and had every intention of finding a way out of doing them, all on my own, but now I felt like I had to do it or it was going to cause problems between my leader and me. I respectfully sent an email to the woman overseas, and let things be where they were at. Simple enough, right? Everything was going to be fine…
Yet I still had a very uneasy feeling that things were not over, and something was still not right. I couldn’t tell you what it was. I was about to find out, and what I was about to find out, I was not going to like.
To Be Continued………….