A Rough Beginning
I am continually amazed at who God uses to do outstanding things for Him! Just look at the guys Jesus selected as his first disciples. In fact, as you look at the men and women He used throughout the Bible and church history, you discover a bunch of people who were insecure and broken, often with crazy childhoods. That’s my story, too.
I grew up in the inner city of Utica, NY, in a very unstable family. My parents separated when I was about 4 years old. From then until 4th grade, I attended five different schools and lived in two states with five different families. I actually failed the first four grades of school. I was a mess. By the time I was in 4th grade (for the second time), my mom began to settle down and my life stabilized somewhat. My teacher took a real interest in me and helped me catch up academically when I repeated the 4th grade with her.
I don’t know if it was all the craziness I had gone through, but I was a committed agnostic by the time I hit sixth grade. God, to me, was on the same level as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny—you couldn’t see him and he simply met a need for immature people. I felt God was unknowable and, if he existed at all, he had little interest in my life in particular or the suffering on this planet in general. When I attended high school, I did not excel in any way and actually skipped 40 days of my freshmen year.
A New Beginning
It was the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school. I was 17 years old, and I was outside chatting with a girl on a corner in Utica, when some people walked up and began talking to us about God. I laughed at them and told them that it was impossible to prove that God was real. I suggested they probably couldn’t even prove I was real. They invited me to come to a coffee house where people talked about God, listened to music and just hung out. I’m not sure why but I was fascinated by this idea. I later learned that these young evangelists included a student from Elim Bible Institute, and the church where the coffeehouse was held was an Elim-related Church.
Little did I know that God was about to show himself to me. The next day I was crossing a downtown street and began to cross against the light. For the first time ever I felt a strong impression to stop. I didn’t understand this, because I crossed against the light all the time if it appeared that there were no cars around. I started to move forward again and the impression became so strong it bordered on being an audible voice. I paused again and began to step back to the curb. As I did, two cars collided in the intersection in front of me—so close that the glass that burst out of one of the windshields actually fell into my clothes. I realized that if I had kept going I would have been between those two cars. That inner voice had saved me.
The next day, I was taking the trash out at work when a guy I had seen at the coffee house walked by. He looked different and I suddenly realized his glasses were gone. Now this guy’s glasses had literally looked like Coke bottle bottoms; they were incredibly thick and distorted the look of his eyes. I asked him, “Hey, what happened to your glasses? Did you get contacts or something?” This was when contacts were new, expensive and hard to wear.
The guy looked at me and said, “You won’t believe it if I tell you.”
“Try me.” I said.
He told me, “Last night I was praying and I saw a vision of Jesus in my room. When the vision ended I could see.” To say I was shocked would be an understatement.
These experiences started me on a journey that eventually ended with the total surrender of my life to Jesus Christ. Through the church I began attending and the workers at the coffee house, I started learning what it meant to follow Christ. People invested so much personal time in me I can hardly conceive of how they did it now. These faithful church volunteers were an example that shaped my life. I wanted to be like them and to give my absolute all to Jesus.
When I graduated from high school, I decided to attend Elim Bible Institute. Many high school students I helped lead to Christ and church volunteers I knew also eventually attended EBI. My time at EBI served as a season of spiritual formation. My first 18 months were all about me dying to myself. I wanted to give up every week. I felt like a mess who could never get anything right. Then during a Week of Prayer, God met me and gave me a life-changing revelation of His Grace. It was as if I was saved again. I gave up on my effort and found that Jesus was enough and that God would finish what He had started in me. If my first year at school was about death, my second year and half was about the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.
I also met the most beautiful girl during that time. Her name was Terri Davis. A year after I graduated from EBI, we were married and have been walking out this daring adventure of following Christ together. She has wholeheartedly stood with me in every ministry I’ve been involved in birthing or developing, but her greatest accomplishment is the incredible investment she made in the lives of our three children through home schooling and dedicated parental commitment. Today, I am so proud to see each of my children wholeheartedly serving the Lord in full-time ministry. My oldest son, Toby, helped begin and currently directs Campus Target, a ministry that mobilizes young adults for evangelism and church planting in Asia. My son Todd was the director of BASIC College Ministries (see below) and now is seeking God for his next steps. My daughter Traci currently serves as an international worker with Campus Target and is active in missions to Mexico.
Upon graduating from Bible School, Terri & I moved to Oswego, NY to serve in a church there. The pastor regularly gave me opportunities to preach, lead worship and follow my dream of developing a ministry to college students. After a little while, we took a leap of faith in God for our finances and, with my pastor’s sacrificial support, I quit my job at a clothing store and dedicated all of my time to reaching college students. Those humble beginnings eventually led to the birth of BASIC College Ministries, which is still alive, strong and reaching hundreds of students each year. You can learn more about this ministry by checking out their website at www.thebasicsite.org.
In 1980, we moved back to Lima, NY, where I made Elim the BASIC headquarters. During that season, I also began to be burdened by God for the single adult population. Out of this burden a new ministry, Mobilized to Serve, was born. This ministry exploded and for 8 years I traveled around the world with a message for single adults. I also wrote a book, God’s Call to the Single Adult, which sold over 100,000 copies and is still published today under the title The Power and Purpose of Singleness.
In 1988, I was asked to be the pastor of the gathering of believers on the Elim campus. The next year we formally incorporated Elim Gospel Church and I served as their Lead Pastor for the next 20 years. One of the most significant events that happened during my tenure at EGC was the revival that began in May 1994. For three weeks we held services daily, 10 AM–3 PM and from 7 PM until past midnight. This Holy Spirit outpouring dramatically affected the schedule and makeup of the church for 2 years. The residual impact still affects many of us who were there. During that time, God also gave us a vision to expand the campus by constructing a church building, which now sits at the heart of the Elim campus and serves all the ministries on campus. The process of raising the funds and leading the congregation in building that multimillion-dollar facility taught me more about leadership than anything else I’ve ever done in ministry.
When I stepped down as Lead Pastor in 2008, I led the congregation in embracing Joshua Finley, a powerful 27-year -old young man, as my successor. Joshua graduated from EBI, was part of my mentor training and had served on the church’s staff as youth pastor. He and his team are now doing an outstanding job leading the church. I count it a privilege to continue to serve him as an elder and teaching pastor.
In January 2009, I joined the staff of Elim Fellowship as Vice President. Our motto is “to strengthen the leader, to equip the church, to reach the world.” During the last three years with EF, I have visited with hundreds of pastors in their churches and homes. I’ve seen and experienced many of the challenges these Christian leaders face, and I want to help prepare future leaders to thrive in the middle of those challenges.
In April 2012, I was asked to be the President of Elim Bible Institute. In this position, I stand on the shoulders of many who have gone before in the 88 years of Elim’s history. I have a burning passion to prepare young people to powerfully impact their world for Jesus Christ. The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few. Today more than ever, we need young people who will put everything on the line to follow in Christ’s steps. It is this generation that will have to be prepared to handle a great influx of believers at the end of the age.