In the early years of my preparation for Christian ministry, a college professor gave me several books from a deceased Baptist pastor's library. One of the books was about the life and ministry of George Whitefield, an ordained minister of the Anglican Church who lived in the eighteenth century and was a contemporary of the Wesley brothers, John and Charles.
Following the Protestant Reformation, there was an intense interest in the Bible, and as Whitefield studied it, he discovered his need for the spiritual birth spoken of in John's gospel, chapter 3. However, he was soon removed from the pulpits of the Church of England for preaching "false doctrine" and thus moved his preaching to open-air meetings. He joyously remarked that he had been banned from preaching to empty pews and sent to the harvest field of hungry human hearts.
Whitefield preached his "you must be born again" message over three thousand times in both Great Britain and the American colonies with great results. It is believed that his open-air meetings in America helped set the stage for the American Revolution. His message is but one example of how God, throughout the history of the church, has allowed neglected Bible truths to be rediscovered and preached to produce a fresh move of His Spirit. He has done so time and time again.
During a missions convention held at Bethany in the 1970s, Lester Sumrall and Daniel Ost both stressed how God had provided guidance to their lives and ministries through dreams, visions, and key Scripture verses. Like these great missionary giants and the gospel heroes of eras gone by, I, too, have discovered life-changing Bible truths and the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. I will share some of these experiences with you in this brief article.
First, I would like to share my firm belief that God does indeed choose some for ministry. As I look back over my life, I see three clear instances of how the Lord protected me from an early death at the hand of the enemy in order that His call upon my life could be fulfilled. At age three, while I was playing in the yard of my home, a horse entered the yard and knocked me to the ground. A hoof struck my forehead, causing profuse bleeding. A neighbor, however, quickly came to my rescue and stopped the flow of blood.
Then, at age six, I was playing with some other children in a flooded street after a heavy rainstorm. I stepped into an open ditch, and a swift current was sweeping me toward a drainpipe when a teenager rescued me.
When I was eighteen, a lumber company in my hometown hired me to work with their crew at a sawmill, cutting pine timber in Nicaragua. We traveled from New Orleans to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, and then by coastal schooner to the mouth of the Prinzapolka River. When we arrived, the tide was out, and the schooner could not reach the dock. A riverboat came alongside to take us ashore, but we had to jump from the deck of the schooner to the cabin top of the riverboat. When I jumped, a wave caught the riverboat, pulling it away from the schooner. I was falling between the two ships when a man on the riverboat caught my arm and pulled me to safety.
In 1930, at the age of eleven, I accepted the Lord as my Savior but neglected spiritual growth. The Great Depression, which started in 1929, lasted for about a decade and greatly affected my life, as it did for millions of Americans. It was during the latter years of the Depression that I worked in Nicaragua, spending more than a year with a rough crew of Americans. I returned to my hometown in 1938 and got a job at a service station.
Hitler started World War II in Europe in 1939. America assisted Great Britain with war material but hoped to stay out of the conflict. Nevertheless, since our armed forces were small at that time, an effort to enlist men began. I was influenced by a cousin to volunteer, and I joined the Army Air Corps in September of 1940. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December1941, and our nation found its forces engaged in war with both Japan and Germany.
My unit was sent to Great Britain as a part of the Eighth Air Force in June of 1942. In November of 1942, as part of the Allied army invading North Africa, we landed near Oran, Algeria. The infantry went ahead to capture the air base at Oran, and soon bloody body bags of those killed in battle were returned to our area. The sobering sight caused me to reflect on my need of the Lord.
I had carried a New Testament overseas, and for the first time, I turned to Scripture for comfort. Also, I decided to start tithing. This was my first act of obedience toward spiritual growth.
The decision to tithe put me in contact with my home church. I began receiving news from the pastor, Dr. O. P. Estes. I remember sending money orders and the encouragement that followed my obedience to tithe.
After seventeen months of duty in North Africa and Italy, I was sent home to join a B-29 support group of the Fifteenth Air Force, destined to serve in the war against Japan. I traveled home aboard a naval transport and greatly enjoyed the hot meals and clean living quarters as we crossed the Atlantic. When we arrived at the naval base in Newport, Virginia, I called home and shared the news that I would soon be home on furlough. I rode the train to Pascagoula, Mississippi, and from there was driven by auto to Picayune by a sister and her husband. As we neared home, I saw the figure of a lone man walking toward us—it was Papa! How happy to be united once again with family and friends!
A first cousin, Gladys Stevens, soon introduced me to a beautiful young lady, Ruth Wells. We began dating and fell in love. After furlough, I was stationed in Great Bend, Kansas, but I maintained close contact with Ruth by mail and phone. After a few months, we became engaged, with a decision to wait until I was discharged to be married. I went home for a final visit before a scheduled departure for the Pacific war.
I had not shared the news about my upcoming overseas duty with my family, but a praying dad learned the secret during his early morning prayer time. He came to the bathroom where I was shaving and shared a word of wisdom with me. "Roy," he said, "don't worry about going back overseas; you are not going." With those words, Papa proved the truth of the Scriptures: "For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:8, NKJV).
I had a deep respect for Papa's prayer life, knowing that he had dedicated his life to the Lord in the early years of his marriage when his fifteen-month-old daughter died in his arms as a victim of pneumonia. From there, he had become a Baptist lay preacher, preaching in small African-American churches. I realized later that my godly Baptist father did indeed have the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Here is a story recalled by my niece, Nancy Burk, giving clear evidence of this:
Of course, that day in the bathroom, I knew none of that. I merely thanked Papa for his assurances, but knowing what I did, I saw no possibility of avoiding overseas duty. However, I was about to experience the reality of believing prayer!
When I returned to Kansas, events began unfolding at a rapid pace. Captain William Dean, under whom I had served in Europe and North Africa, had returned to Warner Robins Air Force Base in Macon, Georgia. He observed that many soldiers at the base had not yet been overseas and asked the commanding general of the base to approve a request for my transfer to Georgia. The request quickly made its way through proper channels and was approved by my group headquarters.
A soldier with my job training had been shipped in from Texas and had been working with me for several days when I was told that the transfer to Georgia had been approved. However, I was also told there was no time to arrange finances for my rail trip. I responded that I would handle the money problem, and I borrowed small change from a number of friends to purchase a ticket to New Orleans. I boarded a train for home on a Saturday afternoon, and the rest of my group left for Seattle and the Pacific war the next day. Papa's prayer had been answered, and I learned the reality of believing prayer.
I had been given a thirty-day furlough before reporting to Georgia. As soon as I arrived home, I called Ruth, and we decided to be married during my thirty-day visit, which we did on January 21, 1945. After our wedding, we lived in Georgia. Captain Dean assigned me to an office, and I followed an easy routine of duty.
In May of 1945, Germany surrendered, and the process of military discharge was soon underway. The military announced a plan to discharge men based on their service records. Points would be assigned according to certain criteria, such as length of overseas duty, with a total of ninety-five points required for discharge. I sat by a radio and listened as the system was explained and eagerly wrote down my points earned. When I passed the ninety-five points required, I was overjoyed.
After my discharge from the military, Ruth and I moved home and began regularly attending church. I was ordained as a deacon, and Ruth and I began teaching in Sunday school. My knowledge of the Bible was limited, but the Lord helped me with printed lesson material as I met with sixteen-year-old boys each Sunday.
In 1946, Dr. J. D. Grey, pastor of First Baptist Church in New Orleans, preached during a week of revival meetings. On the closing Sunday, Dr. Grey challenged Sunday school teachers to make a special effort to invite lost members in their class to attend the final service. I surveyed my records and learned that a young man named Charles McKenzie was not a Christian. As a result, I made my first visit to reach a lost soul and soon experienced the joy of soul-winning.
When I knocked at the door of Charles's home, his father answered. He informed me that Charles was a hundred miles away visiting his grandparents. At the close of the evening service, Dr. Grey gave an invitation to any unsaved people in the audience to come to the altar for prayer. I was praying silently for Charles. The Holy Spirit impressed me to look toward the rear of the auditorium, and as I did, Charles stepped into the aisle and began walking toward the altar! Then I was directed by the Lord to pray for another person, a former classmate who was in the service. He also responded and went to the altar. I was overjoyed!
The next morning I shared my prayer experience with Pastor Estes. He advised that I consider attending college, so Ruth and I enrolled in a community college. At the close of the first semester, we were home for the holidays. I was considering a transfer to the University of Mississippi to major in pharmacy and asked friends at church to pray with me about my future. It was then that I received a clear call from the Lord to serve as a pastor.
Ruth and I were in bed one night, and I was praying silently asking for direction. The reference "Ephesians 4:11" came to mind. I told Ruth about the impression, and she suggested that I look up the Bible verse. Not yet proficient in the use of the Bible, I had to use the index to locate the book of Ephesians, and then I read the verse: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers" (NKJV). Baptist doctrine ruled out the possibility of being an apostle or prophet, so my assignment was automatically narrowed to evangelist, pastor, or teacher. After further prayer and advice, I began preparation to serve as a pastor.
It is my personal conviction that four, not five, leadership gifts are identified in Ephesians 4:11. In my opinion, the pastor/teacher occupies one office, whose duty is to lead and feed God's flock. For example, David, in Psalm 78:72, "shepherded them [Israel] according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands" (NKJV). In John's gospel, the Lord Jesus told Peter to shepherd His sheep, and in 1 Peter 5:2, Peter instructed the elders to shepherd God's flock.
A shepherd leads his flock to green pastures and protects his flock from predators. In other words, he both leads and feeds his flock. I have always tried to implement this principle in my ministry and have exercised great caution in pulpit oversight. Once a call came from a person who said that he had arrived in Baton Rouge with a message from God for our church. I asked him, "Who is your pastor?" and he responded, "I don't have a pastor." I had learned by then that we all need to be accountable, so I denied his request to speak. The man became angry and said, "You must think you are God," to which I replied, "No, I don't think I am God, but I am the pastor of Bethany."
On other occasions, I have had to openly correct those who were trying to bring confusion or error during times of worship or preaching. The Lord expects us ministers to take seriously the oversight of His people entrusted to our care!
God's method is always a man. The Bible clearly shows His call to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and other great men of faith. Think of His patient dealing with Simon Peter to develop him as a leader and preacher.
Soon after my call from the Lord, Pastor Estes invited me to preach at a Sunday service. I had been enrolled in a survey of the Bible, but I had no formal training in sermon preparation. As I began to pray and consider a subject for my sermon, I was impressed with a text in Jeremiah 23: "The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully" (v. 28, KJV). The context of this verse contrasted the teaching of false prophets with those who had the powerful Word of God. With this instruction from the Lord to preach the Bible, I have always remained committed to believe and preach the Word of God.
Ruth and I transferred to a Baptist college, where Ruth earned a bachelor of science degree, and I earned a bachelor of arts degree. At the close of my senior year in May of 1950, the Lord made it possible for me to travel with Dr. Roy Beaman, professor of archaeology at the New Orleans Baptist Seminary, to visit museums and professors in Europe and archaeological sites in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy. We spent ten days in Jerusalem and were staying in the same building as the mayor of the city. We had breakfast with him daily.
The nation of Israel had been recognized by the United Nations in 1948 and occupied a very small parcel of land. However, Jordan occupied Jerusalem, and one day as we stood on the sidewalk, a motorcade of King Hussein of Jordan passed by.
The Dead Sea Scrolls had been recently discovered by a shepherd boy, and we visited the cave where one of the newly found scrolls, the entire book of Isaiah, had been discovered. The skeptics advanced the theory that Isaiah was actually two books, chapters 1–39 in one book and chapters 40–66 in a second book. The effort was an attempt to prove that the second book had been written at a later date, because of the clear prediction of the Messiah. Archaeology, however, has always confirmed the Bible.
Honest seekers throughout the ages have always discovered neglected Bible truth to enlighten and challenge those who are hungry for reality. For example, think of Martin Luther's discovery that "the just shall live by faith" or Charles Parham's study group learning that speaking in tongues was the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the Word of God; it is the sword of the Spirit and is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16, NASB). We must learn and obey the truth of God's Word in order to experience His forgiveness and blessings.
As a Baptist, I called the Holy Spirit "it." However, after reading a book by R. A. Torrey, The Holy Spirit: Who He Is and What He Does, I began to hunger for more knowledge of the Holy Spirit. I began meeting with other Baptist pastors in all-night prayer meetings, asking the Lord for the power of the Holy Spirit. Then one of the deacons at our church in Baton Rouge invited all of the deacons, their wives, and Ruth and me to be his dinner guests at a meeting of the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International. The invited speaker was Dennis Bennett, an Episcopalian minister from Van Nuys, California.
Pastor Bennett told of being saved at the age of eleven, being called to ministry by the Lord, and serving as pastor of a 2,600-member church. Despite his ministerial success, he became hungry for more of God. A neighboring Episcopal pastor asked that he interview a church member who claimed to have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The pastor thought his parishioner was having mental problems. Pastor Bennett said that during an interview with the "problem" Christian, he discovered a person with overflowing, radiant joy in the Lord. The result was that Pastor Bennett was prayed with and received a similar experience, which was quickly reported by the national media. Sadly, Pastor Bennett eventually resigned from his position because of opposition in his congregation. He was then assigned to a small Episcopal church in Seattle.
Ruth and I stayed awake until 2:00 a.m., discussing what we had heard. So much of Pastor Bennett's testimony lined up with our own experience. A few months passed, and one morning I answered the doorbell to find a fellow Baptist pastor, Leon Heibeck, standing on my doorstep. He was smiling and said that he had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the home of an Assembly of God layman, Darrel Hon. He said that when he left Darrel's home, he was impressed to visit me and pray with me to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
I invited him in, and he began talking to me about "the laying on of hands" described in the book of Acts. I agreed to let him pray with me, and soon three sounds were coming from my mouth: "Ho-ya-ya." I had studied Latin and German in college and mistakenly thought that speaking in tongues meant I would be memorizing another language in which to preach the gospel. I therefore went to the bedroom and got a 3 x 5 card and wrote down the phonetic sounds coming from my mouth.
I had always been taught that the original Christians who received the baptism in the Holy Spirit were given languages so that they could preach the gospel to those gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. As the Bible states in Acts 2:11, "We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" (NIV). Then Peter stood up and preached the gospel. I thought I was having the start of a similar experience. How wrong I was! When the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles in the home of Cornelius, Acts 10:46 records, "For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God" (KJV). A primary purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is to enable our human spirit, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to praise God. Once when I prayed with a relative to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, she spoke a Latin phrase, gloria in excelsis Deo, which means "glory to God in the highest." When I asked her if she understood what she had spoken, she replied no and then repeated the Latin phrase several more times!
Another reason for the Holy Spirit baptism is to help us to pray (see Romans 8:26). A missionary to Nigeria, Brother John Dodge, once told our church that an aged man who only knew his native dialect prayed in perfect English for relatives and friends to be saved!
A few weeks after my experience, Ruth's mother, Leta Wells, was sent to our home for care. She was depressed and scheduled for treatment by a New Orleans psychiatrist. He advised that we care for her until hospital space was available.
One of Ruth's friends told her about a group of Methodists in North Baton Rouge who had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and were having prayer for the sick on Thursday evenings. Ruth agreed to go with the woman and ask the group to pray for her mother.
On the appointed evening, it was raining heavily. Ruth's friend called and canceled the appointment, but Ruth was determined to go anyway. She drove alone to the meeting and met with the prayer group. After they had prayed for her mother, the pastor's wife prayed with Ruth to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Ruth spoke three syllables in an unknown language: "Ah-bay-shay."
Even more miraculous, the next morning when Ruth got up, her mother was normal! We went ahead and took her to the psychiatrist, but after examining her, he said, "Mrs. Wells, you are okay. What do you think I should do about the room reserved for you in the hospital?" She replied, "You look tired. Why don't you use the room for a day of rest?"
About this time, we were getting ready to ordain deacons in our church. I preached a sermon on the qualifications for deacons as listed in the New Testament. One qualification was "men filled with the Holy Spirit," found in Acts 6. I then explained what "filled" meant and shared my own experience. Things were going well until I mentioned praying in an unknown language! A handful of listeners became angry, and I learned later they began praying that I would be forced out of the church. But the deacons who had heard Dennis Bennett speak stood with me.
After the service, one church leader approached me and said, "The next thing we'll hear is that you have started praying for the sick." I had read in the newspaper that Jack Coe, an Assembly of God evangelist, had been arrested in Florida for praying for a person to be healed by the Lord, so I quickly denied the leader's assumption. The next day, as I drove toward Baton Rouge General Hospital, I was thinking about what had happened and told myself that I would never be part of praying for supernatural healing.
When I arrived at the hospital, I went to the room of a patient I had been asked to visit. The patient was in a three-bed ward and was apparently in a coma. After a short visit with one of the man's relatives, I offered to pray. Then, as I was leaving the room, a patient in an adjoining area asked if I would pray for him. I agreed, and after a brief visit, I began to pray. He interrupted the prayer, however, and reached out and caught my right hand. As he pulled my hand to rest on his chest, he said, "If you don't mind, leave your hand on my chest while you pray." I hastily finished praying and left the room. I was shaken! I had done exactly what I said I would never do.
As I was drinking water at a fountain, the thought It didn't hurt, did it? raced through my mind. I left the building, went to my car, and picked up a Bible. As I nervously held the Bible, it fell open to Matthew, chapter 8. Though we had studied Matthew's gospel verse by verse in seminary, for the first time I noticed that in verses 14 and 15, Jesus placed His hand on Peter's sick mother-in-law as He prayed for her. I repented and then promised the Lord to lay hands on the sick. As I later learned, Matthew 8:17 refers to Isaiah 53:6, showing that healing is part of the atonement.
A short time later, I received a phone call from a church construction company with a job offer that eventually opened the way for deliverance from denominational bondage. Clyde Rabun, president of the construction company, had met with our church leaders some months before and explained how his company could assume the entire responsibility for a church-building need. We did not engage his service. However, sometime later, as I entered my office one morning, I had the distinct impression that Clyde Rabun would call. Moments later the phone rang, and I answered. It was Clyde.
Clyde began the conversation by saying that he was traveling through Baton Rouge and needed to take his ten-year-old daughter to a doctor. He asked for the name of my family doctor, and as I gave him the information, I thought to myself, Let him say, "Are you ready to work with me?" Soon he repeated those exact words!
Ruth and I met with Clyde and some of his company leaders and accepted their offer. In my new position, I worked with ten churches in Texas and Louisiana; and in private conversations with the pastors, I learned that they all realized a need for the Holy Spirit's leadership but did not know how to overcome doctrinal objections.
Many times denominational doctrines are not consistent with the Bible. Brother John Osteen used the Mississippi River as an example to explain this. The river begins in Minnesota as a small pool of spring water, clear as crystal. As it flows to the Gulf of Mexico, it becomes a muddy mess, filled with waste and pollutants of all kinds from cities, factories, and topsoil. Similarly, the book of Acts presents a clear picture of the doctrines of the early church, free of the added opinions and limited knowledge of the centuries. We must return to the spring that accurately reveals what the Lord wants the church to know!
I was working with churches in the Beaumont area when I visited a Pentecostal church for the first time. While attending a Wednesday evening service at the First Assembly of God in Beaumont, I met a layman by the name of Casey Jones. He and his wife took a personal interest in me and advised that I go hear Kenneth Hagin, who was speaking at a nearby Assembly of God church. I took their advice and heard a message from 1 Corinthians 12 on the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In one of my classes in seminary, we had studied 1 Corinthians, but somehow no emphasis was ever placed on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As a student, I studied the professor's lecture more than I studied the Bible, knowing that the exam questions would come from lecture material. What a tragic mistake!
The revelation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit opened a new era in my spiritual life, and I followed Brother Hagin to hear more. It was the summer of 1963, and I had my family with me in Beaumont. We lived in a nice apartment, complete with a swimming pool for the children. One evening when I came home to the apartment, Ruth told me that during a prayer time earlier in the day, she had sensed the Lord telling her that we would be changing work for the Lord in the fall.
The next night, we decided to go to a Kenneth Hagin meeting in Nederland, a nearby city. Dressed casually, we quietly sat on a back pew in the church. When Brother Hagin was introduced to deliver the sermon, he said that he had a word for someone and invited the person to come forward so that he could lay hands on him while he delivered the prophecy. I felt the message was for me and went to the front of the auditorium. Brother Hagin, who knew nothing about me, identified me as a pastor and began to speak encouraging words about my future ministry. He also said there would be a big change in my work for God in September.
Encouraged by the words of this prophecy, Ruth and I returned to Baton Rouge with the intention of starting a Spirit-filled church where people could freely worship God and practice the "full gospel." A friend arranged for us to have access to a conference room, and in August of 1963, we had our first meeting, with about fifteen people in attendance.
In that same month, we incorporated as a church, and I asked the members to pray concerning a name for the church. Three different people, without knowledge of one another, proposed the name "Bethany," so the church was named Bethany Baptist Church. I had learned that there were more than fifty different Baptist denominations in America and decided that one more was okay.
By retaining the name of a known denomination, we helped many new charismatic believers in their transition to newfound freedom in the Lord Jesus. However, we never placed an emphasis on denominations, but all were welcome to come and worship and experience the reality of the Lord Jesus.
Shortly after we began meeting in the conference room, the Lord sovereignly led me to the place He had chosen for us to locate the church. I had an appointment a hundred miles south of Baton Rouge and was stopped at a traffic light near our home in North Baton Rouge. A silent impression came to my mind, "Turn right," and I obeyed. I began driving north on Plank Road and thought that I was looking for property to buy for the church.
After traveling about two miles, with no attraction to any property, I turned around to drive to my appointment. That's when it happened! Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a For Sale sign near the base of a large tree. I applied the brakes to my car and turned into the drive. I walked over to a lady working in a flowerbed and introduced myself. She told me that she lived with her brother and led me to the front door.
When her brother appeared, much to my surprise, I recognized him. He owned property next to my previous church, and I had talked to him about the Lord. I told him that I was looking for property to locate a church, and I called Ruth to give her the address. I asked her to come see the property.
When we returned home, Ruth told me that the moment she stepped inside the house, the Lord witnessed to her, "This is it!" We had two hundred dollars to offer the owner as earnest money for a thirty-day option and did so. When the option period expired, however, we still did not have a loan approved.
Another group offered cash to buy the property, but the owner told me that he was going to give us another thirty days, saying that he felt that we should get the property. As I prayed about what further action we should take, the word subdivide came to mind. I called the owner and asked if he would subdivide the property. He replied, "It is already subdivided." He had mortgaged the house with one acre of land and had a clear title to the adjoining two acres. With that information, I approached a second bank and arranged to borrow enough money to buy the two acres for the church. The home for my family was bought for $30,000, and the two acres for the church was bought for $7,000.
My salary only allowed me to borrow $24,000 dollars, so I had to obtain a second mortgage loan to close the gap. We had arranged for all three mortgages to be prepared by the same attorney, but then Satan tried to stop the purchase.
Ruth came home one day and announced that as she was driving home, she had decided to tell me that our family could not afford the monthly payments. Then she said the words "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" came to her mind. I showed her Romans 14:23, where those words are recorded in Scripture, and Ruth quickly answered, "That settles it!" We proceeded with our plans and went to the lawyer's office on a Friday afternoon to sign the papers. He had told me that I would need $650 to close, but as he reviewed the papers, he said that the total was actually $990. He had overlooked the cost of title insurance. I told him that I had only $650 and suggested that he date the transaction for the following Monday to give me time to deposit the extra required. He agreed, saying the owner had called and could not come to sign until Monday.
As we left the office, Ruth asked where we would get the extra money, and I told her we would have to depend on the Lord. During the weekend, we received five checks in the mail. Three of the five checks were from people who owed me money, and the last two checks arrived Sunday afternoon by special delivery from the regional manager of World Book Encyclopedia.
Ruth served as a substitute teacher and also sold World Books. The manager had included a note with two checks, explaining that one check was owed to Ruth, and the other check, for $100, was a loan. "I think you need to borrow $100 from me!" the note prophetically read. We now had $7 above the $990 needed!
I relate the following story to show another way in which the Holy Spirit helped us with financing Bethany property. After the original purchase, we concentrated on paying off the second mortgage loan. When the final payment was made, the banker shared with me that as he had considered the original loan application, another pastor had entered the lobby of the bank. This pastor had borrowed a large sum for his church and enjoyed a good relationship with the bank. The loan officer called the pastor into his office and asked if he knew Roy Stockstill. The pastor replied "yes." The banker then told the pastor that I had applied for a loan to start a church, and the pastor advised, "Let him have the loan; he's a good man." This pastor was Hershel Dean, the only Spirit-filled pastor out of forty Southern Baptist pastors in Baton Rouge.
In February of 1964, we moved to the new location, and Bethany was up and running. Our first meeting was held in the living room, and I stood behind a chair as I preached. In the first month, our income was $372.15. We gave a hundred dollars to a mission project, and we were happy and free! From the beginning, we were impressed to build the kingdom of God instead of "our church," the Lord using Acts 10:38 to shift our emphasis.
Acts 10:38 states, "You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good" (NASB). As a Baptist pastor, I had been restricted to ministry in a given geographical area to a certain type of people who qualified to be members of "my church." Jesus, however, went about doing good to all. I decided to follow His example and work for the growth of His kingdom.
Mark 1:14 says, "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel' " (NKJV). This emphasis was continued by the early church: "But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized" (Acts 8:12, NKJV); and "Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding Him" (Acts 28:30–31, NKJV).
Preaching the kingdom message always brings great liberty, and it did for us. We no longer concerned ourselves with "how many"; we simply ministered to those who came and encouraged all to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit in choosing a church to attend and support. We were then assured that those who were faithful to Bethany had made a choice directed by the Lord.
Acts 10:38 refers to "all who were oppressed by the devil" (NKJV). However, the devil and demons were enemies that I knew little or nothing about until I received the Holy Spirit baptism. As a Baptist pastor, I used psychology to handle problem church members. For example, a couple once presented themselves for membership by transfer from another Baptist church and were received with no open opposition from the congregation. But after the service was dismissed, a deacon informed me that the couple were troublemakers and had caused church division. With that information, I tried to overcome their efforts by using human reason and effort. I was successful in blocking their schemes, but after I left the church, they succeeded in destroying the congregation through disruptive actions. The devil always tries to conceal his identity or use deception to destroy the people of God, and that is exactly what he did in this case.
After reading about the deliverance of the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1–16), I decided to read the comments about the case by A. E. J. Rawlinson, whose commentary on the gospel of Mark we had studied in seminary. His explanation was that the problem was mental illness and that Jesus accommodated Himself to the superstitious beliefs of the Palestinian people, who ignorantly believed in evil spirits!
I was present at a demonstration of this ignorance in a chapel service at the seminary I had attended. A Baptist missionary who had served many years in China was the invited chapel speaker. Along with two other Baptist pastors who had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, I attended the service. When the missionary shared about a direct conflict involving a demon-possessed person, a lady professor on the platform laughed; and at the conclusion of the message, the entire faculty left the platform without speaking a word to the missionary. Thankfully, things are changing as television programs like The 700 Club have brought information concerning the reality of demonic influence to the public's attention.
A lady visiting our church once went into the prayer room to ask for prayer about smoking. As the altar worker commanded the spirit responsible for her smoking to leave her, the spirit, using the woman's voice, replied, "She doesn't want me to leave." As might be expected, the woman did not experience deliverance. On the other hand, we saw individuals who cooperated fully in a prayer for deliverance experience instant, complete freedom.
Daniel 10:13 proclaims, "But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty one days" (NASB), providing us with a clear instance of prayer being resisted by demonic forces. There is a kingdom of darkness to be faced and overcome by the power of almighty God, and as Ephesians 6:12 teaches, human beings are not our enemy, but a hierarchy of evil spirits that must be defeated.
When I learned that John Osteen was preaching in a Pentecostal church near Baton Rouge, I went to hear him. From Luke 6:38, he spoke of giving to God. He emphasized that God responds to our giving with the same measure that we use when giving. "Use a teaspoon, and God will use a teaspoon; use a shovel, and God will use a shovel" was his illustration. I decided to test the teaching and placed ten dollars in the offering. As I was leaving the building, a lady handed me an envelope and said that her husband had sent it for me. When I opened the envelope, it contained a check for ten dollars.
The next day, I returned for the morning service. Brother Osteen made an appeal for a missions offering, and I gave a postdated check for fifty dollars. After the service, Brother Osteen invited me to have lunch with him. At the restaurant, he told me that Mr. Curtis Bell, a deacon from his church who traveled with him and handled the offering, had told him about the postdated check. He assured me that the Lord would provide. The following Sunday, a visitor handed me a check for fifty-seven dollars, saying the gift was for my personal use!
We joyfully embraced the teaching about giving and learned that it is truly impossible to outgive God. He is a generous giver and has supplied a steady increase in the finances of Bethany. We followed His direction in supporting others and always had more than enough to meet our needs. In fact, the first check written on the church account was for a hundred dollars payable to a missions project, and as we have been diligent to do what we could to reach lost humanity, God has more than repaid anything we have ever given away.
I thank the Lord for the emphasis on missions that the Southern Baptists taught me. We gave to missions through the Cooperative Program but rarely saw or heard directly from our missionaries. However, a book by Oswald Smith, pastor of People's Church in Toronto, Canada, dramatically changed my support pattern.
Smith emphasized the need to "get missions out of the budget and onto the platform." As a result, we began inviting missionaries to our pulpit and saw amazing results as our people gave and visited the mission field for short-term service.
The challenge of supporting mission projects directly influenced our type of building construction. Ollie Lovett of Baton Rouge had resigned from a position with Exxon and moved to Mexico as a missionary. We helped her build a small block building with a dirt floor and thatch roof for five hundred dollars. She invited me to preach at the dedication of the building.
A church family had allowed the construction to be done in their front yard. When we arrived in the afternoon prior to the dedication, the woman had prepared a meal for us. As we shared the food in her humble home, she told us excitedly about going outside the night before to look at the building once more before retiring. The moon was shining brightly, she said, and she saw angels entering the church building through open windows!
Back home, we were acquainted with a denominational church that had just completed a new auditorium. The steeple alone cost fifty thousand dollars. When I learned of the great cost, I remember thinking, That would build a hundred churches in Third World countries. The slogan "people or steeple" came to mind, and from that point on, we determined to construct metal buildings for our own needs in order to have money for missions.
Another act of giving to a missionary provided an introduction to Daniel Ost, one of the most dedicated missionaries in the history of Bethany. Here is how it happened: Reverend Dick Carter, a Southern Baptist from Atlanta, called and asked if he could visit us on his way to Mexico. We were happy to hear his story of experiences with the Holy Spirit. He also shared that as he approached our location, his car engine overheated. An examination showed excessive damage that would require about six hundred dollars to repair. Our small group of twenty-five to thirty people provided the entire amount. A widow gave four hundred dollars of the total, sharing a story of how the Lord had impressed her months earlier to start saving for a project that would be revealed.
Brother Carter was overjoyed, and after the engine repair, he invited me to ride to Mexico and visit his friend, Daniel Ost, a missionary pilot who used a small plane to drop bundles of gospel tracts in Mexican villages. Later in life, Danny's children would marry Mexican believers and become effective church planters in Mexico and other countries.
I accepted Brother Carter's invitation and stayed with the Ost family for several days. Over the years, a close relationship with Brother Ost and his family developed and greatly enriched the lives of Bethany people. It also introduced us to a host of other churches who supported the Osts, as well as other dedicated missionaries like Roger West and Bob Finke, who both served in Mexico.
Brother Ost and his family started buying large abandoned factory buildings and converting them into Faith, Hope, and Love Centers. They held services daily, and multiplied thousands were saved. Much of their work was centered in Mexico City.
Brother Ost often conducted funerals, and a city-owned cemetery was used by many since it was available without charge. No headstones were allowed in the place. Brother Ost bought a small piece of property at the main entrance to this cemetery, and after his death, he was buried at that location. A concrete slab was poured over his grave and that of his wife, Ruby. A small iron fence was built around the site. Tract racks were fastened to the fence and stocked daily with soul-winning tracts. The names and addresses of several churches that the couple had established were printed on the face of the slab. Family members who visited the burial site shared numerous stories of winning lost souls who stopped to investigate who the people were who had such an elaborate burial spot.
It is my conviction that the involvement of Bethany with worldwide missions is the reason for God's blessing on the church.
An invitation to share my testimony of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit with about forty Southern Baptist pastors was the background for another major revelation from the Lord. One of the pastors had written a paper against the charismatic movement and had been asked to read it to the forty pastors. After the reading, another pastor asked the group to consider hearing the other side of the story from two Spirit-baptized pastors in the city, Hershel Dean and me.
Brother Dean had written his testimony and shared how he had received the baptism in the Holy Spirit at an Assembly of God tent meeting in Monroe, Louisiana. Then I shared my story. The interest was great, and we were invited to return the following week to share more.
At the second meeting, I was given most of the time since Brother Dean was delayed. On the way to the second meeting, the Lord had impressed the words fullness, fruit, and function of the Holy Spirit on my mind. I shared about the command to be filled with the Spirit found in Ephesians, and I shared about the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians. There was no visible response. However, when I began discussing the nine gifts of the Spirit from 1 Corinthians 12, I noticed pastors reading from their Bibles. They followed with interest as I pointed out three gifts of revelation, three of speech, and three of supernatural action.
As I concluded, one of the pastors asked what I felt was the main benefit of receiving the baptism. Stalling for time, I turned to a blackboard on which several mental-illness terms were written. I picked up an eraser and began removing the mental illnesses listed and thanking the group for providing the backdrop for my message. After cleaning the board, I picked up a piece of chalk and watched in amazement as I wrote the word rest on the board. It was truly Holy Spirit inspired! I turned to the pastors and said, "I used to work for God, but now I have learned to allow Him to work through me." Later, Hebrews 4:9, "There remains therefore a rest for the people of God" (NKJV), came to mind, and the importance of living by faith was shared.
Ruth and I often spent time in prayer for needs to be met. On one occasion, as we prayed about the need for $150, we heard a knock at our door. When I went to answer the knock, a woman who did not attend Bethany stood outside with a check for $150! Many other stories of financial answers could be given, but the whole matter is covered by saying that over the years, as we have rested in God and trusted in Him, every need has been supplied.
When the people of Capernaum heard that Jesus was in the house, a crowd quickly gathered. In fact, the number was so great that "there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them" (v. 2, NASB). The presence of the Lord always draws people, and His healing power is all that is needed to attract a crowd. People are hungry for reality, and physical manifestations of the presence of God are all it takes to assure a response from hungry hearts.
One of our first healing miracles was the healing of baby "Apple" Mayo's clubfoot. The parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ronnie Mayo, brought the baby to a Sunday service for prayer. As the small congregation anointed the baby with olive oil, we could see no evidence of healing, since the foot was in a cast.
The following Tuesday, Mrs. Mayo took Apple to have the cast changed. The doctor had said that he would try to straighten the foot at intervals. When the cast was removed, the foot began to move to a straight position! All were excited, and the doctor said, "Maybe we should put the cast on one more time for strength." Following the doctor's orders, the nurse began putting the cast back on, but on the wrong foot. Mrs. Mayo calmly responded, "I don't want to embarrass you, but that is the wrong foot."
Carolyn Bell had a cancerous growth in her throat. Doctors had said it was not possible to operate because the growth had spread its tentacles in a manner that made surgery difficult. Carolyn came to a healing service at our church, which was being conducted by Bernie Davis, an Assembly of God evangelist. As Brother Davis rose to speak, he pointed toward Carolyn and said, "A cancer is being healed." Carolyn said that she experienced a bitter taste as she was being healed. The next service, she and her neighbors filled an entire pew.
Another one of our members, Rita Bullock, was a patient at the Earl K. Long charity hospital. After surgery for abdominal cancer, she was told there was no hope for recovery. Tubes were inserted into her body, and she was fed intravenously.
Day by day, Rita grew steadily weaker and soon weighed only seventy pounds. Nonetheless, whenever we visited her, she somehow always managed to whisper, "By His stripes we are healed." Then, according to her testimony, one morning just after dawn, angels gathered around her bed. They were clothed in shimmering robes of various colors, and they had no discernible facial features, only a glow. An angel who stood near her head said, "We have been sent by the most high God to bring healing." Rita then felt a light touch on her sore throat, and a warmth swept through her body. The angels faded from view.
A few minutes later, the intern who cared for her entered the room. After examining her, he began removing tubes. He left the room and returned in a short time with a number of doctors. They asked Rita to tell them what had happened, and she shared the story of the angelic visitation. She was then dismissed from the hospital with instructions to follow a strict liquid diet and went to the home of her sister.
When Rita's sister asked what she would like to eat, she replied, "Red beans and rice," which she ate with no ill effects. After complete recovery, Rita requested a license to preach the gospel! We gladly complied, and for the next fifteen years, she ministered in homes and churches with powerful results!
I could cite many more examples of divine healing, but in every case, friends and family members were attracted to the church by the presence of God. We never spent money on advertising. Word of mouth is all it took to assure church growth. In addition, we were told by several people that as they drove past our building, they were supernaturally drawn to turn in and visit the service.
I had the privilege of attending two of Kathryn Kuhlman's meetings, one in the city of Dallas and the other in Monroe, Louisiana. It was necessary to arrive early and wait hours for the doors to open because of the mass of people wanting to get inside. The Lord always attracts the multitudes. Our part is to pray for His presence and power to be demonstrated.
At the evening service in August of 1963, I was seated on the platform with my son Larry and Danny Ost. I leaned across Brother Ost and softly informed Larry that I thought he should assume the leadership of the church. His response was "Wait a minute." In a short while, Brother Ost said, "That's the Lord," and then Larry agreed. I announced the decision to the church and invited Larry's wife Melanie and the people to join us in prayer down front as we released the leadership. Melanie told us that as she entered the auditorium for the morning service, the Lord had impressed her that she and Larry would assume leadership that day!
I decided to leave on a six-week vacation to give Larry opportunity to adjust. It has been a joy to see the church and mission support grow, and I believe the best is yet to be!
As I have recalled the major turning points in my spiritual journey, I have been reminded of the grace of our Lord. When He said, "Without Me you can do nothing," He perfectly described our total dependence on Him. Our part is always to trust and obey.
On the human side, as I close this story, I wish to honor the memory of a Christian wife, Ruth Wells Stockstill. Ruth was twelve years old when she invited the Lord Jesus into her heart. Her favorite Bible verse was "Love never fails," and her life was filled with loving God and loving people. Without her agreement, prayers, and hard work, the story of Bethany World Prayer Center would be far different.