Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chapter 11: Getting an Education

I was mostly a B student. My educational career started that way in first grade at Arnold School.

Miss Dugan, my teacher, had just graduated from college three months before. She was a nice lady, tall, single, and coach of the 7th and 8th grade girl’s basketball team.

I liked Miss Dugan, and she seemed to like me. But, she was of the opinion that A grades should be dispensed to first graders rarely, if at all. Every report card I ever got from her was straight B’s, as were the report cards of most of the students in my class.

My brother, Paul, was also in first grade the same year as me, but he was in a different classroom with a much older teacher. She was from the old school that believed in being lavish with A grades to good students. Every report card he brought home was straight A’s.

In second grade, we transferred from Arnold to Mayfield Elementary School. Mayfield was a smaller school with only one second grade class, so Paul and I were in the same room together.

Two things about Mayfield were particularly exciting to me. First, I thought our principle, Woodrow Wilson, was the former president of the United States. Second, the milk they served in the cafeteria said “Mayfield Milk” on the carton. I thought we had our own cows somewhere back in the kitchen. I later learned that there was another Woodrow Wilson who had been president, and Mayfield is a regional dairy located in Athens, Tennessee. Such disillusionments were a part of my education.

That first year at Mayfield, in second grade, I made about half A’s and half B’s. Paul made all A’s. I knew Paul wasn’t any smarter than me, but he was ten times more outgoing and quickly became one of the teacher’s pets.

During third and fourth grades the same pattern continued. I got A’s and B’s and Paul got all A’s. The fact that I couldn’t talk plain and was painfully shy certainly had an adverse effect on my participation in class, which was virtually nil. Paul and I often compared notes and I was beginning to suspect teacher prejudice was involved. I was ten years old now -- old enough to figure out that maybe my first grade teacher had pegged me as a B student, the other teachers had seen my record, and just continued the tradition.

Mrs. Walker was our teacher in fourth grade. She was an older lady, past retirement age, but still teaching because there was a teacher shortage in Tennessee.

Mrs. Walker was my favorite teacher up to that point in school. The thing I liked most about her was we could get away with just about anything in her class. She was absent minded and hard of hearing. When things got a little too noisy for her in the classroom, sometimes Mrs. Walker would just give us a make-do assignment, turn down her hearing aid, and zone out at her desk. At those times she didn’t seem to notice what was going on around her.

Like our teachers before her, Mrs. Walker almost always gave me B grades and she gave Paul A’s. Paul and I discussed this one day and decided to test my theory. For geography class, Mrs. Walker had assigned us to write a paper about the Belgium Congo. Paul and I collaborated on the assignment and we turned in identical papers. Mrs. Walker never noticed our papers were the same, word for word. Paul got an A; I got a B. We wouldn’t dare tell Mrs. Walker what we had done, for fear of getting into trouble over it. I resigned myself to the fact that I was destined to be a B student.

Our classroom had a side door which led directly to the outside. One beautiful spring day, shortly after lunch, Mrs. Walker had her hearing aid turned off and was napping at her desk. The side door was open to let in fresh air and the outdoors was calling my name. I had just been reading about Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and playing hooky, which appealed to me greatly.

On a dare from another student, I slipped out of my seat and ducked outside. I ran as fast as I could across the school yard to get out of sight as quickly as possible. It was only then I realized that I didn’t dare go home or Mother would learn of what I had done. So I walked down to Fillauer’s Creek and played there alone for a couple of hours until school was out. Playing hooky was fun, but not quite as much fun as I had expected it to be. The best part is that Mrs. Walker never noticed I was missing.

Mayfield was a public school, but it may as well have been a Christian one. We had regular chapel services, led by local pastors, and most of the teachers kept a Bible on their desks for ready reference. When I was in fourth grade, a couple of representatives of the Gideon Society came around and presented everyone in the class their own personal copy of the New Testament -- Authorized King James Version.

Our sixth grade teacher, Jack Tullock, gave extra credit for memorizing Bible verses. Every Friday after lunch he would announce that it was time to recite our verse of the week. This was a cinch for me because we were allowed to pick our own Scripture to memorize, and I already had a repertoire of them I had learned at home and in church.

One by one we would stand in front of the class and recite our chosen Scripture while Mr. Tullock made due note of it in his record book.

The local city school board passed two policies that I thought were great. First, no teacher was permitted to give homework on Wednesdays, because most churches held their prayer meeting on that night and homework would be a detriment to the students attending church. Second, if the local church a student attended was engaged in a revival meeting, and the student was attending the services, he or she was exempt from homework for that evening. This policy made us Church of God kids the envy of the school because we had far more revivals, and longer lasting ones, than the other churches.

I continued at Mayfield School through eighth grade, and our 1959 graduating class was the last eighth grade graduation they would hold. After that year, the city went to a three tier school system, with elementary school, junior high school (later called middle school) and high school.

The big majority of students at Mayfield attended church somewhere. They were Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Church of God with a sprinkling of Independent Pentecostals or other denominations. During the years I attended Mayfield, there was never a Jewish student or any from a non-Christian religion. There were no Catholics either, except for a few months one year in fifth grade.

I had heard of Catholics before, but had never actually seen one that I knew of. I had been told that instead of believing the Bible, the Catholics did whatever the Pope said. The Pope was kind of like our General Overseer in the Church of God.

When I was in fifth grade, at an assembly program with the whole student body present, it was announced that the next day our school would be getting its first Catholic student, a young girl named Maria. She was in fifth grade and would be in my class. Maria had just moved to Cleveland from Michigan, because her father was going to be working at the new Bowater’s Paper Mill nearby.

The reason for the announcement was because the school authorities, after much deliberation, had decided to make a special exception to the school dress code that would apply only to Maria. Girls at Mayfield were not allowed to wear pants to school, nor could they wear makeup or have pierced ears. Female teachers couldn’t wear slacks to school but they were allowed makeup and earrings.

In the assembly program, it was carefully explained that Maria was coming to us from an entirely different culture up north and her ears had been pierced since she was a very young child. The girl and her family had agreed she would abide by the rule forbidding girls to wear slacks or makeup, but they had appealed to the school board about the earrings and the exception had been granted.

Maria didn’t look evil at all as I had expected her to. She had dark hair in a short pageboy cut around a pretty face. And on each of her earlobes there was a tiny gold ball. Also, like me, she was very shy. I don’t think I ever talked to her except to bashfully say “Howdy.” Maria was only in our class for a few months before her family moved back to Michigan. Maybe they couldn’t take the culture shock of Cleveland.

The no slacks, no makeup, no pierced ears policy for students was fine with us Pentecostals. We considered those things sinful anyway. Our beliefs were as much cultural as they were Scriptural.

Two national events stand out in my mind as a student at Mayfield and both of them concerned the American flag. One was the addition of the words “under God,” to the pledge of allegiance. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill which inserted “under God” into the pledge in the summer of 1959.

The next fall, when I started fourth grade, the first thing the entire school did was re-learn the pledge of allegiance -- under God. Mr. Wilson and every teacher at the school was profuse in their praise of President Eisenhower and the addition of the words “under God” in the pledge. They said it was about time for America to take a stand for God and right.

I was in eighth grade when our teacher, Mr. Money, announced that Alaska had been admitted to the union as the 49th state, so we now had a new flag with 49 stars instead of 48. Only a few months later, during the summer after I graduated from 8th grade, Hawaii also became a state and the 50th star was added.

For ninth grade I went back to the old building where I had attended Arnold Elementary School in first grade. That facility had just been changed into Cleveland’s first Junior High School. So after one year there, I was in the first Junior High School graduating class in the history of Cleveland.

Bradley Central High School came next, and that was a whole new experience. At the time, Bradley was the largest public high school in the state of Tennessee, with more than 2,000 students. Some years later Bradley was divided with the formation of Cleveland High School.
My world expanded greatly at Bradley. Now I was rubbing shoulders with kids from all over the county. There were no blacks; they had their own school called “College Hill,” over in Cleveland’s Sixth Ward. If there were any Jews or Catholics at Bradley, I didn’t know them personally. But there was a big mixture of town and country kids, and some of them were adherents to denominations that were unfamiliar to me: Episcopalian, Church of Christ and Seventh Day Adventist. I thought I was really in a mission field now.

In tenth grade, I got my first exposure to godless higher education. Mrs. Rogers, my biology teacher, dared to violate Tennessee state law and teach the theory of evolution. Although I thought she was wrong, I admired Mrs. Rogers for taking such a risk. In those days her teacher’s certification could have been revoked for teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school, had someone made an issue of it.

Cleveland was a little less than 30 miles from Dayton, Tennessee, where the famous Scopes Monkey Trial had drawn national and international attention over that very issue back in the summer of 1925. People still talked about it -- William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow and the “Trial of the Century.” Hollywood even made a movie about it, Inherit the Wind. Of course the good guys -- the creationists -- won.

Mrs. Rogers was an excellent teacher and one whom I respected highly. But I was concerned for her soul because, in my mind, she must be a terrible infidel to teach evolution.

One memory from Mrs. Roger’s class was on May 5, 1961. That day she brought a radio to school and instead of studying biology, the class tuned in to the first flight of an American astronaut into outer space. Within the span of a single class period, Alan Shepherd was launched into space to an altitude higher than any American had ever flown before, and returned safely to earth. America was behind Russia in the space race at that time and this was one of the biggest things I could remember ever happening.

Another event in Mrs. Roger’s class was of a more personal nature, and it marked me for the remainder of my high school career. I had read an article in Life magazine about the 1939 college fad of swallowing live goldfish. For some reason my sophomoric brain was totally intrigued by the idea, and I decided to try it.

One Saturday I went to the F. W. Woolworth’s store in downtown Cleveland and bought two goldfish. I put them in a glass bowl in my room at home and watched the fish for a long time. When I felt the moment was right, I reached into the bowl, picked up one of them, and popped it down the hatch. I immediately realized I had made a mistake. The next time I swallowed a goldfish, it would be head first. The scales on this one caught on my throat as it went down backwards. After swallowing the goldfish, I laid on my bed for thirty minutes to see if I would survive. I was sure I could feel it swimming around inside my stomach.

The next Monday at school, before the final bell rang to begin biology class, I told some of my friends about my feat. They said they didn’t believe me, and one of them pointed out a lone goldfish swimming in an aquarium in the classroom and dared me to show them. “I’ll give you a quarter if you do it,” he said.

Others chimed in. “Here’s my quarter too.”

Soon a total of $1.25 had been pledged and to me that was serious money. In 1961, a quarter would buy you a Coke, a bag of peanuts and a candy bar. For $1.25 you could buy a five day’s supply. I told all of them to give their money to one boy who would hold the purse until after I had demonstrated my bravado. Then I walked over to the teacher’s desk and asked, “May I please swallow the goldfish over there in the tank?”

Mrs. Rogers was unflappable. “Sure Stephen, go right ahead.”

I caught the fish, held it carefully by the tail, dropped it into my mouth, and it slid down the chute head first, easy as pie. Not only did I earn $1.25, I also earned a reputation that stayed with me throughout the remainder of my years at Bradley Central High School. Students I didn’t even know would pass me in the hallway and blurt out, “Hey, it’s Goldfish Conn.”
I didn’t like that nickname, but there was little I could do about it.

The following Sunday morning at church, one of the sanctified brothers stopped me in the North Cleveland lobby and asked, “Stephen, what’s this I hear about you swallowing a goldfish at school?” Now I was frightened. The word was out even among the grownups at church so surely my daddy would find out. Innately I knew he would disapprove of such foolishness, and I dreaded the consequences.

Sure enough, that afternoon Dad asked me about the goldfish swallowing incident. He berated me long and hard over it, telling me what a fool I had made of myself and that I was an embarrassment to the family. Dad said he wasn’t going to spank me this time because he had never told me not to swallow a goldfish before, and therefore, I had not technically disobeyed him.

“So,” Dad announced, “Since you like to swallow things, I want you to go into the kitchen right now and bring me a dozen eggs.” Dad called several of my brothers and sisters around his chair where he sat in the living room and told them to watch while I stood in front of them and swallowed a dozen raw eggs.

The first one went down with a little gagging and lots of tears, then the second and a third. My siblings were all laughing and thoroughly enjoying the spectacle.

“That’s enough for now,” Dad stopped the show. “We’ll save the other nine eggs for later.” Over the next several weeks, whenever it suited Dad’s fancy, he would call on me to swallow another egg or two. Each time there was an audience, such as my older brother, Philip, when he came home from college for a weekend. And each time, the egg swallowing was accompanied by a reminder of what a stupid thing I had done and what an embarrassment it was. After a few weeks, the entire dozen was swallowed and Dad let the matter drop.

It was during the spring of that sophomore year in high school that I first felt the call of God on my life, and I preached my first few sermons. Kids at school knew I was a Christian and very serious about my religion. Some of my classmates even heard me preach at local churches, or on the street corner.

In my junior year, a scrappy little punk named Jesse asked me that since I was a Christian and a preacher, did I believe in fighting?

“No,” I told him. “I don’t fight.”

With that Jesse hauled back and gave me a hard unexpected blow to the stomach. I didn’t retaliate. Jesse grinned and said, “Just checking.”

Jesse was a wiry little guy, five inches shorter than me, but very tough. He wore his hair in a ducktail and usually had a sullen smirk on his face. On one of his arms was a homemade tattoo which read, “Born to Lose.”

One day I was in the boy’s room at school and Jesse cornered me in a stall. “Okay, Conn,” he snarled, “let’s see how good of a Christian you are.” He slapped me in the face and challenged, “Come on. Fight me!”

When I didn’t strike back, Jesse shoved me back against the toilet and came at me with a barrage of punches. “Let’s fight, Conn! Let’s fight!”

I reported the incident to our home room teacher, Mr. Austin. Jesse was in the same room. Mr. Austin called both of us up to his desk and said, “Boys, I understand the two of you have a little score to settle. Why don’t we do it with boxing gloves?” Jesse and I both agreed. I felt this would be permissible, even for a pacifist Christian, because boxing was a sport and not like real fighting.

The next morning the entire class went down to the gym; Jesse and I put on boxing gloves. I was larger than him and probably stronger, but not nearly as fast or as experienced in fighting. Encircled by thirty boys who were cheering and egging us on, Jesse and I slugged it out. I’d love to say I knocked the slop out of him but I actually came away from the match battered and bruised. However, I did land a few good punches. My good showing at least earned a lot of respect from my classmates. The referee called it a tie; Jesse never challenged me again.

I had a remarkable personality change during my high school years. It was a kind of metamorphosis in which I came out of my bashful shell. I had pretty much overcome my speech impediment by this time, and I began to compensate for my former shyness by becoming the class clown. I’m convinced that many clowns and others with a fearless fa├žade are actually very timid people, pretending they aren’t afraid.

I was not a clown in the sense of some who are always pulling pranks or practical jokes that might hurt or embarrass someone else. I just had a good sense of humor, recognized life’s absurdities, and didn’t mind pointing them out. In my senior yearbook, which I still have, many students, and a few teachers, wrote that they appreciated the way my “stimulating, extemporaneous repartee” livened up the classroom.

When the time came to choose Superlatives for the school yearbook, my classmates elected me as “Wittiest.” That was the highest honor of my life up to that time, next to being elected Mr. Tennessee Church of God Youth Camp when I was 16.

To present the Superlatives, a school assembly was held in the gymnasium. More than 2,000 students and the entire faculty were present. For the program, the Superlatives, which included my brother Paul (Most Likely to Succeed), were to dress as historical figures. I took a piece of burned cork, blackened my face and hands, and came out as James Meredith.

James Meredith is not a well known figure today, but he was very much in the news in the early 1960s, and I felt surely he was destined to become a historical figure. James Meredith was the first black student to be admitted to the University of Mississippi. His admission was opposed by state officials and students. U. S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy sent federal marshals to protect Meredith from threats of being lynched. During riots that followed Kennedy’s decision, 160 marshals were wounded (28 by gunfire) and two bystanders were killed.

My choice of costume was controversial since Bradley was not yet integrated. Throughout high school, and even in elementary school, I had been very outspoken in favoring school integration. It was a hotly debated issue in those days and my position was not the most popular one. Because of my stance, a few kids at school called me “nigger lover.” I think I identified with the black’s cause because, as a Pentecostal, I too was part of a misunderstood and persecuted minority group.

Dad couldn’t have been more displeased when he learned I had been elected “Wittiest.” He told me I should be ashamed. It was a disgrace for a young preacher to be elected the “biggest jackass” at Bradley High School. Dad said I would never be a success in the ministry unless I became more serious about life.

Dad’s scolding hurt my feelings, but that was offset by a couple of my classmates who told me they had become Christians because of my example. They said I had demonstrated to them that a person could be a Christian and still laugh, be happy, and enjoy life.

When I was attending high school, it was exactly a one mile walk from our house to school. Going to Lee College was easier; that was only two blocks away.

I loved life at Lee. I had practically grown up on the campus, knew every teacher by name, and had already been involved in extra-curricular activities at Lee for most of my high school years. I saw Lee as a year-long youth camp with classes. I was happy to be among my own people, and now seriously preparing for the ministry.

Lee College had been founded in 1918 as the Church of God Bible Training School, primarily for the purpose of preparing young men and women for the ministry. Over the years the school had evolved into a four year Bible College. Around the time I enrolled at Lee, there was also a new Junior College division which offered an Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Arts. It was still a small school of under 1,000 students, where just about everybody knew everybody. Today, Lee has evolved into a full-fledged Christian liberal arts university with an enrollment around 4,000.

I enjoyed my classes at Lee and did well in them initially. During my first semester I made the Dean’s List, and was also elected as a freshman representative to the Student Council. But, my academic career soon went downhill.

It was my ministry that got in the way of my studies. I had started traveling on weekends with the Lee College Pioneers for Christ when I was only a sophomore in high school. My first year as a student at Lee was my fourth year to participate in the Lee College Pioneers for Christ (PFC). Upon beginning college, I was instantly one of the more experienced ministerial students on campus.

Just a few weeks after school started, I was assigned the leadership of the “Kickoff Invasion” of the PFC, taking 60 students for a weekend in Lindale, Georgia. There we held several services in the local church and community, taught soul-winning classes, and knocked on hundreds of doors, witnessing to people about Jesus. I was completely responsible for organizing and directing the event, which included not only the witnessing activities, but also arranging the logistics for transportation, lodging, etc. I had served as an Invasion leader even when I was in high school.

Virtually every weekend while I was a student at Lee, I was preaching somewhere. During the week, I often preached midweek services at nearby churches, as well as in nursing homes, in jails, and even on street corners.

I had an urgent zeal to win souls, and struggled with how to make a balance between preparing for future ministry vs. taking advantage of the ministry opportunities that were already before me.

If I had an invitation to go somewhere and preach for a weekend, but had a big test coming up or an important assignment due on Monday, I always opted to go out and preach and let my studies suffer. The reason was simple. I was thoroughly convinced that people were dying every day and going to Hell, lost without God. If I could go out and win even one soul to the Lord over the weekend, that was infinitely preferable to staying home and studying for a test. What good would it do for me to be an A student, but the blood of some lost soul be on my hands -- someone I could have won to the Lord if I had only gone and witnessed to him?

A good example of this was an incident during my freshman year. I had been invited to preach for Sunday services at a church in McMinnville, Tennessee, about two hours from Cleveland. I borrowed a car from a friend to reach my appointment.

The altar service following my Sunday evening sermon had lasted until late into the night, with people praying and seeking God. There was also an hour’s difference in the time zone between McMinnville and Cleveland. It would have been between 1 and 2 a.m. before I could have gotten home. My first class on Monday was at 10 a.m., when I had an important test coming up in Psychology class.

At the pastor’s encouragement, I decided to spend the night at the parsonage in McMinnville, and then leave at 6:30 the next morning, rather than drive the winding route back home over the mountains so late at night. I had my books with me and spent some time studying for the test that evening before going to bed.

The pastor awakened me at 6 a.m. the next morning, and soon I was on my way home. Driving over Signal Mountain, I spotted a couple of hitch hikers on the side of the road. I saw this as a God given appointment to tell a soul about Jesus. I picked the two fellows up.
They were going to Polk County, Tennessee, the next county beyond my destination. I told them I could take them as far as Cleveland.

Immediately after we started traveling, I asked the men if they knew Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour. Neither of them did. In the next hour I witnessed to them as if that day would be their last chance to meet God this side of eternity. I always witnessed like that. As far as I was concerned, it was now or never -- do or die -- turn or burn -- Heaven or Hell.

When we reached Cleveland, it was 30 minutes before my class was to start, but the men had not yet accepted Christ as their Saviour. I felt that to leave them now in their lost condition, just so I could take a psychology test, would be incomprehensibly selfish, if not downright evil. They were on the very verge of giving their hearts to the Lord. I felt sure that if I had just a little more time I could persuade them to repent of their sins and accept Jesus. There’s no way I could leave them in this lost condition. How could I ever live with myself; how could God ever forgive me; if I just dumped these two souls on the side of the road and left them dangling over Hell because I was in too big a hurry to plead for their souls just a little longer? I volunteered to take them all the way to Polk County.

I missed my class, but somewhere along the road the two men both agreed to pray the sinner’s prayer with me. I stopped the car, led them to Jesus, gave them some gospel tracks and encouraged them in their new walk with the Lord. Then I drove them on to their destination.
Later that afternoon, back in Cleveland, I looked up my psychology professor and explained to him what had happened. “But your responsibility right now is to study and prepare yourself so that you can be an even more effective minister later,” he told me.

“What about those two souls?” I asked. ”Should I just let them go to Hell in hopes that I can win somebody else to the Lord later? What if Jesus comes today? What if those men don’t live until tomorrow? What’s more important, taking a psychology test or letting someone burn in torment for eternity?”

My professor looked dismayed and didn’t even try to answer. He made arrangements for me to make up the test later, but I didn’t do too well on it. My mind was preoccupied with more eternal things.

Although I was pursuing a degree in Biblical Education, most of my classes for the first two years at Lee were foundational liberal arts courses: English, Survey of Civilization, Psychology, Art Appreciation, etc., plus a couple of Bible courses thrown in. I eagerly looked forward to my junior year when I would begin to concentrate on subjects that would help me more in the ministry.

At the same time, I sometimes wondered if a college education would actually be beneficial. Perhaps it would even be a detriment. There was a very strong sentiment in many Pentecostal churches that too much education was a hindrance to the working of the Spirit of God.
I was still in high school when I went to preach one Sunday in the mountains near Copper Hill, Tennessee, at Bell Town House of Prayer. This was a small independent congregation that was considering uniting with the Church of God.

I arrived with the pastor about an hour early at the little one room concrete block church located on a dirt road. It was winter and the place was cold. The pastor fired up the propane furnace to warm the building, and the first person to arrive was a man about 50 years old wearing bib overalls. We were sitting together on the pew closest to the furnace, trying to get warm, when he looked over toward me with a grin and asked, “Ye ain’t one of them thar college ‘eddicated’ preachers are ye?”

I was quick to say, “Nope, not me. I’ve never been to college a day in my life. I haven’t even graduated from high school yet.”

“Well, praise the Lord. I’m glad to hear that. Ye just be sure to stay away from them thar ‘semetaries,’ so the Lord will have a chance to use ye.”

I got that kind of advice often, even from pastors. By the time I was a junior in college, I had preached in about 100 churches all over the United States. Only a couple of those churches had pastors with college degrees.

Instead of enjoying my studies more in Bible College, I became even more frustrated. My three years at Lee were a tremendous learning time for me, but most of what I learned was outside the classroom. I felt there was very little being offered in my classes that would be of much practical use to me in the ministry.

I was taking a course on homiletics (preaching) taught by a man whom I considered a very weak and ineffective preacher. He had a Master’s Degree in Education, but his preaching experience was probably less than mine.

I was studying “Personal Evangelism” under a very fine woman, but I suspected she hadn’t witnessed to a sinner in years. She taught the subject from a negative approach. Her whole class was centered on telling her students how to debate doctrine with people in false religions. I had already read every book I could find on soul-winning and scores of books on different religions and cults. I had also knocked on thousands of doors telling people about Jesus. My experience and study had shown me that a different approach was far more effective.

Before taking her class, I had already personally taught soul-winning classes in dozens of churches, instructing people to be positive in their approach. I told them: “Don’t get into a doctrinal debate or tear down the belief of the other person. Instead, lift up Jesus.” I had seen hundreds of souls come to Christ by sharing Jesus with them. I never won anybody to the Lord by telling them they were wrong.

Another college course was on “Pastoral Theology.” The class was designed to be a practical one that could have been titled “How to Pastor a Church.” The teacher told us he had only served for a short time at one small congregation of about 20 people. I had already started two new churches myself and probably had much more hands on ministerial experience than he.

I shared my feelings with my father, but Dad was adamant that I stay in school. He predicted that I would be an utter failure if I didn’t graduate from college. I pointed out that he had dropped out of college himself to enter the ministry full-time.

“But that was another day,” he said. “People expect their preachers to be more educated now.” I wasn’t convinced he was right.

There was another even more compelling motivation to leave school and launch out into full-time ministry. As a true believer, I was convinced souls were dying and going to Hell all around me every day. Jesus was coming again at any minute. I genuinely believed that more likely than not, the rapture would take place before I could graduate. What a shame it would be, to be sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture about winning the lost to Jesus when the trumpet sounded! Instead, I felt I needed to be out there doing all I could to rescue the perishing before it was too late.

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