In 2019 I complete 70 years of Ordained Ministry. It all began in 1949 when I shoved my suitcase onto a train in Miami and headed for Atlanta. I was scared, my heart pounded, and I slept little that night. My destination was my first church as pastor–and I was only 18 years old. It was a brave step for the congregation and me. But they knew God had called me to preach and insisted that I begin immediately and obey that “Call.” Everything else could catch up later. The congregation was warm-hearted and we bonded immediately. With a salary of $35.00 a week I paid for my rent, college tuition, food, transportation, and everything else. My University study began the same time as the ministry.
At the church’s request I began preaching five times a week and maintained that pattern for the next 30 years. The only exception was when I conducted revivals and preached 12 to 14 times a week. That grueling schedule forced me to rely on the Holy Spirit. Apart from Him I could not have survived that demanding routine. The night I was ordained in Miami my pastor told me, “Charles, study as if it all depends on you. Preach as if it all depends on God!” That advice became my rule for life. In those years the Atlanta Division, University of Georgia, was only an extension-school and did not offer a degree; I gained as many credits as I could and then studied two years at Columbia Theological Seminary. The Atlanta congregation remained my charge for eleven fruitful and happy years. When I resigned they–and I–wanted me to stay. God said no.
The year I was born–1930–America was gripped in the Great Depression and I grew up knowing only that time of national poverty. Many were homeless, clothes were old, and meals were meager. Our family’s problem was compounded by my father’s being an injured veteran of the First World War. The night Laurie and I married I had only $4.00 in my pocket. Even so, I fully expected God’s best and absolutely believed He wanted my life to be both fruitful and fun. Now, 70 years later I look back on a ministry in which He did precisely that. Here is what I mean:
I've been in the company of two Kings, a President, the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. I crossed the Atlantic at least 50 times, preached at Red Square in Moscow, Westminster Chapel in London, 800 year-old Churches in England, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Seminary in Florida, Russian and Kazakh ministerial schools, various Jewish Synagogues, and to thousands of ministers at the International “Catch the Fire” Pastors Conferences in Toronto. I have been a return-speaker there. The day I stepped onto the train God had it all planned.
He also knew my love for history and the outdoors, so–by His grace–I climbed the Pyramids of Egypt and the Yucatan, in South America hiked the Andes above 12,000 feet, the Alps in Switzerland, the Tian Shan range between Kazakhstan and China, the Tetons in Wyoming, the Rockies in Alaska, Canada, and lower U.S. I was awed by the Atlas Mountains in North Africa, the Pyrenees between France and Spain, Mount Olympus in Greece, Mont Blanc in France, and Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments. I thrilled to watch the volcano Stromboli spewing fumes into the Mediterranean air. Various times, I crossed the Lebanon Mountains into Syria, the Tarsus range in Turkey, hiked Mt. Rainier, the Appalachian Trail, and a dozen mountainous islands in the Caribbean.
In Mexico, I watched Popocatepetl erupting clouds of smoke into a bright blue sky. I've seen the sunrise over the jungles of Africa and watched it go down from the top of Diamond Head in Hawaii. In Moscow I attended the Operetta, the Kremlin Ballet, and held my breath watching the trapeze acts at the Russian Circus. In Brazil I stood on the precipice of Iguazu Falls and stared aghast as this nearly two-mile wide river plunged into the gorge. Being a nature-lover I was quick to spot the thousands of orchids blooming in the jungle. Here in the U.S, I have been part of a prayer-team in the White House. The Mercy Ship, Anastasis, asked me to join them in Sierra Leone, West Africa, to be a speaker at Bible Conferences they hosted across the nation.
Looking back, I am amazed! My life has been exciting and blessed! Best of all, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit has done amazing works through me. Long-term alcoholics and drug addicts have been delivered; demons cast out in true New Testament fashion and the victims rescued. Countless people have been healed. I’ve seen the Holy Spirit electrify water-baptisms with His incredible, shocking presence. One young man floated unconsciously on the ocean for half an hour, bathed in the glory of God, after such an electrifying-baptism. My assistant and I stood by wide-eyed, only able to stare as the Holy Spirit pulsated through him. The “Dove” had lighted upon him. A man with such an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.
Ten exciting times I explored the Middle East, visiting Israel and Muslim counties. I retraced the journeys of Paul through Greece, Italy, and Turkey. One trip I visited sites of all Seven Churches of Asia. Other times I wandered through Bible deserts where God hammered faith into some of His greatest saints, In Ephesus, I preached in the same amphitheater where Paul's presence caused a riot two millenniums ago. Acts 19:23-34. On the flight home from a war-frightened trip to Israel in 1974 God sternly rebuked me for not being involved in foreign mission work. I immediately promised Him I would! Within ten minutes another man on the plane came to me and said, “Charles, If you will go to Haiti and study the possibility of beginning a mission there I will pay your way.” I instantly accepted. Soon after that a group of us built a beautiful mountain-top facility overlooking the sea in Grand Guave, Haiti. It contained a church, school, clinic, pastorium, and orphanage. That challenge was given to a man whose early life was stung by the Great Depression. The explanation is simple: God keeps His promise! The Mission continues today though the buildings were destroyed by the earthquake in 2010. Since its beginning, the Mission has housed, fed, and educated more than 1,000 orphans.
In the 1960's my wife and I became friends with Catherine Marshall, America’s best loved Christian author. Catherine achieved fame for her book, A Man Called Peter, and later joined the staff at Guideposts Magazine in New York where her husband, Leonard LeSourd, was Executive Editor. Guideposts was the first magazine to publish one of my articles internationally. The LeSourds visited our home in Boynton Beach, sometimes worshiped at the church I served, and it was their encouragement that pushed me into my writing ministry. Catherine’s editor at McGraw-Hill, Bill Goyen, came to Florida, spent the daytime with her and evenings with me. She was then writing her best seller–Christy. This wonderful man was not only the top editor in the nation but a lover of Jesus and became my dearest friend. He would sometimes call me from New York and once asked that I take him on an airboat ride into the Everglades. Catherine gave me about 100 books from her personal library. As an unknown pastor, I was awed by such blessings and would ask “Why me, Lord? Why me?” This is a question I am still asking.
In the five books and more than 1,000 articles I have since written, Bill, Catherine, and Len’s influence are profoundly present. After Laurie and I returned to Atlanta in the 1970's Bill and his wife Doris Roberts visited us there. Doris was already a successful Broadway actress who became more famous as “Marie,” the cynical mother on the “Everybody Loves Raymond” TV comedy series. We remained close friends until Bill died in 1983. At the time of Catherine’s death she had more than 18,000,000 books in circulation. Len remained a loving devotee to me as long as he lived.
In 1977, I had absolutely–the greatest–most phenomenal– encounter with the Holy Spirit imaginable. I received the “baptism” Jesus promised and it radically changed my life. Acts 1:5. There are no words to describe that event or its lasting effect. Spiritual gifts suddenly exploded in me. Miraculous “words of knowledge” became commonplace. At three a.m. one morning God woke me from a deep sleep calling me by the name "Jephunneh"–a name unknown to me. The voice was so loud it shook me. Jumping out of bed and getting my Bible, I discovered Jephunneh was the father of Caleb–one of God’s great servants. Numbers 13:6. As I puzzled over the incident, God spoke again, saying, "You are to 'father' My Calebs!” That soon began happening and I became a spiritual "Dad" to numerous pastors in the U.S. and overseas.
Derek Prince–whom I regarded as one of the greatest Bible teachers of all time–sent a fax urging me to please join him in Turkey and speak at his Pastors Conference. Derek Prince–England’s famous King’s Scholar, Eton College Honor Student, and Cambridge Professor, whose Bible messages went to half the world in more than 10 languages–wanted me? Yes! “If God be for us who can be against us?” Soon after I arrived Derek had me preach and lay-hands on the pastors.
Many were former Muslims and in every instance the Holy Spirit invaded them with His incredible power. One of them fell-out in a public hallway and vibrated for more than an hour in the “electricity” of the Holy Spirit. Humans cannot fake such an experience. Muslim waiters who were forced to step over him on their trips to the kitchen, stopped, stared wide-eyed at what they knew was the power of God. At least one of them became a Jesus-believer.
Later, while teaching at other Ministers Schools in Kazakhstan and Russia--which Derek implemented–God sent "Calebs" from Siberia, the Ukraine, and remote parts of the old USSR. On other trips, while ministering in that same “father’s love” message, men came from Manchuria, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and other Islamic countries. Chinese brothers took great risk by smuggling themselves out of Communist China. On their return, I prayed that they would be able to get back to their families and churches without being captured. What incredible men! What love for God! What heroes of faith! These are the Christians I salute! The American Church knows nothing about the price others are paying for the cause of Christ! You and I cannot touch their achievement. I gladly confess I am nothing! These men are true saints. Hallelujah!
One night in Jerusalem I awoke after midnight with a challenging thought. Dressing quickly I hurried back to the old city and entered through the Damascus Gate. The streets were empty. In the light of a full moon I climbed to the top of the wall and stood looking down on the rooftops. I wanted to re-live what Nehemiah had done when he examined Jerusalem’s wall in the night. Nehemiah. 2:12. I do not know how far I walked or how long I stood there but it was nearing dawn when I went back to the hotel. In my heart I carried away a memory that is mine forever.
But there were frightening moments as well. Once I was caught in street fighting in Jerusalem and had to hide in a battened-down Muslim shop until the gunfire ceased. Another time I was attacked by a gang of screaming, rock-throwing Muslim boys at the Dome of the Rock. In the Aegean Sea my ship was caught in a violent week-long storm that sent the ship’s cargo and passengers slamming against the walls. Furniture overturned, dishes crashed out of the cabinets, and there was horrendous seasickness. My porthole broke open and seawater shot into the cabin. I was too seasick to do anything but reach the steward’s call-button with my toe. He rushed in, stuffed a pillow into the porthole and rushed out. The next wave knocked the pillow to the center of the room with a spray of water following it.
Another time in Turkey a cholera-epidemic forced everyone to receive emergency inoculations. I was more afraid of the unsanitary conditions of the makeshift “clinic” than I was the cholera. But–I had to take the shot anyway. Later, a ship I had been on was bombed and sunk by terrorists in Lebanon. In Beirut my guide suddenly abandoned me one night in a darkened alley in the Muslim quarter of the city. I had no light and no way to get back to safety except to slide my hand along the sheer, stone wall of a long, descending staircase where vagrants were sleeping. Had I stepped on one in the dark it would have disaster for me. At war zones in Sierra Leone, West Africa, I was close enough to the fighting to see truckloads of bodies being hauled away. Legs of the dead stuck out the tailgates. Roadblocks and sub-machine guns stopped our vehicle repeatedly. Just before my arrival an enemy soldier had been captured and was dragged through the town alive with his feet tied to the bumper of a speeding truck. Afterward he was beheaded and his body thrown in the river. We Americans know so little of the pain other nations endure. It was also in that African village I had my first taste of monkey meat.
On a crowded native bus in South America, going up a steep, 10,000 feet high mountain road, an old man near me became motion-sick. Without warning he leaped to his feet, his nausea exploded, and I was covered with the spray. Everyone laughed. The old man felt better. But I felt horrible and when we finally got to the top of the mountain I was more sick than he. –God never promised us sanitary conditions. There were other trips to Central and South America with my wonderful helper, David Rhea. At a meeting in Peru we saw a well-dressed, handsome young man charge onto the platform wanting deliverance from drug addiction. And he got it! With a wild, frenzied roar the demon came out of him. It took four strong men to restrain the youth and hold him to the floor. When he rose to his feet he was free! At four o’clock the next morning he was waiting in the airport balcony to wave goodby as we left, shouting “Papa! Papa! Yo te amo! Yo te amo!”–“Papa, Papa, I love you! I love you!”
While receiving hands-on ministry I have seen literally thousands like this young man crash to the floor and undergo the exorcizing power of God.
An atheist PhD college professor crashed to the floor, came up sobbing, saved, and saying “I found God! I found God!”
In the 1980's I met Jack Taylor. We instantly bonded and he began opening more doors of opportunity for me. Jack is former Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention and well known across America. Through him I met other great pastors and churches. R.T. Kendall, then pastor at Westminster Chapel, London, stepped into my life. We met at a Conference in Tennessee and he soon invited me to preach at the Chapel in London. The Holy Spirit came into that historic church in an astonishing way and the floor was quickly covered with people fallen under the power of God. More importantly, they rose with the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon them. R.T. later wrote, “Charles turned us upside-down ... He left a deposit of glory and of the presence of God that has made us a Spirit church as well as a Word church.”
Ralph Beisner, the retired Supreme Court Justice, New York State, and his wife Inger, became dear friends. When my wife Laurie passed away soon after our 60th wedding anniversary it was Ralph who spoke at her funeral. Laurie loved the Beisners and would have felt honored to know of his ministry in her behalf.
When I am asked to identify my greatest ministerial regret, I quickly answer: I preached 27 years before I received the baptism in the Holy Spirit! Those first years were wonderful and blessed–but Oh!, what a difference the baptism made! What an incredible change came to me that awesome day! My greatest concern today is not myself but the future of younger pastors. None of them know how much I love them and yearn for them to experience empowered, fruitful ministries–and to escape the pitfalls I saw weaken and destroy other men.
To all of them I say: “Preach the Word–make full proof of your ministry!–seek the Holy Spirit’s full empowering–let “Heaven come down your soul to greet, and Glory crown the Mercy Seat!” Get out of God’s way and let Him use you to the limit! You will be amazed at what He does! He can take you to incredible experiences in the Kingdom and amazing places in the world! Stop making excuses! They will only cripple you! Admit your failures and correct them. You need to face reality about yourself and your ministry. Why do I say that? I want you to receive the full empowering of the Holy Spirit!