I stood behind some trees the school bus braked to a stop on our country road. The driver paused and glanced down my driveway, then closed the doors and started the bus down the hill. I watched until the bus was out of sight, then stepped from the protective trees, my sense alive with excitement. I wasn’t going to school this year! I was 14 years old and about to begin a big adventure.
Dad had already taken me to Indiana University to register for eighth grade correspondence courses in English, algebra, and history. Mom was packing the last of what clothes and personal items she thought we’d need for the trip.
My father was an evangelist and my mother, sister and I were going to join him in his full-time ministry. It wasn’t long before we were on the road. For me that road stretched over four years of time; I lost track of the number of miles and faces.
My father had been doing this kind of work off and on since he was 14 himself. After my three brothers left for college, it seemed natural for him to work us into his ministry instead of leaving us at home.
One consideration was the special situation with my mother and sister. My sister had contracted a serious illness at the age of two which had left her with mental and physical handicaps. My mother, who had cataracts and could not drive, would have been left isolated in the country unable to go into town for errands or medical care. So Dad decided that we should go with him. We bought a white motor home with a blue stripe on its side, closed up the log cabin, and left.
My father was a songwriter as well as a preacher. Many of the churches we went to were small out of the way places. We did a variety of programs: revival meetings for one or two weeks, holding services every night; morning and evening Sunday services; Vacation Bible School; concerts; summer camps; and even tent meetings.
Usually Mom and I would sing a trio with Dad and then he would preach a sermon, and we would sing a closing song. Most of the songs we sang were ones he had written. Both of my parents played piano, so we always had accompaniment.
We would stay here for a few weeks and there for a few months, based on how many meetings we could schedule. For example, we were in the habit of going to the San Diego area every January to sing in area Christian and Missionary Alliance churches during their annual missionary conventions.
The missionaries stayed in the area going from one church to the next to speak. We followed them and added music to the mission services. This sharpened the childhood interest I had in missions and undoubtedly accounts to some extent for why I am now living in Japan.
My responsibilities were several. I would set up the sound system and test it before the service, and be responsible to fix it if it broke down during meetings. It was a simple set-up and I enjoyed working with it. I sang in the trio and, as time went by, in an increasing number of solos. I was asked to give my personal testimony, do puppetry, teach Sunday School and do counseling.
People assumed that I had a great deal of wisdom because I was in ministry, so peers came to me with all kinds of problems. I had little idea of what to say to them, so I prayed a lot while they poured out their hearts, and then I responded with Biblical principles, hoping I would say something to help them. In a Nazarene church in Oklahoma I was even asked to lead the evening service. I studied very hard, sweating and praying as I did so. I had someone open in prayer, then I led in song and followed this with a Bible lesson. It was fairly informal, and I remember a question and answer time at the end where an adult posed one of those “stumper” questions to me. I was completely at a loss and upset about what to do. Another gracious member proceeded to answer the question for me, much to my relief.
I had an ear for detail, and would find little mistakes in my father’s sermons, like a misquoted Scripture passage. He liked my telling him what errors I heard, so this became my regular duty. (It took me years to outgrow this habit when listening to sermons!) He also enjoyed sharing insights from New Testament Greek with me. In later years, I studied Greek in both college and seminary.
We recorded a number of albums and tapes, most of them at the Little Nashville Studio near our home in Indiana. I was featured with the trio on one record, and later had my own solo cassette, which I paid for out of earnings made from a little art project I had done. Another responsibility I had in conjunction with this was selling records, tapes, and sheet music.
One of my favorite activities during those years was being on local radio and television stations. I enjoyed the excitement of live broadcasts very much. I liked performing for the camera or microphone, and being interviewed. It was fun to see and hear myself on tape, too.
It was far from a glamorous life, however, Sharing a motor home with three other people did not afford us much space or privacy. In a way our lives were not our own. As long as our electric cord was plugged into a church building, we were part of its staff. We made visitations to the sick, stayed up late praying and counseling, went to sunrise services, and anything else the church could think of for us to do. Even though we may have looked poised at each meeting, we were often tired. I was tired of wearing the same outfits every week – color coordinated to match those of my parents, and tired of having no permanent home.
Loneliness was often my companion. Although I cultivated a close relationship with my parents, the only friends my own age that I could stay in touch with were two girls who faithfully corresponded with me for all of those years and beyond. They kept up with my hundreds of changes of address and gave a thread of continuity to my life.
However, I was a very sensitive girl, and it hurt me to always be saying goodbye. So I developed certain defenses against the hurt. I learned how to make quick, shallow friendships to sustain me for a week or two, but inside, I kept my distance. I would prepare myself for farewells at least a week in advance so that when they came, I would show no emotion. Because it meant an end to the responsibility of relationships, I began to like good-byes better than hello’s. I made a point of not knowing our schedule because it was unbearable for me to think of all those people I would meet and then leave. In fact, I got in the habit of not remembering names and faces.
Once a boy whose church I had sung at was at a later rally where my parents and I were singing. He thought I was being a snob by not coming over and talking with him when I had intentionally forgotten him so that I could deal instead with the people I was “ministering to” that particular week.
At 16 I wrote, “Everywhere and nowhere I meet everyone and know no one; I’m in a crowd of people alone! But Jesus is with me, everywhere and always. If it weren’t for Him I would die inside; lose hope for life and eternity.” It is true that my aloneness forced me into greater reliance on Christ and His Word. Still, once a year I would collapse physically and emotionally for about one week.
After my first year of correspondence courses, my parents decided that it was too difficult for me to keep up school by mail, so I was effectively truant for the following three. To keep me thinking, Dad required that I keep a journal of my travels. I loved learning, so I read volumes of books that I found in people’s home and church libraries. Even though I passed the graduation equivalency exam with flying colors when I was 17, missing all those years of school proved to be a real handicap to me later. I had to learn to type while I was a freshman in college; I didn’t drive until I was 21.
I still feel some of the gaps in knowledge that should have been filled at that time. More keenly felt was the social loss. College became to me what high school is to many: a place to find personal identity and learn to relate to one’s peer group. I don’t feel that I really caught up until my last year of graduate school – or perhaps until 3 years after that.
Two things from that era of my life deeply impressed me: the opportunity to see much of the vast continent of North America, and many of the dear Christians I met and remember warmly.
We traveled across perhaps twenty states as well as four Canadian provinces. I saw mountains, rivers, plains, and natural wonderers including Old Faithful; monuments such as Mount Rushmore. Suddenly, history and geography took on new meaning for me – I had seen the sites where significant events had taken place. I met all kinds of people – from Indians to immigrants – in many walks of life.
I saw numerous American sub cultures, including Amish and Hutterite communities. I had the opportunity to talk to many learned and traveled people. Best of all were the particularly warm and caring Christians we met along the way. In a small church in Bly, Oregon a family promised to pray for me every Monday. As far as I know they still are.
Near San Diego live a couple of silver-haired saints who let us park near their home between meetings in the area, and treated us like members of their family. There are many others who contributed to our ministry with their support and prayers.
From my perspective, over ten years later, I can see some of the pro’s and con’s of involving children in ministry Here are my thoughts:
Parents should seriously consider the balance between ministry and parenting in their lives. During those years, my needs and feelings were often unnoticed because my parents were busy in the ministry. They focused on the needs of others, leaving me to rely on myself.
Fortunately, I took it all in the spirit of “sacrificing for Jesus,” but I believe that Scripture points our the heavy responsibility which parents have to look after their family’s needs as a primary goal. I think that people with a heart for reaching out to others need to develop a plan for how to meet their children’s needs as well as carry out ministry before they make long term commitments to either. Otherwise, one or the other may suffer unnecessarily: the children or the ministry. Kids in ministry need the same kind of fun, support, affection and approval as any other child – there are no super-Christians. Unfortunately, they are often seen as “having it all together” and are the examples other parents hold up to their children, saying, “Why can’t you be godly like so-and-so’s kids?” This is unfair pressure. Also, sometimes church leaders praise people who have left dark, sinful lives to come to Christ, while failing to praise the quiet, steady Christian walk of someone who has known the Lord since preschool.
In either case, the Christian teen needs people whom s/he can confide in, pray with, and be loved by for just being themselves. Otherwise, the teen may grow adept at displaying a happy Christian mask, fearing to be honest lest s/he be accused of failure or weakness. This is a real block to Christian growth and maturity.
It may often be assumed that because a person has known the Lord since near infancy and has grown up in the church that s/he understands spiritual disciplines and basic doctrinal teachings. This is a false assumption.
Discipleship is as essential for the Christian youth as it is for someone newly saved as an adult. The disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, praise, personal holiness, and others need to be explained and modeled for young people. They will not just absorb skills from the environment. They may not always grasp terms and concepts being tossed around freely in Christianese conversations.
If positions of authority (such as teaching a Sunday school class, camp counselor, etc.) are given to a youth she/he is likely to run into situations s/he doesn’t know how to handle. Discipling should come before responsibility is given.
Parents and mentors need to teach practical skills to children along with ideals so that they can put feet to their goals.
How can you tithe if you don’t know how to make a budget or write a check? How can you pursue a career as a doctor in order to become a medical missionary unless you know what and where to study? How can you seek a mate if the only examples you have are romantic anecdotes and Grace Livingston Hill novels?
Finally, ministry experience is good for kids – but they need to see beyond “glamour” and understand “servanthood”.
As I recounted, our work was not full of glamour, but it had small elements of fame. I could present a prefabricated picture of myself for a week at a time, but I was not accountable or vulnerable to any body of believers. I had an inflated view of my musical abilities because I had no basis for comparison.
People were always praising me; I had no idea of how life existed on the other side of the pulpit. I could pray the right prayers, quote the right verses, offer the right counsel, but I had no practical basis, no personal confidence on which to base these things. It took years of humbling, prayer, delving deeply into Scripture, and finally baring myself to a Bible study group (with which I maintain close ties) in order for me to begin to understand my proper position in relationship to God, His Church and the world.
It is often not the one who is up front, but the man sitting in the sound booth, the junior higher in the nursery, or the woman cleaning the church after everyone else is gone who are closer to the mark of who Christ desires us to be. I wish I had understood that ten years ago.