(Continuing the story about Ambassador College and the Worldwide Church of God)
I gently set the phone down into its cradle, was getting ready to dial another number but hesitated. Art (my roommate) just walked in (he worked for the construction crew at Ambassador College). He seemed rather upset about an incident that happened at work. It proved to be a very difficult day for him. The frustration was building up and quickly turned into indignant anger.
What started out as a normal day turned into a disaster…Art and his supervisor had a work assignment that involved using the old and abused college dump truck. His supervisor and driver, failed to set the emergency hand brake when he parked it headed down a steep street. Not only did he forget the emergency brake but also did not turn the front wheels into the curb. The only thing keeping the truck in place, he left it in 2nd gear. The downhill weight of the truck on the old and nearly worn out transmission was too much. While they were at the back of the truck unloading some equipment, it popped out of gear allowing the truck to roll furiously down the steep hill. It ran the stop sign at the bottom, crossed the intersection, and ended up crashing into some shrubs and a tree. It was a total mess but fortunately, no one was hurt.
When the supervisor reported the accident, guess who he tried to blame for the disaster…you guessed it, Art. This accusation resulted in Art paying a visit to the Department Head’s office along with his immediate boss. There he engaged in a very a brief but heated discussion; after which he was absolved of all blame. Nonetheless, he was still very stressed and upset about the whole mess.
It was Friday and he was now home, with the weekend ahead of him, he began to calm down and relax. After a beer or two, we actually had a good laugh about so-called Christian ethics among some of the workforce.
As we talked, I began to tell him about my frustrating calls trying, unsuccessfully, to get a date for the upcoming Thanksgiving dinner at my brother Brad’s house. I had simply exhausted all the resources in my “little black date book” with no success.
That was when he offered his book. That surprised me because these books were almost considered sacred. He was concerned and thought perhaps I could find a date from his lengthy list.
I had not planned on waiting to the last moment to get a date, but life is not always, what we want it to be. It was a most generous offer from Art. I thought for a moment, and then I threw my book on the floor and stomped on it. Taking his book with a sinister smile on my face, I scanned it. It had what appeared to be 100’s of random listings with comments after each one. Since the names were not in a particular order I flipped it open toward the middle and immediately pointed to a name and said, “I will call this one”…little did I know that this one act would forever change my life.
Now the name I chose was “Barbara” and right next to her name he wrote, “very nice and sweet”. I had absolutely no idea who she was. However, knowing Art and his likes in women I knew she would be a winner.
Even though Barbara and I never met, we had a couple of things in common. For one we both went to the same local church (along with about 400 or 500 others), and I worked for Ambassador college and she was a former student and employee. We were two among over 2000+ employed by the church and college. Considering the number, it was understandable that we had not met; that was all to change with just a phone call.
Art had recently returned from a horrific battle in Vietnam where he was one of three survivors from his company. He said he liked Barbara because she was very intelligent and was a good listener. She would always listen carefully to his concerns before answering. This made it easy to have a meaningful conversation with her. He obviously had a great deal of admiration and respect for her. This bit of insight made calling her a whole lot easier. For I greatly valued and respected his opinion. For Art was Art, there was no pretense or falseness about him; he was just an honorable young man. In every sense of the word, he was what a Christian should be. He had earned my trust and respect because he was one of those rare individuals that was not just a talker, he was a doer. If he told you he would do something for you, you could depend on the fact he would follow through.
When he said Barbara was very special and unique in that she had a kind and gentle spirit; without hesitation I picked up the phone and started to dial her number. Art rolled his eyes and went into the kitchen to fix his evening meal.
It was a fun conversation lasting several hours. When I finished the call and placed the phone back on the receiver, I had a smile of satisfaction and relief. I was excited that I now had a special date for that Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.
I picked up Barbara at her apartment at 11:00am. It was about an hours drive from Pasadena to Torrance, California. As we drove, we had a most interesting conversation, and before we knew it had arrived at my brother’s house. This was the starting of our journey that eventually lead to.…getting a little ahead of myself, so back to the story.
Thanksgiving turned out to be a most enjoyable success for both Barbara and I, as well as for Brad’s family. The dinner was excellent, one that only Marge (my sister-in-law) could prepare, she was an amazing cook, no not a cook but a chef, a gourmet chef. It turned out to be a most magical time with great food and wonderful family fellowship and conversation.
After dinner when Brad and I walked outside to his patio area. I began to relate how Barbara and I met under some very unusual circumstances. I told him I thought she was one of the most interesting and sweetest women I had ever met. I went on to tell him that is was my intention to pursue a relationship with her. I thought it could eventually lead to marriage. He gave me the strangest look. Again, I emphasized that I thought she was very special and I just knew we were meant to be with each other. He advised me not to be rash, but to give it time for the relationship to develop; which I did.
Dinner was over and our stay was now drawing to a close; it was time to leave and head back to our respective homes. However, I was not quite ready to end the date. I asked Barbara if she would be interested, since the evening was still young, in driving out to the LA International Airport and have some additional desert and drinks at the restaurant overlooking the airport.
As we sat there, we talked and watched the airplanes arriving and departing as the restaurant rotated 360 degrees every 30 minutes. It was a very romantic and fun evening as we continued our conversation. Astonishingly the time just flew, no pun intended; it was 2:00 am when I finally dropped Barbara off at her apartment.
Our dating continued on a regular basis. Seven months later, I asked her to marry me so that we could continue life’s journey together.
Before the church would marry us we had to address two obstacles and a problem that we did not see coming. First of all the church required that we go through pre-marriage counseling…not a bad idea at all. However, my councilor was none other than Al (remember the green peas on his new brown suit in my previous blog) you guessed it, the same Al!
Why Al you ask? Surely, there were other ministers available? As it turns out, he was a dear friend of my then deceased mother. Out of respect for her I chose him because this was one of her last requests for me before she died.
While talking to Al from the heart he abruptly interrupted and stated, “I do NOT want you to marry Barbara!” As you can imagine, that really caught me off guard. What is going on here, what was I missing? Without a moment of hesitation I asked, “What was the problem?” Thinking there must be something seriously wrong that I did not know about; I persisted with “WHY?”He hemmed and hawed; I could see he was becoming agitated with my persistence. I did not back off or back down. My whole future was in his hands and I was not going to passively accept his words without a valid explanation. Finally, he said it is his personal opinion and preference that I was not ready for marriage (I was 23 at that time). Well, that cleared up the matter…his personal opinion was not a valid objection…so I told him I was truly sorry he felt that way but I was sure he would eventually get over it. Actually, that is exactly what I told him. This turned out to be a serious mistake, as you will see as you read on. Sometimes being fearless and direct to a man that demanded reverence and absolute obedience could be a problem. However, I was not afraid of him, nor could he intimidate me into doing his will.
Persistence paid off as the session was nearing the end he finally smiled and agreed to perform the ceremony at the time, date and place I specified. It appeared that our wedding plans were ready to move forward.
The other obstacle we had to solve was financial. The church required that we, or any couple getting married, must have at least $400.00 (more than a month’s wages) saved before the church would allow us to be married. That too was a wise requirement. They wanted to be sure every couple had enough saved to cover the expenses of setting up an apartment to start their new lives together. It took some doing, nothing short of a miracle, but we saved the necessary funds.
Wow! We were all set to rock and roll and to celebrate with family and friends one of the greatest events of our lives….then it happened, unexpectedly we were blindsided in a way we never anticipated, no one would have! Less than a week before the wedding, I was, by chance, talking to an acquaintance and it turned out he was getting married on the same day and at the same time as Barbara and I. I thought that was rather cool until he told me that Al, the same Al was going to perform their ceremony. That is right; this sinister minister was not going to show up to perform our ceremony. He was going to leave us there with family and friends; he was going to embarrass us and destroy our wedding day. Obviously, he did not intend to let us know he was not going to be there. I made multiple calls to his office, which he did not return. Had his plan worked our wedding would have been a total and complete disaster. I guess he did not get over my not submitting to his will, so much for minister Al’s honesty, integrity and living the life of Christ.
With less than a week left before our wedding day we were, understandably in a near state of panic. There was no way we had time to reschedule. The invitations had already been sent out. The wedding site was reserved, flowers ordered and hundreds of other details were in place. We were all ready…what do we do now? We needed a miracle!
The rule of the game was counseling with the performing minister at least a month before a wedding; there were no exceptions. Now we had the task of not only finding a minister but also one that was willing to break the rules and put his job at risk. It was nothing short of a miracle when Elmer (a high-ranking church pastor with a prominent position with the church and college) agreed to see us. He and his wife were gracious and so very kind and caring; they took a great deal of time to talk with us and to listen to our story. They assured us that everything would work out just fine. They smiled a bit when I told them about my encounter and counseling with Al and that I was not willing to accept his appraisal. Moreover, that his personal views were irrelevant. They seemingly knew of Al’s reputation for being ruthless and vindictive so it came as no surprise when he planned to defraud us by not showing up.
The wedding went on as planned; Barb and I were married on September 29, 1968 at 10:00 am. The ceremony took place at The Lower Garden of the Ambassador College campus. It was of course a beautiful and memorable occasion. (We were grateful for the Lord intervening and saving our wedding day).
Life on campus at times was dangerous become some ministers were ruthless and demanded absolute obedience.
In September, Barbara and I will be celebrating our 51st anniversary. Al was wrong, very wrong in his appraisal and evaluation of us! Interestingly enough several years later Herbert Armstrong fired Al and kicked him out of the church; His wife of 25+ years left him and filed for divorce. This is a very sad ending to a ruthless career.
In their sermons, they never talked about living the life of Christ. It was always about ruling with power and authority.
They missed one of the most important aspects of Christianity, and that is the privilege of allowing the Savior to live in and through us. Instead, they chose the way of legalistic fear and intimidation, the result; Ambassador College is gone. The Worldwide Church of God imploded and no longer exists. However, Jesus Christ is very much alive, eternally alive and He is moving forward in some of the most dynamic ways by changing the heart, lives and eternal destiny of those that allow Him to live His life in and through them. If you listen very carefully in the stillness of your thoughts, maybe just maybe you might hear the kind and loving Father drawing you to His Son and Savior.