Friday, May 30, 2014

God Saved Our Marriage

Here is the testimony of one of the first couples we ministered to in Gloversville, New York, as told to me by Betty Bartlett.

"I had been married 10 years and didn't see how I could stand another day married to Dave. His constant criticism of me had destroyed my self-confidence, and I was so hurt I dreaded being around him.

"During the summer of 1977, my brother Jay, who had been born again and Spirit-filled through TV ministry, led me to the Lord in his home, and I spoke in tongues. There was no church in the area, however, where I could go for teaching about the Holy Spirit. When I told Dave I had spoken in tongues, he was displeased and ordered me to stay away from my brother.

"Late that summer, Jay invited me to go with him to a new Assemblies of God church that had just opened up in Gloversville. But I was afraid to mention it to Dave, so I never did go to church.

"Because I had no teaching, I began to feel that the only way I could serve the Lord was to leave my husband. That fall, I decided to take our daughter, Cheryl, leave Dave, and go to Florida to make a new home for myself. I made plans with the utmost secrecy and left one morning after Dave went to work.

"In New Smyrna Beach, Florida, I lived with my parents and got a job. I began attending the Assemblies of God church there. I had my sister give Dave a general delivery address, and he wrote to me every day.

"Gradually, his letters changed. He told me he had bought a Bible and had been reading it, even though he couldn't understand it. Then he told how he had committed his life to the Lord while reading a Christian book.

"He wrote, 'A quote from Luke 10:27, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart..., seemed to jump out at me as I read the introduction to the book. But I couldn't understand all the thous and thys. As I read it over and over, I began to want the Lord in my life very badly. Finally, in desperation, I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes, and said, I will love the Lord my God with all my heart. Suddenly, it clicked. A beautiful feeling of joy flowed over me.'

"Subsequent letters told me he had begun attending the new Glove Cities Assemby of God church in Gloversville. He said they were praying we'd get back together.

"My brother wrote me encouraging reconciliation. That shook me up. Until then, I had thought I was doing God's will by leaving Dave."

What did Betty decide to do? To be continued.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

From Tragedy to Rejoicing

When we were moving into our apartment in Gloversville in April 1977, the news was full of a sad story of a 12-year-old boy who was missing on the nearby Great Sacandaga Lake. He had taken a boat out on the lake, and a strong wind had blown up suddenly. After twelve days, his body was found.

At one of the first sectional ministers' fellowship meetings we attended, we met a sweet Italian-American grandmother, who told us that the boy who had drowned on the lake was her grandson. She asked my husband to visit the boy's father, her eldest son. He had purchased a Revolutionary War era house that overlooked the point on the lake where his son had drowned and had arranged to bury his son in the old North Hampton Cemetery on that point. He was restoring the house.

Bob called him, and they set a date to meet. Over the next few months, as Bob met with him, the sorrowing father gave his life to the Lord. The following Easter Sunday, Bob had the privilege of baptizing him in water at his mother's church in Mechanicville since we did not yet have a building or a baptistry. We drove through a blizzard to get there, but he was determined to be baptized that night.

The man and his brother owned a paving and roofing company they had taken over when their father retired. In time, the  man completed his restoration of the large house and fixed up the smaller guest house on the property. As our church grew, the man began attending regularly. He offered to host Sunday afternoon picnics on his beach in the summertime. These frequently ended with water baptisms in the lake. (In fact, Bob had the privilege of baptizing his own mother in the Great Sacandaga Lake.)

The man's brother and parents often spent the weekends in the guest house, so they were included in our picnics. His father did not go to church and blamed God for the death of his grandson, but he enjoyed the get-togethers and often added homemade pasta dishes to the potluck picnic meals.

In time, the man, who had been divorced when we met him, fell in love with a young lady in our church, and they married. When the couple's first son was born, they named him after the son who had died, but reversed the order of the first and middle names.

Following the example of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the Temple to be dedicated to the Lord, the couple asked Bob to dedicate their new son. His parents came to that Sunday morning service. Bob pointed out that this child was not a replacement for the son who had died, who was with the Lord, but that he was a new, unique person. That got the man's father's attention as he realized that his grandson, though gone from this earth, still existed in eternity.

At the last picnic we held at the man's place on the Great Sacandaga Lake just before we left Gloversville, Bob baptized several people. Then, the man's father stepped forward to be baptized too. God had turned a tragedy into rejoicing!

Friday, May 16, 2014

God's Mysterious Ways

When we began holding Sunday services in Gloversville in 1977, Bob tried to get our church listed on the weekly church page of the Leader-Herald. Because we didn't own our own building, the editor refused. Instead, we had to pay for an ad each week.

But God often works in mysterious ways.

Shortly thereafter, we received a phone call from Mickey Clementi, who had learned of our new church through a television ministry. A semi-invalid, she couldn't come to church, so Bob and I visited her often and took her Communion.

We had not met her husband, a local businessman and owner of the Gloversville Holiday Inn. One Saturday, as he was reading the Leader-Herald, he asked his wife, "Why isn't Reverend Conti on the church page?"

"They refused to put him on because he doesn't have his own church building," she said.

"That's not right! I'm one of the businessmen who support that page. If they don't put Reverend Conti on it, I'll take my support away and pay for his ad."

And he called up the editor and threatened to do just that. The next Sunday and from then on, the Glove Cities Assembly of God was listed on the church page of the Leader-Herald.

During our first year of holding services in the banquet room of the YMCA, located on the second floor of the building, we were required to keep the entrance door to the building locked on Sundays. Once the service started, our son, Bobby, six years old when we first began holding services, dressed in his little suit and tie, stood just inside the door as our doorman. Even though he took his job seriously, it was not an ideal situation. We often prayed about it. Once again, God worked behind the scenes.

One Sunday morning after everyone had gone home, I was in the kitchen cleaning the Communion trays, when I heard a thud that sounded like a body falling on the floor just above my head. I went into the main room where Bob and Bobby were rearranging the chairs and told Bob. He decided to investigate.

He climbed the stairs to the rooms rented out to several men who made the YMCA their home and discovered that one older fellow, Charlie, had fallen in the shower. He hadn't been feeling well. When he started to hemorrhage, he had become so weak that he fell. Bob called the ambulance, but Charlie absolutely refused to go.

Bob called the Chief of Police, but he said they couldn't force him to go. So Bob began calling everyone he could think of who might be able to influence Charlie to go to the hospital. Bob stayed with him until finally, after a couple of hours, one old friend of Charlie's convinced him that he needed to go.

When the Director of the YMCA heard what had happened, he thanked Bob over and over for saving Charlie's life. The director's father had been killed in World War II, and Charlie had played a big part in the director's life as he was growing up.

Soon after that incident, Bob was asked to serve on the YMCA board, and the church was able to keep the doors unlocked during our services.

Bob going out of his way to care for another human being did more to literally open doors in that community than all the advertisements in the world.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Call to Gloversville, Part 2

The dead of winter was not the time to move to New York, we were advised, so we waited until spring. On April 15, 1977, Bob and I both resigned from our jobs at Assemblies of God Headquarters in Springfield, Missouri, and headed to Gloversville, New York, to locate housing. After renting a two-bedroom apartment in its twin city of Johnstown, we left six-year-old Bobby with Grandma and Grandpa Conti in Newburgh and returned to Springfield to pack.

On our last Sunday at Central Assembly, our prayer partners in Mother Flower's Sunday school class laid hands on us, prayed over us, and sent us on our way to the work to which God had so clearly called us. Then, the evening before we headed back to New York in a rented 22-foot Ryder truck full of household goods, our Volkswagen Super Beetle in tow, Brother Gayle F. Lewis, former Home Missions Director, a good friend of my family from our days as missionaries in Alaska, drove by to say goodbye. That dear retired minister in his seventies climbed into that Ryder truck and touched every piece of furniture he could reach, asking God to protect not only us but everything on that truck.

On May 4, 1977, we pulled up to the Maple Knoll Apartments in Johnstown. The Everharts had enlisted several men from their church in Schenectady to help us unload and carry everything up the stairs to our apartment. Leaving boxes piled wall-to-wall, we turned in the truck and drove our Super Beetle four hours to Rochester, New York, for a missions convention held in a church just across the street from the location of the former Rochester Bible Training School, where my grandparents, Charles and Florence Personeus, had attended Bible school. It was exactly 60 years before that as newlyweds they had left there to go to Alaska by faith as pioneer missionaries in 1917. (See my book, Frontiers of Faith, for that story.) God had brought me from Alaska to New York to pioneer a church.

A week later, we attended our first District Council in New York, held in Schenectady, where we were recognized as the new-church-planting missionaries to Gloversville, New York. The Glove Cities, as the twin cities of Gloversville and Johnstown were known due to their extensive glove and leather industries, with a combined population of 30,000, formed the hub of Fulton County, gateway to the Adirondacks.

The two cities, with their many towering church steeples, Victorian-style houses, and tree-lined streets looked like the ideal place to raise a family, but we soon learned that this county of more than 70,000 had one of the highest rates of alcoholism, divorce, and incest in the entire state. Cities leaders asked us, "Why do you want to start another church here? We already have many churches that are nearly empty." Many other denominational churches' overseers in Albany referred to Fulton County as "black valley" because of the oppressive atmosphere that seemed to hover over the area. We saw a place that God had not forgotten.

As soon as we were settled, we began running an ad in the newspaper announcing the opening of the new church. Through the ad, we learned of several ladies who had come to know the Lord through TV ministries and were anxious to have a full-gospel church in the area. Right away, I started a ladies' home prayer meeting.

Sunday evening, July 20, 1977, we held our first service of the Glove Cities Assembly of God with eight in attendance. Grandma and Grandpa Personeus, at the age of 90, visited us for a month that summer and were a blessing to our fledgling congregation.

In September, we added a full schedule of Sunday services, meeting in the Gloversville YMCA banquet room on the second floor of that building. To make the room presentable, Bob often had to go in after midnight to set up for church after a YMCA event. He rearranged chairs and tables countless times; picked up dozens of green beans, kernels of corn, etc., from the carpet; brushed numerous crumbs off chairs; and even scrubbed sticky spills off the piano. One Sunday morning, he had to clean up vomit off the stairs where one of the residents had gotten sick the night before.

"That's what memories are made of," he said. And that is often what new church planting requires.