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.

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