By: Al Gossan, Jr.
I was raised in a closely-knit full-blooded Lebanese family in Escanaba, Michigan. My father was an eye doctor and provided us with many of the good things in life. I had a wonderful mother who really cared about her three boys and little girl. My folks taught us (the best they knew) how to live right. They provided us with plenty of family activities to keep us out of trouble – like going to our cottage on a lake each weekend in the north woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
My early religious background was a mixture of Greek Orthodox on my mother’s side (My grandfather helped found a congregation.) and Roman Catholic on my Dad’s side. I enjoyed having the unique experience of being an altar boy in both churches. That is, until I got older and began to get bored with church – and upset with the hypocrisy I saw.
By the time I graduated from high school, I had practically lost all interest in religion and began to pursue whatever fame and fortune the world had to offer me. I guess I was having a good time but down inside, every so often, there was an emptiness in my heart that I longed to have filled – but I didn’t know where to search or what or who to search for to fill it. MY SEARCH HAD BEGUN.
It was around high school graduation time that our family decided to switch from the Catholic to the Protestant faith. We joined the Lutheran Church. I enjoyed the change – especially when we were encouraged to study the Bible for ourselves. A friend gave me my first Bible and I thought I would try reading it…but the scriptures seemed out-of-date and didn’t seem to relate at that time. The King James English was difficult and I didn’t know how the books of the Bible were arranged. I got bogged down somewhere in the book of Leviticus- So, I put my brand new Bible in my bed stand and let it collect dust. It was time to enjoy pursuing my career. I zealously began my involvement in higher education. After a year or so, the excitement of studying and partying began to wear off.
I came home one night full of dissatisfaction after another of the same old college parties I often went to. Having taken nothing to get “high”, I went to my room early with my soul earnestly asking that Unknown Someone, “What is it all about? Is this supposed to be fun? Isn’t there something more to life than just a few short years on earth?”
Just then it seemed as if I went into a trance. I found myself combing my hair in front of a mirror when a glorious angelic being in white appeared! In the mirror’s reflection, it looked as if he was standing behind me. There was no distinguishable face – only a bright light and an awesome voice. As I gasped in astonishment, he said in a voice that seemed to echo, “Open your Bible!” I managed to hurriedly dig it out of a bedside drawer and open it. It was still in the box it came in. Even without realizing, I was reading a passage in Proverbs, Chapter six: “These six things doth the
Lord hate; yea seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief. A false witness that speaketh lies,and he that soweth discord among brethren.”
God used this scripture to show me I was slipping. Somehow and somewhere along life’s pathway I had let my morals slip. I thought I had justified myself, but really I hadn’t – and now it was clear.
I told my family what happened. They laughed about it thinking perhaps I just had a strange dream. I wondered in awe for some time and read the Bible a few more times, but with no one to help me understand it, it still seemed vague and irrelevant. It wasn’t long until I was busy again working on a job, studying at school, playing drums in a rock and roll band and having a wild time. The spiritual tug on my heart waxed weaker, especially when I transferred from junior college at home to Central Michigan University – far from family and friends. Away at college, I grew cold and
unfeeling as I supposedly “matured” mentally. The professors said that the Bible wasn’t true and Jesus Christ was just another good man – and those that believed in Christianity were foolish and deluded. I began to believe them. Looking at the false front most denominal church folks put on and the sham and pretense that seemed to be everywhere, I began to give up on God. It did not take long to rationalize away moral standards, compromise with evil, Pick up and use questionable language, tolerate dishonesty and fall into more and more sin. All the while, I was sincere in my search for Love but ironically and sadly, as with most of us – sincerely wrong. Deep in my heart, however, I KNEW these things were not right and I continued to thirst after righteousness. I was still searching…and could not forget the supernatural visitor who encouraged me to look in the Book.
Again, I picked up that good-ole dusty Bible of mine and began to read. One day, while reading in the gospels, I found what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all they mind…and…Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
There it was! Love! That was what I was searching for! I began to read More earnestly. Then I discovered that the Bible says, “God is love,” and, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Was it really true? Did this God of Love care this much for me? Was Jesus really the Lord? Did He really die on the cross and rise from the dead the third day…for me?
The answer to these questions seemed more and more to be, “Yes.” Now there was only one thing left for me to do: If Jesus was Who He said He was (the Savior), Then I was Who He said I was (a sinner). It was true…I said, “God, I guess I’m not as good as I thought I was. I am sorry for my sins and now I know I need you! Help me to live the way you want me to.” I didn’t know it theologically but I had repented and was on my way to an experience of a lifetime! Finally it dawned on me…Jesus Christ: “The Truth, The Life and The Way”, was who I was searching for! I had taken the first step in really getting to know Him. It was tremendous, but somehow I felt there was more.
At this time I still wasn’t ready to go to any church. However, I began to ponder the truths of the Holy Book much more seriously. I recall becoming so engrossed in the scriptures that one day I read the Bible for eight hours straight! It wasn’t long until I had read through the entire New Testament seven times. I particularly enjoyed reading the Gospel of John. In the 3rd Chapter a phrase in the 5th verse jumped out at me and seemed to actually glow…”Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Some time later, during summer break, I was back home in my brother’s bedroom studying the Bible one afternoon when a most miraculous event took place. As I was reading a portion of scripture in the 16th Chapter of Mark, something from another world came over me as the words hurdled into my mind: “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name they
shall cast out devils; They shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
I thought to myself,”Wow! I wonder where the real believers are?” Somehow I came to a realization. Could being born of the water and Spirit have anything to do with the signs that were to follow believers? “God, I have to know!” I whispered anxiously.
Suddenly I felt a deep Love sweep over me with a depth I had never known. Tears came to my eyes as the Lord drew near. The air began to thicken and within a few moments there was actually a visible “fog” in the air round about me. It began to get brighter and more radiant until it outshined the afternoon sun. Before long, a shimmering glow hovered around me and a voice spoke aloud. In deep,fathomless billows…,beautiful…reverberating… penetrating – like a trumpet and bubbling like many waters – it called my name: “ALFRED GOSSAN.” More than amazed, I sat up. Breathless, I looked at the vision before me. I saw myself lying on the floor of a church building in the midst of some people who were standing around me with upraised hands. They seemed to be praying. I noticed distinctly that the floors and walls were green. Then another voice spoke. This time inaudibly, saying, “Go there, and you will receive the Holy Ghost.” Then it was over – almost
as fast as it had begun. I was overwhelmed – and tremendously excited! I went downstairs and told my brother and the others in my family what had just happened. Understandably, they thought I was crazy and just seeing things. Well, I knew I was seeing things…but I was still in my right mind!
Little did I know that some faithful folks in a small United Pentecostal Church, just a few miles away, were holding a nightly prayer vigil. They sought God continuously an hour each evening for 8 months asking Him to reach a hungry-hearted family. All I knew was my silent cries had been answered and I was determined to know and reach the Source of Love that had visited me. Now there was nothing that could hinder me in my quest- There was a God. He did care. He wasn’t dead…and He loved me! With new hope, I went back to college (I was now enrolled in the School of Optometry at Indiana University in Bloomington) thrilled in my heart just to know Jesus Christ was real, alive and the same as He ever was.
MY SEARCH INTENSIFIES
One evening while reading in the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, verse 4, I had a genuine revelation. According to the Bible, when God’s Spirit was poured out for the first time upon all flesh, it happened with the evidence of believers speaking supernaturally in other languages:”And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
I read on feverishly…until I came to Acts 2:38-39: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the Promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are Afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
I thought, “Why not me?”, as my mind flashed back to Mark 16 and the signs that were to follow believers. That’s it! No wonder John 3:5 had literally “glowed” the day I read it! It suddenly dawned on me that being born of the water was being baptized by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ – and being born of the Spirit was receiving the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues! One night a short while later I came across Luke 24:45- 49…”Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”
Then I KNEW I had found something under God’s guidance. Repentance and remission of sins was preached in Jerusalem in Jesus’ name when Peter commanded them to repent and be baptized! The promise of the Father was poured out when the Spirit fell and they spoke with tongues! I had to know: was there anyone else who believed this?
I said to the guys in my fraternity house, “Do any of you know if there are people who speak in tongues around here?” They told me there were many that did. Since it was Sunday night, one of my buddies (a Presbyterian minister’s son) and I borrowed a car and set out to look for a “tongue-talking” church. Some local fellows recommended three area Pentecostal churches from the list of churches found in The Bloomington Chamber of Commerce brochure.
A very peculiar thing happened. When we went to the first two addresses, no churches were there. “The brochure must be misprinted”, we said. We went to the third address: again, no church. This was too much! We pulled into a nearby gas station, showed the attendant the church list and address of the church we had just been looking for. He told us it was 2 blocks down and to the left. “We just came from there,” I said. He rolled his eyeballs, waved us off disgustedly and went back to work. We tried riding by the location again just to make sure. Still no church! Then I remembered a place I had passed by one night, the year before, as some friends and I were going to study for a statistics test. It was a noisy, crowded building that had a sign on the door that said, “Revival Now in Progress”. “What’s THAT?” I remembered asking. “Oh, that’s one of those ‘Holy Roller’ churches,” they chuckled. Now it was one year later and my Presbyterian friend and I
decided to look for the “Holy Roller Revival Church”. We found it and arrived just as the service was beginning.
After summoning up enough courage to walk in, we slipped into one of the back pews – and there it was again – I could feel it as we entered the doors…that same sweet Peace, Power and Love I knew from the experience and vision in my room, at home, the previous summer. The people were uncommonly friendly and so joyful they seemed to glow as they clapped and sang praises to God with arms and voices raised in heartfelt worship. I had never seen anything like that before. I thought to myself: “Either, they are crazy or they’ve got something from the Lord.” Amidst the
“Hallelujahs” I sensed that God was in them indeed. Then came the preaching. The gospel message was delivered with such enthusiastic concern that tears flowed from the Evangelist’s eyes as the glad story of Love touched my heart as never before.
Suddenly a deep hush silenced the congregation. My heart throbbed as a “message in tongues” came from the Lord. (See I Corinthians 14.) The interpretation pressed upon my soul as it came forth…”Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson,they shall be as wool.”
I knew deep within me that these words were especially for me. It continued…”Lo, you have searched for me all these days; and you will find me here among these my people.”
When the altar call was given, I went up to pray (even though my friend thought I was crazy.) That same night I was baptized the good old-time way: under the water – in the name of Jesus Christ! With my sins thus remitted, I was bound and determined to receive the fullness of God’s Love with the infilling of the Holy Ghost. He had been with me…now I wanted Him in me! A few weeks later I came to one of the biggest decisions in my life.
“Lord,” I promised, “I know you have called me to your kingdom and I feel you have called me to preach your Word. I must know your will. If I receive the Holy Ghost tonight, I’ll devote my life to carrying this message of Love and forsake my own plans to be a ‘success’. Or, if you would have me serve you as an Optometrist, fill me with your Spirit another night and I will continue my studies.” I sincerely meant this vow as I went off to church that evening. It was Tuesday, November 9th, 1971 – about 2 weeks after my baptism in water.
The service that night was filled with God’s presence so much that I could see a “fog” in the air surrounding me. After the preaching I went forward to pray and again that awesome silence hovered in our midst as the Lord spoke so beautifully. I shall never forget those words of prophecy as they seemed to float right down from glory: “Behold, tonight is the night of thy Salvation!”
Although I was earnestly seeking God, I had told myself. “There are two things I’ll never do: one is, raise my hands – and the other is, say ‘Hallelujah’.” (I thought these two things were especially ridiculous.) Someone came to me while I was praying so silently and sincerely at the altar and said, “The Lord told me that if you will raise you hands and say, ‘Hallelujah,’ He will give you the Holy Ghost.” I hesitated for a moment and thought to myself, “Oh-h-h, no – not that!” but I thought again and said to myself, “Why not?! I’ve done crazier things for less important reasons.” So I quickly raised my hands toward heaven and shouted, “Hallelujah” at the top of my voice!! Before I could get the third “Hallelujah” out, I was speaking in another tongue!!! Tears of joy and thanksgiving flowed down my cheeks as I envisioned the Crucified One on that cruel tree, His blood flowing to cleanse and purify me. The rapture of love was indescribable. It is beyond words or comprehension to relate what God can do and how He can change a life so wonderfully and completely in an instant of time.
When I came back to church a few nights later, I was made to realize a most amazing thing: The carpet on which I had prayed – the walls which encompassed me – they were GREEN. The people that stood around me with hands raised toward heaven: they were familiar now…In my vision a few months before, this was the place the Lord had showed me I would receive His Spirit. It was just as He had said! No wonder I couldn’t find those other churches listed in the Chamber of Commerce booklet! God had blinded my eyes that He might fulfill His promise. Now I resolved to keep mine. The following day I relinquished my enrollment in Optometry School and looked forward to sharing this wonderful blessing with the whole world as I endeavored to pursue my calling into the Ministry. I returned to my home-town and along with my mother, brothers and sister, (who also became believers) became active in the very same United Pentecostal church that had been praying for a hungry-hearted family.
How gloriously God had answered all of our prayers! Now my soul was filled with the fullness of His Love and it was more than wonderful!
(The above material was published by The National Pentecostal Church Growth Institute in Nederland, TX.)
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