M. G. RICKARD
I have told the story of the “Miracle of Financing” over and over. Sometimes spontaneous applause erupts when the implications of it sink in. We had exhausted every avenue in our attempts to provide more space. We had three morning services and two evening services. We had a busing ministry. People came for Sunday school and we put them on buses and drove them to rented facilities all over the city. For a time no class of adults with the exception of out senior adults met on our acre and a quarter. And all children’s classes from fourth grade up were bused off-site. The YMCA, Elks Lodge (while the high school department met in the holy of holies, our elite Training for Service kids met in the bar) , the Carpenters’ Union Hall, several homes in the area, and
even a tent were used to gain space. Meanwhile, we bought eight adjoining acres for the purpose of expansion. Beautiful master plans of new buildings were professionally drawn. Large watercolors showed how it would look. A congregation of 2000 could be accommodated if we should grow from the present 1200.
We didn’t have a chance. God had an even better plan in mind. At that point, however, all we could see, hear, and feel was tremendous opposition. The city of Monte Sereno which had incorporated around our prune orchard was adamantly opposed to our expansion. The church had actually been there first, and for the purpose of eventual growth had chosen an unincorporated county area. Yet by the time we had strength and finances and the need for a significant building program, we were too late. They said, “No, No, NO!” We tried various approaches and
appeals and public hearings, toughening us up for bigger battles as yet not even imagined.
I remember those meetings. Decent citizens came armed to the teeth with every possible argument. “We don’t like your traffic, we don’t like the sound of your singing, we don’t like all the young people you are drawing, we don’t like your plan, your plan will eliminate gophers, jack rabbits, and quail.” One fine upstanding local resident screamed, “We don’t need to be saved. Go someplace else with your hymns and preaching.” She apparently echoed the sentiments of the overflow crowd in the town hall for they erupted in a sustained cheer and gave her a standing ovation, much to the delight of the planning director and a council of people who preferred horses to teenagers. We were beaten. The vote was unanimous, followed by wild cheering such as
is usually reserved for a winning touchdown by the home team.
I felt tired, somewhat resentful, but perfectly calm. My mind raced with thoughts of relocation. My thoughts were interrupted as I stood in a circle of men from our church while they visited. A pert little redhead whose husband had helped lead the battle against us was looking up at me, standing almost against me. I said, “Oh, hi! How are you!” She glared at me as if she wanted to beat on my chest with her clenched fists. Instead she said, “How can you do it? How can you just smile and visit with your friends! You have just been given the worst defeat you will ever experience and you just stand there as if nothing has happened! I can’t stand it!” And she burst into tears of rage and frustration. I said, “Well, we’re all convinced that if this door is closed, God has a better one about to open. We aren’t defeated at all. You’ll see.” All she could do was shake her head and shudder and say, “Ooooo!” as she ran away into the darkness.
Frankly, I didn’t yet see any open doors on the horizon. Sensing defeat in our application for a use permit, we had been looking for property. You see, California is one of just two states in which your property may be zoned for churches and yet you may be turned down. A “use permit” is required. Battle after battle rages in California communities over use permits. Churches find it increasingly hard to just get permission to build, not to mention the normal difficulties of a building program.
A motto attributed to evangelist John Hagaii is taped to my desk. “Attempt something so impossible that unless God is in it, it is doomed to failure.” Sometimes I am uncomfortable with the motto and place a book over it, but more often it reminds me that the church belongs to Christ and not me. We ought to expect miracles and ask for them.
Eventually we found a possibility for relocation to thirteen acres and the former facilities of a microwave company, 62,000 square feet of space. The company had closed down for economic reasons and had leased a portion of the buildings to a similar firm. The property was located 5 1/2 miles from our Monte Sereno site. We wondered what percentage of out people we might lose who were already driving that far or more. After an open house during which staff and board members took groups through explaining how we might use the space, the people voted 88% in favor. I don’t recall any hard feelings, just disappointment that we were considering a move so far from where we had been. No one wanted to stay in the community that had rejected out thriving church and considered tranquility more important than what we were doing. In the hearings the citizens had said, “We’re not against churches, but. . .”and after the “but” would come their arguments
against our church. It seems to me that the churches of America have been so benign for years that an entire generation has grown up with no memory of what an active strong church is like. It is okay if a handful attend and they are gone by noon; after all, a church building is a nice, quaint thing to have in your well-manicured community, but not growing churches. Ban them!
The property was beautiful. Its buildings had won an architectural award four years before and were like new. The place looked like a small college. The natural redwood vertical siding was weathering in lovely California style and heavy redwood timbers were framing the trelliswork covered with blue wisteria. An interior courtyard was accented by a fountain which shot fifteen feet into the air. The great tall flagpole in front was perfectly placed. Trees were mature and rich in foliage. Much parking was already included although we would need to add more. The neglected orchard and vineyard to the rear offered room enough. The whole setting was and is breathtaking in its beauty, nestled in a separate little valley, near the huge metropolitan Santa Clara Valley but not dominating a residential neighborhood nor shadowed by commercial buildings. Los Gatos Creek meanders along the roadway, shaded by huge white water oaks, madrone trees, and many live oaks, native to our part of California.
The interior of the buildings was open space that had been used for assembly work and would now lend itself to partitions for classrooms, nursery, library, and storage. The offices needed almost no change. Restrooms were on all three levels. The rear-most building was two-storied, as was the lower unit, while in between were the offices and warehouse, all single-storied. All the buildings were joined with covered corridors of adequate width with fine exposed aggregate concrete floors. Maybe the warehouse could serve as an auditorium, with some remodeling and the addition of a platform and choir area. Seating could possibly be made for almost 1000 in folding chairs. We would cut back to two morning services and one evening.
Yet, the big question was, “How can we buy it?” Even if we sold our buildings and land and raised a sacrificial sum from our members we would still be $700,000 short! Besides that, if we lost 12% of out membership, did that mean we would lose 12% of our income? If so, how could we meet the payments of 9% interest even if we could get the money! For these reasons and others, I was unable to lead with certainty. Purchasing Western Microwave seemed our best course, but was it! One day a man from my congregation came in. He was blunt and direct. He said, “Pastor, the Bible says, `If the trumpet gives an uncertain voice, who will follow!’ You are the trumpet, and in this matter of relocation, you are an uncertain voice. We don’t know what to do. When will you take the lead and lead us !” His words stung, for he was right, but I didn’t want to make a mistake and slow down what God was doing. I was of the opinion that we might win in court against the
town of Monte Sereno if we took legal action.
Within the week it all came to a head, after we had looked for financing for eighteen months without success. Tom Moore had left a career with Boy Scouts of America to become our business manager. He had taken the lead in out search for funds, traveling from Los Gatos to Canada, Florida, New York, or wherever we might borrow $700,000. Several of us had been looking in our own area, especially Vern Meltzer, who was in real estate. Our offer of $1,500,000 had been accepted by the sellers but our time had run out due to our unsuccessful quest for funding. To our knowledge they had no other interested buyers. We were wrong.
On a Friday we received a call to Vern Meltzer that the sellers had another offer in hand, $150,000 better than ours, a cash deal. They were sorry but business was business and they wanted to inform us. Good luck in finding some other place. Vern begged for time, at least until Monday morning since we had every intention of buying it if we could come up with the money. Short silence. We had become friends with their representative. He believed in us and was impressed with what he had seen. Well, he guessed he could hold off the other offer until Monday, but how did we think we would pull it off! We had had eighteen months already . .
Vern called me and brought me up to date. Lending institutions often close at noon on Fridays or by 3:00 p.m. We had applications in a few places that hadn’t yet turned us down. We called them but their board hadn’t met yet or they were still studying our records or hadn’t they notified us of their refusal.
Saturday I paced the house. What was God doing? We were virtually stopped in our tracks in Monte Sereno. Los Gatos had tentatively okayed our potential plan to return to their jurisdiction and town, but now what! Most of our elders were at Mt. Hermon, a nearby Christian conference center in the beautiful redwoods of the Santa Cruz mountains, for a couples conference. I had called them so that they could pray. Now I decided to call again to talk to the chairman of our Ways & Means Committee. I had to talk to someone although I had no new ideas. I picked up our kitchen phone. No dial tone. Was the phone out of order or was someone on the line! “Hello!” A voice answered, “I am calling to speak to Pastor Rickard.” I had picked up the phone just the instant before it rang. “I am Marvin Rickard.” He continued, “It is my understanding that your organization is looking for funds for a building project. Is this true?” He said, “My name is Coleman. I’m calling from Los Angeles where I am visiting relatives.”
“Yes,” I answered. “We have been looking for $700,000 for months. If we don’t find it this weekend, we won’t need it at all. Our deal will fall through!”
“Tell me about it,” the voice said. For the next thirty minutes I told this stranger as much as I could of our church, its struggles, its financial condition, the beautiful thirteen acres with buildings containing 62,000 square feet of space. He hardly commented, but occasional expressions or words told me that he wasn’t missing anything. Joyce was listening to my side of the conversation and wondering what was going on, what the Lord might be doing, remembering my motto, “Attempt something so impossible that unless God is in it, it is doomed to failure.” We were close to failure on the giant step of faith and relocation. Our competition turned out to be Monsanto Chemical Corporation.
“Why don’t you come to Los Angeles this afternoon and we’ll talk further?” the voice was asking. “Well, I’m certainly willing,” I answered. “I wonder if I can get a seat.” “A plane leaves your area at 3:25,” he said. Funny how that precise time remains lodged in my conscious memory. It wasn’t significant, just a detail of the story. “I’ll see if Vern Meltzer can come with me,” I said. “He has all of the details and the exact figures in his briefcase, plus our church financial statement. Where shall we meet you when we arrive! What is your phone number!”
I will never know exactly what happened, but the man gave me a phone number which I wrote down. In fact I repeated it out loud and my wife wrote it down also. “Is there a back-up number!” I asked. “No, this is the only number where I intend to be. If you can catch the plane, just call me when you arrive, and I will come to the Hollywood Burbank airport.” It was left this way.
Vern could come and dropped all his plans for that afternoon, but he would be running late due to having to go by his office for the briefcase. I went ahead and bought the tickets and waited for Vern. All at once I saw him coming. At the same time I thought of having Joyce call Mr. Coleman to tell him we were on our way. He could time his drive to the airport as we flew, having told us that he was about a forty minute drive from the airport. Joyce agreed to make the call, and so we headed to Southern California, a four hundred mile flight.
Our hopes were high. After all of our efforts and inability to find financing for our relocation, the Lord was about to supply all our needs according to His riches in glory, at the last minute.
Arriving as scheduled, we expected to be met, but no Mr. Coleman appeared. We had him paged and in that small airport terminal, which has since been enlarged, we looked eagerly for him to respond, but he didn’t. “I wonder if he is tied up in traffic on the freeway,” I said. Vern suggested that I dial the number to see if Joyce reached him and if he was indeed on the way. Carefully I dialed, and here is what I heard. “I am sorry, but the number you have reached is not in service at this time. Please dial again to make certain that you are dialing correctly.” In great dismay I told Vern what I was getting and then tried again, more carefully. But the problem was the number. I had a wrong number.
Quickly I called home and Joyce said, “I know. By the time I had found out that the number was wrong you and Vern were on your way. What on earth will you do now!” Well, we prayed. “O Lord, we know you want us to buy that property. We know that Satan is trying to stop us. Show us how to find Mr. Coleman!” There we were four hundred miles from home in a busy little overcrowded airport terminal, looking for a Mr. Coleman who was somewhere in Los Angeles. We didn’t even know his first name. And we had no phone number. It would take a miracle.
“Okay, Vern, any ideas!” “Well, it’s a long shot, but maybe his relatives are also Colemans and maybe most of the phone number is correct, just transposed a little. Let’s look up all the Colemans in
Los Angeles and see if we can find a phone number almost like the one we have.” It was worth a try. The problem was that the phone books for the communities which make up the huge metropolitan area called Los Angeles hang from a rod which is about four feet long. There must have been twenty or more phone books and literally hundreds, even thousands, of Colemans. We tried the plan, but it was obviously futile.
Once I had taken a mathematics course entitled “Permutations and Calculations.” The thought occurred that maybe I could rearrange all of those seven numbers into all their possible combinations and then dial all of the numbers until I got the right one. I didn’t remember that the number of possible combinations of those numbers was 7x6x5x4x3x2x1! Nevertheless, I started writing and filled a page with possible numbers. Then I got some dimes and started dialing. After thirty minutes or so, I gave up the plan.
By now we were under real pressure. The last Saturday flight to our area from that airport was not too many minutes away, maybe two hours. Mr. Coleman still had to be found and his drive would be forty minutes of that remaining time. “Forty minutes!” Vern said. “Can we do anything with that!” “What do you mean!” I asked. “Well,” he said, “Let’s assume that the last four numbers of our incorrect phone number are correct and that the first three are messed up. Is there any way to find out which prefixes are from areas forty minutes from here!” There was. In the front of a phone book we saw a map of Los Angeles with all of the prefixes located according to their geographical Location. One of them which matched the three digits of our prefix was forty minutes away from us. “Now, let’s make up all of the possible combinations of the three digits of our prefix number.” The possibilities were 3x2x1 or a total of six possibilities. I dialed all of them and on the sixth try, a woman answered, “No, Mr. Coleman is not here at the moment. I expect him momentarily. Who shall I say is calling?” With my heart in my throat, I said, “Did he say anything about meeting with some men from the San Jose area?” “Yes, he did,” she responded. “Would you tell him that we are at the Hollywood-Burbank airport! We’ll eat a sandwich while we wait for him. Thank you very much.”
One hour later a man introduced himself as Mr. Coleman. After the introductions and some fresh coffee all around, we were down to business. Our plane left in an hour. We laid it all out, our hopes for the future of our church, our difficult task of finding financing, the extreme urgency of our need, the fact that we only had until Monday. Five minutes before we had to leave, we stood up and Mr. Coleman said, “Gentlemen, I will loan you the money for your project. If one of you will drive to a certain address in Hayward Monday morning at 10:00, I will have a letter prepared assuring you and your seller that I will finance the purchase.” We had attempted something so impossible that unless God was in it, it was doomed to failure.
I built my sermon around this wonderful adventure and experience, discarding my prepared notes, and that next day the congregation rejoiced together for the definite and clear direction we had been given.
PRINCIPLES TO PONDER
1 . In the Lord’s work “defeat” may be the beginning of an open door.
2. “Attempt something so impossible that unless God is in it, it is doomed to failure.”
3. Relocation may be best for a church.