Like Those Who Dream: Chapter 18, Oakland to L.A.
-Roy Lessin, Meeting in the Meadow
The Bible tells us, “I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16.
Sometimes, the path we are on, and the one we believe God is leading us to travel, can seem full of many twists and turns. This can make us wonder if our journey is in the will of God. We ask, “Lord, this isn’t according to the way I planned things…Have I missed your way…shouldn’t things be simpler and more easily understood?”
The temptation we face is to become discouraged and to doubt God, or to question our ability to hear Him clearly. From our point of view our path may look crooked, but from God’s point of view that same path looks straight. A straight path is the one that leads us directly into the heart of God and His perfect will for our lives. Consider Joseph’s dream. He saw his brothers bowing down to him, but he never imagined the things God would use to bring the fulfillment of that dream into his life. It would have been easy for Joseph to say, “Lord, a pit…Egypt…slavery…prison…how could these things be your will? How can these things fulfill the dream You gave me? Why are You taking me down such a crooked path?” Joseph’s path looked crooked to him, but it was God’s way of bringing Joseph straight to the place where his dream would be fulfilled. Joseph couldn’t see that the pit would lead to Potiphar; that Potiphar would lead to prison; that prison would lead to the palace; and that the palace would lead to the preparation of the land of Goshen for God’s chosen people, Israel.
During the years of 1966-1971 our faith journey took many twists and turns. When Char and I left Mexico we returned to the campus of Bethany Bible College for six months so I could complete my studies and receive my diploma. Toward the end of that time my friend, Jeff, who was from New Zealand, had contacted a pastor he knew who had a church in Oakland, California. The pastor was also from New Zealand. His name was Gwilym Jones.
“Roy,” Jeff said to me one day, “Gwilym Jones is the pastor at College Avenue Presbyterian Church in Oakland, California and he is presently looking for someone to take over the youth ministry and work as the Christian Education Director in his church. I think you would be a great fit and I know you would enjoy working with Gwilym.”
“How do I get in touch with him and find out if he has any interest in me?” I asked.
“I will contact him and tell him all about you,” Jeff continued, “I will let you know his response and if he is interested I will find out what your next step should be.”
“I really appreciate you doing that for me. Please let me know what you find out.” I went home and shared the news with Char.
It only took a few days to get an answer.
“I talked with Gwilym and he is very excited about the possibility of meeting with you.”
“What should I do?” I asked Jeff.
“He wants you to come to the church for an interview with him and the church board.” Jeff said, and then added, “My wife and I are planning to return to New Zealand soon and we would like to leave from San Francisco. We are in need of a ride to the west coast. If you decide to go for the interview we would be thrilled to ride along.”
After Char and I agreed to explore the opportunity I got back to Jeff. “Go ahead and set up the interview…if it works out it would be great to have you and Gail ride along.”
Since the trip was exploratory, it was best to leave Char in Minnesota for two reasons—one was the possibility I would not get the job and have to return. The other was that Char was pregnant and still dealing with bouts of nausea…
What I didn’t count on was that Gail, Jeff’s wife, was also pregnant and battling morning sickness. She was miserable from the time we left Minneapolis until we arrived in San Francisco! I felt for her as she sat in the front seat of my pickup truck with an empty coffee can sitting on her lap, ready for the next emergency.
I jumped into my interview with the church board like a kid jumping into a pool on a warm summer’s day. The people were nice, the questions were lively, and I was having too much fun sharing my heart with them without pretense. My interview with the pastor, Gwilym Jones, was delightful. I loved him from the start. He had a winsome smile, a caring heart, a brilliant mind, and a loving way about him. We hit it off instantly and sensed an immediate bond in the Spirit. I had to wait a day or two to find out the results of my interviews, but in my heart I knew this was God’s appointment for us. When I got the official news that I had been selected for the position of Christian Education Director/Youth Leader, I gave Char a call and told her the good news. We decided I would stay in Oakland and find a place for us to live. When I got settled I would buy a plane ticket and fly her out.
Things came together quickly. Within a week I had rented a two bedroom apartment and had it completely furnished, thanks to the generous gifts of people within the church. Char was amazed when she arrived in Oakland and saw all that had been accomplished in such a short amount of time. When I told her that my salary would be $4000 for the year, we both wondered what we were going to do with all that money! This was the first time we had lived completely on our own since we were married and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
College Avenue Presbyterian Church was located a short distance from the University of Berkeley Campus. This was the time of the hippy movement, student protests at Berkeley Campus, and LSD. Living in the center of this restless activity provided many opportunities to see God work in powerful ways. One of the most significant was a major evangelism campaign put on by Campus Crusade for Christ. Their goal was to reach every student on the Berkeley Campus with the Gospel of Jesus Christ during a one week blitz. The campaign included spiritual surveys, preaching from the steps of the student center, folk groups singing in coffee shops around the campus area, and a faculty lunch with Billy Graham as the speaker. He would also finish off the campaign with a preaching service at the outdoor amphitheater on campus.
Through my ministry at College Avenue Presbyterian Church I became friends with the main director of the campaign. Before the crusade began my friend asked me if I would be interested in being a waiter at the faculty luncheon when Billy Graham spoke. I was thrilled!
When the day of the banquet came I showed up early to get my instructions for waiting tables. Unexpectedly, Billy Graham also arrived early. When he entered the room my friend approached me and asked me if I would like to meet him.
Billy Graham had made a strong impact on my life…
As a new Christian I worked for a Pharmacia near the San Fernando Valley (I was still in college at the time). One of my jobs was to make deliveries to the homes in the surrounding foothills. During these times, as I drove around with the car radio on, Billy Graham’s “Hour of Decision” would sometimes come on the air.
I would pull the car over and park for a while so I could focus on what he was saying. It was my first time to be fed spiritually…
While a student at Bethany Bible College I received Billy Graham’s monthly magazine and kept a picture of him on the door of my dorm room. One of my dreams was to see him in person. It was quite an exciting moment when I actually had the chance to greet him, thank him, and shake his hand.
The church family at College Ave. blessed us in many ways. During our time in Oakland we gave our pickup truck to Don and Bev for the ministry they were involved with in Mexico. We were able to release it to them thanks to the help of a mechanic who attended College Ave. He had spotted a nice looking mid-50s Desoto that he picked up for a good price. He gifted it to us, but before giving us the keys, he completely rebuilt the engine. It was a dream to drive after spending so many years on the road in a pick up!
On another occasion, one of the church elders noticed that I didn’t have a dress suit. He approached me one day and told me he would like to buy me a new suit. He took me to one of the nicest men’s shops in the area and told me to pick out the suit I liked. After going to various displays and racks, I found a style and color I really liked. I decided to try it on.
“It looks great on you!” I was told when I came out of the dressing room.
“Thanks.” I said, “However, there is a problem.”
“Well, I didn’t look at what the material was when I picked it out. Now that I have it on, I discovered it’s itchy. My skin can’t handle it.”
Before I could turn around and go back to the dressing room to take off the suit, the church elder said, “Keep it on. I want the tailor to come take a look.”
When the tailor came over, the church elder asked if silk lining could be put inside the suit.
“Yes it could.” the tailor replied.
“Go ahead and have it done. We will pick the suit up when it is ready.”
For the remainder of my time at College Ave. I was the most comfortable guy in a suit every Sunday morning.
Our stay in Oakland was a treasured time. God greatly blessed the work at the church and with the young people. Many of them came to know the Lord and began living out their faith on the high school campus. One of the young people that came to the Lord was the quarterback of the high school football team. He soon became one of the key leaders in the youth group. He had a powerful impact on the lives of many young people as well as his family.
When he graduated from high school he attended the Air Force Academy. In his second year of school he was killed in an automobile accident. After his death I was able to talk with his mother who told me, “I want to know the God my son knew.” It was through the witness of his life that his mother gave her heart to the Lord.
Oakland was also a special time for us as a family. It was here that our son, Joseph, was born. What an awesome thing it was to become a father. Char and I loved being parents and having the privilege of raising our son. It was at this time that family life took on new meaning for me.
After being in Oakland for eighteen wonderful months, things came to a surprising end. Gwilym Jones decided to leave the church and move to another city in California. The church he was moving to would not allow him to bring me along because I didn’t meet some of the necessary qualifications of the denomination. Even though many of the people at College Avenue Presbyterian Church wanted us to stay, I knew it was best for us to leave. What I didn’t know was where!
Chapter 19: Ten Offers, No Job
Come to Me
When you are hurting,
come to Me and I will bind your wounds.
When you need to be assured,
come to Me and I will give you My embrace.
When you can no longer go on,
come to Me and I will carry you.
When you need comfort,
come to Me and I will wipe your tears.
When you are uncertain of My love,
come to Me and I will speak my heart to you.
Always remember that in your need,
you are coming to the One who came for you.
After our time in Oakland we made a return trip to Mexico for a few months. When we left Mexico I had a renewed desire to return to the Los Angeles area. Needing a place to land, I called my dad and asked if we could stay with him temporarily while I waited on the Lord for clear direction. I didn’t realize it at the time, but once again, the Lord was to use my dad at a key time in my life.
Not long after our arrival in L.A. I reconnected with a close friend I had first met when I was in my teens. His name was Jerry Kaufman. We were part of a club called the Shantels. What brought Jerry and I together at this time was a funeral service for a former member of the Shantels.
Here is Jerry Kaufman’s account of how we became friends in the 50s and of our reconnecting in 1968…
Roy and I became friends in the mid-50s through a group of guys who formed a club called the Shantels. Instead of forming a car club or gang, we formed an athletic group that challenged car clubs and other groups to a game of flag football or basketball. This usually ended in victory for the Shantels. In a game with the Montebello Varsity basketball team, the Shantels defeated them in spite of the fact that they won their league that same year.
In 1968 at the Olympics in Mexico, a Shantels member and close friend of ours was accidently killed in Mexico and his body brought back to the States. His funeral service was attended by many of our former Shantels members, including Roy and myself. After the service was over, we went outside and Roy asked to speak with me for a few minutes. I asked what he wanted to talk about and he mentioned Jesus Christ.
After listening for a few minutes, I told him that I was not interested and walked away. I wondered why he wanted to talk about Jesus when we both were Jewish, raised in Jewish homes, and had Bar Mitzvah services at our synagogue.
saddened by Jerry’s response to the Gospel when I talked with him after the
funeral service. Thankfully, the story didn’t end there. Years later, I
received an unexpected phone call from Jerry that left me overjoyed as he
shared his story of how he came to believe in Jesus Christ as his Savior and
My testimony will always include Roy, who reached out to me in 1968 and asked me to consider God’s sacrifice of His only begotten Son on my behalf so that my sins could be forgiven. Even though I rejected the message of the Gospel at that time, God never let me go, and for that I praise His name daily.
My dad, his wife Carol, and their five children had moved to a three-bedroom, one bath, 950 square foot house in Whittier, California. They were now a family of seven, and giving up one of their three bedrooms so we could have a place to stay was quite a sacrifice. Yet, they did it gladly and made us feel completely wanted, loved, and at home.
During our entire time with them we never heard one complaint from any of the children. It was amazing how ten people could get by with only one bathroom and one sink between us.
What I hoped would be a short visit turned out to be a long stay. It was not that I lacked the opportunity to take on something new, in fact, I had ten different job offers from various Christian ministries during that time. Even though I was tempted to accept many of the offers I received, I never had a peace from the Lord to say “yes” to any of them. It was hard to turn down so many opportunities, not only because of our tight living quarters, but also because we were expecting our second child and I needed the income.
Our daughter, Lydia, was born before we were able to move. Through the gifts of our son and daughter, Joe and Lydia, God has brought to me a lifetime of discovery into the depths of love a father’s heart can go and the heights to which it can reach.
As the weeks at my dad’s house turned into months, I became more and more puzzled about our situation. Nothing seemed to be coming together. I had a few preaching opportunities, but nothing consistent. The best I could do for income was pick up some odd jobs, which included working at the city fair grounds for a few weeks setting up bleachers and unloading box cars, cleaning out a filthy vacant lot in the skid-row district of downtown Los Angeles, and assisting John the Tree Man, who went around cutting down trees and trimming branches in people’s yards. All the jobs were hard work and paid very small wages. The money that came in did help us meet our expenses, but didn’t provide enough for us to move out on our own. Many times I wondered, “Why have you led us here, Lord? What is it that you want me to do and where is it you want me to go?” I became anxious!
One of the bright spots for us was the church we started attending. It was called Homewood Community Church. It was the church my dad and his family were attending and they invited us to join them. The church was part of a small mission that had an outreach to Mexico through Bible correspondence courses. The mission was founded by a Christian couple. The wife headed up the correspondence work and the husband pastored the church. When the pastor died, his wife did not want to close down the church. Through a common acquaintance, she heard about two former pastors who might be available to help her. After she contacted them and explained her need, they agreed to come. Their names were Don Leetch and Dean Kerns.
Don Leetch preached at the Sunday morning service and Dean Kerns preached at the Sunday evening service each week. Don Leetch was one of the best preachers I had ever heard. Dean Kerns was one of the kindest pastors I had ever met. Don would stir us up in the morning, and Dean would build us up in the evening. They balanced each other perfectly.
On a good day there were about 100 people who attended Homewood Community Church. It was an easy place to make new acquaintances and friends. As the months went by we became very close with a young couple named Russ and Cheryl Flint. Russ was a student at Biola College. He wanted to serve the Lord through his art and design work. Russ and I discovered we had a lot of common interests, especially in the area of creativity. We didn’t realize it at the time, but God had some special things ahead for us as He built our friendship.
During one Sunday morning service, as I sat listening to Don Leetch preach, I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say to me, “You are going to work with that man one day.” I was startled and amazed. After seeking and waiting on the Lord for so many months, had I finally heard God speak His next step?
After the service I got up from my seat and approached Don...
“Don, while you were preaching this morning I sensed the Lord say to me that I would be working with you one day.”
Don was surprised and didn’t know what to say. He smiled warmly and made a general comment, but that was all. Obviously, God had not told him what He had just told me. I decided it would be best to leave the matter with the Lord and let Him work out all the details. It didn’t take long for things to happen…(I didn’t know it at the time, but Dean was making plans to go to Guadalajara, Mexico to help set up a printing press and study Spanish).
Don and Dean were business partners in a small commercial print shop called Fellowship Press located in Covina, California. The two met while pastoring growing churches in Southern California. As their friendship grew, they began to pray together regularly. They discovered they had a similar vision to make Christ known in their generation through the power of the printed page. After many months of prayerful consideration they felt they could not fully pursue their vision for Christian literature and remain in their pastorates. They stepped out of their churches by faith and began to publish a small line of gospel tracts. They purchased a small printing press and through some unexpected circumstances, became the owners of Fellowship Press. When I met them at Homewood Community Church they were both working fulltime at the print shop during the week and helping at the church on Sundays.
Shortly before Dean left for Mexico, Don approached me one Sunday morning at church. Don asked me if I would be interested in working at Fellowship Press. I broke into a smile and accepted the offer on the spot.
(Join us next week as we continue this journey of Roy's memoir, Like Those Who Dream. The book is available through DaySpring and Christian retailers everywhere.)
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