1 Score and 12 years ago my forefathers, well my parents to be exact, brought forth a great son, that's me. It was in Nebraska, on a military base, in post Vietnam 1970s. I have no memories of this, despite my Dune fantasies of being precognitive. I am told that our family were not church people at the time of my birth, but by my earliest remembrances I was a raised on pew, bathed in the baptistery, fed from a pot luck church kid. I have a great spiritual heritage. My grandfather, George Neal, was a vocational minister in the northern Texohma region of the great Republic of Texas. So my association with our little tribe, the Churches of Christ, went back long before I was ever conceived of. Still, my parents were nonpracticing and I guess that means I was born into the heathen hordes of the unchurched. As I was being brought into the world, to fill the role of second son God was at work in my fathers life.
Jim Mettenbrink, is a personal hero of mine. Funny, I have never met him and his name is written in no great legends of the church. However, without Jim and his loving pursuit to bring Christ's redemption to my father's life the story of my life would go very differently. So, while I was cooing in my crib, and wetting in my diaper Jim was spending his lunches leading my dad to a life of faith. The family story goes that one Sunday morning my dad got up early and told my mom, "Let's goto church!" My mother got up, got her two boys ready and off the ventured. Humorus to me is the perfect organization of God in these things. Although my mom was nonpracticing, meaning she was fine with no church in her life, I can't imagine she the eldest child of George Neal's heritage would have been fine with any church other than her childhood heritage in the Churches of Christ. I am amazed that God orchestrated to lead my dad to an active faith through a man from the only place my mom could have come along to.
I should stop here. This story might be fiction. By that I mean it is the world as best I remember it. This is all truth from my perspective and my memory. If I miss some facts, and misrepresent some events please understand it is only become I have fableized them in my memory. It is the true story of life, veracity of the facts not withstanding. I am very sure the actual players in this memoir have different stories to tell. I am sure their true accounting of these events comes from the same honest spirit. Still, this is my story, as I remember it. To my friends and family who have lived out these experiences along side me, please do not confuse me with fact. My memories have led me to where I am today, they are more valid to my formation than the facts are to story. So with that said, let's resume.
I do not know if it was that Sunday, or a date soon after, but from that point my father accepted Christ and was baptized. My mother, dove head first back into the world of church and so by the time I am able to offer my first memories, I was a church kid. Our time in Nebraska was short and before long my dad was on a two year remote tour of duty in Tulee Greenland, and we were living with my grand parents in Tom Bean, Texas. Most memories of that stoic Non-Sunday School, Non-Institutional, Church of Christ probably come from later visits when I was older. Yet it seems to me that the image of my grandfather in the pulpit proclaiming the word of God, or beside the pulpit with his knees bent and head down leading prayer is as old as these toddler and preschool years. The mention of my grandfather's name draws up four images in my mind, eating peaches in his grove, drinking coffee at the town cafe, riding a combine seated in his lap, and hearing him preach the word of God. Still today,at 32 years old, I feel in the shadow of his dreams for his family when I stand to preach the truth of scripture before a congregation of God's people. I am honored to be a player in the heritage of his greatness.
I learned to love scripture, prayer, and the hymns of the church. My Mamaw Lane loved the hymns of the church. I remember sitting on the front porch of her white house, with it's white picket fence, cracking green beans and singing hymns to God.
"On a Hill Far Away,
Stood an Old Rugged Cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame,
and I love that old cross
Where my dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was Slain.
And I'll cherish the Old Rugged Cross,
TIll my trophies at last I lay down.
I will Cling, to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it someday for a crown."
We would sing! Amazing Grace, O Happy Day, I'll Fly Away. I still hardly need a hymn book, from those days of singing hymns on my Mamaw's front porch. To be honest, there was also a lot of burning ant hills in Mamaw's backyard with my brother and my cousins Clint, Eric, and Casey. But I am sure that is many years later.
When my dad returned from Greenland, Uncle Sam had set us up with an engraved invitation to life in the Sunshine state. These are hard years of church memories for me. My actual measurable memories of church start in Florida, and it was not a positive environment. My parents found themselves in a "crossroads" church. This sect has also been called "The Boston Movement" or "The Discipling Church." As I remember it, which I am nearly sure is completely factually untrue, we spent 7 nights a week at church. If anything, I learned that church was constant, boring, and irrelevant. I listened to my parents discuss the abuses of the leadership. This was an emotionally toxic sect that used control and manipulation to inappropriately regulate their members lives. I was much to small to have been harmed by it, other than a loathing for church attendance, but I did grow up in an environment of watching my parents heal from it's poisonous toll.
We didn't really "get out" of the church, so much as in 1981 Uncle Sam showed up with moving papers again. This time we were going to Scott AFB, in suburban St. Louis. Our family found it's church home in a little country church that met in a converted metal barn. I have many formative memories as a member of this church. It was a family church, tightly knit and very intimate. My parents some 20+ years later still have close friendships from that little church. I had adults like Dave and Sherry, who gave us value by investing their lives into us little children. I remember potlucks, gospel meetings (once it began to rain on the metal roof right as the preacher got to the rain in the Noah story.) and I remember the Bible class where the teacher gave us $0.31 and told us to give to God any amount we wanted. I gave God $0.06 so as to keep the quarter. My parents made me give the quarter too when they later found out.
It was during those years that I got my first taste of Christian camping. Christian camping will become a thread through out my spiritual life. It started at Camp Ne-O-Tez when I was six years old. I was too young to be a camper, it would be Germany before that started, still I could help out my father at work days, attend family retreats, and accompany my dad as a "camp kid" when he was assisting the staff. I have very precious memories of that wonderful place. My relationship with God began at camp Ne-O-Tez. We have no language structure in our heritage to explain my experience with God as an 8 year old child. It was not a salvation experience, instead it was a relational experience. I can remember being in the Pine Lodge, a fire burning in the fire place, the chairs arranged to look more like the church auditorium than the camp ground cafeteria, me seated in my dads lap listening to Paul Lewis preach. In that place, in that time, I came to first feel the need for relationship with God. There at 8 years old I acknowledged the existence and depth of difference between myself and God. I presented myself to God, and gave him my life for his purposes. The profound depth of those few moments serves as the opening bookend to the treasury of stories I have to tell about God's movement in my life. That night God took me the boy, and marked me for service in the Glory of His Kingdom. It was in that place, at that time the trajectory of my life deferred to the road less traveled. My peers talked about being a fireman, a police, or a doctor. I knew, I was to be a missionary.
Fantastic story Kevin. I would argue one point with you though. You said your experience when you were 8 was not a "salvation experience", but I think it was. I don't believe that salvation is a one time event. I think you said your first "yes" to God back then and your life has been a succession of yes' since then.
I recently heard a friend speak on this topic and I've been chewing on it since then. He said that the definition of salvation is anything that delivers people from circumstances. The American idea of salvation is passing from death to life (I once was lost but now am found), and while that is true,there is more. The Jewish idea of salvation we find in the Bible is the process of fully participating in God's community and slowly emerging as a new person. Salvation is not something you earn, but something you receive and go through. It's not an event, but a process. Your process began years ago and you are still in process...not to attain salvation, but to experience it. Does that make sense?
You are God's man and He has and will continue to use you in mighty ways wherever you are and wherever you go. You've definitely impacted me. Love you friend!
You are correct! I still get trapped in that old collective of thinking. There will be MANY more salvation stories as I cover the 25 years I haven't addressed yet!
I remember many of these same experiences (you're right that you are off on a few details - Dad was only remote 1 year and I believe you met Jim in Germany...). Just remember, though, that while you were basically a "church kid," while you were an infant sleeping in, Mom and Dad shipped me off to that little Nebraska church as a "bus kid." :)
I can testify to how much time we spent at church. I actually got my first scar (the one on my chin) at a church. I broke my finger at another church. My other scar came at camp. You know you are there a lot when you correlate your injuries to churches and church activities.
Anyway, do you remember how we used to dream of being at the same church together, you preaching and me serving as an elder? I still sometimes hold on that to childhood dream...
You forgot breaking your arm at the church in K-Town.
I do remember that dream, and I still believe it can happen!
I was going to type something fuzzy and warm here, but I don't have the guts to be fuzzy and warm in a public forum!
Stay tuned, there is still a lot more to the story!
The truth. Your dad and I were stationed in 1st Aerospace Comm Grp at Offutt AFB. When I met your dad, I had been a Christain about a year. We had frequent contact when I went to the telephone central office to post or check records or conduct telephone traffic studies. Like myself, he was reared as a Lutheran. After months I tried to set up a Bible study with Cliff. I loaned him my copy of The Eternal Kingdom by Mattox. This cleared up his questions about the One church that Jesus built. The real turning point for your mother, who was not coming to worship, was when we had a VBS in 1977. When Donna saw the impact of just one week on the cradle roll kids (age birth to 18 mos), she knew that worship and Bible classes were paramount for the family. I left in Oct 1978.
I remember Cliff going to Thule and then Coco Beach. He called me about his concerns of the ICOC there.
I remember you as a small tyke in Plattsmouth and likely saw you in Germany in 1986. I was invited to speak on a lectureship on 1 Thessalonians conducted at K-town.
I saw your dad annually , (once stayed at their house) from 1994-2001 when I made the annual report on our mission work in northern Russia. Since I was declared to be a spy, the Russian gov would not let me return. Since 2002, I have been preaching for the Lord's church in Brookings, SD and hope to do so for another 15 years. I will be 80 then, Lord willing that I live that long.
Keep the faith
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