On Holy Ground
At 14 years of age, I went to my first convention. It was wonderful to me because of being among other girls who looked like I did, rather Victorian. Long sleeves, even in the summer time, high necklines. We wore old lady oxford shoes with cotton hose. Though some wore black stockings, I waited a few years before I made that transition.
At convention, I blended in. It was another world for me. No one made fun of me; no one asked me why I dressed as I did. I made new friends and actually saw some professing boys. Though we weren’t supposed to talk to them we could look across the chasm in the meeting tent and dream. Remember, women on the right and men on the left. We were taught that convention was not the place to look for a husband. Where were we to find one? There were no professing boys in the area where I grew up and very few in the whole state. I suppose it was meant to discourage the youth from marriage and encourage them to choose the work.
Perhaps at my first convention, and many thereafter, I heard from the platform that we were “On Holy Ground.” After becoming a convention ground owner, and hearing our own ground called “Holy,” it caused me to wonder, is this really “Holy Ground”? I knew God called to Moses out of the burning bush and said, “Draw not nigh hither, put off thy shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Ex. 2:5) Moses hid his face and was afraid to look upon God. Also when the captain of the Lord’s host appeared to Joshua, he said, “Loose thy shoe from off thy foot for the place whereon thou standest is holy.” (Joshua 5:15) The Hebrew word for holy is “qodesh,” (kodesh), meaning a sacred place or thing, dedicated, hallowed. I cringed when hearing our grounds being called holy, but it was most certainly dedicated 100%. This is why I have entitled my story “On Holy Ground.”
While I was growing up, each year we looked forward to the convention. It was the highlight of our life. We didn’t have radios, were not supposed to go to the fair, and certainly not to ball games and movies. So when fall came around we took our yearly trek to an adjoining state to wait tables, that is, if we came under the scrutiny of the sister workers and passed. We’d see our girlfriends and hopefully, see the boys we saw the year before. We came home with hopes of someday meeting a professing boy, though it would have to be on the sly; heaven forbid that we talk to them but maybe we could correspond.
I didn’t meet my husband, Raymond, at a convention. He was a Texan, in the army and stationed in Alabama when I met him. He was just home from the Aleutian Island of Attu, Alaska, being deployed to Europe for about two years. I was visiting a friend I had met at my first convention. The army base was 90 miles from the closest meeting which was in the home where I was visiting. He had come by bus on Saturday evening and stayed over for the Sunday morning meeting. There were two other single girls there, but this Texan was too bashful to talk to any of us individually. Nevertheless, a courtship through letters began within a short time and we were married 2½ years later.
I was born and raised in Mississippi where the wedding ring was frowned on; in fact, marriage was frowned on too. “You will have trouble in the flesh,” was quoted to my Mother about our upcoming marriage by a worker we dearly loved. I wanted a ring as a symbol that I was married, but the fact that I was a married woman was to be exhibited by HOW I acted. How do you act married? My husband-to-be was from Texas where wedding rings were OK. However, we were married in Mississippi and did not have a ring ceremony. We lived in Texas for a year and then my husband’s job took us to California, where our children, Cherie and Galen were born. In California, we found that most all the professing married ladies wore wedding bands.
One year, my husband and I along with another couple went to the Bakersfield convention. They were from another state and she didn’t wear a wedding ring either. The first day at lunchtime our husbands went into town to get us a motel room. They reserved a room with two double beds and bath. That night as we girls waited for our boys to bring in our luggage, the clerk asked if she could help us. My friend said, “No, we are just waiting on the boys.” The clerk asked, “What boys?” She asked their names and looked at her book and said, “I didn’t reserve rooms for any girls, just two men.” We told her, “But, these men are our husbands.” She replied, “They didn’t tell me they had wives.” She looked us over, didn’t see any wedding bands and refused to rent rooms to us.
Mind you this was taking place in the early 1950s and we certainly did not look like prostitutes. We had tidy buns, were plainly dressed with no makeup and NO WEDDING RINGS. And furthermore, we were ACTING married! Our husbands were totally innocent when they did not not register our names. The clerk didn’t buy any of that, but finally, she said we could stay, but we would have to pay more. By that time we were totally embarrassed and asked for our money back and went somewhere else. We never were sure that she believed our “wife” story, but we have since had many laughs over it, though it was not one bit funny at the time.
After that embarrassing experience which took place after I had been a wife and even mother for several years, I decided I was GOING to have a wedding ring. We discarded the advice that I should just “act married.” In a few weeks, we bought me a very slim gold wedding ring for the total sum of $8.00 at Montgomery Wards. Now, I was marked for all the world to see that I was a married woman, a “wife.” Now, I still act married AND wear a wedding ring. As for trouble in the flesh—-what on earth did the worker mean by that statement?
We began to dream that some day maybe we could have a convention. A few years later this did materialize. We heard that the overseer of MS was eager to establish a convention. This led to a correspondence with him and our offer to move and find a suitable place. We were still in our 30’s and quite thrilled, even though it meant a move from our beloved California to Mississippi without a definite promise of the convention actually materializing. We were happy to be closer to our families also.
THE PURCHASE OF THE HOLY GROUND
We had found a wonderful location with approval of the local state worker but he had no authority to say we’d get the convention. This had to come from the “top.” We told him we would like to live there, even if we didn’t get the convention. We had found the perfect place, 20 acres 10 miles from the city, in a grove of over 200 pecan trees! It was an old two-story house that would have to be completely renovated, yet was livable if you didn’t mind walking down the path to the outhouses, yes, plural. When walking the path outback you came to a “Y” and you could choose the right or left. We had to use His and Her signs when our guest began to arrive.
There was talk from the friends about a convention. They were almost peeved we hadn’t told them why we moved there. They were not aware we didn’t know for sure either until one day a letter came from a worker who printed the convention list for the Eastern and Southern states. He asked that we please let him know our address and telephone number so he could go ahead with the convention lists for 1959. When we received it, we were listed for October 1959. Someone had told him, but they didn’t tell us! This was June and convention was 4 months away! Talk about action!
Regardless of how we received word, we were thrilled and began to frantically prepare, along with several workers who came and spent the first summer with us. Changes were made that shocked us, like trimming trees with gorgeous overhang until they looked like telephone poles. I cried and lost sleep over that. Moving from California, where we only had little shrubs and no shade trees in our area, we were a bit surprised that they didn’t ask us before trimming the trees. To them, there was one aim and one reason for convention grounds: the once-a-year gathering. When I spoke to the worker about the “slaughter of the gorgeous trees,” he said: “you have a lot to learn!” And learn we did! We learned it was not really our place, it was theirs. I was told it would be best if I kept interior décor simple so our home would be more useful; this by one of the sisters, of course.
It didn’t take long for me to understand her advice. Eventually, we had carpet installed to cover the old wooden floors. There was actually “talk” about our buying wall-to-wall carpet. It seemed OK to have a rug, but not cover the whole floor, for goodness sake! I remember a young brother coming into the now carpeted living room to join us and some of the workers. When I saw he had a pair of shoes and some polish but nothing to cover and protect the carpet, I told him he couldn’t polish his shoes in there; he might stain the carpet. He said that he wouldn’t–he’d be careful. I repeated what I had said, and again he made no effort to leave with his polish. Then I sternly said, “You cannot polish your shoes in here. I don’t let my own son do that.” He left the room for the kitchen., There were no comments from the other workers and seemingly no ill feelings on the young worker’s part when later I asked him if he was pouting? Rather than keep décor simple so our home would be more useful, I decided it would be better to teach others how to respect what we had.
Although we did not agree with some of the changes over the years, we reluctantly joined in. We even went against our consciences regarding one change the workers made that threw us for a loop. We, and most of the people who came to our convention, were taught that it was wrong to work on Sunday. I remember the first time dismantling of convention began as soon as the meeting was over Sunday afternoon. Raymond and I didn’t join in that first year. It was never explained to us why this new practice on Sunday began. It wasn’t happening at other conventions. Our kids couldn’t PLAY ball between the meetings on Thursday, Friday or Saturday because it was not considered the thing to do on Holy Grounds, but suddenly it was OK for all of us to WORK on Sunday!
We never did understand why this needed to be done. The workers didn’t have to get to their jobs the next day. Retirees that usually stayed to help would have been glad to rest until Monday morning, and so would we. Not the case. It was as though a storm was boding, and we needed to get things stashed away in short order. Actually, it became customary for everything to be put away, serve lunch at 11:00 AM, and most everyone was gone by 1:00 PM. on Monday. The Sunday dismantling shocked some convention visitors from other states. Many times we were left with odds and ends to put away because of their fast “getaway.” By the time our children returned home from school on Monday, things were back to normal, everyone was gone, and they were able to move back into their rooms in the house. A stranger would never guess that the day before there had been 350-400 people on the grounds.
We actually came up with a reason/excuse why we should just join in. Our convention attendance was around 350-400. Only about 150 were Mississippians. With very few young people, it left mostly retired friends plus the workers, to prepare and dismantle. It would be best “to make hay while the sun was shining” using those who stayed over and left early on Monday morning. Actually, we became OK with it; after all “the ox was in the ditch.” We just never understood why the workers suddenly decided to get him out of the ditch, when he’d been there for years?
We learned not only that the place was not ours and neither was our time. Everything we did or ever wanted to do was centered around meetings and workdays. It was hard for us to get away very often. My husband bought a nice little family fishing boat when we first moved there. We both loved to fish when living out West and wanted to continue, especially when there was a great big lake not far from us. I can remember him canceling fishing outings more often than actually getting to go. We kept the boat around for years hoping that we would eventually get to use it. I know for sure the last l5 years we were there it was not in the water at all.
Once we wanted to drive back to California and visit our dear friends again. We especially wanted to be there for a first Sunday union meeting; that way we’d get to see quite a number that otherwise we would not have time to visit individually. The union meeting was at our house too, so my husband being the dutiful elder that he was wrote to the worker over our state to ASK, not tell, him if it would be OK to get someone to open up the house and lead the meeting while we were on vacation. Awaiting permission to go via mail we were quite “put out” that he told us we should wait until AFTER the union meeting to leave! I was livid. It was something I knew was not necessary. We deserved a vacation and on the weekend that we wanted to be in California, the worker wanted us home in our meeting. I can take so much but I was not going to comply with this. My husband said then I should write him myself and so I did. I told him we were leaving on such a date and would be in California that Sunday in their union meeting, and that Ray would get someone to come in and lead the meeting at home.
Most people who work for others have to notify their employer ahead of time and set the date for when they want to take their vacation. Raymond never knew when to plan to get off; even if he set a date, there would invariably be a work project going on when the date arrived. Yes, you may ask why we didn’t just go on and leave them there working? If it was a holiday, lots of people would show up for “workday” who really would like to go vacation themselves. So we couldn’t very well feel guilt-free if we took off when they wanted to do the same thing. So we all forfeited those days because it was not considered that we all needed time off and our children needed something different to enjoy.
When Galen was home one summer he stayed and took care of things while we actually got away and drove to Alaska and were gone for a month. While we were gone, a hurricane hit the coast of Mississippi and a lot of the friends had to leave the area. When speaking with Galen via phone we found him being host to quite a few people who had fled the coast to take refuge on convention ground. That was a circumstance when we were glad we had a place to put them up until they could go back home. There were other times when we would drive in and find a motor home, a camper or some strange car parked in our driveway. Someone would be there that we had never seen before, friends of course. My first thought was usually, “Oh what will I feed these people and how long are they going to stay? All this goes with the territory——they have come to visit with the workers. Sometimes the workers were expecting them and would let me know. I realized that workers needed a place to entertain, ooops, I mean visit with their company. Sometimes the friends felt left out and were actually jealous that the workers were at our place so much. How oft would we have shared them with others–they just liked to be there. They could go out and work on something; they could relax, take off their ties or get lost on the property. They get tired of people too!
In all fairness to the workers and friends who spent time with us over the course of all those years, I must add that we met a lot of nice people who left us with fond memories.
Having lived on the convention grounds for 32 years, we were privy to many troublesome things, simply by observation. Other problems we learned by word of mouth. We did not leave the convention grounds because we were mistreated or offended by the workers or the friends. We were not. Retirement and age (notice I didn’t say OLD age) called for “a life of our own,” and hopefully a somewhat normal life, of which we had experienced very little.
One of the things that bothered me most, and caused me a lot of serious thinking, was the way the younger workers were treated by their older companions. I watched young workers being conformed by their companions even to the point they lost their own personalities. I remember one young sister worker was so distressed that I actually encouraged her to leave the work. Her words were: “Where would I go?” “I don’t have anywhere to go.” I shed many tears for and with these little ones. I had no way to help them. Many have not “made it” in the work, while others remain bound to a vow they seemed to have made with the Lord. If only they knew that our Lord does not hold us to a choice we made that is destroying us. It appears that the suffering they endured was something they felt came with the life they offered. Suffering for Jesus’ sake does not mean at the hands of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Think about it!
This seems a good place to say that our son, Galen, went into the work in California in July of 1982. One thing the senior worker said to me was they’d have to break him IN. Whatever was that suppose to mean? I had seen young workers broken DOWN and I didn’t like the sound of this. Since he has written his own story I will not comment on his life as a worker, though a mother’s view of their son or daughter’s time spent in the work would possibly be an interesting addendum.
During some of our last years on the grounds I personally knew four workers (of both genders) who were suicidal; one used the term “self-destruct” when talking with me. Another had planned suicide twice, and each time something happened that interrupted plans from materializing. One actually wished she’d be diagnosed with a terminal disease, and then added, “But I would be told what to do with my own body,” meaning she would have no choice in the manner of treatment that could prolong her life. I was saddened by another story told to me by a very unhappy worker who, once when traveling by plane, actually prayed that the plane would crash, thus taking her life.
I’ve come to understand somewhat why a person would take their life with seemingly no thought of how many others would be affected. I think their dilemma is so overwhelming they aren’t able to comprehend what others would suffer because of their choice. Did my worker friend realize at all how many others would have gone down if the plane had crashed? I don’t think so because her personal suffering blotted out all concern except an escape for one person who wanted, above all else, to die. I wish I had known how to encourage my friends, but I couldn’t change one thing for them. But I have made some drastic changes since then. Now, I could tell them about the Good News of Jesus Christ being a message of hope, joy, peace and eternal life. How do we explain that some of those who claim they alone carry the true gospel message would rather die than deliver it to others?
Convention grounds are constantly buzzing with remodeling, tearing down, building up, enlarging, painting, planning. All of this consumes the workers. It is a rat race for them, as well as for the lady of the house, and also for the sister workers who come to help cook, wash, and pamper the brother workers. Sometimes, it is just a tourist stop. People come by to see the grounds and visit with the workers on their vacation. Some take advantage, rather than rent a motel. Sometime we weren’t prepared for visitors, and we would take them to a cafeteria a few miles from home. My husband felt duty-bound to offer to pay for the meal, and most of the time his generosity was accepted. I used to wonder, “Why doesn’t anyone ever think we would like to be treated?” I can remember crying and wishing I could run away when thinking of preparing another meal after a steady stream of visitors.
My husband was a handyman and I often called him “Jack of all trades and master of most.” He thoroughly enjoyed the hard work and figuring out ways to improve on some of the bungled, unskilled workmanship which often is done on convention grounds. He was called “our rock” by one feisty little sister worker. A young brother said of him, “I like to work with Mr. Berry because he SHOWS you how to do a job.” He did not demand respect, he just was/is a man who commands it.
My son called me “First Lady of Convention Grounds,” but I wasn’t sure the name fitted my role there. I was actually a servant, and I served well. A lot of it I thoroughly enjoyed, yet it took its toll mentally, physically and spiritually. I can remember a few who sat in the den at one end of our kitchen and never offered to help me at all. One sister sat there as I was preparing lunch and stated emphatically that she did NOT want what I was about to serve her.
Over the years I learned how to delegate work and most generally found them willing to oblige. I must not fail to give credit to the sister workers who so faithfully assisted me when they were there; also the young brothers who seemed like my children, I just treated them as such and had them help rather than adding more work for me.
But wait, the First Lady didn’t only shop and cook, there was also the never ending cleaning, the changing of the guard–oops, the beds! Washing, ironing, cleaning, the list goes on and on. Once a brother asked me to do his laundry before he left one day with friends who were visiting him in our home. I put them in the washing machine and forgot to transfer them to the dryer. This made them late in leaving and he was quite perturbed that they were not leaving on schedule. After they were dry I gave them to him and said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t promise to do a bit better next time.”
Families living on convention grounds share all they possess with a multitude of people. Their home, property and all its contents are used for the “cause.” Oftentimes, it is abused. There has been a misunderstanding that has perpetuated itself for many years. Many folks do not realize that a family actually lives there 365 days of the year. It’s not just a place to go once a year to camp for 4 days. Please, respect their property. Don’t leave the quarters like a pigsty. You’d be surprised to know how few stay to clean the quarters. Have respect for them; clean your area before you leave. Then there are the “lost and found” articles. The first lady packages and drives 10 miles to the nearest post office to mail forgotten items that have been requested by phone or letter. Then, there was the letter requesting special facilities for a poodle at convention time!
Our home and convention facilities were in the midst of 200 pecan trees and October being the month they begin to fall was a perfect time for many of the friends to begin gathering our “bounty” and haul to their car, trailer, etc. After all, they were all over the ground and you couldn’t help but step on them; cars crunched the shells having to drive over them. We were very surprised to hear an announcement from the platform by senior visiting worker. “Please, show respect for the owners and DO NOT gather their pecan crop and stow in your vehicles.” After that we found little piles of nuts hither and yon all over our place, even little bags of them at the foot of a tree; we were delightfully amused at the deposit of someone who left Raymond’s tractor seat full of pecans. This did not reoccur and we realized that the friends were not stealing but really didn’t understand that we had not had time to harvest them or that we actually sold them for added income. Some of the visiting workers found the exercise of “toting” a bucket and gathering pecans was a treat the few days they were there prior to convention dates. It also helped us, too.
I have been asked many times about the determining factor that caused me to leave the group I was devoted to 100% for over 50 years. Following are excerpts from a lengthy letter I wrote to an overseer, asking for help. This letter was written before I had even considered or believed it possible to leave. Keep in mind we were still on convention grounds, I thought changes could be made; problems could be solved. This plea of mine would surely gain an ear when it concerned the younger workers.
I was confident this worker I wrote would be concerned with the problems I presented to him. I’m sure he knew of many more. We had known and loved him as a brother most of our life; he had clout and respect in the realm of hierarchy. As a speaker, you would never think of nodding off from boredom, he held your undivided attention. A statement he made as a visiting worker at our convention prompted me to write; the results or lack thereof prompted me to leave, ultimately.
Excerpt of Letter:
“Dear William (Lewis):
We are not as personally close to you as some of the other workers, but we don’t know of any other brother we value more for their Godly counsel, and who can melt one’s heart with softness or “blow one’s cover” with a breath of steel. Hence, this letter.
I always enjoy your help at convention time. Because “fools jump in where angels fear to tread”, (no implication whatsoever) I want to take in, write down, etc. all I can for my own needs. However, all year your quote in the next paragraph has been on my mind more than anything else I heard. I heartily agreed with you but didn’t know how to examine myself, or how to overcome the things you mentioned below.
You said: “I don’t know of any more bona fide, sanctimonious, nitpicking, self-righteous people than we have among us.” Did you also say “Pharisees”? Or perhaps that takes in, or is the whole gist of the others? (I was writing awfully fast to get all that “steel”.) I began looking up all your adjectives and then making the study set out in this letter.
1. bona fide: authentic.
2. sanctimonious: pretending to be very holy or pious.
3. self-righteous: showing one’s own convictions of being morally superior.
4. nitpicking: paying too much attention to petty details.
The word “Pharisee” perhaps takes in all the above, but I had to find out more to learn what I might be before the Lord. The best thing I found is the enclosed account about the Pharisees. (Click here to read)
I did not understand the terminology of Jesus’ day when he spoke against the Pharisees in Matthew 23. This study is, to say the least, enlightening, and I am humbled to the dust. Yes, we are Pharisees, too. I have done a lot of soul-searching, meditating, studying, praying, pleading, and yes, crying, because of issues that I conclude are quite relevant among us, which actually promote “bona fide, sanctimonious, self-righteous, nitpicking Pharisees”.
I unabashedly claim to be, and am, a Mother in Israel. I consider it one of the greatest privileges God can give to a woman. It is a very stressful privilege, but also often very rewarding. Very often, I am sought out as a comforter, confidant, counselor, soother, listener; and I absorb a lot of tears on my shoulders. It’s a nerve-wracking, depressing, strength-diminishing job, only to mention a few effects it has on me, yet I would not trade my place for any I know. All too often, I have no solutions, and all I can do is listen, cry with “my children,” and wish I had the “thread” to mend their hearts.
I cannot tell “my children” “things will get better someday,” and sit back with the knowledge of HOW they could be made better, without making an effort to contribute towards that end. You would not believe the cries of distress out there from husband/wife, male/female, saint/servant. Or perhaps you know far more than I do or have experienced.
This is a typical true story that I witnessed, and played mother to the young woman: A handsome young man married a very pretty young lady. He was raised in the truth, but had never professed. She was not, but what he told her of it appealed to her. She told me she had ALWAYS yearned to be right with God. They went to gospel meetings, and both professed. He had no visible outward change to make. You don’t even look for one with men. Nitpicking (your word again), begins. The other ladies start looking for the outward signs of the wife. “When is she going to put her hair up? Oh my, she still wears a little bit of make-up. Her heels are too high. Her sleeves are too short. Her wedding ring has little diamonds–it’s got to go, too.” And so on it goes.
Yes, WE are the Pharisees Jesus spoke about, who make sure the outside of the platter/life is spic and span; but inside? He abhorred that. Does the spirit not count? How did anyone tell my friend’s husband was serving the Lord? He looks like all the other men. Are these rules for her outward appearance added to govern (earn) her salvation? As my little friend tried to adhere to rules, she gradually became very depressed, cried a lot, lost her feeling of self-worth; she was never able to fix her long, extremely thick hair and was embarrassed to leave home sometimes. Not all women have the ability to make long hair look presentable. She became jealous and resentful of her still-handsome husband, who looked no different than he did before. After a few years and two children later, the marriage ended in divorce.
I kept in touch with my little bewildered friend, and saw her occasionally. She was again a pretty girl. No, not immodest, not in the least a Jezebel. Pretty shoulder-length hair that she could manage; a little make-up; a complementing piece of jewelry here and there, sometimes in a comfortable pair of women’s slacks. Yet she was still guilt-stricken because she believed she couldn’t serve God and look pretty. Eventually, she did profess again, and the same thing happened, complete with the depression.
Of course, being divorced, she couldn’t ever marry again. She’d be forever lost–the unpardonable sin? Even though her husband was unfaithful to her, left her with two children to raise alone, with some support, but not enough, nothing ever left over. Later she met a young professing man, also divorced. They eventually married. “Sanctimoniously”, they were cut off from praying or speaking in meeting, by someone who was going by the rules.
Is she/he happy? NO WAY. SOMETHING IS WRONG! I still get a Mother’s Day card from her, and notes, usually depressing notes. They live a long way from us now: I don’t forget her. I didn’t help her, other than listen; I didn’t know how I could. Too many rules, and heaven forbid that the lady on convention grounds bend any for them.
Yes, they still go to meeting. No, they are not allowed to pray or speak. They can’t be forgiven, you know. I still recall her zeal and testimonies; and her tears when she’d speak of what Jesus did for her on the cross. All this makes me outraged, to say the least. So who are the bonafide, sanctimonious, self-righteous nitpicking rule makers? The critics on the side. WE ALL ARE!
I am well aware of I Timothy 2:9. I am also aware of I Timothy 2:8, a message to men to lift up holy hands in prayer that is never mentioned, and not practiced. A custom of the old days? So we are to adhere to Verse 9, but Verse 8 is crossed out. Verses 11 and 12 cover yet another issue entirely (women are not to teach), but this message is entirely reversed in “this way,” because women DO teach; in fact, more women teach than men. It’s no wonder there is confusion, questioning, depression; you name it.
One more issue concerning the youth. Why is it necessary to squelch their potential to educate themselves in a world where it’s such a struggle to make ends meet? Why did the worker at Texarkana convention this year speak so against teachers? I shudder to think what would become of this world if we had no educated people.
Some people almost drop their teeth when they learn our son makes his sole living in the field of varied arts, and art teaching. His living is made honestly, with his hands, brush and paint; while his dad’s was honestly with his hands, tools and grease. They both are highly talented men, creative and never idle a moment. Youth need encouragement just to “be” with proper parental guidance, and loyalty to themselves to pursue their course in life. With their top priority being to serve God, things will fall in place. These kids are our future. They are fragile; handle with care. Remember they have to expend and expand their energies, their desires, their knowledge, they NEED to have a lot of parental guidance and freedom.
And please, read the following letter from a young lady who was here for convention a few years back, who is an extremely intelligent person, but was taught her brain was something to be “kept under”, minimized, not exercised, just be middle of the road, neither dumb nor smart. She thirsted to use her brain to its capacity. When she asked to visit my little shop and saw all the beautiful creative artwork of our son, she was rapturous. She is very artistic but was taught to suppress it.
By the manner in which I openly spoke of our children, and appreciated their individuality and talents, she saw that some people believe differently from what she had been taught. She was utterly confused and depressed. With big tears in her eyes, she cornered me on Sunday p.m. just before the evening meeting, and after a 30-minute visit, the enclosed excerpt resulted. Actually, my answer to her problem can be summed up in two words, “BE YOURSELF”. You can’t be what you are not. You can’t be made over by someone else. God made us different and gave all talents. Why should we try to make of our natural abilities the opposite of what he meant for them to be?
Our conversation was like the opening of a much-needed window into my life. To meet someone who understands why I am distraught is such a treasure to me that I hardly know what to say. For me to even approach you the way I did is so alien to my nature. I am still uncertain as to how it came about. When I am upset my continuity of conversation tends to slip, so for you to grasp what I was trying to say is a sweetness to me in and of itself.
My story is a long one, but my research has helped me understand past reactions and behaviors. Because of what I think of as the Truth’s “surface rules”, comportment and deportment, I have somehow considered my hunger to know things and enjoyment of the arts as self-indulgences and unedifying. Both consciously and unconsciously, I felt that if the inclination was starved, the appetite would go away. I didn’t realize that the deprivation would take away my joy of life in order to halt the need. Most people would interpret my feelings as similar to those of someone suffering from neurosis, but I assure you I am not down that far. It is just hard for me to cross over the margin that binds the person I have “bound up” in my past, and the person I long to ‘set free’ from now on.
I have brought this out in my prayers, but I must have denied the answers when I heard them. Everything you mentioned struck home to me. The insecure, unsure and perspicacious parts of me need to make peace with one another. We all fall short of perfection. A few can write a symphony, but many can listen with vicariousness to someone else’s.
My heart and mind both thank you. Hearing a real person with an affectionate nature state that I am valid in being out of synch is more welcomed than I could explain or express. There are many in the top 3% that are lost in the cracks, but they do not have the Truth to consider and love.
Thank you for the kind receptiveness and responsiveness you gave my plea. A gallant rescue in your own backyard with a hundred people looking on–who would believe it. No looking back now. When special people touch our lives, they teach us how to live. That is what you have done for me.
In closing, this little maxim of mine keeps me going:
‘A mother will fight for her children. A mother in Israel will fight for HIS.’ “
(End of excerpts)
As is typical, the worker to whom I wrote this plea never answered my letter. Six months later he passed through our city and stayed overnight with us. After breakfast, he began at Genesis with a rambling talk beginning in the Old Testament into the New Testament that lasted an hour and half. When he finished, he had not answered a single question I had asked in my letter. I suppose he thought I was naive enough to think he was actually answering my letter, but I was not. So I said: “But you have not answered my questions!” He said: “Oh, about long hair?” Actually, that was not a priority. Raymond had read the book The Secret Sect and was upset about the secretly kept history of the founder, William Irvine. So he asked the worker about this, and he replied that Irvine had been put out of the work because he was a womanizer. I was terribly disappointed; I had confidence that he would ease some unnecessary burdens for all of us but he didn’t consider my plea for help worthy of acknowledgment by letter or in person.
It was after this that I sank into depression. I grieved that there was not the love of a true shepherd. I went deeper into my scriptural studies. Jesus showed compassion and love for his sheep, He served and kept the sheep whereas the friends served and kept the shepherds. I didn’t understand this. After some months I knew I had to face reality, I remember saying profoundly to myself regarding this worker I had counted on so much, “HE DOES NOT CARE.”
I became quite concerned that none of the workers, friends nor my husband and I could answer a question an “outsider” asked me: “What is your doctrine?” Of the three brother workers I asked, none of them could actually answer the question. One sister worker said, “Well, if he will come to the meetings, he will learn what our doctrine is.” Strange answer. I had been going to meeting for over 50 years and did not know. Doctrine? We didn’t have a clue.
My daughter, Cherie, was already studying the scriptures with a Bible Study Fellowship group (BSF). She began to write me what she was learning. I was skeptical, of course, but soon learned to appreciate what she shared from their study of the book of John. I began a study of John myself and with help from the notes and scriptural references became enthralled. I had never read or heard the Bible come alive like this!
A man asked me what was our doctrine. I didn’t know what to say. I was stymied. I realized, I didn’t even know what “doctrine” meant in that context. What did we believe, other than what we could not do or must do? I did not know what I believed. Quite frankly, I did not know what to present to “outsiders” concerning salvation except the homeless preacher, the 2×2 ministry and the meeting in the home. Was this the gospel or doctrine? I asked some workers and wasn’t satisfied with their answers.
So one time when I was visiting Cherie, we decided to study the scriptures to learn what to say to anyone who inquired of our doctrine. We started by going to a religious bookstore (Heaven forbid!) to find out what other faiths considered to be “doctrine.” We studied their doctrinal statements, even though we had been taught against their books and literature. If “the truth” was God’s only true way on earth, and we couldn’t tell anyone about our doctrine, and neither could the workers, then what were those people learning who came to meeting? I couldn’t tell anyone how to be saved, though I was, supposedly, one of the few who was. If it is true that all other people were lost, shouldn’t we have been knocking on doors, day and night, to tell the Good News?
My story would not be complete if I did not mention that my daughter, Cherie, actually thought that she could help those in her Bible study group to see the truth. But the reverse happened, and it wasn’t long until she saw they HAD the TRUTH. When she sent word that she was leaving the fellowship we had taught her from a child, I grieved and cried for days. Though I was well aware of all the above I have written about and more, I wanted it fixed, I didn’t want to leave it.
With three books that Cherie asked us to read, I received more confirmation that caused me to doubt the “only way, Living Witness Doctrine.” The books were: The Secret Sect, Has The Truth Set You Free? and The Church Without A Name. A lot of questions were answered, but the book that became my favorite answer is The Holy Bible.
I studied my Bible intently, prayed and cried. I was up wee hours of the morning and late at night enthralled with scriptures that I had read all my life, yet never understood. To learn of God’s saving Grace was the most glorious thing that I have ever experienced. I was now at the point that I was already clicking the delete button in my mind, and filling the void with the Truth of God’s word. I realized false beliefs must be countered with Truth. I’d still be where I was over 11 years ago if I had left only because of what I knew was wrong; I had to know what was right to fill its place. I think this is the reason why those who leave are filled with guilt and doubt, sometimes going back because there is a void they have for SOMETHING (a system); not realizing it is SOMEONE (Jesus) who is “the way, the truth, and the life” who fills this void.
We had talked for a few years after my husband’s retirement that we should sell our place to someone within the fellowship so the convention could continue. I knew that I could not stay there. It wasn’t as though we were leaving because I felt a hypocrite for doing something I no longer believed in, but it played a big part in trying to rush the sale. It was about a year after our decision to sell that we were able to move, and all this time I was most miserable. The Sunday meeting was in our home, the special meeting was there, the convention was there, the workers were there; I felt trapped on all sides. I continued my role as First Lady of convention grounds, elder’s wife, etc. and took part in meetings right up until the day we moved. I learned a lot that year. I never had a doubt that I would not go through with my plans to move and not return to meetings. I anxiously awaited for the day when I would walk away from bondage in my newfound freedom in Christ.
THE SALE OF THE HOLY GROUND
There were four prospective couples considered for the new ownership of Mississippi Convention Grounds, and one of them was a local couple who expressed their desire to buy our place. The state senior worker encouraged them, so they put their house up for sale. An out-of-state couple and another couple who used to live in our state both declined. The couple who was the most favored by the head worker over the Southeastern states wanted to buy, but it was not within their price range. This left the local couple, who now had an offer on their house and were waiting for the “go-ahead” sign that they would be accepted by the workers to buy the convention grounds.
Then we received a telephone call from the East Coast. The head worker over the East coast would have the last word, or so we thought. He said, “You are asking too much for your property. You didn’t pay that much for it did you?” Thirty-two years had passed, property value had increased. The house now had five bathrooms and numerous other improvements. How would we be able to buy a retirement home at present-day prices, if we didn’t get market value for our home? Our asking price to the friends was less than what we could have received on the open market. The worker asked, “What if they found they couldn’t pay for the place down the road?” I replied, “then that would be a golden opportunity for all of you to pitch in and help them!” He did not reply to my comment but passed the buck to get in touch with another worker to deal with the issue.
I must explain that my husband is a very self-effacing man who doesn’t like confrontations in person much less over the phone. He was not about to call Worker No.3, and so I made the call. “I just got off the phone with (name omitted), and it seems you are the one he thinks should come and help us. We have a local couple with an offer on their house, and no one here can promise them they can have the convention if they sell their home. He replied, “I don’t know them”. It did not seem to matter that we and the local worker knew them well and considered them able for the responsibility. He did promise to come.
He arrived with the state head worker. On the way to our place they visited with a couple about forty miles from us who had offered their property to build a new convention ground, and before they left, they had made plans to build a new convention there. Then they came by to visit the couple who had the offer on their property and told them the plans for the new grounds, which meant their offer to buy was void.
When the head worker told us his plans, and that we should just put our place on open market, I just about fainted! “WHAT, put our place on open market and sell to someone who doesn’t even profess after all that these Mississippians have done to help build it? Sell to someone “outside”? Who would buy the place with all its dormitories, cookhouse and other buildings?” He said maybe it could be sold for a church camp, and that we should not be concerned how other people used the property. Then suddenly these grounds were not “Holy” anymore?
We were in total shock. I decided to stick my neck out, and with tears, I pleaded with him not to do this. I knew how physically and financially unable the friends were to begin building a new convention ground from scratch. Some of the friends were now 32 years older; some of them had died, and few, if any, had been added to the number. They had invested their time and money, sacrificially. I knew how much the convention meant to the people in our state. Why not keep the convention where it was?
What happened next was a bigger surprise than the plans for the new grounds. He actually changed his mind! He had listened to me, heard me out without one word of argument. He then stated that they would go back to the local couple and give them the approval to sell their home and buy our place, then they would go to the couple who was promised (that day) that they could start plans for the new grounds and tell them it was all off! In order for the local couple to buy our place, we agreed to a $10,000 reduction in price and to carry a second mortgage.
I don’t remember whether or not I have ever told the above paragraph of my story to anyone; if so, only a very few. I wonder if our friends who invested so faithfully in the initial building of our grounds would think any differently of me now if they knew how much I “fought” for their right to continue going there each year. They were certainly saved from a lot of hard work and expense.
Then, after 32 years in Mississippi, we began plans to move near our daughter and family in Oklahoma.
OUR MOVE TO OKLAHOMA
I would have no end to my story should I write more detail. I learned a lot, laughed a lot, cried a lot, and loved bountifully. And then, I left it all behind, after 53 years of faithful service and dedication. (I need to make it clear that my husband is still going to meeting.) In August of 1991, we moved to Edmond, Oklahoma where we had previously bought a house while visiting our children. They wanted us to move closer to them since we retired. Then to top off the family ties, Galen moved from California to Oklahoma City in December of that year. We all lived within 20 miles of each other for seven years.
We have never figured out why NO ONE came to help us move, except Cherie. (It was not feasible for Galen to come, as he was living in California.) Leaving her family for a week, Cherie flew down to help us pack and drove one of our cars back to Oklahoma. The brother workers were in the area and all the friends knew we were leaving, yet they didn’t offer any help at all. The couple who were buying our place were packing and moving their things into our garage. They had 5 teenage children to help them, and the workers were helping them, but not helping us. We were 67 and 71. In the month before we left, Raymond lost 20 pounds from all the hard work getting ready to move.
We knew two brother workers passed within a quarter-mile of our place when we would be leaving next day, but they didn’t come to say “goodbye.” To this day, we have never figured that one out! We had done nothing wrong, no disgrace, had given nothing but 100% dedication up to and including the minute we left. We still ask, “why?” I still hurt for Raymond who sacrificed so much, leaving some of his equipment on the place for the “cause.” We thought they loved us. I really don’t like to come to this place in my story—it still hurts deeply. Of the thousands of people we met during our years on convention grounds, I counted on two hands the number who wrote and thanked us when we left. Only three were workers. Hundreds had slept in our beds, driven our car, and ate three meals a day for weeks at a time. However, we did receive a hand-made, friendship wall hanging signed by some of the Mississippi friends.
How many wrote and asked me why I left the meetings? Not one! They did not know why I left and even though my husband did not leave, they didn’t even keep in touch with him. They may have heard something, but they didn’t care enough to check it out with me. I really thought they loved me! Only one person still keeps in contact with us. How many cared if I perished? (That is what they think has happened to anyone who leaves.) So I ask, “who left the 90 and 9 and went to seek the lost sheep?” Not one. “Where was the love of Jesus?” I have wondered if they ever think of me; the good and tough times we went through together; and yet, they still do not care to know why I left. Or do they believe, like one sister, that “what we shared was garbage gossip?” Yes, we did some gossiping; 2x2s are noted for that. I couldn’t help but remember the times I held her close while she wet my shoulder with her tears of despair. I was always there for her, but now that was garbage? Ouch! I still love her, I am glad for every moment I shared with her.
After we settled in, Raymond got in touch with friends who directed him to a meeting not too far from us. After we moved to Oklahoma, I did not return to the meetings. It was hard for us to go our separate ways after having gone to meeting together for so long. We still miss each other at our separate church fellowship meetings. I have been asked about our “divided home”–our home is not divided! We still live in harmony and respect each other’s choices. Usually, we ask each other about our respective services, as I know some of his friends and workers and he knows my friends and pastor/teacher.
After leaving meetings, I went about to prove or disprove what I had been taught at an early age regarding “false” churches. I’m sure that many of us were taught the perils of entering a “false” church. Sometimes, the workers would get the use of such a church for their own gospel services; this was a bit confusing. I started out church “shopping and hopping” a few months after I left my last meeting. I had been “out” in my heart for about a year and during that interval, I had settled quite a few issues. I remember praying that God would blind me to “what people looked liked” and keep me from judging what I was not used to. (That was most everything, of course.)
I began to attend Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) with a number of women who met once a week with a specified study of a book of the Bible. I enjoyed these studies very much. I gained the fellowship of many Christian women that I had once judged to be unsaved. I had never had Bible studies with any of the people I went to meeting with; in fact, we seldom discussed the Bible at all. I continued these studies once a week for eight years.
I visited several churches over a period of a year or so. I visited with all the pastors and they all welcomed my questions. I usually cried on the way home from the services. I was not crying because I went but at what I had been before God all those years, and how I must have grieved Him as I judged all “outsiders” as unsaved. I had limited His power as though Jesus’ death on the cross only covered salvation for those within the 2×2 system.
After a year of visiting churches, I began attending Faith Bible Church on a regular basis, which is close to where we live. It is an inter-denominational body of believers. I was/am enraptured with the Bible prophecy teaching we have access to. Consequently, I attend an International Prophecy Conference held each year in Tulsa. Our pastor uses the method of expository teaching, expounding the Bible chapter by chapter, verse by verse, and book by book. Early on, I knew this was exactly what I needed. He leaves nothing out. I actually learned more in one year from him than in all the years I went to meeting. There’s no famine when we actually know how to study God’s word.
I am blessed with the friends at my church who share the love of Jesus, not just with those who go there but others who are in need. I can remember when Raymond had shoulder surgery and was out of meeting for six weeks, none of the friends came to see or called about him. It was a man in my church that visited him, and then loaned and installed his therapy equipment for recuperation. He didn’t know Raymond very well but he just had the love of Jesus in his heart, it didn’t matter to him if they went to the same church or not. He lived, “Love Thy Neighbor As Thy Self.” After Raymond had been going to meeting in Oklahoma for about 2-1/2 years, he told me he thought the people had accepted him. After that, on two different occasions, when I was hospitalized, some of the friends sent beautiful flowers to my room. They have always been very friendly to me.
In closing, maybe others who are intimidated by venturing outside the confines of your past will be encouraged to know that you are not alone; the same courage, power and love given to me will also be your God-given gift as you seek to break free from bondage and fear. We may lose friends and family, but God makes it up to us in ways we could never imagine.
By Dorothy “Dot” (Moore) Berry
July 2003, Revised Sept. 15, 2009
Link to Black Stockings by Dot Berry