A look back with Pastor Bob Grenier and Gayle Grenier of Calvary Chapel Visalia.

Calvary Visalia is a Church that had its 40th anniversary in July of 2018. Bob and Gayle moved to Visalia, California, in July of 1978 with their two young boys from Eugene, Oregon. As they both enter the 4th decade of their ministry here at Calvary, they wanted to take the opportunity to share a personal side of how this ministry began. They also wanted to share how they feel about the future of this Church body and Visalia. Gayle often says she is still amazed that God is in the business of saving people’s lives. The first section is a look at Pastor Bob Grenier’s question and answer about everything from coming to know the Lord to his feelings about the ministry present day.

how to you come to know the lord?

Entering into a relationship with the Lord was a process. I had been reading any and all books I could get my hands, on, books on Eastern Religions, etc., various philosophical books, etc. I knew there was something more to my life that I was living. In addition to reading books about life and its meaning, I was using psychedelic drugs with the belief that they would help me tap into whatever it was that was out there. God was a vague concept to me. Not a person, or persons if you will. It was very much a broad swath of “something is out there, and I don’t quite know what it is.” There was a time when I began to think about God is up there somewhere. And I would go and sit in beautiful little churchyards, thinking that might help me. I had a small Pocket New Testament that included the Book of Psalms and Proverbs. Each day I would close my eyes and then open that little Bible and then point my right index finger to a random verse on the pages. I did this because somehow I believed that there was guidance to be found in the Bible. I kept up this routine for awhile, and so did the hunger in my heart. Nothing was getting me anywhere on my search, neither the books nor the drugs. In fact, my life was slowly but surely falling apart and becoming very confusing. I forgot to mention that music played a big part in this portion of my life. Most of the people from my generation looked to musicians as modern-day prophets. So, each new album purchase was the hope of learning something that would take me closer to what I was trying to find. But of course, it did not.

One day a crisis took place with a friend of mine named David. He had fronted me some money to buy some drugs which he would then sell, and give me a commission of sorts. Somehow or another the money disappeared, and when he came to collect the drugs, and they nor the money were to found, he pulled out a small caliber handgun and placed the barrel right between my eyes. I remember looking up over the top of the barrel into his eyes and thinking “how in the world did I get myself into this situation?” In other words, my entire life from early childhood to present passed through my mind. David then moved the gun from the middle of my eyes, moving it to the left side of my head, not pointing it at my head, but rather alongside my head and then fired a shot off, and then moved the gun back to its original position between my eyes.

I remember David saying something to the effect of, “I’m serious, if you don’t get me that money, you are in big trouble when I come back.” A friend of mine was standing nearby, and I remember him snickering and laughing at this whole situation, which was not funny to me, but apparently, it was to him. That was very disturbing. I thought what kind of friend is this to have.

It was that night alone in a house I was staying at (no one else was home that night) that I suddenly began becoming aware of myself in a way that I never had, and it was not pleasant. I found myself kneeling on the ground and placing my elbows on what was a shallow table made out of huge tree stump turned into a table. When I was in this kneeling position, I also began to become aware of something else in the room with me, in fact, two things.

One was a clear almost visible sense of Jesus Christ in a pure white robe standing next to a throne of sorts. The other was a sense off to my left of Satan. It was at this point I began to see my life for what it had been, no longer for what I thought I was, or what I thought I had been, but what I truly had been. That is to say; I began to realize that Jesus was alive and it seemed to me that I had broken every one of His commandments. I was not familiar with all 10 of them, but somehow or another, they became apparent to me. I was shocked and horrified to realize that kind of life I had been living all these years and had neglected anything to do with Jesus and with God. I was extremely ashamed of myself. I must have cried and cried for hours upon hours over the way I had lived.

It was then that Jesus began to become more in my focus and thoughts, and I started to realize how pure and clean He was, and how dirty from sin I was. The strange thing about Jesus to me was that He seemed to know all about what I had done, and that He loved me inspire of my sinful life. And I felt drawn to Him and felt that He was drawing me to Himself and I began to call out to Him through my tears and now my sobbing. I asked Him to forgive me. At that very same time, I was also (and it was as if someone had tapped me on my left shoulder trying to gain my attention) I turned and could see the devil beckoning me to come his way. In fact, he was forthright in what he said to me. He told me that if I was to come his way that he would enable me to have any and all things that I wanted to have. He indicated to me that he would give me the power to manipulate people and thus use them to gratify my desires. It was, clear, simple, straightforward, and convincing. My response was no, no, no. I do not want that. Rather, I want this beautiful pure loving Jesus who was calling me to Himself. I cried out to Him over and over again for mercy. These thoughts went on all through the night till daybreak.

As the morning came about it was so serene and peaceful, there was a small lake behind the house where I was staying. Lot’s of trees with Spanish Moss hanging down from them. I remember feeling like a cleansing had taken place in my life. I had not had this kind of feeling perhaps ever.

I still had the problem of David and his money or drugs. So, I decided to head out of town, and go to Jamaica and try to swing some deal to get this all straightened out. I was deathly afraid that if I stayed put, that things were not going to be good at all. I started hitchhiking, and my first ride was a group of people in a Volkswagen Bus. I believed they were Christians since I felt so happy with them. I remember them being kind and caring towards me and giving me some literature to read. They took me as far as they could, but the next ride was a man in a car, and all I can remember was a feeling of evil in that car. The next ride was in a big van, and the two men in the van had all kinds of illegal drugs and were happy to share them with me. But, now for the first time in years, I did not want them. And I could not wait to get out of that van. They dropped me off at the Miami International Airport. It was February 5, 1973, and it was there that a complete stranger approached me and asked me if “Was a Jesus Freak?”

I had not heard that phrase used before, but remember answering him, “No, but I believe in Jesus.” He then gave me a little booklet called a Christian Tract that explains what the Gospel Message is and how a person can come home to God and become one of His children, be forgiven and have a new life in Jesus Christ. The title of the booklet was “The Four Spiritual Laws” put out by Campus Crusade for Christ. It lays out step by step what the truth is about life, about sin, about heaven, about hell, and about what Christ did on the cross for mankind. Towards the end of the little booklet, there was sample prayer to pray if you wanted to surrender your life to Jesus and receive Him as your Savior. I wanted to do that, and I prayed that prayer. It was now February 6, 1973, about 3:30 am, and the airport was like a ghost town.

Soon, the doors started opening, and people began filing into the airport. And, I sat there just entranced looking at each one of them. And what stood out to me as I looked closely in their eyes, that they all seemed to be so sad and empty looking. I had never had this type of experience. And at the same time, I felt just the opposite of how they appeared to me. I was peaceful, happy, joyful, and had a sense of something that I had never experienced before in my life. Today, I realize that it was the Lord who was now in my life.

There is so much I could say about the days that followed, but let me end with this. Two days later after going to Montego Bay, Jamaica, and coming right back to Miami, Florida, I was walking the streets of Miami, trying to get the main highway to head to North Carolina. It was early in the morning; no stores were open yet, not much traffic at all. I was just walking on the sidewalks. But, I became so overwhelmed with emotion about what was going on inside of me, that I would find the alleys between buildings, and go down them to the back side of the store and the parking lots there.

And, I would get on my knees and just cry and cry and cry. These were not painful or guilty tears. They were tears of joy coming from me. I could not do this out on the sidewalks, so I would just find an alley and go down it, and repeat this getting on my knees and cry and just have my heart going out to God. I’m not sure if I even said anything, all I remember is crying for joy.

weren't you a marine in vietnam?

I wanted to go to Vietnam. I felt I must go and fight. I enlisted in the Marine Corps, rather than being drafted. I felt the Marine Corps was the most prestigious of all the branches and the hardest. I thought if I could get through it in the Marines, then I could make it anywhere. My, how I was mistaken. I had my initial (3) three stages of training for Boot Camp at Parris Island, Advanced Infantry training at Camp Lejeune North Carolina, and Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton. I walked up the stairway of the plane and stopped at the top, turned around and paused, looking out over El Toro Airfield. I thought, “I’ll never see America again, I’m sure I will die in combat.” I got on the plane and made my way through Okinawa, Japan, to Da Nang, South Vietnam. As I deplaned and stepped onto the tarmac, I thought “I’ll never leave here alive, I will be in a body bag after dying.” What a way to start a tour of duty.

I received training for Flame Throwers, Bazooka’s, and 106 Recoils Rifles and assigned to H & S company, 2nd Battalion 1st Marine Division, which was located 12 miles south of Da Nang. My time there was short because my father was dying of cancer at the young age of 48. So, I came home early because of his impending death. While in the country, I have come to realize in my later years, that when you take a young man and put him in a combat situation, it is hurtful to his soul, even though he may not realize it at the time. God spared my life more than once when there. In fact, we were heading out on a major mission against the North Vietnamese Regular Army soldiers; these were not farmers by day and warriors by night, these were our counterparts. All I remember was sitting on top of an armored vehicle; our corporal told us “Boy, you all are going to be assaulting fortified North Vietnamese Cement Bunkers with your flamethrowers.”

There is not even a measurable life expectancy for that kind of attack, as the men inside those bunkers have machine guns and they stick them out of small openings and fire away. Suddenly, I was told wait, a helicopter is coming for you. Sure enough, it did, I got on it, and was told, you are heading back to Florida because of your father. As it turned out, my dad did die, and my company and battalion of fellow Marines were in a place called Khe Sanh, where 200 to 300 mortar rounds were shot from the enemy into a wire set up all around our battalion. Many Marines died there; it was a horrible time for the USMC. Day by day back home, I would think of them, and read about the war and mourn for them. All I can say looking back is that God spared my life from being among the nearly 60,000 service men and women who were killed in that war, and had other plans for my life.

how did you and gayle meet?

The first time I remember seeing Gayle was her walking right by me, calling out for one of her children. The next time I saw her we were riding together with a bunch of others in the back of a van on our way to a day at the small Bible School we both attended. So, up to this point, the love bug was apparently not around, because I did not feel the bite until sometime later. And, then she was always in my thoughts.

Being a Christian and falling in love was different for me than any previous relationships that I had in the past. One night we were having dinner together at Gayle’s apartment, and I had gotten up the courage to tell her that I liked her. So, she was cleaning up the kitchen, and I was sitting nearby and managed to eek out an “I like you,” statement. As it turns out she did not hear me, and said, something like, “Did you say something?” So, I had to say it all over again and almost died doing so.

I can’t even remember to this day what she said in return, but I think it was something very positive because as I drove home, it felt like my car was just floating above the ground. A day or two later, I called her at about 5:00 AM, and when she answered, (I woke her up) she asked me what was up, and I said something stupid like, “Oh I just wanted to say hello.” The love bug had bitten me real good.

why did you and gayle start calvary visalia?

When the Lord began to move us from Eugene Oregon, where I was pastoring my first and only other church, He let me wife know before He spoke to me about it. We had just purchased a brand new home; we had (2) two new little Toyota’s, and a small Church that was packed out to capacity every Sunday and every Saturday night for a prayer meeting. But the Lord through a series of circumstances led us to Visalia, California. He told me very specifically that, “I want you to go somewhere and find a small group of people and begin studying and teaching the Bible verse by verse and chapter by chapter, and no doubt a church would come out of this.”

We were both very excited as we both believed that God was moving us. That was 39 years ago as of this October 2017. Next July, we mark 40 years of ministry here. We were not afraid of anything, we were so excited, and had a profound confidence that this was what God wanted us to do with our lives. We came to a city where we did not know a single soul if you can imagine that. All we had were (2) two crumpled up pieces of paper that Pastor Chuck Smith had given us with the names of (2) two different families. These families had contacted Pastor Chuck Smith and asked if he could someday send someone here to start a Calvary Chapel. After the example of his, which was known for teaching the Bible and depending on the Holy Spirit. When we arrived here, we contacted the families and immediately started some home Bible studies and very quickly started a Church service at 1:30 in the afternoon. Later I hear a quote by a famous pastor who said, “Never have a church service at 1:30 in the afternoon, because by that time of day people are full of beef and unbelief.” I’m glad I heard that earlier, rather than later. But that time of day and location were all that was available for us. Shortly after that we moved to the local YMCA and spent the next 16 years there before we were able to purchase some land and begin building what is now a church campus located on just under 12 acres of land in Visalia, California.

looking back 40 years after starting calvary visalia, what do you feel?

Though I’ve been here for 39 years, I’ve been in full-time Christian ministry since February 12, 1973. That’s about 45 years ago this October 2017. I’m now 70 years old and my how quickly time does fly. I know I have made so many mistakes over the years, that I’m in a perfect position to not cause trouble in the Church but to do a better job of pastoring God’s people. I know you can learn from your mistakes, and I’ve made plenty of them over the years, and I think I’ve learned a few basic lessons about following Christ and serving Him as a pastor.

I’m aware that I don’t have that many years left on this planet, but I can honestly say I’m as excited and encouraged about the days ahead as I was when I first arrived here. In fact, one of the constant concerns I have is how much we need the Lord in our lives and this land of ours. I’m old enough to be able to look back and to see the slow but sure moral deterioration of our country. Christianity is not as popular as it was 30 to 40 years ago. But, none of that matters to me in the sense that Gayle and I have a job to do, and I’m so happy and thrilled to be privileged to be a pastor.

We have an excellent Church body with many elders and deacons whom I serve alongside. I believe that we are living in the last days and that Jesus could come for His church at any moment. If Christ does not come in my lifetime, then we hope to finish well, and to cross the finish line like Paul did, having kept the faith, and fought the good fight and my race is not quite over yet. But it will be someday, and I think of heaven many times a day, and more and more each day. What a glorious future I have in Christ.

if you have to do it over again, would have made the same choice? Why?

I’ve been asked that before. And the answer is simple. Yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat. The reason Gayle and I came here, to begin with, is because we believed with all our hearts that God not only called me to be a pastor, but He called Gayle and myself to this beautiful city known as Visalia, California. In fact, If God called us out of here, we believe we would respond with a “let’s go for it, Lord.” But, we do not think that will happen. We are thrilled to serve Him here at this Church in Visalia and can see ourselves serving Him just as long as He gives us the strength, ability, and health to do so.

what are you looking forward to in the later years of your ministry?

I’m no longer a man with anything to prove to anyone else or myself. I’m very settled in what it is to be a pastor, and am so happy and honored to be able to pastor. I love teaching the Word of God. I also love discipling people one on one and love teaching larger groups of men, like our men’s ministry. I have a firm belief that the Book of Acts is God’s blueprint or outline for what a Church that Jesus envisions. We are praying and fasting and working hard to drive in the lanes that are laid out for us in the Book of Acts.

I have no idea of what God will do with our ministry. I believe that in these dark days, though we may never see another national revival before the Lord returns. We can have individual revivals day by day, and we can have portions of our Church body revived day by day, and perhaps even our entire body being energized and living for Christ with hearts and lives completely surrendered to Him. Not perfect people, but people who are at the complete disposal of Jesus Christ.