How did you come to know the Lord?
I came to know Jesus Christ during the Jesus movement in the 1970’s. The Hippie movement began in the late 1960’s. I was in High School living in Orange County and jumped into the whole thing with both feet. Peace, love, and all that went with it running around Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, and I’m certain causing my Mother a ton of stress. Many of us young people were looking for something during that time. Some felt lonely; some were looking for love. I happened to be searching for truth. I was studying eastern religions. My own life in that aspect reminds me a lot of my son Paul’s life before he became a Christian. Searching for something. One day someone handed me the gospel of John, and I went home and read it, and that is what eventually led me to Pastor Chuck Smith’s ministry Calvary Chapel under the tent in Costa Mesa.
What was life like as a single mom?
I had married before my coming to know Christ. So I had some baggage as I like to call it. We eventually divorced. I had (2) two small children and went back to the ministry affiliated with Calvary Chapel and began working in their business office as a computer operator. It was quite frankly exhausting being a single mom and working full-time. But God gave me the strength to manage it all. I remember that time as being very special in that I had a sense of God’s protection, provision, and strength that I have never had before in my life. God watched over me during the long hours working and raising (2) two young boys on my own. Getting divorced, being a single mother, working full-time to support your children, is not easy. I look at single moms, and as a Christian, I would encourage you with the following. It is something I have believed since I was a young woman. When you meet a single mom, rather than judge her, be glad she chose life. I was 20 years old in this picture with my big baby boy as I like to call him.
How did you and Bob meet?
Many of us who were single and worked in the office (which was the headquarters of the Shiloh Ministries) would go to Bible Study together, grab some coffee and just hang out. It was there Bob, and I first met. He also was on staff, and we happened to attend Bible School at the same time. Eventually what started as friendship turned romantic. There is a long standing rumor that it was my cooking Pastor Bob fell in love with first. I believe it was pork chops that sealed the deal on that for him. I think it was romantic at first on Bob’s part; he may debate that point. I remember still having cold feet so to speak. We were in love and married in January of 1977. I can tell you that after 40 plus years of marriage, that you will go through ups and downs. Disagreements, arguments, not being on the same page, and sometimes you just don’t get a long on certain days. Being a Christian does not make your marriage perfect. It doesn’t make your life easy either. Bob and I have had many challenges throughout our marriage. The one thing that has sustained Bob and I throughout our marriage is the power of prayer. Pastor Chuck often said, “Though prayer doesn’t change God’s mind or God’s purposes, prayer does change something – it changes us.” I know in my marriage that my husband is a prayer warrior. I admire that more about him today, than I ever have in the time I have known him. This is a picture of Bob and I at Shiloh in July of 1976 in Oregon. I was 24 years old here and Bob was 28 years old.
Why did you and Pastor Bob start Calvary Chapel Visalia?
My husband and I were pastoring a Church in Eugene, Oregon, and he had been about the 6th pastor who had taken over the Church. We felt like we should go somewhere and start a church from the ground up. I look back and would say that we wanted a fresh start. We prayed (and prayed) and turned to Pastor Chuck Smith for guidance. As I recall, he gave us about three suggestions, and we felt like Visalia was the place God was leading us. We had never heard of Visalia before! On our way back to Oregon from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, we stopped to see Visalia, which at that time was a small community. However, it seemed to us that this was where God was calling us. Bob and I went home, packed (he does not like packing at all – which I don’t mind because he’s made me coffee every morning our entire marriage), sold our house, took our belongings and moved to Visalia. We didn’t know anyone nor had a place to live. Within a few days, we found an apartment and began looking for a venue to hold Church services. This picture is of Bob and I on our wedding day in January of 1977. It was in July of 1978, nearly a year and a half later we moved to Visalia, California.
What did Pastor Bob think?
I believe that Bob felt God was calling him to go somewhere new and get a handful of Christians and begin to minister by just growing with them as a pastor. As I said, he had been the sixth or so Pastor of the Church in Eugene, Oregon. I believe looking back nearly 45 years later, that my husband might have felt somewhat intimidated at pastoring so many people. He would be able to describe that feeling better than me. I know from our conversations, he expressed that he felt God wanted him to start with a small group of individuals and grow with them in Christ. I remember it being an exhilarating yet challenging time for my husband. Feeling led by God, yet having a wife and children to pick up and move so far away with very limited resources. As I look back today, I admire now more than ever Bob’s trust in the Lord during this venture of faith in our lives. I certainly did not have the same level of confidence my husband did. That has been one of the things throughout my marriage that I love so much about my husband is his trust in God and optimistic attitude. It’s a character trait I see very clearly that he got from his Mother, whom I still miss very much to this day. This is a photo of Bob and I at 28 and 32 years old. My how time flies!
Weren’t you and Pastor Bob already pastoring a Church?
Yes, he was pastoring quite a thriving Church. It was well attended and had a lot going on for the 1970’s. Our prayer meetings were full to the brim. The Church was healthy. We had a steady paycheck, new home, and two cars. It was somewhat a stretch to leave all this security behind and step out into the unknown so to speak.
Were you scared? Excited? Did you ever have doubts?
I was both scared and excited. It was a real step of faith to step out into the unknown. I was excited, about the change because I did know that God was leading us to do this. God impressed upon my heart about a couple of months before that some change was going to take place in our lives. I could not put my finger on it at the time at the time, but it was a strong feeling that God was going to move us somewhere.
I think to go somewhere where you had never been before with limited resources. Picking up your family and moving to a place unknown. At the same time, we both felt excited about the fact God was leading us to a new work for His kingdom. I don’t ever remember having any doubts, though there were difficult times. I never doubted that this is what we should be doing. Now that doesn’t mean there weren’t hard times. There were extremely challenging times. Starting Calvary Chapel Visalia, a children’s ministry, when Bob and I were the only ones who were doing the work was quite a juggling act. Though the tough times came I never really doubted that God had called us to this work in Visalia. Bob and I were not planning on having more children. That was a big surprise! This picture was taken in 1981 the year Paul was born.
What do you feel looking back nearly 40 years later?
Frankly, that time has passed so quickly. I would say there is more time behind us; than that which lies in front of us. I cannot believe how fast this time in Visalia has gone. As I look back over 40 years (July of 1978 will be 40 years), there have been so many different seasons in our Church. I also see how much the world has changed and how much technology has changed. I’ve watched how new technology has come into Calvary Chapel Visalia. It has also been a challenge to keep up with all the technology. I think my granddaughter may know more at (6) six years old about FaceTime, Hashtags, iPads than I do. I love how God is still in the business of saving souls and growing His people as we keep up with the changing times. God never changes. We do.
Would you have done it again?
Absolutely. Through the good times and the hard times, God has always been with us. God has been so good and faithful every step of the way. I always remind myself that this is His church and He is the one who ungirds us. Time and again I have seen Him bring us through. I have seen many blessings and miracles in my time serving the Lord with Bob.
You answered yes, so I have to ask why?
That question is real. God called Bob and me to do this work; it has been an honor to be called to shepherd God’s people. There is nothing greater than to be a part of the work of God’s kingdom. I have seen, so many people’s lives changed. I have seen people come to Jesus Christ and grow in their faith and become pillars in the Church. I recently watched this in my son Paul’s life. Something I prayed for with one of my dearest friends, Susie Dowds, for most of his life. God’s work will never be complete. I can assure you of that. It is interesting how similar your children can be to you at the same ages you were respectively. I saw a lot of the same searching and looking for answers or a truth in Paul’s life that were so similar to mine. You worry a lot as a mother about your children. Paul’s salvation for me has been a sense of relief knowing that I will see him again someday when we are in Heaven. That was constantly on my mind that I would not see my child if he did not surrender his life to Christ. It has been one of the great blessings for both Bob and I this year as we enter our 40th year of ministry in July of 2018 at Calvary Chapel Visalia. This is a picture of Paul from April of 2017.
What do you think Pastor Bob would say about Calvary Chapel Visalia 40 years later?
As I look back at all the different seasons, of Calvary Chapel Visalia; watching a generation grow up in this Church. To be able to watch these families have children that are being raised in this Church and learning to know God and serve Him; has been one of the tremendous blessings to both Bob and me.
What excites you about the next decade of ministry?
I can see God raising up the next generation to take over and hand off the baton. As I mentioned, I love seeing this next generation being raised up in the Lord. To watch them teach, be leaders over various ministries. I look at Trisha Sapien, who I’ve known since she was a little girl. She is now our Women’s Ministry Director. In addition to her beautiful voice on our Worship Team. I look at her with (3) three amazing children and a husband and again find myself encouraged by her Godly example. Looking back, I wish I had the same grace and patience she has in leadership. I know her parents, Pastor Mike and Terri Buford are so incredibly proud of her. We just finished our Revive: Women’s Bible Study and we had three generations of women there, junior high, high school, all the way up to our senior women. Another very dear friend of mine, Becky Olson’s daughter, Adalaide, spoke at our Women’s Study. I still remember the day Becky called me to tell me she was pregnant and how excited Bob, Eric, she and I all were that they were having a little girl (they already had (2) two beautiful boys). “Sis” is what we called her. It is these moments that thrill my heart. To see a young baby, grow into a woman of God. Another example that encourages me daily. I am excited about their ideas of reaching out to our youth and our community. I am exhilarated to see how God is going to use Calvary Visalia in these last days.
How do you feel today about the passing of Pastor Chuck Smith?
I miss Pastor Chuck so much. It’s still hard for me to believe he is still not with us because I listen to his teachings almost every day. I am so thankful that I was with him from the very beginning. I was a teenager when I went to Pastor Chuck and Kay’s Church in Costa Mesa. I have learned innumerable things from Him; I would not be who I am today without his influence in my life. I find myself so often remembering things he told me or taught me. My fondest memories of him from the time I was (16) sixteen years old up until his passing, is that I always remember his sweet smiling face that was so fun, and filled with grace and peace.
Is there any advice Kay Smith gave you that you wish you had taken?
I honestly think I have taken her advice, maybe not entirely, but I have strived. Kay was my mentor. Kay gave me (2) two main bits of advice over the years. She reminded me to love my husband and the flock, God’s people in our church. Kay Smith was such an example to me of graciousness and loveliness. To know Kay is to love her. She is the one who taught me to pray in a woman’s prayer meeting. Kay taught me how to lead women’s bible studies. She is really the woman who taught me how to be a Pastor’s wife. I appreciate her immensely. Kay Smith is a person I will never forget and I am so happy to be able to say those words.