Norman, Oklahoma. Our next stop. Normally, I would have never considered preaching at the University of Oklahoma because by the time we left Alabama, the school year was practically over. In fact, the U of O was already in its finals week, which is always a very difficult time of year to draw a crowd due to the pressure of exams. However, some friends of the Arkansas congregation we had visited who also happened to attend Monte Judah’s messianic congregation, invited us to stay with them for a week. Free food and lodging meant that Yah definitely wanted us on that university.
Driving up a long, dusty road that led onto a small farm, we admired the quiet beauty of rural Oklahoma. Our hosts, an elderly couple in their mid 70’s, met us on their driveway. As we made our introductions and settled down for some coffee in their modest living room, the husband began to share an insight that still carries with me to this day.
“Remember how the Messiah said that as long as I remain with you, the Light is with you, however when I depart then the darkness comes when no man can work?”
“Well, think of YahShua as the sun. When He came the first time, the sun was setting. The Light would be all the signs and miracles He did. And in the Book of Acts, the sun was setting, but you still have Light (signs and miracles) as it is setting. Eventually, the sun had completely set, and all you are left with is darkness and stars in the sky. Which is why, for the past 2000 years, you don’t see the huge miracles that were done back then, but only here and there do you see miracles -- just like the stars dotting a black sky.”
I leaned forward, gripping my coffee cup.
He continued, “Now, when the Messiah returns, it will be the sun rising. But just before the sun rises, you see the dawn lighting up the eastern horizon, again filling the sky with light. This will be the mighty exploits that the Saints will be doing just before His Return.”
“Wow,” I said, sipping my coffee. “I’ve never heard it put that way before.”
Our first couple of days at the University of Oklahoma were, as I expected, very difficult to draw a crowd.
One morning, as we were preparing to leave for the day, I noticed this huge poster on the wall of our temporary bedroom. It was a massive tree that charted the lost tribes of Israel. However, as I began to study the poster more closely, a chill ran through my spine. I noticed that it seemed to say all black people were not from the tribes and considered “Gentiles”. I stepped back from the poster, shook my head, and thought maybe I was misunderstanding what was being shown.
However, as I was helping to load the the boys in our van, I overheard Annika telling our hosts about how a young black student had shown a great deal of interest in the Torah.
The wife smiled and said, “Ah, yes. Even those types of people can come into the faith.”
Annika and I exchanged a glance with each other as we left the house.
“That poster in the bedroom we are staying makes a lot more sense now,” Annika said as we buckled our children into the van.
“Yeah, I think they believe in some sort of White British Israelism, where only white people can become genuine Israelites.”
I felt sickened. It was bad enough that some Messianic Jewish congregations try to re-erect the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile by treating them differently, but this seemed to be a new racial twist on the whole concept. It was definitely strange fire, but we’d have to endure it for a few more days while we stayed with our hosts.
As we began driving the dusty roads out of the rural farmlands and into town, I began wondering why Yah had brought us to this place. We hadn’t been able to draw huge crowds, our hosts believed some very strange and uncomfortable doctrine, and this whole week seemed to be a mistake.
As I began to preach on our 4th day at the U of O, a small crowd of very vile hecklers surrounded me. They were mocking almost every scripture that came out of my mouth.
“So what Messianic congregation do you guys attend?” A loud whisper from behind surprised me.
Standing in the shadow of a grove of trees, a young woman named Kimberly was desperate to get my attention but clearly intimidated by the hecklers surrounding me. I stepped away from the crowd and motioned for my wife to join us.
“I’ve been convicted for several months about keeping Torah but I couldn’t find a church anywhere that actually did so,” she explained to us. “I know that I shouldn’t eat certain foods, but I’m confused on what is acceptable to eat and what is not.”
As she continued to relate her story, it became clear to Annika and myself that she was extremely hungry for the Truth. We spent a couple of hours just talking to her one-on-one, answering all of her questions and giving her plenty of tracts to think about. After she left, I embraced my wife with joy.
“This whole week has been worth it, just to meet Kimberly!”
To celebrate, we left that afternoon to eat at a local sandwich shop.
“Those clouds don’t look friendly at all,” Annika said. Dark yellow and brown slabs covered the sky, and all the wind had died down.
As we ate, the lights went out briefly, just a few flickers of darkness, and then everything returned to normal. We were too busy talking about Kimberly and the wonderful day we had on campus to notice anything else.
But the next morning, we discovered on the news that a huge tornado had ripped through Oklahoma City. In fact, it had passed so close to the campus, that the students had been evacuated early. As we drove back into town the next day, surveying the damage the tornado had wrought on various businesses, we were joyfully grateful. YHVH had kept us completely safe through the entire experience. In fact, He had kept us so safe, that we weren’t even aware what had happened until the next day!
I will always remember that incident as a testimony to how Yah protects His people when they are doing His will. Being in the center of His will means He will shield His own even in the midst of the storm!
* * *
On one of our last days in Oklahoma, Monte Judah had invited Annika and myself to meet with him at his office.
As we walked through the glassed doors and onto the plush carpet of Monte’s ministry headquarters, I couldn’t help but feel impressed with how successful his ministry had been. Surely if anyone could encourage us, Monte would.
When we stepped into his office of oaken shelves lined with books, his broad polished desk, and mahogany textured walls, Monte greeted us. He had a large beard that tumbled down his chest, and spectacles on his nose that reflected the light. His voice, a deep baritone, was both commanding and welcoming.
“So, I hear you guys want to join my congregation?” Monte started off the conversation.
I exchanged a confused look with my wife, and we both shook our heads. “Uh, no. No, we’re just traveling through.” I realized somehow the communication lines had gotten crossed.
“Oh? Well, what are you doing?”
I began to explain to Monte exactly what Yah had called us to do, recounting the various campuses we had preached at, and the amazing ways the Spirit had moved.
“So, we’re kind of like missionaries for the Messianic movement, here in the United States,” I concluded.
Monte stared at us for a suspended moment. A long, deep silence filled the room. He sighed and shook his head, “Well, I have to tell you, as much as I admire what you’re doing, there’s no way you can sustain this for more than 18 months.”
I felt Annika tighten her hand around mine. I could feel her stiffen next to me. If this was supposed to be an encouraging meeting, it was lost on both of us.
“You have two little children, a wife -- the expenses of doing something like this. Just not practical . . .” As Monte went on and on about how this mission would not work, it became clear that he wanted us to settle down in Oklahoma, joining his congregation, rather than doing what Yah had called us to do. This was not what we needed to hear.
“Look, we should probably be going,” I said as we rose from our chairs.
“Well, now, hold on there. Let me give you a gift for your ministry,” Monte said, cutting us a $500 check.
As we left his offices, carrying armloads of his taped teachings, I was deeply disturbed.
“I know I should feel happy about this check,” I said to Annika as we climbed into the van.
Annika nodded as she strapped our children into their car seats. “I know what you mean.”
Something very dark had wormed its way into my heart. Perhaps it had started over the past few weeks as I called Mark back at PSU and realized, despite the newsletters we were sending out to almost a hundred people, that not a single dime of financial support had come in. But Monte’s talk had put a very despairing thought into my mind -- maybe we weren’t doing what Yah had called us to do after all.
* * *
As we headed north, we had planned to stop at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. I had preached on this campus a few years ago, before I became a Messianic, and knew this was always a great place to gather a crowd.
However, when we arrived at CSU, a combination of weather, finals weeks, and the growing doubt in my heart cut our mission short. The second day we preached at CSU, I had all my tracts printed and set up in 7 different stacks in front of me as was my custom. But a violent gust of wind wound up flinging my tracts all across campus. I had to spend a few hours just trying to collect all the paper so the campus wouldn’t fine me for trashing the quad.
Although we had some good one-on-ones with various students, an anxiety began growing in my heart.
“Any donations at all yet?” I asked Mark over the phone.
“No, nothing. Although I have sent out a third newsletter.”
As I shut off the phone, I realized that the $500 Monte had given us was pretty much all we had to live on other than credit cards. Our savings were completely exhausted.
“I think we better get back to Portland,” I told Annika.
“But we were going to stay here all week,” Annika reminded me.
“I know, I know, but we barely have any money left, and I want to make sure we can at least get back home.”
It became supremely ironic that though I had preached to multitudes the Torah and the Words of YahShua, I was forgetting the very key phrase that YahShua had spoken to His disciples -- “Be anxious for nothing.”
“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?”
Despite all that Yah had done for us in our journey, worried thoughts about how I would provide for Annika and our two little ones crowded everything else out.
And things went from bad to worse.
When we arrived back in Portland, a friend of ours who attended our messianic congregation invited us to stay with him at his house. As the familiar northwest rain greeted us, and we drew near our friend’s home, I began to think that at least we would have a place to stay while I tried to get my feet on the ground.
Exhausted from hours of driving, we carried our children to the door of a large 2 story house. Very nice, I thought. This will be a good place to recharge and regather my thoughts. When our friend opened the door, and welcomed us in, I wanted to throw up.
The house was a trash dump. You could barely see the carpet through all the clothes, half finished food, and assortment of junk. A cat pee odor tainted the air. The toilettes had not been cleaned in months. The place was an absolute nightmare.
Too exhausted to complain, we went to sleep that night. I remember blinking my eyes into the darkness, laying on the bed, despair filling my heart.
Why Yah? Why? Have I displeased You somehow? We have barely any money, no financial support and now we’re stuck in a place that hasn’t been cleaned in years. What are you doing to us?
I drifted off into a very uneasy sleep.
The next morning, the glare of day only made it more apparent how utterly filthy the house was. That evening would be the mid-week service at our messianic congregation.
“I’m gonna go tonight and see if I can find some encouragement,” I told my wife.
“Okay, I’ll stay here, maybe try to work on cleaning some of this mess,” she sighed. I could tell she was not happy with our living situation.
That evening, many were joyfully surprised to see that we had returned to Portland. One person after another would shake my hand and embrace me.
“ . . . oh, Daniel! We got your newsletters! Every time I read them, I just shouted in joy!”
“Daniel, thank you so much for the newsletters! Wow, what an amazing testimony!”
“ . . . wow, that was amazing what happened at UCLA . . .”
“ . . . incredible testimony, Daniel!”
Dozens and dozens of people kept telling me how encouraged and thrilled they were at our preaching exploits, yet not a single person had offered a dime of financial support. Bitter thoughts began mixing with my anxiety. I wanted to shout out to many of these people -- well, if you are so blessed by all Yah has done through us, why don’t you help us out? But I kept quiet.
Frustrated beyond belief, I met with the pastor in his office and explained our dire financial situation. As he handed me a check for $25, he patted me on the back and said, “Daniel, I think maybe now Yeshua is really going to start using you.”
I wanted to crumple up the check and throw it in his face. This pastor whom I loved and trusted was basically telling me that up until this point, Yah had not used me at all.
As I drove back to our home that night, tears filled my eyes. I couldn’t hear Yah’s Voice and everything seemed to be imploding around me. This was not the return home I had expected.
A few days later, as Annika and the boys were seated around a dirt encrusted dining room table, eating from dishes that had finally been washed after months of sitting in the sink, I stared at my wife. Frustration, bitterness and growing anxiety filled my heart. Yah must be punishing me somehow. For some reason. Something I can’t figure out.
Suddenly Annika burst into tears across the table. She didn’t say anything, she just cried. She didn’t have to say anything. This was all wrong.
I reached over to hug her, but I was so lost in my own despair, I don’t think I was able to offer the comfort she needed.
Over the coming weeks, I tried to figure out a business I could start. I found an online manual on how to start a window cleaning business, and I thought that might be perfect for the coming summer. But as I tried to gather supplies and figure out what to do, the stink and grime of the house was distracting me. Annika did the best she could to try and clean, but it seemed to be a losing battle.
Our host was dealing with problems of his own. He had just been put in jail because his x-wife had lured him into breaking a court order. While he was in jail, I discovered mass amounts of pornography on his computer.
Disgusted, I told my wife what I had found. “Honey, we have to get out of here. This place is a trash dump, physically and spiritually. And I’m afraid our children are going to get sick.”
“How are we going to leave? We have no money.”
“We’ll use our credit cards. We can’t stay here.”
The next day, our host was released from jail and returned home. I confronted him about the porn on his computer, and he hung his head in shame.
“Please pray for me, Daniel,” he pleaded.
As I prayed for him and his entire situation involving his x-wife, a great peace settled over me.
Later that night, Annika commented, “You know, Daniel, I think he really appreciated you praying for him.”
In hindsight, I think Annika and I could have both physically and spiritually cleaned out this friend of ours. But with the frustration of no money, my rising bitterness with no one at the messianic congregation helping out, and the despairing thought that somehow Yah was punishing me for some unexplained reason, I abruptly made the decision to get our family out of that house a few days later.
This proved to be a terrible decision.
Forced to use credit cards, we found an apartment in Portland, and I decided trying to start my own business would be too difficult. So, during that long, hot summer, I pounded the pavement attempting to look for a job.
The more I looked, the more doors shut in my face. Portland was already going through a sluggish downturn. And as one month slid into another, with no job, our credit card bills started to mount.
I finally managed to land a part time job selling greenhouses, which was about as easy as selling ice to an eskimo. After only a few weeks at the job, with little money to show for it, I desperately wanted to just get out of Portland. Maybe we could go back to our friends in Arkansas. Or we had met some people at Passover who lived in Texas. I was born and raised in Texas, so we could go back there. Somewhere, anywhere, but this place.
In desperation, I told Annika one evening, “We have to get out of here. We’re just sliding further into debt. I can’t find a decent job. This place is no good.”
“Where should we go?”
“I don’t know. Maybe back to Texas. Or Arkansas. Someplace we can find support and maybe a good job.”
As we packed up an old trailer we purchased on yet another credit card, I realized that like Peter, I had allowed my eyes to drift off Messiah, and become consumed with the wind and waves around me. Fear and frustration at my circumstances prevented me from simply trusting in Yah as I had done when we had at first set out on this trip.
On the last day of August, trailer packed with all of our things, no clear destination in mind, we left Portland.
But Yah’s mighty hand was still upon us. It would not be Arkansas or Texas that He would bring us. In an amazing display of compassion, Yah would soon bring us to one of the most blessed times of our lives.
Because, despite our failures, His love never ever fails.