By the fall of 2005, it had been nearly two years since I had done any open air preaching. In fact it had been nearly two years since I had done any ministry at all.
But just after the fall feast days, on a new moon in November, we all climbed into the van and excitedly made the 5 hour plus trip south to UCLA.
It was time to preach once more.
As we journeyed south, the three little ones drifted off to sleep, allowing my wife and me to discuss our recent past. It was a definite healing time, examining how Yah had pulled us through a very difficult transition from Mariposa into the valley.
The dawning realization formed itself in our minds that, unlike when we had fled Portland in frustration, bitterness and worry -- we had not fled this time. We had remained steadfast, trusting that Yah would carve us out a new place in California, and He had done so. This personal triumph was exhilarating. And already, our grain-of-mustard faith seemed to be reaping immediate blessings -- for here we were, on the road to preach after a nearly two year hiatus, at one of our favorite campuses of all time.
I don’t remember much of that first day back at UCLA except some vivid impressions. The mild southern Californian weather boasted blue skies, sunny weather, and a comfortable low 70’s warmth. As I began to preach on the Bruin walk, quickly gathering a crowd of a few hundred students, the loud bells in the famous UCLA bell tower rang out. With the bells singing, I preached on how the early Puritans had cherished the Word of YHVH, many of them keeping shabbat. I preached on how our founding fathers had even kept Sukkot, which we now know as Thanksgiving. I talked about how the early Americans did not even celebrate Christmas -- it was illegal to do so --for they understood the paganism of that orgiastic feast. Most of all, I exalted the freedom that the Torah had once brought this nation, and the freedom Torah always brings to hearts abandoned to YahShua the Messiah. The bells continued ringing through this portion of my preaching. I could not have asked for better background music.
We would continue to return to UCLA throughout the next several months, always cherishing each time Yah allowed our family to minister on the beautiful campus.
That fall of 2005 saw continued blessings on our business. After two years of toil, sometimes barely scraping by, the business started becoming solvent. We now had a cluster of very loyal and long term clients. Because we were spending far less on gas and other traveling expenses due to living much closer to our clients, we also had more money for advertising. It seemed even the new houses we gained were special in that a cancelation became extremely rare. As our income steadily grew, so did our confidence, and for the first time since we had started the business, we actually had the luxury to turn some potential clients down. At one point, business was so brisk, we even had to hire a temporary employee just to keep up with what Yah had blessed us with.
These financial blessings were a welcome sight in light of an even greater blessing Yah was about to drop into our family -- another beautiful, precious, baby girl.
In early 2006, my wife had our fourth baby -- Naomi. Although once again our midwife did not make it in time for the birth, her assistant was present the entire evening. The labor was thankfully brief for my wife, but I remember her feeling weak weeks after the birth. Because of this, I often held little Naomi close to my chest, cuddling her, holding her, and taking care of her more than any of our previous infants.
Wrapped in her blue baby blanket, her deep blue eyes studied mine. We must have carefully studied each other’s faces for weeks on end, as Annika slowly regained her strength. I think because of this, Naomi and I formed a special bond that I will always cherish.
To congratulate us on our newborn baby, I recall receiving an email from Annika’s grandfather which simply stated -- “Four children, Daniel. You have a well balanced family.” Her grandfather had always been a man of few words, but that email deeply warmed my heart.
About 6 weeks after the birth, our midwife visited our home for a routine final checkup. She gazed at our living room in barely concealed wonder -- the new carpet, the beautiful curtains, the nice couch -- a far cry from our poorer surroundings back in Mariposa.
“Yah has really blessed us,” I explained. As we sat down to discuss Naomi, we also shared with her what had happened with the business and our lives in general.
“Wow, I can really tell things have changed for you guys,” she said, smiling at our home. “I’m so glad to hear you’ve recovered from a bankruptcy so fast.”
As winter gave way to a brief spring, and then spring quickly heated into a typical central Californian summer, we were stunned at another piece of news.
Annika was pregnant again.
Because we were firm believers in breast feeding our children, and we knew the general science that the female body normally won’t ovulate while breast feeding, we couldn’t believe Naomi was still far from being weened when Annika became pregnant once again.
The house cleaning business had now grown far beyond our expectations. Not only were we cleaning residential houses, but we gained our first commercial client -- cleaning a preschool three evenings a week.
As much fun as we had carting our four children around with us, I began to realize that this housecleaning business was not going to be able to work for much longer. With Annika now pregnant with our 5th child, it was going to become absolutely impossible to bring the entire family with us on our jobs. And the number of clients we now had made it impossible for either one of us to simply stay home with the children while the other worked as we had done for a period of time in Mariposa.
Something had to give. But we didn’t know what.
In a strange, totally unexpected way, Yah began tugging at my heart. I started thinking about the Torah observant congregation in Arkansas that we had visited during our preaching tour more than three years ago.
I had continued to keep in touch, over the intervening years, with the burly pastor who had the long bushy black beard. Recently, he had experienced some difficulties with his marriage but had formed a new home fellowship in southern Missouri.
Though I had no desire to relocate into the humid state of Missouri, it became an almost impossible task to remove the burden from my mind. For some totally unexplained reason, Yah wanted me to take the family east and start afresh in Missouri. I knew we couldn’t continue with the present logistics of the housecleaning business, but moving to Missouri didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.
“Well, there would be people who keep shabbat, keep the feasts, and are like minded,” I suggested to my wife one evening. “Here we don’t have any real fellowship at all. And I might be able to learn something from the pastor.”
The dark bearded, burly pastor was also highly knowledgeable in natural health and supplements, and had even launched a local radio show along with supplying several local health food stores with various nutrients. It seemed like a great opportunity to learn about true, Bible-based health solutions.
After discussing the possibilities back and forth for weeks, we finally made the decision to end our housecleaning business, give away most of our furniture, and take what little we could in our car eastward to Missouri.
The pastor in Missouri assured us we were welcome to stay with them as long as we wished.
One late summer evening, only a few weeks before our scheduled departure, Annika voiced a concern. “I’m just not totally sure about this, Daniel. I have something of a dark feeling about moving to Missouri.”
I nodded. Somehow, although not able to express it in concise words, I had the same feeling. On the one hand there was a deep peace knowing that we were doing exactly what Yah had impressed upon us to do, but on the other -- there was a brooding sense of danger.
It was as if we were not merely being called to move out and live with friends, but that we were being given a serious mission fraught with peril. Try as we might, we could not figure out why we felt such a disturbance. After all, three years ago when we had visited this pastor, we had joyfully celebrated Passover and Unleavened Bread. Our sense of impending danger didn’t seem to make any sense.
In early August, after nearly three years in California, we headed east with our four children, and a large plastic travel carrier strapped to the top of our car with the few belongings we were able to fit within.
As we drove the palm-lined freeways of California east into arid Arizona, I felt a slight sense of sadness.
“I’m going to miss the West Coast,” I said wistfully. “I have always loved living out here.”
“Well, we’re still pretty young. We may yet come back,” Annika said cheerfully.
How true her words would prove to be.
Four days later we pulled into a long, gravelly road deep in the Missouri wilderness. As we parked in front of the pastor’s house, I thought we had come to the wrong place. Although it was nearly evening and we were told he was expecting our arrival, the house was completely dark. Not a single light shone through the windows.
“How strange,” I murmured softly.
Just as I was about to drive off, convinced that we had come to the wrong place, the burly pastor emerged from the home and came to give me a warm embrace. It had been nearly three years since I had seen this man, and I hugged him fiercely, glad to see him once more.
As we carefully unloaded our children and headed into his home, I asked about the lack of light.
“Oh, I have a lamp on in my study. But I don’t want to waste electricity,” he said.
As I looked up into his face, still covered by the familiar thick black beard, I noticed lines of hardness that had not been there three years ago. While he had grinned at me when we had first embraced, the smile had quickly faded from his face, and his eyes seemed burdened.
Little did I know, that in the coming weeks, Annika and I would face one of the greatest challenges Yah had ever placed in our path.