Our first few days living with this pastor passed uneventfully as we adjusted to our new surroundings. He and his 14 year old boy lived in a rented farm house on a beautiful piece of Missouri wilderness. My wife and I would sleep upstairs in the loft, while our four children would share two rooms downstairs.
But on one of the first nights, Annika suddenly awoke me from my sleep.
“Honey,” she breathed into the darkness. “I’ve had a terrible dream.”
What she saw was the pastor’s wife, who was no longer living with him, turn into a vampire and bite deeply into Annika’s neck. I knew my wife received dreams when Yah was trying to relay something very important, so I was determined to find out what had actually happened between the pastor and his missing wife.
Early in the mornings, the pastor and I would head out in his small car, packed to the gills with boxes of nutrients, supplements and all natural health solutions. We would spend the rest of the day driving to different health food stores throughout south east Missouri and northern Arkansas, delivering various orders to his customers.
On one of these bright, early mornings, as we drove on a winding road through the thick green of southern Missouri, I ventured to ask the pastor what had happened.
“You guys seemed so in love when we visited you three years ago,” I said, shaking my head. “What happened?”
He explained how his wife had left him many times throughout the marriage, complaining about the hardships of the ministry. This last time, she had left for three months and then finally returned in tears, begging forgiveness.
“But Yah told me not to forgive her,” the pastor said. “So, I told her she was not welcome back home.”
Recalling Annika’s dream, and now hearing this pastor’s story -- something did not sound right. Yet, try as a I might, I could not put my finger on it. What I did notice right off is that far from the jovial person I had remembered from three years ago, he now seemed very moody, distant and withdrawn.
I wasn’t about to challenge a pastor who had been walking in the Torah and the Spirit years longer than I had about a Word he had received from YHVH Himself. But even so, something, deep down inside, unsettled me.
That first shabbat was an overwhelmingly joyous one for Annika, myself and our children. About a dozen people filled the pastor’s living room, and there were even a few families with little ones. For three years in California we had virtually gone without any sort of fellowship, so this was like crystal-cool spring water splashed into our faces. Refreshing to the core.
The “House of Israel” fellowship as the pastor had dubbed it, with a sign hanging on the living room window with those very words etched into white cardboard, had the custom of referring to each other as “brother” and “sister” -- something Annika and I were unfamiliar with from the West Coast.
There was Brother Jean, bushy white beard, eyes that twinkled with joy, lean but tough, telling me stories from his adventure filled past. There was Sister Joan, a kind woman who often had new books about the Hebrew Roots of the faith, and of course never forgot to bring her fresh goat milk for our little Naomi.
And there was Brother Lee. In his late 40’s, dark hair starting to grey, with a thin dark beard, and clear blue eyes. Over the next several weeks I would grow closest to him, as he would share with me how the Spirit was working in his life. His humble, warm attitude was in stark contrast to the withdrawn moodiness of the pastor.
On that first shabbat, the pastor announced, “I want everyone to remember, that this place is not mine. This is Yah’s Which is why we call this fellowship the House of Israel.”
The words were comforting, and over the next month and a half, as I would continue to work for the pastor and Annika would settle into a routine of homeschooling the children, my unsettled feeling drifted into the background, almost completely forgotten.
Then the Feast of Tabernacles arrived in mid-October of 2006. Excitement buzzed throughout the farm, as about fifteen of us pitched our tents and campers across the pastor’s farm. We would have joy, celebration, singing . . . and most importantly, fellowship.
That first night of Tabernacles, while I was playing with my children in the living room, a very strange incident occurred in the kitchen. Annika has been busily preparing a meal for everyone, but the pastor objected.
“Annika, I thought I had asked you to make spaghetti for tonight?”
My wife shook her head. “No, no -- I’m cooking up something else.”
“Well, I’d prefer spaghetti,” he said.
“Sorry -- already got this cooking!” She smiled and continued with her tasks.
I had vaguely overheard the exchange, but in all the excitement of the celebration, had not thought anything of it.
A couple hours later, I was seated around the campfire with Annika, Bro Lee, and a few others. Annika had brought out her guitar, and we started singing some worship songs.
“It’s just not the same as it was last year,” Bro Lee sighed and shook his head. “Should be more people to join us in singing around the campfire.”
About an hour later, as I was heading back to my tent, the pastor called to me. “Daniel, I need to speak with you and your wife.”
I quickly found Annika and we met the pastor in the cool darkness under a large oak tree. In the bright, full moon, I could see the grim expression on his face.
“We’ve got a problem here. I’m seeing the same type of rebellion that was in my wife, right in Annika. And this needs to be dealt with.”
My thoughts reeled backwards over each other, my heart raced, and confusion ballooned through my mind. “What are you talking about?”
“I had asked your wife to make a certain meal for this evening, and she copped an attitude and refused. I’ve seen this before, and I won’t tolerate it. I’ve worked hard to make sure the people of this congregation enjoy sweet fellowship, and I won’t have it ruined by your wife.”
I had no idea what to say. I was both dumbfounded and shocked.
“I’m very sorry,” Annika said. “I did not mean to offend you in anyway. I was just already in the middle of preparing a meal, and didn’t want it to go to waste.”
“Let’s just make sure we’re keeping our hearts pure,” he said before stalking away.
Annika smiled at me as we headed back to our tent that night, and I thought maybe this little misunderstanding -- a misunderstanding which seemed downright silly to me -- had blown over. But as we lay in our sleeping bags, I felt my wife begin to sob. I held her close, in the unspoken darkness, as she continued to weep.
Something was very, very wrong.
* * *
After Tabernacles, the rainy season began in earnest. Southern Missouri turned into a soggy, dripping landscape. Though there continued to be tension between the pastor and my wife -- it seemed to lessen, and my own confused state of mind increased.
I knew for a fact Yah had called us out here to Missouri. But for some reason, rather than experiencing joy and warmth, it was as if we had entered a cold tomb. Had I misheard Yah? Was I not supposed to be here? What was going on?
One sabbath morning, Sister Renee happily exclaimed to everyone about a spiritual breakthrough that had occurred. She was in her 30’s, married to a quiet but kind husband, with a few children of their own.
“I’ve gotten rid of all our plates and dishes that had images on them!” She said. “Just like the pastor teaches about the 2nd commandment, not having any graven images.”
I had known for many years that this pastor interpreted the 2nd commandment to mean you should not watch or own anything with images on it. I had long disagreed with him on that issue, but it had never become much of a conversation piece. In fact, as I began to live with the pastor, I began to wonder if maybe I had been wrong and his strict interpretation of this commandment was in fact correct.
However, as the rainy season deepened and I continued to help the pastor with his health business, he would stop at various video stores and purchase movies. Often, after a hard day’s work, the pastor, Annika, myself and his boy would settle into the couch to watch an entertaining flick.
I thought nothing of this, until that sabbath morning when Sister Renee happily announced her spiritual breakthrough. It was then, that my mind began to perceive a very concrete sin in this pastor -- he was teaching one thing, while living another. In fact, as I began to ponder on what had transpired over the past several weeks, I realized the pastor was always careful about never mentioning his movie watching to anyone in the congregation.
After almost three months of living in Missouri, another very troubling incident occurred. As the pastor and I were about to head out the door for the morning, he suddenly called everyone into his bathroom.
“I have made it very clear, that I want this rug right here,” he pointed with his toe to the ceramic tile. “Not folded up on itself.”
“It’s just a rug--” Annika started,
“It is not just a rug!” The pastor barked back. “This is how I want it.”
After grabbing some fruit from the kitchen, I noticed my wife weeping quietly in the corner of the living room. “Honey,” I said. “I want to speak with you tonight. Okay?”
She nodded, and we kissed each other goodbye.
That day, as we hurriedly delivered health products to different stores, the radio warned of a fierce ice storm moving south that would sweep through southern Missouri. Knowing that we needed to get back as soon as possible and expecting to be iced in the next day, we picked up some movies. One of them was called, “Crimson Tide” which is about an older, mean-spirited captain of a nuclear submarine who comes into a mutinous disagreement with his right hand man, who is much younger but more principled.
After we finished the movie, I made the remark, “Boy, that older captain sure was evil. He didn’t seem to care for anyone but himself.”
The pastor disagreed, “Oh no, the younger first mate should have followed orders. The captain was doing his duty.”
“Well, I definitely have to disagree with you on that--”
And, without warning, the pastor suddenly blew up at me, “You’re being stupid, Daniel! Just stupid!”
I exchanged shocked glances with my wife. I noticed the pastor’s boy slink away uncomfortably.
Finally, I said, “Well, you’re some great leader, aren’t you?” It was the first time I had ever chosen to be sarcastic with this pastor, but Yah had now placed something deep within my heart, and the cloud of confusion that had hung over me for the past three months had become dispelled by this modern day parable we had just watched.
Annika and I went upstairs and as we settled against each other in bed, I said, “I think I better have that talk with you now. Honey, you remember when the pastor accused you of rebellion during Tabernacles?”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Throughout the rest of Tabernacles, I asked several others who were present in the kitchen if they thought you were being rebellious in any way. They all said no.”
She nodded again.
“Did the pastor ever apologize to you for that?”
“No. I think it’s pretty much been forgotten.”
“I’m going to confront him about this. Something is very wrong here, Annika -- actually there is a lot going on that’s wrong, but at the very least he needs to make this right with you.”
Annika embraced me tightly. “I was so worried when you wanted to talk with me. I thought you were going to be angry.”
“No, no -- not at all.” Of course, I was angry. I was angry at myself for allowing this pastor to walk all over my wife for so long. “I’ve had enough of this!”
“Honey, please make sure you’re doing this for the right reasons,” Annika pleaded. “You don’t want to look like you’re taking this stand because of how he blew up at you tonight.”
“I know, I know,” I said. “We’ll do this together. Prayerfully. First thing in the morning.”
The expected ice storm blew itself out, and only patches of ice covered the ground the next morning. And those were quickly melting.
As Annika and I finished breakfast, the pastor emerged from his bedroom. “I’ll need you to load some boxes into your car,” he said.
“Wait. Wait. First, my wife and I want to sit down with you. We need to talk about something.”
Angrily, the pastor pulled a folded piece of paper from his shirt and thrust it into my face. “Read this first!”
“What?” I whispered, as I unfolded the note. Annika and I read a typed letter describing in detail why I was so wrong in my interpretation of the movie last night. This was unbelievable.
I shook my head, “Look, look, this has nothing to do with the movie from last night. Would you please let us sit down and talk with you?”
The pastor agreed, and the three of us sat down at his broad, wooden kitchen table.
“Pastor, I want to talk about the night from about a month and half ago, during Tabernacles, when you accused Annika of being in rebellion. I talked with several other people from that night since then, and none of them thought she was behaving badly. I think you owe her an apology.”
The pastor shrugged, “I really have no idea what you’re talking about.”
For a moment there was stunned silence. I shook my head. “You’re lying.”
The pastor suddenly kicked back his chair, “I don’t need to sit here while you accuse me of being a liar!” He stormed into his bedroom.
At that point I knew exactly what I had to do. “Annika, I’m going to get all those boxes of health supplements out of our car. I want you to get the children into the car once I’m done.”
Silently, quickly, and without any hesitation, I emptied our car. While Annika buckled in the little ones, I grabbed some of our belongings.
Seated in our car, Annika looked at me earnestly. “Where are we going?”
“Yah will lead the way,” I said confidently. And in that moment, I felt closer to Yah and to my wife than I ever had before.
That evening, an erev shabbat, we wound up at Brother Lee’s home. We related to him all that had happened, and for the first time I began sharing all the things that had troubled me over the past several weeks.
“He’s been watching movies?” He said in amazement. “While Renee throws out all her kitchenware. Unbelievable.”
“And I think all this has a deeper root,” I said.
“I’ve noticed things changing for a long time,” Bro Lee admitted. “I think it started when he and his wife had that last big fight and she left.”
“Yeah -- that’s the other thing. He claims Yah told him not to take his wife back when she returned in tearful repentance. But doesn’t Yah tell us to forgive 7 X 70? I don’t think he really heard from Yah at all,” I said.
Bro Lee had known the pastor the longest of anyone else in the home fellowship, and was an elder in the congregation. “Daniel, I want you to come with me to his home tomorrow morning. We need to deal with this before the sabbath service.”
I instinctively didn’t want to do what he asked. The pastor had already made it clear he had no intention of repenting, and this spiritual problem seemed far bigger than anything I knew how to deal with. Still, I knew Bro Lee was correct. I needed to go back and see if we could reconcile.
The next morning, we arrived with Bro Lee at the pastor’s home. Several people were already chatting among themselves. But the pastor was nowhere to be seen.
“He might be in his office,” I said as Bro Lee followed me.
The pastor sat at his computer. He didn’t look up at us.
“Hey, brother,” Lee started. “We need to talk to you about some things.”
The pastor looked up, his face flushed. “It is apparent to me, that both Annika and Daniel have been in rebellion for weeks! There is nothing to discuss!”
He jumped to his feet and pushed past us out of his office. We followed him out to his living room, where he sat down at his piano, nervously fidgeting with the keys.
“Look, is it true that you’ve been watching movies while you’re teaching that people shouldn’t watch or own images?” Bro Lee asked.
“Daniel and Annika are liars! Absolute liars!”
“When are you going to apologize to Annika for treating her the way you have?” I demanded, my voice rising.
Lee gripped my arm and shook his head, “Daniel, not so loud. Calm down.”
The pastor rose to his feet and stood by the door, pointing at it. “Get out of my house, right now! Right now!”
Bro Lee and I stared at the pastor in uncomprehending shock. Suddenly Annika, tears falling from her eyes, said, “What happened to this not being your house? I thought you said this was Yah’s house?”
The pastor stared darkly at Annika, opening his mouth as if about to speak, and then stopped. He shook his head and walked into the kitchen. He began chatting with some people, ignoring the fact that we had even been talking with him.
I opened the Bible in my hand and read out Matthew 5:23-24: “ . . . if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has aught against you, leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
A hush began to settle over the home, but the pastor continued to chat with some others, his back turned toward me. “You’re about to offer praise and worship on His altar, as you lead this sabbath morning service, but you haven’t bothered to make things right with your brother. You can ignore Yah, pastor, but Yah will not ignore you.”
I shut the Bible and turned to Annika, “Let’s go.”
As we gathered the family back into the car, Bro Lee came out to join us. “I’m not sure if I should stay or not.”
“Well, we have one more seat in the back, if you want to ride with us back to your place,” I said.
He looked back at the pastor’s home, at our car, and back at the pastor’s home. Indecision filled his eyes. I knew a spiritual battle was raging in his heart.
“I’ll go with you,” he sighed, shaking his head. “I hope I’m doing the right thing.”
As we drove back, about a quarter mile from his home, we ran out of gas. In all the uproar from the previous evening, I had forgotten to refill the tank before shabbat.
“No problem,” Lee said. “I’ll walk to my house. I’ve got some extra containers of gas in my shed.”
When he came back, a smile filled his face. “You know, I wasn’t sure if I had made the right decision back there, to leave with you guys, but you running out of gas is confirmation for me! I know I made the right decision!”
He poured the gas into our tank, and we drove the rest of the way to his house.
Within a few days, Bro Lee’s home business suddenly surged with activity. His phone was ringing off the hook with people wanting him to do work.
A few nights later, Bro Lee, holding a mug of hot chocolate, smiled over at Annika and myself. “For months it’s like I’ve been in this slump and didn’t know why. But now my business has skyrocketed and I feel so much better -- more free!”
“HallaluYah, brother,” I said, clapping him on the back. “And thank you for standing with us.”
“I know why Yah sent you here, Daniel,” Bro Lee said, smiling. “It took a Lee to save a Lee.”