Three Years At Del Aire
Guess what? Del Aire Baptist Church was needing someone to put in charge of their entire high-school program: Sunday School, youth prayer meeting and all other youth activities.
So here comes the Peters family, transferring from another American Baptist Convention church, having just spent three years being mentored by the greatly respected Betty Johnson! Without further ado (though they may have checked it out with Betty) they drafted us to take over their high school program. We were kind of shocked, but pleasantly so, and began a very rewarding ministry in our new church.
Del Aire was a much smaller church than Tenth Avenue and we quickly got acquainted with all the members and felt like family. We loved our new Pastor, Marvin Andersen, and his family. He was a good shepherd and cared for his sheep. He was very quiet and laid back, and had a very (to me) soporific voice, and if his sermon topic didn’t demand my interest, I would fall asleep, and Alva would poke me with her elbow to wake me up.
The High-school Department was small, varying between fifteen and twenty, but was an exceptional bunch of boys and girls. We bonded with them instantly. And as usual, the kids could not get enough of Alva at regular church meetings, so our home became the place where they hung out. While this made a few problems, it was the right formula for their spiritual growth. They simply took off!
As I served in the church and studied the Bible I began to sense that one day we were going to be in full time service for the Lord in some capacity. I began to take courses that might help if and when. I took evening classes at Biola (Bible Institute of Los Angeles) and UCLA, extension courses from a nearby Baptist Seminary, and purchased Seminary level books on Systematic Theology and other subjects.
We attended a retreat which the church sponsored for all the staff and volunteers. It culminated in a final rededication service around a bonfire. We were each given a small stick which would represent our lives, and were asked to talk with the Lord about fully offering our lives to Him. If we decided to do so we were urged to make it a public confession by throwing our stick on the fire.
Alva was obviously having a struggle. Finally she got up, grimly walked over to the fire, and threw her stick onto the blaze with a body language that said, “All right! All right! I give In!”
When we were alone I asked her, “What was the matter, Honey?” She explained that she had been resisting the possibility of us going into full time Christian ministry, but the Lord refused to take no for an answer. To her credit, once she made the decision, everything the Lord brought our way was A-OK with her.
We were a busy family, and sometimes our busyness caused us to neglect mundane needs. I was guilty of this with our car. The Ford we had did not have a foot actuated starting switch, but a dash mounted button that switched the starting motor through a solenoid, and the solenoid had given up the ghost. Waiting for time to replace the solenoid, I started the car by raising the hood and manually operating the solenoid. One day Alva asked me to show her how to start the car that way before I went to work, as she had an errand to run. That morning at work I got a frantic call from her. She had started the car all right, but had forgotten to put the manual transmission into neutral. It was in low where I always left it when parked. When the engine started the car lunged forward, bulged out the back wall of the garage as it was brought to a stop, and though the car stood still, the rear wheels were spinning on the floor. “How can I stop it?” she cried out. I told her to calm down, that it was OK, and to just go back and turn off the ignition. She had gotten so flustered that she had forgotten the obvious. It was so funny that even the bulged out garage didn’t bother me when I got home. She didn’t think it was funny at all, and I hastened to get the solenoid replaced.
We were having a space problem at our house, now that we had four children and so many high-school kids hanging out with us, especially since we had only one bathroom. We decided to build an addition to the back of the house to provide for another bathroom and a big rumpus room. I drew up the plans, got the permit, and over a period of several months built it. One of my engineer friends at North American was a professional plasterer, so he helped me on the only job I wasn’t able to do myself. Alva and the kids were ecstatic over the improved space situation.
Things were going well at Del Aire. I was made a Deacon, the High-school Department was flourishing and was almost three times the size we began with.
We did have a problem with David. He was finishing second grade and had no reading skills whatever. Alva went to an open house at the close of the spring semester of 1955 to talk to his teacher. She was a radical “progressive education” devotee. She explained that David hadn’t matured enough to want to spend time at the “reading table.” He liked the “science table’ better. She told Alva not to worry, that one day David would blossom and dive into the reading table and learn to read. We were horrified.
Upon inquiry, we found a Christian School at a local Lutheran Church. We visited the school with David and talked to the principal. To our delight they had summer school, and one of their retired missionaries taught the English classes. She met David, they liked each other, and she took on David as a special project. This blessed woman had David at the proper reading level for his age in less than three months, though his regular teachers had not taught him one thing in over two years. We thanked God for this miracle.
Late in the summer of 1955 I got a phone call from Alva at work. This was strictly a no-no except for emergencies, so I wondered if she had punched clear through the garage this time or something like that. But she had gotten a phone call from Pastor Callahan at the Chapel in the Pines, in Twain Harte. He was retiring and asked if he could nominate me to succeed him as pastor! Alva was so excited she risked calling me at work. We were flabbergasted!
When I got home from work we had a marathon discussion. This was unbelievable. We didn’t feel qualified for such a responsibility. Yet Pastor Callahan, whom we greatly respected, and who had no doubt thought about it and prayed about it, felt we were God’s choice. We continued to think and pray and discuss all the ramifications. We slept on it, and felt that we should allow him to nominate us. If it wasn’t God’s will, the other candidate would be chosen.
The Chapel Trustees asked that I come up over a weekend to discuss finances and preach the Sunday morning service, which I did. They had a business meeting the following Friday evening to select the new pastor. The phone rang late that evening, and we were told by Pastor Callahan that we had been given an unanimous call to be the Chapel’s new Pastor. Unbelievable-simply unbelievable! God help us!
I gave notice to North American-they offered me a ten percent raise if I would stay-no deal. I told Pastor Andersen what was happening. He recited a list of negatives:
·You are going to a little village in central California away from a city?
·You will be paid half of what you are paid at North American?
·To a church that has averaged only $152 a month to its pastor for six and a half years?
·Where the former pastor and the defeated candidate will still be attending?
·You are crazy.
Nevertheless, Del Aire rallied behind us.
They sent me out as one of their members with a License To Preach The Gospel wherever God give the opportunity. They gave us a grand going away service and a generous offering. What a blessing-but a bittersweet one since it involved leaving our high school kids and the family-like congregation. Not a few tears were shed.
We put our house up for sale. I miraculously sold in a real estate slump in just two weeks. A member of the Chapel gave us a lot on Joaquin Gulley Road in Twain Harte just two blocks from the Chapel. We rented a house next door to our lot, where we would live while I built our house. The Trustees at the Chapel allowed me to work half time as pastor and half time building our house as part of our agreement.
Everything seemed to click, and we were settled into our rental house and I preached my first message as Pastor on the first Sunday of October, 1955. We knew most of the congregation from our many visits during the previous six years, so that helped a lot.
Alva got the older kids enrolled in the Twain Harte Elementary School which they loved. It was a tremendous improvement over the schools they had attended in Hawthorne, for which we were very grateful.
We were finally launched on what would be a Pastoral ministry lasting over fifty years in one spot, a great contrast tour previous mobility!