Walk Away The Rapture By Skipp Porteous The People's Tabernacle of Faith, a large wooden s

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Walk Away The Rapture By Skipp Porteous The People's Tabernacle of Faith, a large wooden structure with peeling gray paint, reverberated with lively gospel singing, a hard-driven organ, and enthusiastic hand-clapping. As we left our convertible in the small parking lot next to the church, I cringed as I imagined the scene inside. I think Linda felt the same way, but even more so. We slipped inside inconspicuously and found seats in the back. Even from that distant vantage point the pervasive music jolted our senses. Many of the people stood, clapping and waving their hands in the air, while others remained seated and just rocked back and forth. A heavy black woman in a white nurse's uniform danced, with closed eyes as if in a trance, at the front of the church. Feeling uneasy, I decided we should leave, but a glance toward the exit revealed two large men - one black, one white - with folded arms, standing on either side of the door. Guards, I thought. Realizing we'd have to stay until the conclusion of the service, I hoped we weren't in any great danger from this strange cult. Every time the singing subsided, the radiant red-robed choir inspired the church members to go on a little bit longer. Spontaneously, spirited soloists stepped out, and worked the congregation into a frenzy. The black organist, animated and full of energy, was obviously enjoying his gig. With its several rows of keys and numerous foot pedals, the organ resonated with seemingly impossible sounds; it was so unlike the church music I was used to back home. The music in the Methodist church, with its doleful organ, dragged; and the Baptists, although they couldn't afford an organ, performed the same dreadful music on their upright piano. With such flair, I thought, this choir must be professional. Memories of the Apollo Theater flashed through my mind. Beginning to enjoy the show, I relaxed a bit, and before long, the merriment came to an end. As the choir members took their seats, the minister stepped up to the microphone and announced the offering. "Bring your tithes and offerings to the Lord!" he shouted. With that, the organ burst forth with cheery music that brought the audience to its feet again. From all over the church people stood, with cash in hand, and walked to the front, where they dropped their offerings in a basket. Then, after some announcements, the minister read some scripture passages and launched into his sermon. And what a sermon! In black churches, the minister and congregation have a sort of dialogue during the sermon. Whenever the preacher uttered something the congregation liked, they said so. "Alright now." "Preach it!" "Amen, brother." This was unheard of in my tradition. If someone tried that back home, they'd surely be asked to leave, but here it was encouraged. Sometimes the minister actually said, "Can I hear an 'Amen'?" After a brief warm-up, the minister got into a rhythm, pulling the audience along with him; it seemed as if a spell came upon the minister and the congregation. While the minister preached, many members of the congregation cooled themselves with funeral-parlor fans. I observed this with rapt attention. At times the preacher broke away from the prevailing mood and thundered his utterances. Excitedly, he removed his eyeglasses, and now, like a 250-pound ballerina, jumped around the raised platform while continuing to shout. The audience, out of its trance, stomped its feet and clapped its hands. Suddenly, with a whoop, he threw his glasses into the air; they bounced off the ceiling and came crashing down on the floor. The audience went berserk. Then, with tears streaming down his cheeks, the minister wrapped up his sermon and made a plea to those who sought to know God to come down to the altar. As the organ came alive again, people went down to the front of the church. Two ladies tearfully knelt at the altar. The lady in the white nurse's uniform came bouncing down the center aisle, half dancing,half running; she picked up speed as she approached the altar, and, to my amazement, fell to her knees and slid about two yards, right up behind the two kneeling ladies, and with the palms of her hands, slapped them both on the backs of their heads. With her hands raised in the air, she blurted something in a strange language. Dazed, the two women lay across the altar. Apparently none of this came as a surprise to anyone else; most of the audience began to break up and turn toward the door. Anxious to leave, I grabbed Linda's hand and made a beeline for the exit. A large white woman with an exuberant smile stepped into our path. I smiled at her and was about to say, "Excuse me," as we attempted to go around her. No such luck; she threw her heavy arms around me and applied a bear hug. "Where are you dears from?" she asked after letting me go. Almost before we could answer, other people either hugged us or pumped our hands. Linda and I became separated as enthusiastic parishioners greeted us. Everyone invited us back, and reminded us that their next service was that evening. It was difficult to imagine that after two hours of what we'd just witnessed they'd go back that night for more. When the dust settled, Linda and I regrouped and headed for our car, and as we left the parking lot people were still waving at us. We drove back to Harbor City in stunned silence. During the week that followed I thought often about the previous Sunday's experience. While totally strange, perhaps fanatical, the event imparted a warm inner feeling. I arose early on the next Sunday and asked Linda if she was coming to church with me. Surprised that I was eager to go back, she declined. About the only difference I noticed from the previous Sunday was in my own response. Although not quite at home, I didn't feel like a stranger; the people accepted me like I was a member of the family. After the service a number of the mostly black church members approached me; they called me by name, and asked where Linda was. This impressed me, and brought to my mind my visit to the Methodist church in Manhattan a few years earlier; those people totally ignored me. I didn't know it at the time, but I was already hooked by this newfound church home. I learned that the minister's name was Rev. Harley Akers. He had recently left the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church to start the independent People's Tabernacle of Faith. His sister, Doris Akers, a gospel recording artist, joined his venture to lead the choir. Her previous choir, the Sky Pilot Choir, reached considerable fame among California churchgoers. Isaiah "Ike" Jones was the organist. Bolstered by my new church affiliation, I told Ann I couldn't see her anymore, that our affair was over. Hurt, she asked why. I told her I'd found the Lord again. At first she didn't believe me; then she said I was crazy. Crazy or not, it came as a relief. Determined to begin life anew, I immersed myself in Christianity. Southern California has several Christian radio stations, with KGER being the most prominent at that time. I listened to this station whenever I was in the car. (Incidentally, because of transmission problems with the Mustang, we traded it in for a Volkswagen bug. I think the sale of the Mustang was significant, marking the end of an era for me.) With the VW radio always tuned to KGER, I became a regular listener to Kathryn Kulhman, the healing evangelist; Garner Ted Armstrong, the voice of the Worldwide Church of God; J. Vernon McGee, the Bible-teacher from Los Angeles' Church of the Open Door - the first fundamentalist church in America; Demos Shakarian, founder of the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International; and a number of others. The Sunday I attended People's Tabernacle of Faith alone was the only one Linda missed; she came with me the following week and we thoroughly enjoyed the services. A new soloist performed a riveting gospel number called "There's Power in the Blood." After the service we met him. Richard Durfield, a wiry young black, was a bit shy, but had a certain magnetism that made him extremely likable. Ric held a position as a court clerk at the California Superior Court in Santa Monica. Ric was impressed that we had left New York, not really knowing where we were going or what we would do, to come to California. He indicated that he'd never do anything like that, but his inner strength was evident, and I figured he was just being modest. In the weeks which followed we never missed a Sunday morning service, and even began attending the Sunday night services and Wednesday night prayer meetings. I felt good in my new environment and absorbed everything I could. After one Sunday morning service, Rev. Akers and some other men prayed for a lady to be healed of some ailment. I wasn't invited to join in, but, out of curiosity, I hovered nearby because I'd noticed that they always put their hands on people when they prayed for them, and sometimes they spoke in a strange language, which I guessed was probably an African dialect. I asked Ric about this and he said the Bible says, "The prayer of faith will heal the sick," and also, "You shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover." Well, I knew that those things happened in the New Testament, but I didn't know the practice still existed today. Ric also said that the Holy Spirit gives some Christians a special language to pray in called "speaking in tongues." It comes, he said, with the "baptism in the Holy Spirit." Although I was pretty open to all these new spiritual things, this was a little too bizarre for me to swallow. Just about the time all the new excitement began to wear off - not to say we didn't still enjoy going to church, because we did, with Rev. Akers' lively sermons, and the rousing choir, but it peaked and became a routine - a dramatic conversion took place at People's Tabernacle. Rev. Akers preached in his typical manner, the choir carried on as usual, and Ric sang "There's Power in the Blood." Then Pastor Akers gave the altar call and nobody responded. He instructed Ike to keep playing while he pleaded for someone to respond to the Lord's call. As he pleaded, a young woman stood up in the back and practically ran to the front of the church. Sobbing, she fell to her knees at the altar. Several members of the church joined Rev. Akers at the altar to pray with the young woman. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief because of the response to the altar call, for if there was no response, it could have meant that someone was disobeying God. And she seemed genuinely sincere, which made it even better. Afterwards, Linda and I met the new convert. Her name was Renee King, and she, like us, had come to California searching, except she was from Pittsburgh, Kathryn Kuhlman's hometown. Renee was an attractive, light-skinned black, so light that she often passed for white. Linda and I liked Renee immediately because she was so outgoing and friendly. A week later Renee arrived well before the service was to begin. We were glad to see her, and the three of us sat together. Afterwards, Ric approached us, and to our delight, we learned that he'd seen Renee during the week. Someone suggested we have lunch, and so the four of us went out and had a nice time. It was obvious that Ric and Renee had hit it off, and even at this early point, it looked serious. Linda and I were thrilled to have another couple close to our age as friends. Ric grew up in the Church of God in Christ, in Pacoima, a black church out in the San Fernando Valley. From his youth he had been exposed to a variety of Pentecostal doctrines and practices. And, like me, he experienced periods of wavering, commonly known as backsliding. His mother, a very spiritual woman, exerted a strong influence on Ric, which always drew him back to the church whenever he wavered. Renee, in Pittsburgh, had some experience with spiritual practices, but she too had fallen prey to the things of the world. She recounted the time when she stopped believing in God; she said it happened when she realized her parents lied to her as a child about Santa Claus. If they lied about that, she reasoned, the story of Jesus dying for her sins must be a lie, too. Renee's newfound salvation marked the end of the road for her waywardness. More and more, the four of us did things together. Soon, Ric and Renee announced their plans to marry. This solidified the bonding among the four of us. Renee joined Ric in the choir, and our relationship as a foursome continued to grow. Ric, full of stories about evangelists and faith healers, stimulated our interest in learning all we could about this new born-again life. He told tales of Oral Roberts raising people from the dead; of the Christian mystic, Brother William Branham, who, after finding a dying turkey in the woods, laid his hands on the stinking bird, and the bird jumped up and ran off, completely healed; of A. Earl Lee and his supernatural visitations; of A. A. Allen's Arizona community called Miracle Valley, where it was common to see angels on the street; and many more amazing events that demonstrated the power of God. In addition, he seemed to know something about every evangelical Christian group or activity in Southern California. Night after night, he took us to various evangelistic services and healing meetings. At the old Embassy Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, we went to see the healing evangelist Leroy Jenkins. Jenkins used prayer cloths and anointed oil to inspire the faithful to believe. I was amazed how God used this man to help others to make shortened legs normal, to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and the power to walk again to the crippled - right before our eyes. At one point during the service, Leroy, as he was always referred to by Ric, picked out three people from different sections of the audience. He said the three would each be healed,one in the name of the Father, one in the name of the Son, and one in the name of the Holy Ghost. As Jenkins prayed the prayer of faith, one lady fell to the floor. He went over to one of the others and laid hands on the man, and he too, fell. The third person, even with Jenkins' hands on him, didn't fall down, so Jenkins ordered the man to go home and claim his healing, without stopping to talk to anyone. Immediately, the man left the auditorium. I asked Ric why the people fell down, and he said they were being "slain in the spirit," or "going down under the power" as some people put it. On the way back from the meeting, as the four of us cruised happily down the Hollywood Freeway in Ric's long and loaded Pontiac, he told Linda and me about the Rapture. The Rapture, we learned, was a worldwide miraculous event about to take place - at any moment - in which every born-again Christian would suddenly be swept into the sky to meet Jesus in the air. For some reason, in all my years in and out of church, I didn't remember ever hearing about this. We were astounded at such a possibility, but Ric, always certain about spiritual things, spoke with such authority that we believed every word of this incredible thing. (Ric's air of certainty was such that even Superior Court judges sought his counsel on court decisions.) When Ric said we were in the last days, the end times, and that it was all in the Bible, Renee dutifully turned on the car's inside lights, opened up Ric's red, leather-covered Scofield Reference Bible, and turned to the appropriate scriptures. Ric had been telling Renee everything he knew about the Bible. Learning about the Rapture was a milestone for me; it was awesome to think that millions of people were totally unprepared for such an event. I felt privileged to have knowledge of this, and realized that, for some reason, the Lord had held this knowledge back until now; perhaps because at any other time in my life I would have laughed at it. Now, though, I could handle it responsibly and use it to win souls for Jesus. At that moment, I made a secret decision to become a minister and serve the Lord full time. [ref001][ref002] Return to table of contents Copyright 1995 IFAS Walk Away / ifas@crocker.com [ref001] articles.html [ref002] ../uparrow.gif This file is copywritten by the Institute for First Amendment Studies. 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