I also became acquainted with the mission workers of an Assembly of God mission church a quarter mile up the road from the Bible Church mission. God used me as a "bridge" between the two missions, but the Bible Church workers remained stubborn and withdrawn and I eventually moved in with the AOG mission. In fact I remained in contact with them for more than three decades. One evening in church the pastor instructed us that we should pray for the US. I obediently got on my knees by one of the wooden pews and began praying. Almost immediately God stopped me. He referred me to the books of Amos, Obadiah and Jonah. Amos spoke of God's judgment against the nations, Obadiah of His judgment against the US and Jonah of the Church. He also showed me faces of people whose way of dress I did not recognize and burdened me to pray for them instead. When later God sent me to do mission work into the eastern European communist countries, I realized that these were the people He had shown me.
While I had been at the Bible Church Mission house I saw a copy of the book "L'Abri" by Edith Schaeffer. When I read it I felt led to write a letter to this Christian community in Switzerland. I eventually received a letter back from Dr. Francis Schaeffer, the co-founder and director of L'Abri ("The Shelter"), and God opened the door for me to go next to Switzerland! (One day as I was walking along a road that paralleled Highway 66 which ran through Navajoland, I saw a young man hitch-hiking on the highway. I walked up to greet and witness to him and as I was talking with him he told me he needed lunch money. All I had in my wallet was $10 so I asked the Lord how much of it did He want me to give the young man. The Lord answered "$6" and so that's what I gave him. Within a short time I received the promise of $600 to pay my way to L'Abri!)
L'Abri is unusual in a variety of ways. The Schaeffers, Presbyterians from the US, journeyed to Switzerland to begin a ministry by faith. Unlike most other ministries, they do not solicit funds. They began in the '50s as a ministry to atheists and agnostics (that's one reason that got me interested in visiting them - they appeared to be a "factory" for turning atheists into preachers) , though at the time I was there in 1974 their visitors were mostly young people. I also wanted to see how they were able to maintain their family unit while accepting so many visitors. I had seen other Christian families have a very hard time maintaining their well-being while taking in and ministering to strangers. I arrived there near the end of '73 spent a little over a year there, working as (1) a "proctor" in Farel House (study hall), (2) assistant to the treasurer, and (3) janitor for the chapel. Hundreds of people (mainly youths, but also older people and pastors) passed through the doors of L'Abri while I was there. It was a hard thing to become intimately acquainted with them and then see them leave. There were "chalets" where the students lived and took their meals - each meal was lovingly prepared and mealtime was meant to be a time of true fellowship and discussion. There were lectures too, and the very small village where L'Abri is located is picturesque - the surrounding countryside is spectacularly beautiful. It was a new experience for me to observe the way the Holy Spirit led people there to Jesus. No one could take personal credit - the person would always just make the final decision by themselves.
I remember one afternoon after lunch sharing my testimony with a young woman in one of the chalets. Behind her an older woman was listening to what I was saying, and I could see she was becoming more and more disturbed. Finally she burst out, "I have lived my whole life in the church and have never experienced what you are describing!" I smiled at her. I knew she was not far from having what she was so angry at missing. She went around talking to others about it and sure enough within two days she was celebrating the new life given her by God. I remained in contact with her for a long after, and knew she was a blessing to many others through the years, introducing them also to Jesus. At another time, two young girls arrived simultaneously into the community, though not together. I had opportunity to talk at length with each of them. One recognized the truth of the Gospel and accepted Jesus as her Savior and Lord within two weeks. The other I spent many hours with as she played intellectual games asking questions about the Bible. Finally, months after she arrived she came to me one morning very excited, with a light to her eyes and I knew what had happened before she told me. "Paul," she said, "I have seen so many come here and have their lives changed by God while I've been playing my games. Last night I decided that I would stop asking questions and ask God to give me what He had given all the others." I was so happy for her, and hugged her in joy. I thanked God for giving me a new sister.
Upon arriving at L'Abri, I first stayed outside the community at a hotel in a village up the road. Then, being granted entrance into the community itself a week or so later, I was initially assigned to a small charming chalet called La Nichee (I think it means "the nest"). The owner was Sheila Bird (now with the Lord), whom everyone called "Birdie." It turned out that she was a "spiritual mother" to hundreds around the world, and she became mine as well. She was a truly wise person, and I came to hold her in immense respect and value whatever she said. She insisted we must be related (as my family name is also "Bird") and we remained in touch long after I left L'Abri until she went to be with the Lord some years ago. She had been licensed as a "Psychiatric Social Worker" and so was qualified as a counselor. She told me that the primary qualification for counseling was to have a "listening ear" (the ability to listen patiently to others who need to talk out their problems with someone), and she said that I had that ability myself. I have found that to be true and consider it a gift from God. At one time she gave me Ps. 27:10 (without my having told her about my childhood). Another time she gave me Joel 2:25-26. When I had become wrongly obsessed with a certain young lady there at L'Abri she gave me Ps. 106:15. Oh, how I later wished I had hearkened to her warning! I'd have saved myself much heartache, both emotionally and in my walk with the Lord! But she introduced me to two wonderful Christian books that I have found to be very valuable study guides in my Christian walk: With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, and the afore-mentioned "My Utmost For His Highest" by Oswald Chambers.
The young man with whom I roomed at Birdie's chalet told me a most remarkable story. After he had been born-again he backslid, and when he was in bed fornicating with a young woman he suddenly was convicted of what he was doing by the Holy Spirit. At once he jumped out of bed and onto his knees and cried out to God for forgiveness. The girl, an unbeliever, was of course greatly surprised and taken aback, and asked him what he was doing. When he explained, she became greatly convicted also and gave her life to the Lord.
It was winter when I stayed at Birdie's, we were fairly high in the mountains with a spectacular view. But I remember one morning being awakened by my alarm clock and impulsively throwing it out the window. Of course I had to then walk out into the snow in my pajamas and retrieve it.
L'Abri is not Charismatic, in fact it is anti-Charismatic. I found that the longer I remained there, the more quenched and drier my spirit became. Nevertheless, I knew God had brought me there for a season, and I learned much about His ways there. Many Charismatics unfortunately put their brains on a shelf while trusting only in their "feelings" to try to discern how the Holy Spirit is leading them. At L'Abri - a place that by Dr, Schaeffer's own admission may be too "intellectual " - I was able to redeem the brain God had given me. When I was born-again, I came to distrust my thinking capacity as it had obviously led me into much error as an atheist. And after I had become born-again, God had revealed to me the extent to which the process of "rationalization" had dominated my life. It covered me like a gigantic web of chains and I had been bound in the center of it. He had spent some time helping me strip it away and I had been shocked at the extent of it and had come to distrust my ability to use my brain as a result. At L'Abri I learned how to make proper use of it, as God intended. But that was not the only use He had for me there.
One week a guru from India came to hold a series of meetings in a larger village near L'Abri. A young girl in L'Abri was known to be romantically involved with one of his apprentices. I recognized that he in fact had a demonic hold on her. One day he appeared at a dinner at one of our chalets where this girl was helping to serve the meal. I was there, and so was another charismatic Christian brother from India. I became increasingly disturbed by the fact that the guru's assistant was easily dealing with the attempts by young Christians there to argue with him. I could see that the demon in him was having no trouble playing with their young minds. Praying silently in the Spirit, I approached the brother from India who I knew was an expert in the guru's religion and asked him to please deal with this situation. I could see that the young girl was becoming increasingly distraught by the spiritual warfare that was going on and by the demonic activity in the room due to the presence of the guru's assistant. I knew the man with the demon was aware of the power I was generating by praying in the Spirit by the fear I could see in his eyes when he glanced in my direction. Things suddenly came to a climax when the young girl swooned and fell on a couch. I knew the intensity of the spiritual struggle going on in the room had caught her in the middle until she could no longer stand the pressure and succumbed. Thankfully, God emptied the room quickly as people went for help. Only the guru's assistant and I remained. He looked at me and said, "She needs a doctor." I strongly replied to him, "What she needs is for you to get out of her life and leave her alone!" He left. I was alone with the girl and immediately went and sat by her on the couch and placed a hand on her forehead and prayed softly in tongues. After a few moments I felt a release and God said to me, "It is done." I arose and went to sit elsewhere in the room. When a nurse arrived I told her the girl was ok. She verified that was so by examining her. As it turned out, the demonic power over the girl had been broken, her relationship with the guru's assistant was ended, and the girl was helped to recover by the community. The fact of my praying in tongues was general knowledge in the community and there were those who mocked me, but I held my peace.
I have never experienced such intense community involvement as when I was at L'Abri. I remember one evening sitting in the chapel during a lecture by Dr, Schaeffer during which I decided to see how many of the students there whose first name I could recall. I usually have a very hard time remembering names, but that evening while sitting in my chair I went up and down one row after the other naming all the students except for two. There were more than 100, so I was quite overwhelmed because this witnessed to me of how greatly involved I was with the members of this community, most of whom were transient. But the time came to end the adventure of intense involvement at L'Abri near the end of 1974. Those who live in L'Abri for whatever period of time never forget their stay there and are forever considered part of the international "L'Abri community" and may stay in contact with each other for years. I left there with mixed feelings and went with several friends to work at a Christian-owned hotel in Chateaux D'Oex where I was employed as dishwasher. I remember that the water coming out of the faucet there was so delicious - almost as good as the spring water I had come across high in the Sierras in California. And there I read the book, "Tortured For His Faith" By Haralon Popov. It was a small book but a very intense reading experience. It seemed this man had suffered enough in thirteen years of imprisonment by the communists in Bulgaria for an equivalent of several lifetimes. I couldn't know of course that God was to open the door some years later not only for me to meet this man but to get to know him very well personally and work with him and his family in the mssion he had founded. I lived and worked at the hotel in Chateaux D'Oex for several months with my friends till we earned enough money to return to the US.
I wound up in Anaheim, CA where in the summer of '75 the Lord opened the door for me to attend Melodyland School of Theology but had a hard time adjusting to classroom study without much practical involvement. This was illustrated while attending a course in Apologetics when a man wandered into the classroom and sat down in the rear. The professor asked him what he was doing there, he replied that he was a back-slidden Christian and he supposed God had brought him into the class. The professor blinked and stood not knowing what to do, while a nearby student who - like myself - had been involved in street evangelism, smiled and went to sit by the man to talk with him. The professor dealt only in theory, and while he could well explain the abstract of apologetics, explaining how to prove God existed logically (while admitting his explanation would probably never actually persuade anyone to believe in Christ), he proved himself totally unable pass the test that God had presented him with. The faculty ran the full spectrum of Christian belief from conservatism to liberalism, and though I knew God wanted me there at least for a time, I cried out to him that I was "spinning my wheels." Ralph Wilkerson, the pastor of Melodyland Christian Center and founder of Melodyland School of Theology, interviewed each student individually and asked them what they wanted to be involved in upon leaving the school. When my turn came, I simply replied, "I want to be a missionary." I'll never forget how Pastor Wilkerson looked at me. He looked very surprised. Later, while one of the staff of MST was talking with me, he remarked that I had been the only one among all the many students of the school who had indicated they would like to be a missionary. All the other students wanted to be pastors or pastor's wives. He told me I was to be commended.
But God was about to open another door quite unexpectedly. Several years before I had read Brother Andrew's book, "God's Smuggler." The book was an autobiographical account of how a Dutchman began smuggling Bibles into atheistic east European communist countries. I was so moved by reading the book that at one point I stopped and prayed to God that if He wanted, I would like to be used in this type of ministry. I thought that there were parts of my background that would be useful in such service. But I did not pursue it further at the time, thinking that if God wanted me in such a ministry, He would call me into it. One evening I attended a prayer meeting at a student's apartment. While I was talking with a man there, he mentioned to me that he worked with a mission into the eastern European communist countries. As soon as he did that, it was as if a door in heaven opened and I was reminded of the prayer I had prayed several years earlier. I was aware of a heavenly light shining on me, through what appeared to be an "open door." In fact, the ministry that this brother represented, "Eastern European Bible Mission" (now "New Hope International") was at the time associated with Brother Andrew's "Open Doors" ministry. Of course I became very excited about this, and the brother told me that the director of the mission would in fact be in town the next week and arranged for me to meet with him for lunch at a local restaurant. This I did, and was given an application to fill out and give to the director. In the ensuing weeks God closed the door for me at MST and funds supplied through the church I was attending added to personal savings enabled me to purchase a round-trip ticket to Holland for summer involvement in the mission. The church laid hands on me and prayed over me to properly send me off.
So in the summer of '76, I flew off to Holland and was met in Amsterdam by a Dutch couple I had met at L'Abri, who drove me to the mission's base at its director's home in southern Holland near the Belgian border. My first trip was into Czechoslovakia, which was another childhood dream fulfilled. My maternal grandfather had been born there, and I had fond ties to the country since I had been raised in the Czech community of Los Angeles and my mother spoke Czech. Even though I was excited to at last be entering my grandfather's homeland, crossing the border was very depressing. I had heard that my grandfather was an atheist, and never allowed God to be spoken of in his household. My mother was the only one in the family (two sisters and a brother) I knew of who had become a believer. How she had I did not know - but I did know she was in heaven. I wondered what my atheistic grandfather would have thought of this atheistic government that had turned his homeland into a prison camp. Upon approaching the border we first had to drive across a "no man's land" planted with mines. We knew that if our car broke down or we got a flat tire at this point and got out of the car, we would be shot. A tall barbed wire fence stretched as far as we could see in each direction. Guard towers dotted the landscape. Guards with guns and dogs patrolled along the fence. Driving through the gate we encountered a check station where we and our vehicle were thoroughly examined. But since this trip was meant to gather information only, we had nothing with us except our luggage. Passing the initial inspection point, we drove on.
The first thing I noticed as we drove was a sickeningly oppressive demonic spirit of fear pervading everywhere. It covered the country totally. In subsequent trips with other brothers and sisters, all would remark about observing it. It was obviously the result of the grip Satan had through the secret police on all who lived here. Families members could not trust one another. Children at school were asked simply if their parents prayed at mealtime, saying "grace." If they innocently replied, "Yes," it could mean that the children would be removed and never see their parents again. Children were encouraged to report on their parents and told they would be considered "heroes' if they were able to turn their parents in to authorities accused of engaging in some Christian activity or talk. But if the children themselves were considered Christians, their schoolmates were encouraged to beat up on them by the teachers. If the parents complained they would be told that they were at fault because of their Christianity. Later I met a brave ten year old boy from the USSR who had been able to emigrate to the US with his parents. At one point the KGB had threatened to break his arms if he did not quit his Christian testimony. My heart cried out as we drove on through the Czech countryside because I knew the spirit of this people was normally the opposite of what I was seeing. The Czechs had tried to pattern their freedom-loving country after that of the US but had never had a chance when confronted by first the Nazis and now the Soviets. Their spirit had been completely broken and the looks on all the faces I saw was as if someone had hit them with a sledgehammer. But, as I was to find repeated over and over during the time God would have me involved in traveling into these countries, visiting with the Christians was like passing suddenly from night to day, from death to life.
One of our purposes in visiting our brothers and sisters was to provide them with encouragement. Upon leaving and returning to the west I had to sometimes wonder who had encouraged whom more. I came to love traveling into the east - not only was God's supernatural presence far more apparent there than in the apathetic religious game-playing west, but fellowship with Christians there seemed to remind me of the coming wedding feast of the Lamb. During our trip there we were even able to make a visit to the town near Brno where my grandfather had been born. I don't know how long he lived there and was unable to make any local enquiries because of the covert nature of our trip. As the summer progressed, we made other trips into eastern European communist countries and when the time drew near for my return to the US, I felt in my spirit that perhaps I was not to return just yet and while praying about this felt led to pray for an open door to visit L'Abri again instead of taking the flight back to the US. God did open the door to visit L'Abri and blessed my stay there and refreshed me. Upon returning to Holland, I discussed my situation with the mission directors, and they agreed to allow me to stay on at the mission and to work there to help support myself. Part of my duties was to organize the slides taken of trips into the east for presentation at churches in the US. When we traveled into the east it was for the purpose of taking Bibles, other Christian literature, medicine or to gather information. In any case our presence in the east was always an encouragement to the believers there. Freedom of religion in the US was a beacon of light to them. As long as that light was burning brightly, they were greatly encouraged. So we would always bring "greetings" to them from their brothers and sisters in the west. When we did bring supplies to the churches in the east, we would secrete them in the vehicles, and we had vehicles especially built for that purpose. We followed Brother Andrew's example while praying: "Lord, when you were here on earth, you made blind eyes to see - we pray that you now make these seeing eyes (at the border) blind (to what we're carrying)." I would add, "Lord, please don't let them ask me anything that might cause me to compromise this mission by divulging information the enemy could use to harm your people or your plans." God always answered these prayers. I only was caught once at the border - but that happened a few years later.
The maps we were given of the towns we were to visit were always inaccurate, so we would always have to depend ultimately on the Holy Spirit's guidance. On one trip into the northeast corner of Romania to a town near the Russian border we arrived late at night. We only had an idea where the house was from the map but not exactly - and it turned out there was an informer living right near the house we needed to find. But with the Holy Spirit's help we found the correct house and made contact, and started unloading all the Bibles we were carrying. We had to park down the street from the house, and as we were carrying the sacks of Bibles into the house, God told me each of them was already designated for a particular believer whose name He knew. Actually, though we were making a delivery in Romania, the Bibles were in Russian - for delivery across the border into the USSR. The brother to whom we were making the delivery was ecstatic. He told us the Lord had told him we were coming a couple of months ago. His children remained all asleep as we unloaded the Bibles, but his wife was sitting in the front of the house crying. She knew the danger that they were in and was afraid. As it turned out., I heard later that this brother was arrested. But that moonless night, as we left him and walked down the street toward our now empty van, I turned to look one last time at the brother as he stood in the street watching us depart. When he saw me looking back, he gave one last big leap for joy with both arms outstretched above his head, hands with index fingers pointing upward in the "One-Way" sign of "Victory in Jesus." I knew as I saw him do that, that all of heaven could hear his silent shout of "HALLELUJAH!!!" I could. That view of him is forever etched in my mind.
At Christmas time ('76) the director of the mission and I made a trip into a small village in eastern Hungary to attend a play concerning the life of Elijah the prophet. Believers - adults and youths - came from far away to pack out the small building where the play was to be presented. They kept watch to make sure that no informers were admitted. The play was three hours long, and the actors, who came from various parts of Hungary, had barely two days together to rehearse. But the play went without a hitch and moved the emotions of the viewers so much that when Elijah cried out, "I alone am left, and they seek my life, to take it away," there was sobbing heard among the audience as many there identified with Elijah's cry. But then when the voice of the Lord was heard to proclaim, "Yet I have left me 7000 ...." there were cries of rejoicing. The play was meant to encourage the believers of Hungary to take heart - and it succeeded well in doing that. Later we made another trip to visit the pastor who helped present the play. He pastored several churches in the area. Pastors were in short supply in those countries - each had responsibility for several churches, sometimes quite a distance from each other. Cars were a luxury - pastors were thankful for a good pair of shoes. This pastor was loved by youths over a great part of Hungary who would travel long distances to join other youths in being ministered to by him. When we visited him some time after the play, he informed us that the State-appointed bishop over him had deposed him from his work as youth pastor. Though we were sickened by the news, he and his wife remained steadfast in their joyful confidence in the Lord, knowing that the Lord was sovereign and they encouraged us. I will never forget the victorious "One-Way" sign they both flashed to us as we drove away and I saw them for the last time out the rear window of our car.
Some time after we returned to Holland, the director sat down with me and told me that my time with the mission had come to an end. So I started seeking the Lord's will in the matter. It was in my heart to remain in Europe and join some kind of ministry there. One of the ministries I thought of was "Operation Mobilization" - a radically committed evangelistic and church-building organization. "OM's role in the body of Christ is to motivate, develop and equip people for world evangelization, and to strengthen and help plant churches, especially among the unreached in the Middle East, South and Central Asia and Europe." The closest national office was located in Brussels, Belgium. I went there and spoke with the staff and was given a tour of the premises. There is no Christian ministry I admire more than O.M. for the fervency of its commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is a "no frills" organization. Its founder George Verwer has written a book that is one of the most challenging books I have read for those who desire to deepen their commitment to their Lord Jesus.
While at O.M., I encountered an old friend from Melodyland School of Theology. After greeting each other and hugging, we sat down and talked and he told me he was working now with Youth With A Mission" in Amsterdam on the Ark. He invited me to visit him, then we parted. I was excited to have "bumped" into him, and the prospect of going to Amsterdam. I made my way up to Amsterdam as soon as I was able, and wandered around it some. I liked Amsterdam, but it is one of the most sinful cities in the world. It is a "crossroads" for travelers going to other parts of Europe, and many youths come here. Drugs are easy to get, and so is sex. Sin abounds here, but it is easy to talk to people about Jesus, and I found opportunities to do so in the public square and on the YWAM Ark. I was really excited about the possibility that God wanted me here and would open a place for me to stay. I had a very good talk with my friend aboard the Ark before returning to the EEBM base. But upon returning there the Lord put into my mind the possibility of returning to the US through a letter I had received from a brother in the US in response to a letter I had written him asking him to pray with me about the matter. Actually I did not want to return to the US as the desire of my heart at that time was to remain In Europe. So I decided to spend some time in prayer and fasting to determine what God's will in the matter was. That turned out to be one of the most significant decisions of my life, and resulted in one of God's greatest lessons to me. He focused my attention on His Son's attitude as expressed in His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39 & 42). I came to realize during the fast that God wanted me to return to the US. In fact, He put joy in my heart where there had been depression, and actual desire to return to the US. It was further confirmed when the brother at the Ark called me and told me that the vote on whether I should be allowed to join them there had not been favorable. So I made plans to return to the US, specifically to California.
A fellow coworker in EEBM suggested that I could pick up his car for him on the east coast of the US and drive it across the country to his parent's home. This gave me the opportunity to make stops to visit friends (from L'Abri, my sister in Ohio, etc) and to speak in a number of churches about the mission work I had been involved in. It was interesting to see how the Holy Spirit would work in these situations, and just who would respond to my message and enquire about how they could be involved personally. Eventually I arrived at my destination and dropped off my friend's car at his parent's home. Back in California, I wound up in an apartment complex filled with alcoholics, lesbians, druggies, etc. A sister who visited there me told me she didn't like coming there - it scared her. I told her, "I feel right at home." She replied, "That's 'cause the Lord wants you here, big brother." A few doors down from where I was on the third floor was a big alcoholic Navajo ex-marine who soon after I moved in attached himself to me as my friend. He would try to hit me up for money, and I would tell him, "I never give money to an alcoholic. I will be glad to go with you to buy you groceries, if you need them." There was a big grocery store just a short distance away, and he several times took me up on that, but often he would just become angry with me. One day he came into my apartment and shouted at me, "All you do is talk about Jesus!" I smiled at him and replied, "Thank you for the compliment." He glared at me and then walked out. We would have very long talks together and while we talked he would draw. I was amazed at his wonderful ability to draw - especially people's faces. He was truly very gifted in this area, and he enjoyed doing it. I called him, "Chief." He seemed to have an iron constitution as his heavy drinking never seemed to affect him. But after a while I began to start seeing the effects of a struggle going on in his life, and I knew that his rebellion against God was taking its toll. This went on until he became very weak and was taken to the hospital, but they sent him home, he told me, to die. One day when I walked into his apartment and he was laying in his bed, he weakly said to me, "This is because of my rebellion against God, isn't it." I told him, "Jesus speaks of a Stone that whoever falls on it will be broken, and whoever it falls on will be crushed. (Matt. 21:44) But all you have to do is turn to Him and He will heal you." He did that, God healed him and he went to live with his sister and her family and I never saw him again.