Chapter 2 1
In 1968, when we were living on Greenfield Avenue in San Rafael, I wrote Gospel flyers and began to hand out dozens of them at San Rafael High School. Often, I positioned myself on the sidewalk and passed out leaflets to the students as they left for home. If I attempted this now, I would see a police car pull up within a few minutes.
One of the marks of the Jesus Movement was an acceptance on the part of the secular world of spiritual things. Transcendental Meditation, Satanism, Zen Buddhism, and more were common topics of conversation, particularly among young people. So was Jesus. There was a hunger, perhaps a curiosity, maybe a fad, and the sight of someone holding a Bible was sure to start up some interaction. One of the characteristics of awakenings is that people other than Christians talk about spiritual ideas. This was certainly the case in the JPM, and consequently even school officials, students, and their parents were receptive to a Christian presence. This was not so before the JPM, and it was again not so when the JPM ended. I did not grasp the implications of this phenomenon for several decades.
Very often I carried a big black Bible under my arm as I strolled down Haight Street in San Francisco. There were certainly some derisive comments, yet the sight of that Bible triggered openings for conversations about Jesus. Such a conversation on the street tended to grow as passersby heard what was being discussed and wanted to join in. The same happened at San Rafael High.
It started with a couple of kids who regularly looked for my arrival. Mary Jensen was one, and she brought along Hugo Countandin, Eileen Hotchner, Tommy Gaulden, Byrne Power, Keith Fink, Eric Sorenson, and Bob Burns. The group grew larger, and they proposed we start a lunchtime Bible study in a classroom at the school. The students 71
approached the vice principal, got an initial approval, and I received a telephone call to come to the school and discuss it. The result was a weekly lunchtime Bible study. Most of the kids came and went, but some stayed and became part of the group. In the beginning, I arrived early to pass out flyers, but eventually the kids themselves began to write their own one-page flyers and distribute them.
We also started Bible studies at Redwood, Drake, Tamalpais, Terra Linda, Novato, and San Marin high schools, Dominican College, and College of Marin. At first I conducted them, but when the number reached six I needed help. In time the students led the studies, but for a fairly long period I continued at San Rafael, Drake, and Redwood.
In 1968, in order to better serve the kids and others, I began a Tuesday night Bible study at our Zion’s Inn on Greenfield Avenue in San Rafael (Tuesday instead of Wednesday, so we didn’t compete with the traditional church times for such activities).
We started at 7:30 p.m. and ended when the last person left. I began with chapter one and verse one of a Bible book and went through it verse by verse. We studied the Word for about two hours. The mood was serious, and the goal was to educate not entertain. I sat in a chair with my back to the bay window at the front of the house and talked through the material, welcoming all questions and comments. When someone made some nutty comment or wanted to pontificate on some crazy doctrinal point, I listened then went on.
The Gospels were my favorite books to teach, followed closely by Acts. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the story of Jesus, and studying them was our way of being with Him. A study of a Gospel might take four to five months. We learned about Jesus then went out to witness the rest of the week. It seemed to be the Biblical agenda.
In my mind’s eye I can still picture Martin Rosen filling the biggest chair we had in the ample front room at the Greenfield house. Martin was later known as Moishe when Jews for Jesus began to take shape, and I can also see Mark Buckley, the first person to come alongside me besides David Hoyt to do the work of ministry.
Moishe knew a lot more than I did about the Bible. In many ways he became a mentor for me. I loved to sit and talk with him by the hour. He was likely the very first person to understand that something unusual, something from the Spirit of God, was going on even in obscure San Rafael of Marin County.
There we were, Tuesday after Tuesday; many were coming to faith in Jesus, and we were running out of room. Down the street right at the city limits is the First Methodist Church of San Rafael. I had never attended there, but I talked with the pastor and asked if we could rent the church’s fellowship hall, Wesley Hall, for the Tuesday night Bible study. He was agreeable and the rental price was set.
Next we made up a flyer with the details about the Bible study and gave them to the high school kids who were attending regularly, so they could hand them out at their schools. Within a month the hall was filled, about five or six times the number that had been coming to the study at Zion’s Inn.
I still taught sitting down but moved to the center of a circle of chairs. At that point I knew a few chords on the guitar, and we began singing simple little songs that began to emerge amongst us, some of which I wrote myself. The music was nothing like what is called “contemporary music” today. We sang short, meaty songs in terns of theology, easily sung by anyone, and only for a short time, because we did not want anything to infringe on the Bible study time.
Oddly, or maybe not oddly, I still sing the same songs and play the same guitar as then. Yes, the same guitar. I started off with a cheap big body steel six stringer, which sounded awful. At some point in the early weeks of that study at Wesley Hall the kids got together and bought me a real instrument, a Japanese version of the Gibson Hummingbird called a Conqueror, and I still have it. It cost them $225 and that was 1968. The neck has had to be repaired a time or two, but I play it every Sunday morning still, using all of about eight chords now.
I’m not sure what motivated me, but some months into the study at Wesley Hall I began praying for healings. As far as I recall, I had never done this before. Though I had spoken in tongues, I did not feel good about praying for someone to be healed, because after all, I was a Baptist, not a Pentecostal. I think my reasoning was that I was teaching about what Jesus did, and He healed a lot of people. But that was Jesus; I was merely Kent Philpott.
It must have been that someone requested prayer for healing. With little or no faith that such would be effectual, I did, and the person was healed! Or so they said, and I was the type who doubted any miracle claim, even if my own eyes saw it. But I kept on, and week-by-week people were healed, seemingly for real.
After some months, more and more people showed up, and now adults, parents of the kids, came as well. At times, at the conclusion of the study, a line would form. I sat in a chair at the far end of the room and prayed for each person, one by one. This went on until no one was left, often quite late into the night. When all were gone, I would pack up my guitar, make sure all the chairs were stacked neatly and the bathrooms clean, and walk down the street to home.
I had trouble with the healing work only one time: One Tuesday night, we prayed for a teenage girl, whom I did not know and did not recall ever seeing before. The next afternoon I received a phone call from her father, who was a high-ranking city employee. He yelled at me over the phone, threatening to have me thrown out of Wesley Hall. I waited until he was exhausted and asked him why he was so mad at me.
He related that when his daughter was about to undergo surgery for a very serious eye aliment that Wednesday morning, and while she was under anesthesia, the surgeon discovered her eye was healthy and required no treatment. When she came out of the effects of the drug, she loudly proclaimed that Jesus had healed her. Then I heard the father shout, “And we’re Jewish.”
This young lady subsequently went on to work with Jews for Jesus, and the father called me years later to ask if there was any room in one of our little Christian houses for another of his daughters.
The Bible studies were the primary engine for the growth of the JPM in Marin County. Some of the kids who were converted in those studies became church leaders and still serve Jesus to this day. Parents began showing up to simply check things out, and some of them stayed as well.
What characterized that time was an extraordinary desire to talk about God; it seemed perfectly normal to me, and I was not surprised to see people being converted right and left. Out of necessity, we started baptizing people. Sometimes in swimming pools, or at Stinson Beach, or in San Pablo Bay at Paradise Park in the area alongside Tiburon and Corte Madera. Things were moving quickly, and none of us understood that we were in the midst of a national outpouring of the Holy Spirit.