Expanding the number of Christian houses was not a strategy as such; rather, their addition was driven by necessity. Through our continuing street evangelism in San Francisco with the hippies, we constantly took on newly born again youth who wanted out of that hell hole but had nowhere to go. It seemed to us it was like the early church, having “all things in common.” First was Soul Inn in San Francisco, then Zion’s Inn in San Rafael. Berachah House in San Anselmo followed, Solid Rock in Novato, a house in Mill Valley, more houses in San Rafael, and on and on it went. We rented these houses, and I was usually the one signed on the lease as the tenant. The first house in Sonoma County was actu- ally the Berachah House moving to Petaluma. It was a rustic farm, sort of, and the landlord was sympathetic to what we were doing. We turned its A-frame house into living quarters for about ten people. When that was full, we turned an out building into a bedroom as well. Cliff Silliman was in charge of Berachah, and he did a wonderful job of it, being a solid Christian and a hard worker. He loved the young people coming to stay there, and some were not very easy to deal with. I showed up every other week to teach a Bible study, and I recall standing by the back door of the place teaching from the Bible. Residents sat on the floor of the kitchen and spilled over into a dining area just beyond that. (In addition to the farm we opened up a Christian book store right in the heart of town which Cliff also operated and looked after. But that story follows soon.)
Gradually, youth from the surrounding community began to attend the Bible study. Cliff and the guys (it was for men only) made evangelistic forays into the lovely little town of Petaluma, handed out flyers containing an invitation to the Bible study, and news spread about the Jesus freaks in town. We also twice held “concerts” featuring the band Joyful Noise in a park in the town’s center. Lots of kids showed up and we told them about Jesus.
Beginning to circulate on the East Coast was a Jesus People publication, a kind of funky newspaper. In one edition it listed the addresses of Christian houses around the entire country, and our houses were included. Traveling hippie types began showing up on a regular basis, almost using the houses like bed and breakfast inns. And it was partly due to this phenomenon that the Jesus Movement was cross-pollinated. The year that this reached its peak was 1970. It became obvious that what God had done in the San Francisco Bay Area was happening all over the country.
A Silly Decision and a Big Gift
On one of my visits to “the farm,” as we called it, Cliff and I discussed what to do with a tiny red foreign car that had been left behind by someone. There was no paper work, and the car’s engine was shot, but there it remained. Money was always in short supply, so we thought the best way to dispose of it was to bury it. Cliff created a great plan and oversaw the work, except the hole the guys dug was not deep enough. The next time I showed up I asked to see the burial spot, and even from a distance I could see the red roof of the car jutting up about one foot above the ground. There was no way it could be dug up, so we got some sledge hammers and beat the roof down as far as possible, piled up a little hill of dirt around what was still showing, and left it like that. When we finally had to move off the land, however, our lack of foresight meant we had to dig up the little red car and have it towed away.
Barry Elegant, a Jewish man, visited the house after riding a motorcycle across country from New York and was converted under Cliff’s preaching. When he left, he gave Cliff a check for three thousand dollars. Cliff called me, and I came up to the farm, so we could plan what we would do with the money. Our decision proved to be a good one.