Whew! Can I tell the exciting story now? Unfortunately, you will not understand the 5 day sequence of events (the Painting) without the proper and actual background. It is at that point that the picture paints a thousand words. Here I would beg my reader: if you have made it this far, please bear with the last touches of the dull background (except for Ron Gatrelle; he's not so boring of a guy!) which may be kind of boring for a while. But let me caution you. All of these facts are necessary to understanding how all these unbelievable pieces of this puzzle came together.
So now we come to Charleston, South Carolina. As I kissed my beautiful young wife and toddler daughter good bye and got ready for my cross-country flight I made her a promise. As I could get all the price of their flight and a place to stay together they would follow close on my heels. This was like the start of a new chapter of my life. But little did I know what added wonderful things God had for me. It is unfortunate that I did not mine ALL the riches laid at my feet by the greatest Giver of all.
As soon as the plane lifted off of the ground it was as though an awesome chapter were beginning in my life and broke down crying tears of joy as if I were actually before the very face of God. But there seemed also to be an element of awe, carefulness and the fear of God as if something very special and important were to be entrusted to me and handled with great care. When finally the landscape of South Carolina was in view I was almost flabbergasted at the place I saw. I never saw so many big trees and it seemed as if so many houses were separated by so much landscape and trees between them. To me it was a strange place.
The very same day after a taxi ride where I was even more impressed by all the green, trees and swamp land, I was brought up to the pier of my first real command after boot camp, The USS Holland AS-32. This ship is now de-commissioned after doing her last tour in Guam where my last ship (I hope!) the USS Frank Cable AS-40 (which is still in Guam at the time of this writing) relieved the Holland so it could journey to its last yard period before de-commissioning.
Of course there was a sense of awe as I struggled up the brow of my first ship wearing my Cracker Jack dress blues and carrying my heavy Navy-issue sea bag on my bag. Up went my hand in a stiff salute to the Officer of the Deck as I came aboard a United States vessel as an actual member of the United States Naval service for the first time and said "Request permission to come aboard, sir!" Eventually I learned that there was no need to say "sir" like I had been doing in boot camp except to Commissioned Officers as Petty Officers and Chiefs are only enlisted and do not get addressed as "sir" or "ma'am." I was soon given a rack and shown around as to where to sleep and eat. After this I was taken onto a tour of the ship to hopefully get some bearings as to my surroundings. That awesome first day on my first command, of course, I will never forget. The date was December the 5th, 1983.
In 1983, the USS Holland was located for the most part on pier Charlie located at what is still today as "The Weapons Station." There was also at that time a main base for the Navy where pier Delta and onward were located where there were many more ships. But this Station has been shut down and sold since about 1994 due to Government cut backs. Never mind my opinions on that. The Weapons Station consisted of about four miles of "out of base" but still government owned property and four more miles of "on base" property, altogether eight miles to pier Charlie. The strange thing about it was that it seemed to be mostly woods. There were many roads of course, but much of it was shrouded in mystery. Of course it was! It was a weapons station! As to what might have been there in those days: do not ask me because I will not tell you! I hardly know anyhow. At the end of those long eight miles were three piers: Alpha. Bravo and Charlie and of course the Holland was on Charlie and many times visiting submarines would be hooked up to it for it was a Sub-Tender. This is why it did not often go to sea as it was too busy taking care of these boats and repairing them 90% of the time.
Right at the beginning of this eight mile trek there was the Navy community center with a commissary for food shopping, a Navy Exchange, Post Office, etc. and there were several blocks of Government housing for the Military. Years later I had the privilege of living in Government Quarters in that very same location when I reported to the Frank Cable before its trip to Guam. I was very impressed on my first day as I walked down the main deck of the Holland and looked down at the submarines below which were attached by a brow, many lines, hoses and cables of various kinds.
Soon after this I wanted to see Charleston, which I heard was beautiful and one of the oldest cities in the United States. There was a liberty bus system that went the hour long journey over there (the Navy Stations were in the North Charleston area and the Weapon's Station is still located at Goose Creek. Since I think it was a Friday when I reported, I went to Charleston on the 2nd day after my arrival. I was quite impressed! Downtown Charleston is as deep South as Southern gets. Many of the old buildings have survived even though there would be many more if it were not for certain historical earthquakes and city wide fires that have ravaged the city during one of longest histories of any city in existence in the United States today. They say the oldest "church" in America exists at the "The Four Corners of Law." It is at the intersection of Broad & Meeting Streets; where St. Michaels, City Hall, the County and Federal Courthouses (in which building a classic fancy Federal Post Office also resides) reside. It refers to city law, state law, federal law, and God's law.
Among the features of this city, which is such a taste of early America, is the famous Southern Charlestonian house. The "front" porch is the really the side porch. And where is the other door? I'm not sure if I remember right. But you have to realize this is old Charleston.
I was told as I walked through the downtown old shops and restaurants and later the neighborhoods with their classic southern three and four story houses that most of these houses ranged in price from a half million to a million dollars! I was in awe at the beauty, color, and design of the architecture.
As I continued on walking the streets that night the Holy Spirit seemed to bring my heart to dwell on the great House of God and what a far more awesome building is His house. At this point a scripture came to me. It was surprising that it did but it was "Come over to Macedonia and help us." As this Word came to me I remembered a brother and friend of mine: Steve Bender. At this point I felt within me that he should help at the true building up of believers as the house of God. I wrote him a letter telling him so and believe it or not, the brother some months later moved to Charleston after visiting me. Then GOD visited him on my front porch one evening! Yes, the brother helped me raise up an assembly the best we knew how at that time in that city a couple years later. Many lessons were learned which perhaps I'll touch on later.
Immediately, of course, I sought for the fellowship I had known in LA & Dan Diego. How? I went to the phone book to look up the term "the church in Charleston" ……. Or find "the church in Goose Creek" … or something (note: the previous is the 'way' the local "churches" put their meetings in the phone book if there was such a gathering in a city.) But there was no such assembly there anywhere. For the next 2 years I proceeded under the assumption there was no such gathering in the entire state of South Carolina (and that was considered the Bible belt? Ha!) I found out later that that was right. At least for that first or so year it was. After that a group of Christians was raised up in Columbia, up North. I found out about them a year or two after that.
So, as a result I missed the fellowship I had known in the local church meetings. I went to various Pentecostal gatherings and other groups of Christians and found them to be not up to what I had known I the local church. In fact, maybe I was the only one person in the whole state who believed the way I did. I went to one holiness meeting which was used as a broadcast for a radio program. The preaching was strong and the moving of the Spirit was powerful and there was quite an anointing, much rejoicing and song. Everything seemed to be so 'uppity' there that you would think it strange, but I perceived them to be dead! Dead? Well, uem-hemm!! Now, bro. Kevin you don't really mean…" Oh yes I do! They were dead! There could not be an expression of Christ in their midst. It would have been impossible! As uppity and enthusiastic as they were there was very little of the life of God being experienced or expressed. At least there could be a little of this in today's Christianity. There was power there but no life! This is not unusual today. It is the norm for most Pentecostal churches, and I'm not saying that sometimes their power is not sometimes real. But the real growth in life should proceed power even as it even did in the life of the Lord Jesus Himself. (Whom we're supposed to follow, C'mon! wake up!)
So what did I talk about with the believers I met here and there? About how we should be in oneness and how god's special blessing rests upon us when we are. Of course I would share how in the Bible there was only one "church" in one city, etc. It was amazing to me that it seemed that almost all of the believers I talked to in those days were totally blinded to what I was talking about and even these days (though there has been a marked change in receptivity to the idea) it seems few have ever even heard of such a concept, much less having even an inkling of the slightest thought of attaching any importance to such a thing. It just seems it doesn't matter. But it does matter to God, so it should matter to us.
I wasn't about to give up very easily. I was hungry for the kind of fellowship I had known through my times with the local churches in California. So I went to the Chaplain onboard ship. He said "is there anyone onboard you've met that seems to meet with a kind of group that you have an interest in? Then he asked "is there a group out there that you are interested in meeting with?" The I told him "yes, it's called the Fire Escape." (to which I'll backtrack and talk about in the next chapter) Then he said that he knew someone named Richard, who had gone to the Fire Escape. I had met Richard briefly so I knew whom he referring to and replied, "yes, I have met him. Since I have met him I have wanted to get with him again and also have been planning to visit the Fire Escape again soon." Now here I must tell you and explain that this visit to the Chaplain took place AFTER the events in the next chapter as I had already visited the Fire Escape.
But after I left the Chaplain that day I never once ran into Richard again or even caught a glimpse of him onboard ship even though he worked on the same ship as I did until the God-ordained day for a very special get together with this precious brother. But I'll have to save that one for later. Richard was a blond haired, blue eyed, tall slim and seemingly gentle hearted (when you first met him) brother who had a very definite commitment to Christ that could really be seen plainly. It was the divine ordination of God that I would get to know him exactly the very day I did and I thank God for him.
At this point it is time to back track to other events that brought my attention to a Christian coffee house in North Charleston in those days called: The Fire Escape. The plot thickens.