In 1969, a movement that was later called The Jesus Movement, began in several places in obscurity. One place was Detroit where a fellow and his wife felt they should go and do what God was leading. In Detroit, with it’s mild summer, hippies were hanging out at a local park. The guy who came from California joined them and sat at a picnic table and talked with those those there.
As the weather became cooler, they rented a 3-bedroom house. Meetings were held there every night and the place was open by day to all visitors. “Come back at 7 if you want to know what’s happening.” The house soon became too small and was filled with people with others outside listening through open windows. And this was in the chilly Michigan winter.
We were just one group but this was happening all over the country. Our group spawned several other houses but no place was big enough. An unused church basement was rented. We used the classrooms for bedrooms and held meetings every night where hundreds gathered. And there were always new people.
Of those involved in this, several became pastors. I saw one of them two months ago doing a funeral, the day before the 2020 lockdown. We were always going out and never stopped to call it a church. The houses followed a simple pattern: a married couple would be house parents and single guys and girls would be divided by gender into the bedrooms. One large house in downtown Detroit had four girls upstairs and 10 guys living in the basement along with one rat who often annoyed us.
After a few years, people were getting married and moving on from the dorm style living. But during this 3-year period a lot happened. Many groups reached out and connected. Many churches and ministries were influenced by long-haired, bible carrying people who had now rejected the hippie lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll. It was marriage, sobriety and Christian Rock for them. Never in that three years did anyone ask for money yet money was donated in abundance. Sometimes we would find bills tucked in the kitchen cupboards after a meeting.
People would say things like, “I read this book by a guy in Europe. I’m going to go study with him.” And he would do it. He came back years later with a Swedish wife. Others would read about far flung mission work and go and do it.
As far as I know, no one from our group or any other people I met ever asked anyone for money to support their ministry work. Guys often picked up jobs and contributed to the houses allowing others to keep the doors open to all.
One couple got married and ended up in China working with an underground movement that influenced many thousands of young Chinese tired of ‘Godless Communism’. Actually, almost everyone was tired of Communism in China. It had not worked at all.
I went visit my friends in Beijing and met many exuberant young Christians. I witnessed two events involving money. Once my friend opened a drawer to give someone some money. The large drawer was filled with Chinese 100 yuan bills. This was money used for ministry. They lived on their salary as English teachers, working sometimes at major universities in Beijing. Again, a fellow stopped by one evening and handed my friend a fat envelope. My friend looked inside and said, “This is a lot of money. Are you sure?” “Just use it for your ministry,” was the reply.
Another fellow ran an orphanage here in the States. He cared for a couple dozen children for two years and never asked for money.
Some started groups they were later kicked out of as the group matured. Others would leave the leadership to others and start something new somewhere else.
Our leader, and my mentor, was a strange fellow. He always dressed in costume and rarely ordinary clothes. He went through various phases and outfits. He maintained a full beard. The last time I saw him, he looked exactly like Santa with a long white beard. He said he couldn’t shave because his hands shook with tremors now. He even kept small toys in his pockets which he would give to children all year round.
He had several well-paying jobs and started two companies. He seemed to have a problem with success. As the company would grow, he would walk away and do something else. He worked for a government agency and set up classes in first aid training after he walked away from a ambulance company he started. The boss called him into the office and told him he needed to use all the money in the budget. But we have created all the classes you wanted and hired all the teachers and staff needed, he countered. But if we don’t use all the money, they will cut our budget next year was the reply. He resigned on the spot wanting no part of inflating costs for no good reason.
Of those I have kept track of, none became famous, few wrote books but just served quietly without fanfare. Some ended their lives in lonely places without giving up their faith.
I can only tell what I saw and heard myself during the years. One last note: a young man named Jordan, at our small, local fellowship, is a third generation result of a fellowship overseen by his Jewish grandfather, who was very important in my life. I still hold his memory dear. I say to myself, “He is no longer here. But I am and what am I doing to fill his space?”