Figured It Out

Tom Sparling started a church! It’s in Massachusetts, where it usually is for him. It’s called The Journey and the congregation meets in a high school on Sunday mornings. “Tom Sparling, Founder and Teaching Pastor. Known across New England as a gifted communicator and creative worship leader, Pastor Tom is a visionary with a passion for engaging people in a transforming journey with Christ…”

Tom Sparling did a work of God in my life during Teen Week 1991 at Monadnock Bible Conference (Jaffrey, New Hampshire). He said: “Even though I’d been telling everyone for years that I was saved, I made a decision to walk to the front during the altar call when I was 13-years-old. I realized that up until then I had been a Christian in my mind, but not in my heart.” After camp that week, this became my own life’s motto, to figure out how to be a Christian in my heart and not only my head. I wanted to love God with the passion I witnessed in others around me at camp. “Why don’t I cry over the beauty of the Holy of Holies service like they do?” For someone raised in Bible teaching, with a good memory, and a talent for regurgitating facts, this had a profound impact.

I never gave up this quest, which led me finally to my current understanding that some of the things I went through as a child had a lot to do with the hardening of my heart. My relationship with God was impaired by male figures of authority in my life, yet He gave me the courage and faith to continue pursuing Who He truly is. I could not have come to this place in my journey without many members of the Body of Christ. The safest and truest friends I’ve ever known came into my life through the ministry of Valley Community Baptist Church in Avon, Connecticut.

When I was 14, the quarterly Monadnock Bible Conference’s brochure came in the mail for my mother, who had attended weekend women’s retreats there with our church. I looked it over and I saw the ad for Teen Week with Tom Sparling and Keith Walker. I recognized Tom Sparling’s name from when he and his brother had come to sing for my church years before, and my parents had bought one of their record albums (LP! as in, vinyl!). I had enjoyed listening to it, and just now one of the songs is humming through my mind: “You are my inspiration. You give me joy in the morning. And the song that I’m singing, Lord, no one can take away! It’s my song of praise, oh my song of victory!” I did not give up on going to Teen Week that summer until mom and dad agreed for me and my older sister to go there! We did much more than escape the isolation of unschooling those summers.

Tom leading musical worship

Tom and his wife Vitalina with their children

Keith Walker was the first speaker I ever heard when I was in 7th grade and our youth group went to Pinebrook in Pennsylvania for the High School retreat. I won’t detail it here, but one of those theatrical allegorical stories he is famous for illustrated that things that had happened to me as a very little girl were very bad things.

Keith with one of his sons, Caleb, about to climb Mount Monadnock

Ashton part 1. Nonverbal dramatization set to Michael W Smith’s instrumental, Ashton, based on the town in Frank Peretti’s novel, This Present Darkness

Ashton, part 2. The redeeming power of prayer

Red Dragon mural, painted in less than 7 days, based on the Bible’s Revelation of Jesus Christ and our theme. They left it hanging for years.

In approximately Fall 1999, I helped chaperone my church’s high school retreat to Harvey Cedars Bible Conference, New Jersey.

Harvey Cedars   Harvey Cedars Keith Walker

We joined the weekend’s speaker, Keith Walker, for one of the meals. I sat next to him at our table, and we started talking about the wonder and awe of that impromptu Holy of Holies service back in August 1991 at MBC. He also spoke of the Spiritual Warfare theme of 1990, and remembered the dragon mural that my sister contributed to. Keith shared with me that those two years at Monadnock also touched his and Tom’s hearts in powerful ways, and they were still in touch and spoke of those times. Tom Sparling even formed a whole new worship-themed ministry that lasted for years.

I think it’s fantastic that I can go online and listen again to Tom Sparling’s sermons! Oh yes there is a reason to love technology!

Now if I could only figure out how to get to my blog…. Okay, there it is. Now, if only I could figure out how to write my second ever blog post…

“Take me past the outer courts, into the Holy Place…” Our large meeting place, called “The Ark,” was transformed into a Holy Place on the last morning of camp. We had to pass through a curtained off portion at the building entrance, to get to the rearranged rows of chairs around a central table. The table held our bread and our wine (grape juice), for our special memorial to the sacrifice of Jesus, also known as a Communion Service. “The Ark” had become our Tabernacle of worship. For hundreds of kids aged 12-18, the room was peaceful and quiet as we entered, breathing in the sweet incense.

We had asked Tom for the source of all our musical worship songs, and he told us about Petra’s latest album, Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out (1989). After we got home, my sister bought the cassette, and we found out that we had sung most of the songs on it several times. I  now own the CD version, and it’s still one of my favorites. Here is the foundational song that led to this special moment in the presence of God. 

I also figured out more of what Keith Walker‘s up to these days. Yes I do love technology!

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