Dignify and Deploy 9: Gospel Ground
‘Whenever I remember the beautiful days of our salvation, I can almost smell the orange blossoms again. The whole experience for both of us was indelibly connected to the fragrance that cloaked Yorba Linda, CA in those days: the dusty warmth of the eucalyptus-lined country roads and everywhere the smell of citrus trees in bloom…I already know what heaven smells like; it will be no surprise to me. It smells like Yorba Linda in 1963.’ (Carol Wimber, The Way It Was, p. 62)
California is rich ground for the Gospel. People go there to change—to leave regrets like broken families, winters-without-end, or poverty. Bad things spring up, sure, like no-fault divorce and the porn industry and LGBTQ+ madness in Sacramento but I wager new crops of evangelicalism, watered by fresh waves of Spirit, impact the world more positively than do CA’s idolatries.
John and his young wife Carol needed a change. Both creative—he an aspiring jazz musician, she a painter; neither founded on Jesus. Carol, a lapsed Catholic from seriously depressed and even suicidal parents, met John at 17-years-old at a dance in her sometime glamorous hometown of Avalon on Catalina Island, weekend destination of LA’s yacht club. John was 4 years older, playing in the band and good-naturedly non-religious. They married months later and prayed to the unknown God: ‘We don’t know what marriage is, please help us…God, make our lives worth something.’
Smarts and looks equipped neither for marriage and family. But John had a wisdom and confidence that anchored Carol; what he lacked in emotional attunement, he made up for in stability. Carol may have been fragile—John 'her life-raft until I met Jesus, and He took over that job’ (31)—but she could be fierce, a refined Annie Oakley, the forerunner who dove first into things that changed them both. ‘John! John! Wake up! Jesus IS the Son of God! If that is true, then we must do something about it!’ (65).
The couple had been attending a Bible study in Yorba Linda, a semi-rural town in southeast Orange County that had been settled by evangelical Quakers. Unlike Poland’s Mother Church, California is dotted with various expressions of evangelicalism that stress biblical authority but most of all a deeply personal encounter with Jesus. And somehow, by God’s grace, California is full of persons founded on this personalized Jesus who live to give others what Jesus gave them.
One such person was Gunner Payne, an extraordinary lay evangelist and ex-oil rigger then welder and inventor who crafted a home in the Yorba Hills full of ingenuities. Years earlier, in those hills, his daughter had been gunned down by a man as she fended off an attempted rape. Gunner led that young man to Christ before his execution.
Gunner’s gift to John and Carol was Jesus: he bore patiently with them as he taught them Scripture, quietly encouraged their marriage, and waited for John and Carol to be ready to receive Jesus. Gunner ‘believed that you must win a person to yourself by loving them before you had the right to tell them what you believe’ (72). The couple sobbed as they surrendered to Jesus before Gunner.
Payne’s son, leader at a nearby Christian college, fell asleep at the wheel and suffered massive brain injury. Leaving Yorba Linda to provide better care for their son, Gunner left an eternal deposit in the Wimbers. Like Gunner, both began to evangelize and disciple young persons throughout Yorba Linda. Some seeds went deep in rich soil, the Spirit watered, and new life sprang up. Jesus was answering wedding night prayers: ‘Make our lives worth something…’
“Thank You for hearing our prayers and answering them. Thank You also for extraordinary persons whose love made Your truth real. Thank You for California. Forgive us for shaking our fist at her rather than thanking You for her gifts.
Come Holy Spirit, liberate what is true and beautiful from what debases us. May we not settle but aspire to the dignity of our sexual humanity. May we grow into ‘mature expressions of the gift’ by helping others do the same. Deployed to dignify, we ‘harness the John force.’”