FROM THE BEGINNING…
When Wiley and I were first married, we knew God had called us into the ministry but were uncertain as to our position in the Body of Christ. As newlyweds, we lived and ministered in a Christian community. Wiley was given the title and responsibility of an elder, even though his divine appointment had not yet clearly been defined. We were only married one month when our first child was conceived and needless to say, I began to change. By the time I was great with child, Wiley decided that we should find a home for ourselves. The search was short. My mother and dad moved to Arkansas and gave us the house where I was raised.
After this move, we opened our home to another Christian couple with two sons. Wiley was constantly ministering the Word wherever he went and as a result, there was always a young Christian or two hanging around our house waiting to be fed from my husband’s righteous lips.
Wiley was holding down a secular job at the time. When he came home at the end of a busy day, he was greeted by a loving wife, a brand new baby girl, and the usual “hungry hearts” that needed to hear words of life, encouragement and direction.
His loving wife, though, soon became a frustrated and insecure Gospel widow. Any woman married to a minister knows exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes I felt like I knew the cashier at the grocery store better than my own husband.
Eventually Wiley saw my need for a husband and announced to all our “redeemed visitors” that we would have Bible study every Saturday night. If they just wanted to drop in during the week, Wiley insisted that they call first. Of course, I think it goes without saying that after about the first three hours of this concentrated attention and affection, I was back to performing my wifely tasks with a gleeful heart and a spring in my step.
To this day, I don’t know how the news traveled so fast, but when the next Saturday night arrived our small house was packed. Jesus is so faithful! It seems that when Wiley set his priorities in order by putting his family before his ministry, God opened avenues for him to share with more people than ever. And, oh, the peace we experienced. Wiley was taking care of me and together we were feeding God’s heritage.
This is a valuable lesson any minister would be wise to learn. Don’t ever put your wife in a place where she finds herself competing with God’s work. Take time to enjoy her and hear her heart. Cultivate the precious gift that Jesus has given you in her, and then the two of you, hand in hand, can fulfill God’s will for your lives together.
The couple that was living with us was expecting their third child, so we all began to believe God for a home of their own. Not long after they moved, financial pressure surrounded us to such a point that the only thing left to do in the natural was to sell the house. We were both young, and so was our faith. We made all the necessary arrangements and decided it was time for a change, so we moved to Arkansas. I suppose the most difficult part was saying goodbye to those precious believers who we had nurtured and cared for in the Lord. The brother who had previously lived with us lovingly volunteered to continue the meetings at his house. We said our tearful good-byes and were on our way. We were just sure that God had some “great” ministry for us in Arkansas. This wasn’t the first time we missed His direction and by no means was it the last. Our entire stay lasted one lonely month and by the end of that time we were so hungry for Jacksonville we could taste it!
I can’t explain the emptiness Wiley and I both felt on our trip back. We had given all our material possessions away except for the few belongings we had packed in our old dilapidated Volkswagen, which we towed behind our run-down station wagon. That first night on the road we checked into a little motel. After we bedded down our baby, we talked about our lives and questioned what was happening. That’s when we both recognized the vast void in our hearts – a deep emptiness that we had not experienced since we had made Jesus Lord of our lives. What was wrong? We were in such a confused state. The only thing we were sure of was that Jesus loved us and that He was leading us back to Jacksonville. We didn’t know what Jesus was doing with our lives, we didn’t have any money left, and we didn’t even know where we were going to live, but Jesus was our Lord and we vowed that we would do anything to stay in His anointing. We asked Him to show us how to walk worthy of His calling in our lives.
The first two months in Jacksonville we lived in three different Christian homes until Wiley made enough money to move us into a little house. This particular house was owned by a Spirit-filled brother who let us rent it for $65.00 a month. That doesn’t sound like much money, but sometimes we really had to struggle to pay it and a couple of times our rent was overdue.
As I see it now, there were three specific things keeping us from the flow of God’s divine blessings. The first thing was that up until this time we were not tithing. Oh, of course, we gave, but we were convinced that tithing was Old Testament and not really for us today. Secondly, we really weren’t believing and trusting in our loving Heavenly Father. We were in such lack that many days Wiley would come home from working so hard and before supper we would lay on the bed in each other’s arms and just sob. At the time it seemed the most sensible and logical thing to do. Thirdly, we had unconfessed bitterness and unforgiveness in our hearts toward brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. We had such critical and judgmental attitudes that, now as I reflect, I don’t know how we ever ignored such crucial symptoms.
I praise God for keeping us and purging us so we could come to the place where all we wanted was to please Him and make Him glad to have us as His children. The first thing Jesus did to unravel the web we had made for ourselves was to reveal the condition of our hearts. When our sinful attitudes toward the Body of Christ were exposed, we tearfully lamented and cheerfully repented. After this one work of God, everything started happening so quickly it was almost too wonderful to keep up with. Wiley announced that we were going to start tithing and that we were going to trust God to get us out of the mess we had gotten ourselves into.
The revelation on prosperity dropped in my spirit one day while I was cleaning the house. This was the kind of house you could spend all day cleaning and afterwards it still looked dirty. I had gotten so tired of living this way and I remember telling the Lord that if we never got out of this poverty, I would still claim prosperity because I had seen it in His Word and I knew that it was true.
Well, now we were on the right track! We were tithing, trusting God, and our hearts were pure before the Lord. Just by “coincidence” the Lord starting leading saints over to our home on a regular basis to receive ministry. Wiley began to see more clearly that God had ordained him to be a pastor. We had such a love for God’s people and desired more than ever for them to experience this newfound joy and peace in the Lord that we had.
After we had detected and dealt with the problems that were keeping us in bondage, almost immediately the Lord provided the means by which to move into a brand new townhouse apartment. It was so pretty, I just walked around for days thanking Jesus for bringing us to the place where we could receive His provision unhindered. Although Wiley was still holding down a secular job, we could expect some young Christian to be at our door nearly every night, ready to hear any morsel of wisdom that would help them grow in Jesus and keep them victorious throughout the week. Wiley ministered continuously until we both decided that his job was interfering with his calling. It was at this time, with an unction of the Holy Spirit, and my consent, that my husband decided to quit his job and go into the full-time ministry of caring for the people that God was sending our way. It was not long before we started having Bible studies on a regular basis, and soon it became apparent that our apartment was no longer appropriate for such a gathering. A dear sister in our little group volunteered to have the meetings in her den. Although her den was adequate for a while, eventually we had to include her living room, too. What a blessing it was to see God adding to our number weekly! We were only in our precious sister’s home a few short months when we had to find something bigger. This time Wiley and I did the moving. The Lord led us to a big home on a huge lot and, as usual, when we had our first meeting there, the place was packed. Our fellowship grew and grew and so did our second baby in my womb.
This era in our lives brings back such warm memories. We tried to have cookouts and covered dish meals in our backyard at least once a month. I think everybody in the fellowship rebuked the rain before they came because every “eating meeting” seemed crisp and sunny, although the weatherman predicted rain several times.
After many of the people had begun to tithe into our ministry, we felt it would be wise to file with the Secretary of State’s office to become a non-profit corporation so we could keep everything in order. For the most part, this was a very sobering step for us. My husband had no previous denominational attachment before he came to the Lord, whereas I was raised in a church. From my own experience, no one in my church ever told me that I needed a real relationship with a living Savior if I was ever going to make it. As for Wiley, and I guess this happens to many of us, he abhorred the hypocrisy in the religious society. So, here we were two people who had been very discouraged and disinterested in “organized” churches now facing the exact same structure that we had resisted for so long.
Well, we became a “church” corporation, and it became quite apparent to us that organization and order had always been God’s desire from the start. However, what we had seen happening in many churches was that they had begun to rely and trust in their schedules and programs rather than allowing the Holy Spirit the right to lead and direct each service.
One thing that I had desired of the Lord was that our fellowship would not exceed fifty people. I just had the idea that I would rather have fifty dedicated Christians who would love God and serve one another with their whole hearts rather than hundreds of “church goers” and “pew warmers”. I also had purposed in my heart that we would never lose the closeness and warmth among our group of believers, even if it meant closing our doors and allowing no one else to come in. I felt that our pure love and sincerity was worth preserving at any cost. Only Jesus could change my thinking and, of course, He did! He emphatically let Wiley and me know that we had started with a strong nucleus of people and that our strength would not disappear as more people came, but rather it would multiply. He also let us know clearly that He desired us to grow. We then adjusted our thinking and began to receive more of His grace and wisdom so we would be thoroughly furnished and prepared to minister to His precious saints.
Two major things began to happen in my heart about this time. I was about to give birth to our second child and I was developing an overwhelming urge to have a “nest” that belonged to only my family. Just before my baby shower, Wiley painted the living room, dining room and hallway for me. It was all so fresh and crisp. I could not wait to bring our baby home to our own little castle.
I had only been home a week with our new baby before we had a house meeting. I will never forget the way I felt. I was so glad to see all my brothers and sisters, yet somehow I resented them meeting in my home. The house was packed with people and, to top it all off, when I looked down the hallway several brothers were sitting on the floor, intently listening to the Word being preached with their feet propped up on my freshly painted walls! That did it! I could not take anymore. I went back to my bedroom with my newborn son and sobbed with all my heart. Then I asked the Lord, “Why are those brothers so inconsiderate? Don’t they know that this is my home?” When the Lord answered me, He was so precious. He told me that my brothers and sisters were not inconsiderate and that they really loved me, but to them my house was a meeting hall. That settled it. It was time for a change.
Many of our members started to get restless when my husband declared that we were going to look for a building to house our meetings. We had grown to such capacity that we needed to do something fast. We now had over 100 people in our home on meeting nights. Through the reaction of some of our brothers and sisters, Wiley and I saw many of them shared our disillusioned ideas about manmade religions. We all enjoyed the freshness of the Holy Spirit, which this new life in Jesus brings, but regretfully we saw no connection between this reality and organized churches. Needless to say, the Father had to do a renewing in all our minds to assure us that we would not become stale or lifeless just because we were moving into a building.
We finally found a place that would house our small congregation and allow us plenty of room to grow. We rented a ballet studio (this is where we learned to dance before the Lord) and before long, we were settled. It was not so bad being in a building after all. Our meetings were still rich with the flow of the Holy Spirit and we had a building where we could assemble together and grow.
Shortly after we moved into our new building, I gave birth to our third child, who went home to be with the Lord when he was only six and a half months old. We refused to let this attack of the enemy keep us from doing all that God had called us to, so we just girded ourselves up, encouraged ourselves in the Lord, set our face as a flint, and marched steadfastly into the face of adversity, confident that the gates of hell would not prevail against us. Although we knew that this situation was not from God, through it we showed our people how to stand in hard times as good soldiers. We told them that regardless of our experience, the Word of God is still true: He never changes. The devil came against us for evil, but we turned it around for good.
After we had been at the dance studio for about two and a half years, Wiley decided that we should stop wasting money renting a building, find some land, and believe God for a building we could call our own. We informed the people and gave them the vision so they could run with it. Boy, did they run with it!
I have to explain here that the average age of our entire fellowship at that time was from 18 to 25. We had only one or two older people in our whole congregation. We had no one who was well established in the business world. We were all just kids. That is why this story blesses me every time I tell it. It is all a testimony to the glory of God. Only He can take insignificant things and make them great. And He did, He really did! We all sacrificed and pitched in and by His marvelous grace, we built a home for our growing “family”.
Jesus gave us a beautiful new church on our own land, a brand new baby girl, our very own home, and a vision for Jacksonville and the world! The favor and approval of God is something else!
Sometimes people were healed driving on the property! The love of God that is demonstrated here is something I wish everyone could see. The Lord spoke to us after we built our first Sanctuary and warned us of a tidal wave that was coming. He said it was a tidal wave of human need and that we were to prepare ourselves so as not to be overwhelmed. We received His admonition with joy and began to prepare. We not only prepared our leaders, but everyone in the congregation. We told the young Christians what God had said and asked them if they would begin to prepare themselves and to walk worthy of their calling. They would be ministering side by side with us when the people began to flow in. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” We were all excited! We were all prepared!
There is really no end to our progress because there is continual growth in Jesus, and He is the author and finisher of this ministry. Much has been accomplished, but with each step, we keep pressing on.
May I say that I am honored to be a part of all that God has done and is continuing to do in our fellowship. I thank the Lord continually for placing me beside a man who refuses to take less than the best God has to offer for both his family and the people who have been entrusted to him. The genuine concern Wiley has for God’s people is indeed refreshing and inspiring. He has been obedient and accurate in fulfilling God’s will for this portion of the Body of Christ, and because of this I look to the future of New Covenant Ministries with much excitement and anticipation. I know that as you have heard where we came from and know where we are going, you can see God’s hand in all that has been accomplished through this ministry. We want to share with all Christians and all men everywhere the proclamation that….….Jesus Is Lord!
Dr. Jeana Tomlinson