Underground Pastor Gets his Fire Back
I gave my life to Jesus in 1995 when I was 20 years old. I had grown up in church all my life. My father was a denominational pastor and my mother was an evangelist, so I have seen the good and the bad, the fake and the real within Christianity. I had learned to study the Word of God from an early age, so when I actually became a Christian, I was able to quote from and argue about practically any obscure passage anyone could find.
I knew what the Bible said. What was lacking in my life was experience. I had the rule book down. I just didn’t have a clue who Jesus really was beyond salvation.
This hunger for more began to drive my life and the lives of others around me.
Before I was saved, I had spent my high school years submerged in what is called the “Underground,” a cross-continental, sub-cultural lifestyle filled with everything and everybody that doesn’t fit or just doesn’t want to fit into “normal” society. It’s where the Goths, the punks, the tattooed and the pierced find their community.
After experiencing Jesus Christ myself, God called me right back into the Underground where I spent years traveling North America playing Christian punk rock music in bars and clubs while preaching the Gospel and standing on beer-soaked, makeshift stages.
In 1999, my wife, Nicole and I started one of the first ever Underground churches in the world, where the misfits and the loose cannons could all find their home in the Lord. Since we first started the church, we have longed to experience more of the Lord. Our small group of ten or twelve quickly turned into 100, then 150 as more and more young people came with that same hunger that I had had for years. Then Holy Spirit began to move.
From 1999 to early 2003, God kept coming. We began to plant more churches and raise up more 20-year-olds to go and pastor them. People were getting healed, kids were getting saved, young people with tattoos all over their bodies and piercings anywhere you could put a piercing were fasting for weeks just to get more of God. It was exciting, “against the grain” kind of stuff, and it was everything I had ever wanted.
Then in April 2003, something happened to me that I still cannot explain. I had been invited to go on a trip to South America where I would get to rub elbows and even travel with people like John Hagee, David Yonggi Cho and Benny Hinn. My church even came together and raised the $1,800 for me to go, which was not a small task for young people who mostly make minimum wage. Everything was in place.
Then on the day I was supposed to purchase my ticket, I got a phone call telling me that the travel agent who was booking the trip had decided to send the group early and had forgotten to include me in the trip. Things like this had happened to me frequently during my years of pastoring, but this time the rejection began to settle in. Looking back, I know that God was setting up something totally different for me, but at the time it hurt so badly.
For the next month or so, I began to burn out.
Then I started to lose my hunger and my fire. So did the church. I felt alone and forgotten. It was not just the trip; it seemed that everything began to fade. For the first time in my Christian life, I just wanted to quit. It was so overwhelming that I did not know what to do anymore.
One rainy Texas spring day, I came to work and found a book sitting on my desk. It was from a pastor friend of mine, David Dyke, whom I had not seen in years. The book was entitled, EXPERIENCE THE BLESSING: TESTIMONIES FROM TORONTO. The note simply said that he thought that I should read it, so I did. Prior to reading the book, I had never really known exactly what was going on in Toronto. I had heard some strange stories, and some people in my own church had told me that I should never go. In spite of this, for years, every time Nicole or I would see something regarding Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, we would both have a huge desire to go there.
Toronto was $1,800, the exact amount the church had raised for me to go to South America. The church quickly agreed that we should use the money to go to Toronto. As we waited for our travel dates to come the next month, Nicole began to read the book, too. I remember the two of us feeling burned out, but when we would begin to read the book, we would both be weeping and crying out to God.
As we arrived in Toronto, we were at the end of ourselves not knowing what else to do. We were both so very dry and hungry, and we were both becoming agitated with each other. Everything that was wrong in our hearts was coming to the surface faster than we could suppress it.
When we finally got to the church, it was nothing like we had expected.
We were used to visiting very professional churches, and at the same time, we were very used to our own, hyper-driven, Nazarite-army, extremist-type church at home. This was neither. These people truly loved Jesus, and it showed. I had never seen anything like it, and I couldn’t get over it, and neither could Nicole. Even my little son thought it was the greatest church he had ever been to probably because of the huge Noah’s Ark on the back wall over the nursery.
As worship started, God began to do something deep within Nicole and me. Neither of us wanted to admit it to one another at the time, but there, standing in the church, we realized that God was reaching down, plucking out the bad and depositing the good. Then, when I least expected it, the Father got me!
Nicole had taken our son Corinth to the rest room, and I was left to fend for myself. I was standing there, enjoying the music, when the tangible presence of God overtook me. I immediately recognized it as Him, but this time was different. It was much stronger than I had experienced before, and it was much more intimate. Then in the midst of this, I realized that I was walking, or more accurately, marching in place. I didn’t know why. But I could not stop. I just kept marching and marching.
Then I heard the Father say so clearly, “Cleetus, where are you going?” And I replied, “Nowhere.” “Well, why don’t you let Me carry you?” He said.
Tears began to stream down my face.
I had been working so hard for so long to find more of God. I had done everything that I had known to do. But through it all, I had never really known what it was like to just let my Heavenly Father carry me.
“I don’t know how”, I told Him with my hands raised as high as I could get them.
Then I experienced something that I think I had only known in dreams. God picked me up. I don’t really know how to explain it. I just know that He did, and I have never been the same since that moment.
Over the next few nights the Holy Spirit turned our hearts inside out before the Father. But at the end of the trip, I knew that there was more to go. As we got to the American Airlines ticket counter to go home that Monday, my heart was beating out of my chest because I knew that I needed to stay longer.
Without me saying a word, Nicole turned to me and simply said, “You need to stay don’t you?” At that, I bought a new ticket, said goodbye to her and my son. I reminded her that she would have to take care of our Tuesday night Bible study and to tell the church that I would see them on Friday.
As I was searching for more of the Lord over the next few days in Toronto, I had no idea what God was doing back at our little “punk rock” church in Texas. It started on Tuesday night. I had been spending time with the Lord at TACF until about 10:00 that night. After the service, I quickly got back to my hotel room so that I could call my wife and let her know all that God was doing in me. Nicole’s phone, however, kept sending me to her voicemail. This went on for over an hour or two. Finally around 11:00 p.m. Texas time, I wondered if she was still at church. Normally by this time, we would still be at the church even though our services in those days were usually over after about an hour.
After the phone rang about ten or twelve times, my assistant, Micah, answered the phone.
“Is my wife there?” I asked sounding very impatient.
“Yeah,” he said, “And so is everybody else.” He went on to tell me that my wife had given her testimony at about 7:00 that night and that after she did; the Holy Spirit began to move. Now, almost four hours later, few had left and the ones that stayed were all over our sanctuary crying and laughing!
When I arrived home on that Friday, this type of behavior kept happening in our services. It went on for months. No matter what the service was like or who was doing the preaching, there would be loads of tattooed people all over the floor either crying, laughing, or getting healed. It was amazing.
Since this initial trip to Toronto, Nicole and I have been back probably more than ten times in the last two and a half years, and I already have plane tickets for two more trips this year! I go because God is there. I go because I need more. I go because our churches need more and the Underground needs more. I keep going because there is a whole generation of young people that have never experienced the Father’s love and the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit, and I want to be able to give it to them.
Since going to TACF my life has changed forever. My ministry has changed forever and my family has changed forever.
I have seen and experienced things from God that I had only read about before and that most people wouldn’t believe, even if they saw them with their own eyes. I’ve seen hardened hearts healed, and I’ve seen cold hearts turned upside down by the fire of the Holy Spirit. But I am not done yet, and we are not done yet as a church. There is more and I want more. Toronto reminded me of this and taught me to never settle for what I already have.
God is so big and we are so small. As long as I am still breathing, my heart’s desire is to keep on chasing Him and shouting, “MORE LORD!”