An Open Door - The History of the Potter's House Christian Fellowship
Wayman Mitchell was born on
Mitchell’s being born on the same day as Christopher Columbus, is one of those
interesting small touches of God.
Wayman is an explorer, too. Not of new lands, but of ways to reach the hearts of
those locked in darkness. Like
History showed the church starting as an explosion of life. Handcrafted by Christ it shook and changed the world. Breaking down cultural and national barriers, it seemed unstoppable, but slowly it lost its life under the weight of compromise. The degeneration went so far that the light was almost extinguished. But God said He would always have a remnant, and a remnant arose. It began with Luther and the rediscovery of the Bible as the rule to guide men’s lives. The disease in the church ran so deep that the restoration wouldn’t come in a year or two but over centuries. Slowly, God put the pieces back together. Wesley would bring a greater understanding of the miracle of salvation and its availability to all who would ask.
Men like William Carrie, Hudson Taylor and Adoniram Judson would bring a desire to reach untouched countries and peoples. God raised up men like Whitefield, Finney, and Moody to revive evangelism and reach the masses. Strong currents of holiness began to move through the Body of Christ as saints sought to be more like the Master. They stripped off the world that had crept in to stifle God’s reality. There fresh winds blew against the grain of tradition, breaking new ground and opening new doors.
As the twentieth century came, so did an acceleration of God’s moving. In
Mitchell was saved during one of these great sweepings of revival. Yet with all God was doing, so much remained to be done. For the average Christian, there was no mobilizing of his ability, no channelling of the untapped power of the church. Thousands were being filled with the Spirit, speaking in tongues, prophesying and believing for the abundant life, then going back to churches as dead as ever. The result was the rising up of hundreds of para-church structures. Unfortunately, they could not meet the need that only the church was designed to meet.
The church itself was still encased in Medieval, Catholic institutions and mind-sets that bound it. The power of the early church had been in Jesus’ promise, “I will build my church.” Jesus would restore in last day revival the dignity and power of the local church; the church as the nurturer, reproducer, caller, sender, recruiting station for fighters, restorer, hospital for the new birth, training centre for world outreach. Mitchell, along with others, was born to that task and purpose, a small but significant piece in the plan of God. He was not chosen because of his talent or ability, but for the same reason that Jesus chose the twelve disciples; to show what he could do with the weak and foolish to confound the wise. A church in Arizona, handcrafted by the Spirit of God, would become a pattern of what was possible to the weakest of God’s people, if they did it God’s way. Not the story of one man, but of hundreds and then thousands passing through and open door God has made possible for His church before Christ’s return.
This isn’t the story of an easy way to revival. The fact is that if the churches
The Bible waxes large in stories of people who held onto nothing but hope. Who talked of promises that others laughed at. Yet, of a people who in the appointed time saw Gods power revealed. God wants to show his power today to those that will first allow him to show them his will.
Out of Prescott Arizona God has sent out a vision that has in 12 years seen over 350 churches started from scratch all over the world. Evangelists have developed that see miracles on a scale that boggles the mind, and converts are filled with a vision to touch the world. A man trusted what God said and has seen the potential that lies in serving God. It wasn’t easy for Jacob to plant his seed in a drought, but he obeyed and there was a supernatural multiplication. The story of Prescott and what it led to is the same. In a small town God brought not a few but a seeming endless stream of young men with exceptional talent. Brought them as sinners and turned them into powerful preachers that pastors hundreds and preach like flames of fire. Finances have come out of common unpretentious people and commitment is seen in those that attend that would thrill the heart of any pastor. Not just a few people, but thousands are spending there free time to see the Kingdom established in their cities and lands. There isn’t a pastor with an honest heart that wouldn’t say I want that. Yet God works his will different than man, and the road to revival is often rutted winding roads that seem to lead along strange paths and in wrong directions.
The heroes of the ‘50’s worked hard at laying the groundwork for a future generation of rebels, James Dean was violent, but cool. “The Wild One”, Marlon Brando, made bikes and leather a symbol of an age. Mitchell was part of this culture. He was Napoleonic both in size and in trouble making ability. His hawk-like features never graced the local church choir. In fact, it’s a miracle that they weren’t on the post office wall. Raised in the rough and tumble action of a redneck community, he seemed better prepared to warm a bar stool with a cowboy hat on his head than to preach.
He’d grown up in Prescott, Arizona, a town with a history of mines, booze, rodeos, and fighting. Mitchell was a true “Native Son”. He describes himself as a “two-bit hoodlum”, who never got caught at his small-time larceny. He was a thief, burglar, and embezzler. If things really got tough, he wasn’t above rolling a drunk for some quick cash.
Mitchell came from a broken home. His father had a weakness for gambling and drinking that turned out what society labelled a candidate for failure. He was of the breed (common in those days in the West) that would be labelled “Okie” or “Arky”, depending on what form of insult you wanted to hurl.
He struggled through High School, and graduated more by sympathy than scholarship. The year 1948 brought graduation, followed by immediate enlistment in the Air Force. The main marks that the service left on him were some discipline and a slightly crooked nose, which had been broken while fighting as a Golden Gloves contender.
As 1952 rolled around, Wayman found himself out of the service and back in Arizona. While chasing the ladies in Phoenix, he met Nelda Sue Henderson at a dance in the riverside ballroom. Nelda was a romance novel junkie and, in some ways, their life would be like a plot from on of those stories. Not because of Mitchell’s romantic nature, but through a romance that started in tragedy and blossomed into victory. The two of them drank full cups of tears and joy. Their start in married life was rough. He had been jobless for months when their first little girl was born. Hell tried to crush them, when suddenly the baby got pneumonia and died within hours. Life had thrown them a knock-out blow, but God intervened through a brother who was going to a Foursquare church. Out of the crisis of this experience, the Mitchells made their beginning, stumbling steps towards God.
It would be nice to say that they immediately became two on fire Christians, but at first the light was more of a flicker. These were days of the most blatant spiritual ignorance, even in Pentecostal churches. Many of the great concepts of the Spirit were just forming in the hearts of different men, but for the Mitchells there was really little challenging them towards a life totally committed to God. It wasn’t that the church didn’t believe in tongues, miracles, dominion, revival and faith. They just had no idea how to release them. The church they began to attend was Pentecostal, but little was happening and the Mitchells soon fell into a rut.
One day Mitchell’s faith was attacked by a Mormon he was working with. The encounter forced him to look at God’s Word himself, to discover what, to him, was a new and powerful truth on the redemptive power of the blood of Jesus Christ. Thinking and studying on this had stirred him tremendously.
On a Sunday morning in 1955, all these things were about to come into focus. As he prepared for church that morning, he was thinking of this exciting new concept and listening to a radio service with Oral Roberts. In those days, Roberts was in his prime. Travelling the country with his gospel tent, he was fanning the flames of the “Latter Rain” revival. As Mitchell listened to Roberts preaching on the radio, he began to feel his back tingle and power run up and down his spine. With no real thought about what all of this meant he went on to the morning service at his own church. He didn’t expect anything special that day, but did respond to the alter call. Another man came and laid his hand on Mitchell’s back to pray with him. Instantly Mitchell was filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking in other tongues. This was an over powering experience. No one had told him to repeat “Aba Daba Do” or to go through the vowels rapidly. The fact was that he was almost totally ignorant of the Holy Spirit until that moment when God moved. Yet, God hit him with power and revealed His glory. Mitchell began to prophecy; speaking of how God was going to move powerfully, “In the nations of the world and the Islands of the sea”. As he spoke, he knew that this was a message to him, but the idea seemed so far- fetched to him then that he couldn’t work up the nerve to share with anyone else that he was to be the man God used, so he let the Phoenix church think it was for them. The seed of God had been planted. Destiny was unfurling and Wayman was drunk on the new wine of the Spirit. Unable to leave the alter, his wife had to wait around for him until long after the others had gone home.
Mitchell didn’t explode out of that service onto the revival circuit. In fact, to be honest, he didn’t even quit smoking for several more month, but God was working. These were days of decision and formation. As a young man of 25 he didn’t fall into the mould of those that were around him. The church he attended was a nice little flock with a good reputation in Arizona, yet most of its members were far from mobilized for God. Mitchell felt different. He never could quite understand how others could be saved and yet seem to appreciate the gospel so little. Other could sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus,” and then spend their time vacationing, fishing, and acting like they did God a favour whenever they allowed Him to break into their schedule, but Mitchell could not.
His call to preach came on an Easter morning. His wife had already gone to
church and he was preparing to go to work. Before he left that morning, though,
he set aside some time to seek God. While he was kneeling there, alone, God
called him to preach. It wasn’t an overpowering experience, and yet it was real
enough to survive the years of testing and assault that faced him. He went to
his pastor and she gave him the standard advice, “Go to
He enrolled in a year’s correspondence course, but it was never the esoteric realm of theology that moved him. Like most men, he was made to learn from the practical experiences of life. Books and study were a part of his life, but the truths stayed locked inside them when they were not brought out in the arena of life. What he thrived on were those times when the men of the church headed for the parks or went out to skid row to preach. It was there that he felt a spiritual excitement that the classroom kept trying to choke out.
It was during this time that he had a dream that was out of the ordinary. It was
so vivid and clear in every detail that he knew it had to be from God. He was
preaching in a magnificent church, to a crowd of influential people. The message
rolled out of him, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every
creature.” When he arrived in
His struggle with
School was a bad experience. Mitchell throbbed with energy ready to be unleashed. His wiry raw-boned frame sought release that never seemed to come. More was taught about what not to do than what to de, and many of the ill-directed concepts he learned took him years to forget. In their late 20’s, the Mitchells were not the formable lumps of clay the professors were accustomed to shaping. His wife refused to submit that first year to the school’s “no smoking” rule, and Mitchell wouldn’t accept teachings that leaned towards Calvinistic doctrine. Aggression had been one of his main characteristics before he was saved and he still saw no reason to bend before what, to him, was obvious error. Standing for what he believed, earned him the title of a rebel, as it does today.
His battle with school was due to a lack of motivation rather than ability. His
mind was a steel trap that clutched whatever it took in. His tremendous
analytical ability made him a natural problem solver. Anything electrical or
Mechanical was a snap for him. When he came to
Soon he was hired by a coin-operated laundry equipment company. The job was simple and gave him lots of time for study, but paid a very minimal salary. In just a few weeks, a better offer came along from Flying Tiger Airlines. It meant long hours and many distractions, but a lot of money! Mitchell turned it down. He faced the critical choice of God or Mammon and from that decisive moment the gospel, not money, would always have priority in his life.
The fifties were a time of growing American prosperity; Dobie Gillis philosophized about girls, and shows like, “leave it To Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” and “Ozzie and Harriet” laid out a comfortable self-centred morality. The goal of the nation was to enjoy itself. Most people felt that prosperity, and all that went with it, was a spiritual right. They ran after it like a chicken after corn. Mitchell chose a different course. He wanted to give himself to school and study completely. It didn’t matter that the school wasn’t what he wanted it to be, or that his family limped from bill to bill, barely hanging on to financial solvency. God had called and he would follow.
He threw himself into college, but it was a battle. The school had sprung out of Pentecostal revival fires. Originally it had been formed to equip evangelists, but as time went on, it had drifted more and more towards a copy of other religious institutions. The faculty began to be filled with those who had failed as pastors and were promoted into teaching others. By the time Mitchell got there, many in the school’s faculty looked down on divine healing, the gifts of the Spirit, and even the revival ministry itself.
For Mitchell this was discouraging, because like the needle of a compass, his heart pointed in the direction of God’s moving. Not offering any actual practical experience, the school concentrated on concepts and ideas. This gave him a good foundation in the Word, but left him practically unprepared for the day to day realities of pasturing.
It was here at school that one of his most offensive habits began to show up – honesty. Mitchell was incapable of the duplicity and glad-handing of the plastic gospel that was becoming common. It always boggled Mitchell’s mind that Jesus could say, “Let your yea be yea,” and yet, the trait was so rare among those called to represent him. Nothing would get Mitchell in more trouble than to call a liar a liar or a snake a snake.
The term, “Tell it like it is”, could have been invented to describe him. He never wanted to be anything but what he was, yet this seemed to offend many. In the church world, “love” was often used to mask truth, and to keep people from having to be totally honest. Yet Mitchell couldn’t see this in the life of Christ, and he enraged many of his contemporaries by his total candidness. If he’s mad at you, he lets you know, and if he likes you it can be seen by all. This was refreshing to those who had an honest heart, but seemed rebellious to many others. Injustice and hypocrisy were two things he hate. Age and years of service meant nothing to him unless they were linked to spiritual maturity. He was never able to pretend things were all right when they weren’t and stepped on many toes because of this.
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