An Open Door - The History of the Potter's House Christian Fellowship
Time after time the Prescott church had seen God move in other areas of the state only to watch the converts die from lack of care. Mitchell knew that the missing factor was the church. Mitchell had a love affair with the local church. He knew its beauty and power, and yet found few pastors who would release its potential. He tried to work with existing churches, but they were marching to the beat of a different drummer. Mitchell had been led step by step towards church planting. He didn't start with that idea, but he didn't flee from it as it became the obvious solution. He had men who he believed could pastor. The organization labeled them unprepared without schooling, but Mitchell saw this as their strength. They were prepared, but it was in the school of the practical. He knew that normal channels wouldn't open doors for these preachers. God would have to open the door. If none of the other churches seemed to see the opportunities that were around them, that was their problem. He decided to unshackle the men that God had given him, and was only waiting for the right opportunity. Two doors opened simultaneously. Several outreaches had been held with real success in the city Mitchell had started in, Wickenburg, Arizona. Then a call came, also, from the little mesquite covered town of Kearny, Arizona. Located about 50 miles from Tucson, it seemed a ripe fruit ready to pick. Several outreaches had gone well there, and some Charismatic people had been reached who were beginning to harass Mitchell about sending them a pastor. The group was meeting in a local businessman's living room, and when Mitchell questioned them about their interest, their response made the city seem like a real opportunity. Mitchell's surprise announcement that they were sending out their first church that Sunday created a wave of excitement. The initial response was overwhelming. Money and pledges of support poured in. Everyone knew that this was the New Testament coming alive.
Pastor Mitchell decided to send Ron Jones and Harold Warner down to Kearny, to
check out the land in the Spring of 1973. If it looked good, then Warner would
start the first church there. It was a New Testament picture as they gathered in
the jeweler's living room for services. From the start, though, it was rough as
this businessman began to show signs that he wanted to be in control.
They had arrived in town with a small but usable gospel tent. A failing evangelist had learned why tent revivals had stopped and made Mitchell a deal he couldn't refuse. Warner and Jones rolled out the canvas on a vacant lot in town, for revival services on the weekend. The local dog club soon showed up asking if they could use the tent during the day. Trained to take advantage of every opening, the men agreed, as long as Ron was the show judge. Poodles and Dachsunds marched passed his critical eye. Finally he gave his verdict and with it obeyed the gospel command to "Preach to all creatures." He preached a short sermon and pulled the altar call. Sadly it was a rough and willfully sinful crowd of animals out that day and none responded, but Jones and Warner had a great time.
The evening services were everything that could be hoped for. Several young drug addicts got saved and they brought their friends. Kids were getting saved in large numbers and Warner, fired up by the response, was preaching like a pro, but the more he preached the more he knew things just weren't going to work out in Kearny. The people who had invited them were offended by Warner's evangelistic zeal and the door was slowly swinging shut.
As Saturday morning dawned, Jones and Warner arrived for their swan song in the local parade. Somehow they had heard about the parade and gotten themselves in. They didn't have anything but each other and a portable p.a., but that was all they needed. The two of them were having a ball walking along behind the bands and clowns blasting the crowd, when upon coming over a hill Warner saw the face of the man who had invited them. His expression made it clear that everything was over. For Jones and Warner proclaiming Jesus to the city was the purpose of the gospel, but for this man it was the last straw.
It was becoming obvious that the best growth was that made up of new converts. Jesus had warned the disciples about "old wine skins" and the need to build on the new. In the New Testament church the record shows that many Jews came in, but it was never a comfortable fit. They wanted to keep the old ways, and they fought the Apostles, while the Gentiles flowed with the moving of the Holy Spirit.
Warner called home to Mitchell and told him the situation, and he said, "No problem, just come on home and we'll do something else."
That Sunday night Harold preached his farewell sermon, only five days after starting, yet, he preached a message of faith on how they could take the land. Mitchell brought a truck down to meet them the next morning to help carry back the tent. The rain was falling gently as they pulled out into the desert landscape. They followed behind Mitchell in Harold's Dodge Colt only stopping long enough to call Jones's wife from just outside Globe so they would have a hot meal waiting.
They pulled back out on the road driving towards Prescott, when on a sweeping curve the tires lost their grip. Squealing free of their hold on the road, the car went out of control. Warner screamed, "Oh my Jesus," as the car rocketted off a thirty foot embankment. It rolled over and over. Windows exploded, the two were thrown about like match sticks, along with everything loose in the car. The roof came crashing in and both knew that at any minute they would wake to find themselves in eternity.
Jones was yelling, "Oh Jesus," when he heard a ghastly snapping sound that seemed to come from Harold. The car finally rolled to a stop on its wheels fifty feet from the highway. They both sat speechless for a minute trying to figure out what had happened. Jones looked over at Warner, and he looked fine. "Praise the Lord, are you all right?" he asked.
"Yea, I think so," Warner said, wincing. "Thank you Jesus. Just come around and get this thing off my head."
There was nothing on his head.
Fear began to choke him as he realized what this meant. Though bruised and beaten, Jones ran around to Harold's side of the car. The pain was too much to get Harold out of the car, and he had to leave him trapped. Scrambling and slipping, he ran up the bank to get help. Car after car refused to stop, and finally he went out into the middle of the road forcing a truck to pull over. The ambulance arrived quickly, but the report was bad. Not only had Harold's back been broken, but his spinal cord had been irreparably damaged.
The ambulance raced through the night to St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix. Harold had the worst response possible: he felt nothing as he and Jones prayed. Though they were both believing for a miracle, that night none came.
Some people act like the Devil is just a childhood fantasy. Satan, to them, is
just a fairy tale figure like Santa Claus or a mythical figure used to explain
man's own base psychological nature. Pastor Mitchell knew there was a literal
Devil who fights the plan and will of God. He knew his mark and had experienced
his attacks before. This accident, Mitchell knew, bore the trade marks of the
Prince of Darkness.
No work of God comes without a confrontation. Struggle, opposition and sorrow have haunted God's people for centuries in the battle that rages across planet Earth for the souls of men. The Devil was launching a major assault against an arising enemy to his kingdom: the Prescott church.
The news about Harold exploded like a bomb in the church. Out of nowhere, opposition began to arise. Phones rang constantly from the time people learned about the tragedy. Lips flapped. A group was quickly formed that knew Mitchell had missed God completely when he had started to plant churches. "Who is he to do things differently than others?" these people asked. The church needed to be like those around them, and leave their pastor's far-fetched ideas of reaching the lost behind. They defensively claimed that they loved Pastor, but they had to help him back to what God wanted for the church.
Entering that Wednesday night service was like entering a morgue. The body was divided, and even the good hearts were confused. Harold had been the best the church had. He was a gospel machine, studying, preaching, and witnessing. How could God let something like this happen to him?
That Wednesday night service was as critical as any Mitchell ever preached. The whole tremendous revival seemed to be ready to disappear in smoke. Mitchell, though, was a fighter, and God spoke to him of his days as a boxer, and how the best defense was a good offense. If they hit you, you hit them back.
That night he stood and made no excuses. He laid out what God had told him and said, "If you can't take the heat then get out of the kitchen." "God spoke to me and told me to send Harold to Kearny. Now, he is lying paralyzed in a hospital bed and doctors tell me that he may never walk again," Mitchell said, choking back tears. "Why is he in the hospital, you ask? Because the Devil would love nothing better than to stop us now. This church has a vision and we will carry it out. And if the Devil takes one man, we'll send out ten in his place."
"The Word of God is clear. 'Go ye into all the world.' That we will do! If you think I'm wrong, if you think the Word of God is wrong, so be it. There's the door!"
Then Pastor Mitchell called for those who would take Harold and Mona's place. He challenged couples not to let the Devil stop them but to turn defeat into victory. Up to the front came 25 couples who said they would go. It was an emotional experience and many of them were changed for eternity.
Harold's best friend was Greg Johnson. Greg had fought the call tooth and nail, but that night he and his wife Robin came forward, weeping, to say, "Send us." They were in the ministry pastoring within the year. A handful of the disgruntled left murmuring curses of judgment, but the majority of the three hundred members stood firm. This was a church that would fight.
God always has looked for fighters. His men could cut the heads off a few hundred false prophets as well as prophesy. The great leaders in the Bible were also warriors. Moses, Daniel, David, Joshua, Gideon and a host of others knew how to battle. Over and over the Spirit has spoken to His people, "to only be brave and courageous."
The Devil hadn't rolled over when he faced Jesus, and he wouldn't stop because a church began to speak in tongues, either. No, the Bible had to be crammed down his filthy throat. "The Kingdom suffers violence and the violent take it by force."
Jesus knew this and didn't gather great intellects around Him, but raw street thugs like the "Sons of Thunder." They might be asleep at prayer meetings, but when action was needed they were ready to call fire down or pull out the blade. Jesus had to re-channel their energies into new paths, but they never lost that aggressive cutting edge. These were men who could laugh at death and stand fearless before torture and threats.
Prescott was short on gentle scholars but it was loaded with fighters who would rise to a challenge. Mitchell sent out the first church to Wickenburg, Arizona, and began to lay the strategy for others soon to follow.
Among the key fighters was Harold himself. Many thought that he was through, but he didn't. Laying there in the hospital, no one heard him complain. For him nothing had really changed, because he knew that he was still called. After four months in the hospital he came home and Mitchell gave him no time to worry about his future. He had him preach the next service.
Mitchell promised him a place in Prescott, but Harold wanted nothing to do with that. "No, pastor," Warner said, "God called me to preach, and that's what I'll do." Only three months after being released from the hospital, Harold opened in an old mission building that had somehow escaped demolition in Tucson. His wheelchair became a common sight to the locals as he went from outreach to outreach, building the church of Jesus against incredibly immense odds.
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