An Open Door - The History of the Potter's House Christian Fellowship
Every major event in the Bible was predicted well before it ever came to pass. Though man has a part in the work of God, the final outcome is because God has determined that His promises will be fulfilled.
It wasn't the brilliance of the twelve disciples that built the early church. They were good but simple men who, left to themselves, would have made little impact on Galilee, let alone the world. It was impossible for them to understand the full plan that God had for them. Peter was called a devil by Christ Himself for his lack of insight. Even after the resurrection and birth of the church, Paul had to rebuke Peter for falling into the trap of religion.
Only divine intervention kept the church moving forward. Visions of sheep and pigs, supernatural outpourings of the Spirit, divinely inspired persecution, and angelic visitations, all played a critical part.
Hundreds of years before Moses came on the scene, God had revealed the date the people would be freed. Paul did great things, yet it wasn't a surprise. A prophet, at his conversion, had marked him as a chosen vessel. The prophets had it drilled into their heads that God had picked them way before they picked God.
Many of those who have done a work for God have found comfort in this truth. John Wesley commonly referred to himself as, "a brand pulled from the fire." As a child he should have burned to death in the inferno that engulfed his parent's home, but he was rescued. He knew that God had preserved him for a task, and confidently trusted God to help him do His will. He understood that the great revival he was given credit for was actually a work of God, not man.
Brother Mitchell knew that most of the impact of revival he experienced was in spite of him, not because of. His role was critical, but God's was essential. Several times he would have taken a wrong turn or made what could have been a fatal error only to have God move in to change his direction at the critical time. This built in him a tremendous confidence in the promises of God.
As a young, barely saved Christian he had received the promise that his life would count. He wasn't even looking to be used when God filled him with the Holy Ghost, but laying there with waves of the Spirit moving through him, he knew that he'd been separated to a task. The vision he received of his preaching in Angeles Temple only made this more of a reality.
At critical times, God had spoken to his heart and reaffirmed His promise. In Canada, under the assault of doubt and pressures, God had spoken to him in prayer through Isaiah 54: 17, "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against you in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me." He might face opposition from every direction, but again and again the words came alive to let him know that God was fighting for him, and that he was promised continuing revival.
In July, 1967, God used Dick Mills to speak through Isaiah 58:11, "And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." This was great comfort in the battle. Reading farther in that chapter, vs. 12 exploded in his heart, "And they that be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in." At the time this made no sense to him, but he marked it down and found real comfort in it.
Mitchell looked back from Prescott on a history of taking churches that had been destroyed and seeing God use him to rebuild and restore. Three of the churches he'd taken had been devastated by moral problems, and every church was on the verge of disappearing into obscurity and spiritual death. As he began to plant churches, those words which had been spoken years before were beginning to become clear. He saw the fulfillment of these promises in what was happening in Prescott, but he felt that God had something larger in store than what had happened up to that point. The whole church world was stumbling forward in the dark. Most churches seemed to be stymied and bogged down in stifling structures and concepts generated in the world. The very denomination he was a part of had lost the vibrant touch of life that once marked it. He felt that, somehow, God would allow Prescott to be a part in restoration.
Another anchoring word to his vision was Isaiah 54: 13, "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children." At the time that these words were spoken he thought they applied to his own five children, and in a way, they did, as all of them grew up to serve God. But over time, it became clear that God had meant this to apply to his spiritual children. These young pastors battled with their calling, but God had promised that He would teach them, and He did.
Mitchell was aware of all the techniques in Christianity for motivat- ing people. He had tried to build churches with programs and plans, and had followed after each new concept that had swept through the church when he was a beginning, struggling pastor. He knew that Prescott was a move of God and that more was involved than just a new spiritual gimmick. He knew that structure and tools were important, but the only explanation for what was taking place around him was that it was due to the Spirit of God.
He could see clearly how God had opened the doors that had blessed the church. God had brought Mitchell in contact with the Jesus People movement and brought the band together at the critical time. God had forced the church into church planting. God had put a desire in Mitchell's heart to help these men and expand the impact of the church. Only God could have opened the door into Mexico that Prescott stumbled through. Mitchell had confidence that if God had opened these doors, He would open others.
Mitchell was determined that he would allow God to direct. His job was to work at staying receptive, flexible and obedient. He also refused to be turned aside from what God had already given them. The more the impact of the vision grew, the greater the pressure was from those outside, to control and re-direct it. But Mitchell wasn't interested in changing or streamlining the vision, and he certainly wasn't interested in blending the methods of Prescott with the church world around him. He had a simple, unshakable faith in God's directing. It wasn't his revival, it was God's. He was a steward of a sacred trust, and wasn't interested in experimenting. Those in the unity movement and those with organizational minds would call this obstinate, but Mitchell called it being faithful.
Nothing would show a greater degree of divine involvement than the way in which God brought others into relationship with the fellowship at just the right moments. As the church reached out, it found most pastors uninterested in what was happening. Mitchell was open to help or encourage anyone who might come along, but few could see how a church in a little town like Prescott could help them. This wasn't true, though, of everyone.
Several critical men had come from outside. Ron Jones had come in from the Assemblies of God. Walworth came into contact with Cruz at God's moment. A large part of what Mitchell hoped to do was tied to 109 being able to help receptive pastors from outside. As the fellowship began to grow more and more, God brought it into contact with those looking for something more.
Key men came in to join hands with the men who had been raised up in Prescott. Joe Campbell had been saved under Ron Jones' ministry, but he stayed in Illinois and went into the ministry there. As time passed, he became frustrated with the organization he was a part of, and finally got back in touch with Jones and came to Arizona.
Harry Hills had been a successful pastor and evangelist. Seeking revival, he'd used every trick in the book. One fateful Sunday he created the world's longest banana split after church.
From his first contact with the fellowship, Harry knew it was for him. Not worrying about the consequences, he pulled his church in Sparta, Illinois, out of his organization. Several excellent families followed, forming a core of people that would lead to the opening up of a multitude of churches.
A man who would playa significant role in the vision of the tcllowship was Ruben Reyna. Raised in East Los Angeles, hanging out at Roosevelt High, he started using LSD and mescaline heavily. He spent most of his time in high school just hanging out at a place called Blueberry Hill. Pushing drugs to make a living, he was headed for the gutter, or prison.
His life was made up of the East L.A. gang fights, drugs and immorality. Though he escaped prison, he didn't escape doing time in the local jail, but considered this to be the small price you had to pay to be accepted.
He'd had encounters with religion, but none of them had ever moved him. He'd bounced from Catholicism to Mormonism to Jesus only and had been baptized so many times he was getting wrinkles, but nothing seemed to help.
Everything began to change when he ran into a guy named Sam. He was a notorious old dope fiend who had gotten saved. Sam started to lay it on Ruben. It shook him up so much that he went out and ate all the drugs he could find, then got drunk on top of it. When he came home to his wife, Stella, they had their typical fight, and Ruben told her, "I'm going to find Jesus." Stella packed his bags and sent him on his way.
Ruben found Sam's house and knocked on his door. When he opened it, Ruben didn't waste any time. He shouted, "Hey, I want Jesus!"
Sam knelt him down and led him to the Lord.
Sam was working with Victory Outreach, a church that Sonny Argonzoni had started to reach drug addicts. They had a home where they kept guys to dry them out, and Sam took Ruben there.
Ruben walked in expecting to see a bunch of religious sissies and was shocked to see a room filled with guys straight off the streets. When he walked in, he was greeted with, "Hey, what's happening, Porky? What's going on?"
Ruben asked, "What do you mean, what's going on?"
The guy said, "Jesus changed my life, man."
He didn't know how to handle this. He said, "Ah, you guys are getting loaded."
They hustled him upstairs to the third floor and put him in a room with another guy who was kicking heroin. His name was Hank and he looked like he'd been through Hell and back, but he turned to Ruben and said, ''I'm going to make it, through the power of Jesus."
The next morning he woke up to a bunch of guys shaking him and saying, "Let's pray." Ruben thought to himself, "O.K. one short prayer, then I'm out."
He went downstairs and joined everyone else. Someone said, "Let's hold hands and pray."
Ruben said, "I'll never hold hands with no one. Only sissies hold hands."
A guy near him said menacingly, "We're going to hold hands!"
Ruben looked around and saw that most of the guys there were bigger than he was. Several of them were tattooed down and straight out of the joint. At that moment, he got a new vision of hand holding and said, "So, we're going to hold hands. Fine."
The men stood in a circle and started to praise God. Ruben couldn't believe he was involved in this. Here he was with a bunch of reformed junkies', who had their heads back, while bouncing on their toes speaking at the top of their voices in strange tones. Ruben knew that he'd stumbled into a cult. He opened his eyes to see what was happening and as he did he saw a guy on the other side of the circle looking at him. He thought, "Oh no, they've caught me looking."
Finally a missionary walked in the back door and everybody quieted down and began to listen while she told about Jesus, repentance, and the coming Kingdom. After finishing she began walking down the line of men, laying hands on each of them. As she did this, each of these big burly ex-cons collapsed to the floor.
She must have had some kind of electric buzzer in her hands, he thought, because every time she touched one of them they were electrocuted. He was standing at the end of the line and didn't know what to do. She got closer and closer.
Finally she reached him and asked, "What's your name?"
"Ruben." "Do you know that God wants to use you?" she said. And with that she touched him and he fell back on the sofa.
Ruben couldn't believe it. He thought, "No woman's going to push me around," and leaped back up and took a Karate stance in front of her.
She walked up to him and said, "I told you, God wants to use your life. I want you to say a prayer with me." Ruben prayed a prayer with her and began to weep like a little baby. He (ell to his knees and, as he did, he felt something ugly leave him. It was like a dark cloud had been taken from his heart and a flame had taken its place. His hands shot up in the air and he couldn't have taken them down ifhe wanted to. He left the place transformed.
When he got home, Stella wasn't nearly as excited as he was. She looked at him and said, "You're a hypocrite. You ain't saved. You've flipped out on drugs this time for sure."
Several months of battles ensued before Stella got right. At first she said she was going back to the Catholic church, but over time she began to get interested in what he was doing. She thought that he might have a girlfriend at church, so at first she came just to make sure. While they were standing in the service she laid into him, "You're a hypocrite. Look at you lifting your hands up. You're playing the part in front of all these people."
Ruben wanted to hit her. He said a prayer, "God, you know that I can't stand this nagging and I'm going to hit this woman if she doesn't stop it. Put a wall between us." In that moment it was as if God had built an invisible wall. Ruben could only hear a little squeaking mousetype sound from Stella's raving.
That day she went forward and got saved.
Ruben had been a real introvert with no friends and a lack of trust for anyone. When he got saved, there was a miraculous transformation that turned him into someone with boldness. He would slip out into the hills and pray, "God, give me a personality. If you want me to go and preach, I'll go, but you'll have to show me and help me. I'm just a puppet to the world, and I can't put words together." God answered that prayer in ways beyond Ruben's dreams.
He had felt called to preach the day he got saved, so he signed up for Bible College. He had hated school before, but now he was filled with a desire to know the Word. No one thought he would make it through school, because he couldn't read or write, but God filled him with a violent commitment to make it. He spent nights praying for God to teach him out of the Bible and God did. He graduated from school with Ns and B's.
Two major forces shaped him during this time. One was a Spanish man at the school named Camarillo. He taught straight from the Word and demonstrated what he said with his life. This profoundly impacted Ruben.
A second important encounter occurred when he went as the driver, with a brother named Cal on a missionary journey to Washington. At the end of thc first day they stopped and Cal said, "We've got to pray."
Ruben wasn't sure how to pray, but Cal took the lead and started. Ruben could feel the presence of God. He knew that things were breaking and changing. That night left: him permancntly changed, as he saw and kIt the power of a man who could pray.
Two years after getting saved Ruben went out to preach. One day Sonny Arguinzoni came and got him. As they drove he said, "God's been really dealing with me that you should go to La Puenta."
Ruben said, "O.K. I'll go."
Just before they were to leave, Ruben was back behind the house praying, when God spoke to him to go find Stella. He came into the house and (mnd his wife standing there with the keys in her hands and a wild look in her eyes. Ruben asked, "Where are you going?"
She yelled back at him, "Don't talk to me, I'm going to go get loaded." He grabbed the keys. "Well let me pray for you", Ruben pleaded. She ran for her room and locked the door. Ruben was frantic. He pounded on the door and, when she wouldn't open it up, he broke the door down. As he entered the room he began to rebuke the Devil and commanded him to leave. As he did this he felt something leave through the window.
Stella came to him, crying. She sobbed, "I was under fear and attack, but now I'm free."
Ruben was left in La Puenta with nothing but a portable P.A. system. A lady in town heard about him and loaned him her house. It: had been converted into a church with pews and equipment. The first service one guy named Pat Fitzgerald got saved. At first there were only three men coming and they never wanted to sit in the chairs. It: wasn't uncommon to decide to shut the service down and head for the streets to do some witnessing.
That first crowd was brought together by raw determination. Ruben and Stella would hit the streets, going door to door. Ruben and a brother came to one house to find a hopeless doper named Joe Garcia. He had an earring, jeweled glasses and a cane. He'd used drugs for 20 years, but Ruben believed God could change him. He went to church that night, but what touched him wasn't the service, it was Ruben and his family. They didn't have any money themselves, but stopping to get one hamburger they excitedly divided it into four parts, rejoicing that God had allowed them to have that. Joe got saved that night and delivered from drugs.
Ruben brought Bob Dool in to preach and the place was packed. In fact, they came the next service to find that City Hall had shut them down for overcrowding the building, so they borrowed a church in Pico Rivera.
It was here in Pico Rivera that they started a band that would play all over the Southwest. With it they began to hit parks and do street concerts. After the Sunday night service everyone would head down to Whittier Boulevard to witness. It wasn't long before that place was packed too.
The church was made up of ex-drug addicts and Chollos. It was a wild crowd and wild things often happened. In one service a gang showed up outside the service wanting to drag out one of its members. Ruben was about to preach, but decided to dismiss church and go out and witness. At first the gang panicked, thinking th~ whole church was going to jump them. Before they could run, people were pressing the claims of Christ. Several got saved that night and are still attending the church.
One year they entered the Pasadena Rose Parade. The band was playing and Richard Salizar preached. He yelled out at a crowd of young men, "I challenge you." He wanted them to get saved, but they thought he wanted to fight. Luckily the truck had hydraulics and the driver lifted it up out of harm.
A favorite activity was to take the whole church and have a march. People would be beating tambourines and singing lustily, ''I'm so glad Jesus set me free!" It was a radical thing to do in those East Los Angeles neighborhoods.
The church was having building problems again when Larry Gates called. "How would you like to have a building where everything is paid for?" he asked. Needless to say, Ruben was ecstatic. A Baptist church had gone under, and this man was one of the last members of the deacon board. He respected what was happening with these changed lives and signed the property over, so the church made another move into Monterey Park.
Ruben came in contact with Prescott through an evangelist friend, Phillip La Crue. Phillip had preached in some of the churches in Mexico. He got Ruben to go down and preach. While he was there, he became friends with Sergio Gaxiola who was leading the Mexican works. Sergio started to harass Ruben to come to a conference. At first, he acted too busy, but finally he agreed to go.
Ruben had been pastoring for three years when he first showed up. His church was throbbing with revival. He knew he had favor with God. As he stepped into the Prescott church, he wasn't expecting much and was a little afraid of getting taken. His first impression came from the sounds of prayer. It sounded to him like a beehive. He looked in and saw Pastor Mitchell down on his knees in the middle of everyon'e else praying. The pastors he knew had always prayed by themselves and this seemed radical to him. When he noticed that Mitchell was at every prayer meeting, he said, "This is what I want".
He and Stella were overcome by the power of what was happening. The first night of the conference Mitchell preached about Solomon and how God gave him wisdom and understanding. During that service God began to speak to Ruben. He had begun to feel like there was more to pastoring than just a worship service and large numbers. He fclt an emptiness that he couldn't identify.
When Mitchell started to talk about how God had given Solomon a vision, it became clear to him why he was in Prescott. God wanted him to start planting churches and move on into what He had planned for him.
That week he talked to Mitchell about church planting. Mitchell didn't try to take control of him or bring him into his camp. He just shared with him what he'd learned. He laid out a strategy for supporting a starting work. Ruben went home that next week and sent Danny Zendejas to Oxnard, California.
Ruben kept showing up at conferences and in each one he was challenged to send out more men. More important to him, though, he finally found direction. Not the control that others wanted to exert over him, but simple guidance of practical ideas and fellowship that was what he really wanted.
Ruben's church had been started by raw zeal, with little structure. Services sometimes lasted half the night. The people loved it, but the reality was they were tired the next day. Even more frustrating was that many would shout all day Sunday and sin all day Monday. Out of fellowship with Prescott, he saw how much more important the word of God was than programs or pumped up emotions. When the Word was made the center of the service and the preaching had content, it worked deep into people's lives.
Ruben had always known that God planned on using him for great things. It wasn't fruitfulness he needed. What he needed was encouragement to do the things that God was dealing with him about in evangelism and outreach. He found a precious treasure in the challenge and counsel. Something that helped him to see God's plan fulfilled in his life.
The church moved into seven different school auditoriums while looking for a building. Finally they moved 25 miles to Norwalk where they were able to buy a piece of property. While the building was being remodeled, and they haggled with City Hall over the necessary changes. They met in a tent on the parking lot. For nearly a year, through rain, heat, and cold, the people came. They never even got a chance to settle into the building before having to remodel time after time to hold the people that kept swarming in. As of 1985, over 45 churches have been planted. The mother church has over 700 coming with more being saved every week.
Mitchell appreciated men like Ruben Reyna and wanted to help them. Many men would be drawn to Prescott's conferences. Men with a call and real ministry, men who were looking for fellowship and counsel. For many, pastoring was like walking into an unmarked field of land mines. Scattered through the field they could see the carcasses of those who had only made it part way-those who had no guide through the dangers. Mitchell cared about these men! He knew that God wanted to help and Mitchell did, too.
A group of young pastors were having coffee with Pastor Mitchell at a denominational convention in Las Vegas. They could see the death that was in many of the pastors attending and were concerned about how they could avoid the same tate.
Mitchell told them his simple formula. When I go someplace I first ask, "God do you want me to come here?" If He says, "no", then I ask, "What can I do to help?" How powerful the church becomes when it stops figuring out what it can get and asks what it can do.
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