An Open Door - The History of the Potter's House Christian Fellowship
As Mitchell drove out of
the desert into the small hills that marked the beginning of
They dropped in to a restaurant just outside of town where two of the women attending the church worked. Barb Copeland and Sharon Allen had no idea how important that day would be to the future. As he came up to the restaurant, Mitchell made up his mind that if there was anyone to work with he would come.
He told them, "I'm Pastor Mitchell and we're thinking of coming here."
They replied, "There aren't many of us left." He asked, "Are you folks going to stay?"
"We don't know," they answered. "We might if we had a good pastor."
That was all that he needed. No angel had brought a commission or written messages in the sky, but it was an open door. It was, in fact, one of the lowest times in the Mitchell's ministry, but, like David facing Zicklag, he could do nothing but trust God. Mitchell found that God can change a man's destiny overnight if he just keeps moving and believing. He told Sister Mitchell, "There's a building and a house. I can get a job if I need to, and it's a good place to raise our kids. There isn't much to work with, but there are a few people." He was tired of the denominational swan dance and was ready to build a church and forget the whole rest of the religious world.
A woman goes through nine months of stretching, pain and sickness to bear a child. Revival, too, is a miracle birth that also comes at a price. For Mitchell this wasn't nine months but nine years that had been invested in ministry.
It was 1970 when they
The first task was to right the sinking ship. The previous pastor hadn't just taken off with a woman, but also with all the money in the church. Not satisfied with just cash, he added to the disaster by leaving behind lots of unpaid bills. The telephone bill alone was over $300. The organization, of course, offered no help and expected Mitchell to pay them. One of Pastor Mitchell's first encounters in the city was embarrassing. He went to the bank to sort out the mess, and the Mormon banker, who knew about the problem, took every opportunity to rub it in. He asked if they were going to build their new building, which he knew was impossible. Pastor Mitchell wasn't concerned about his pride; he gave a half hearted smile and straightened out the situation.
Everything was falling into place. The foundations of praise and giving were laid. On the outside it appeared that little was happening, but there was much boiling beneath the surface. Some things would rise to the surface and be cast off, but the fire was applied and the purging started.
After only a month and a half Mitchell challenged them to give for an organ. When he brought this up to the church council, the typical response surfaced from one strong willed member. "We don't need one, and we couldn't afford it even if we did."
Squatting on the council were some pretty strange folks. Typical of many churches, those who should have been in control weren't and those that shouldn't have been were. One old duffer still smoked and probably had never even gotten saved. He spoke up, "This church has got on for all these years without an organ and I don't see why we need one now." Mitchell did what many a great pastor has done; he ignored them and went on.
The next Sunday he took pledges and the church responded enthusiastically. It seems a small thing today, but this was the seed of millions of dollars that would be raised in the future. The people were no longer looking to the past failures but to the future opportunities.
The first steps were slow but definite. A young man and his wife who had recently been saved began to come to the church. They had been too radical for the other churches in town, but were looking for some kind of guidance. He was leading a Bible study in his home but what he really had was a gift in music. Before getting saved he had played and written music for an up-and-coming rock band. Right at the time when his rock and roll career was taking off, a run-in with the law and a praying mother had led him to give music up. Out of this man's conversion came the birthing of a tremendous gospel rock band that brought explosive impact to that early revival.
On a warm, lazy, sunny
June afternoon Mitchell came in contact with a skinny young preacher wound as
tight as a clock's mainspring. Mitchell was in the park because of the
church's annual taco sale. Organizations set up booths in the city park,
and pictures, knick-knacks, and every kind of food was unloaded on the tourists
trying to escape the roasting temperatures of
Walking through the park was a
young man who had just finished
Jones had run into an old acquaintance from high school standing at the church's taco booth. As they talked they caught Mitchell's ear, and Mitchell came over and joined in. The two hit it off from the beginning.
Jones had been hooked on denominationalism, but something in Mitchell's words grabbed him as he declared, "We've got to win this city. I know that the traditional ways won't work, but there must be a way to reach these people for Jesus."
These were words designed to set Ron's heart singing. Jones had been raised in a Pentecostal pastor's home, but if anything, seeing the church world at such close range had driven him off. He'd done everything he could to escape the Hound of Heaven. His memories were of churches that had fought his dad's attempt to bring the real gospel. His mind was filled with troubled memories. A deacon had once knocked his dad down for nothing more than daring to start a meeting before he got there. Seared in his mind was the picture of the morning the family woke up to find the front porch covered with beer cans, not left by local thugs but by the church board who at the time was doing its best to starve the family out. These things hadn't dimmed his father's commitment to God, but they had driven him out of the ministry and had left a had taste in his son's mouth.
While in school in
She told him, "You look young enough to go out with my little sister."
"That may be the case, but I'm talking to you."
"OK," she said, and they began to date. They got married at nineteen and headed out to shake the world. Marrying Marie was Ron's best decision ever. He was high strung, she was practical. The two balanced each other out.
He'd turned his back on the
gospel by the end of high school and had been known more for drinking and
fighting than anything else. Though Jones was far from an intellectual,
Jones was a poor drinking partner back then. He tended toward religious arguments and wasn't opposed to beating up a Baptist who dared to suggest that the two of them had any chance to make heaven. Jones knew they were both headed towards Hell and reinforced this view with his fists.
While going to school he was witnessed to by another student. This young man was actually living for God and excited about it. Up until that time Ron had never really known anyone his own age who was dedicated to Christ. Meeting this man made a real impression on him.
He soon found himself driving out to an old line dancing, shouting, Pentecostal Holiness church. As a youngster he'd been a chronic seeker after the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, and once again he began to ask God to fill him, only to face a barrier. As he knelt down to pray, some around him yelled, "Let go and let God," and others called out, "grab hold," as they shook him. All Jones could see was a little Winston cigarette pack dancing and singing, "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." He soon got down to business, threw the cigarettes away, and was immediately soused in the Holy Ghost. He was actually paralyzed as he lay there speaking in tongues, caught up into another world.
That was what he needed.
He felt the call to preach, and headed off to
Jones struggled to maintain his spiritual stability. He was struck by the contradiction of training spiritual workers in a carnal atmosphere. During the first year real revival broke out. Students who had been playing church were saved and dozens were called to go to the mission field. Then the school stepped in to bank the fires and get back to classes and business as usual.
Jones personified intensity, and this got him in trouble in school and out. While going to college he worked as a barber. While in training at barber's school, a friend from church dropped by for a shave. He couldn't have picked a worse time. Jones was expecting some men from the state board to come at any moment and check out his newly developed skills. As Jones started to lather the man up, three authoritative looking men sat down in front of him. He knew they had to be from the State board.
High strung by temperament, Ron had always been horrible at tests. As a preacher, only the urgency of the Holy Ghost made him able to get up in front of people, and even then he often suffered horribly. Now, he was forced to give a shave (when no one got shaves anymore), and he knew his future depended on it. Waves of fear hit him. His hand was trembling as he took that straight edged razor and began to sharpen it. He reached deep inside himself to steady his nerves but utterly failed. His first pass across this poor man's face took a hunk of skin. Needless to say, this didn't settle his stirred emotions. He looked into the horrified eyes of his customer and leaned down with shaking hands and said, "You'd better pray." The lather around his lips began to quiver feverishly.
Jones proceeded to cut gouges out of the poor man's face. It was only after the three horrified men left that Jones found they weren't from the hoard at all, but customers that had learned who to avoid when they needed a shave.
He graduated from school
with a weakened commitment, and unsure of his future. He returned to his
When he met Mitchell that
day at the park he was wandering around thinking of his future. In all honesty,
neither of these men were that impressed with the other at their first meeting.
Mitchell was the pastor of what looked to be one of the saddest and deadest
When Ron met Mitchell at the door of the church his handshake communicated authority. Yet he had a winsome way about him. "This man has heart, leadership, and vision," Jones thought. In the service Ron felt something alive. Even with only 30 people, there was a Pentecostal fire that burned in that gathering. You could actually feel the potential of touching the world.
Here was what created the fellowship: the touch of God. Every person that came in began to feel that same pressure of destiny. This was no made-up, worked-up program, but a tangible pressure of the Holy Ghost that convinced young men and women that they could be part of destiny; from a city in the middle of nowhere, with no account people, the world could be touched.
Brother Mitchell decided
to go to a revival in
After the service Mitchell went up to talk to him. He asked him to come to Prescott and minister, but French refused. He wasn't holding many revivals at the time, but driving a truck. He was depressed about being away from his family and made a lot of excuses.
As Mitchell talked about his own frustrations in reaching people and seeing them saved, French began to tell him about what he had just seen on the West Coast where the beginnings of the Jesus People movement was just taking off. He mentioned names that, unknown to him, would become friends and co-workers of Mitchell's in the near future.
Mitchell left that night thinking about coffee houses and preachers on the beach. He didn't even have a clear idea of what a drug addict was, but he was getting excited about helping them. He knew something new was happening.
Right at this time, another brick in the building of God came into place. Jack Harris was not the material that Bible schools were looking for. In fact, the only one's that might have been looking for him at the time were the FBI. He was a born rebel. He'd joined the Navy to try to break his uncontrolled nature, but knew immediately after registering that he had made the worst mistake of his young life. Trapped in the Navy, he set himself for the first time in his life to really study. He wanted to know the symptoms of insanity, because he knew that feigned insanity was his only ticket out of the service. He soon discovered, though, that he'd tried a little too hard, and when he got out of the service he couldn't slip back into normal. The drugs, depression, hate and fear had taken over. At the veteran's hospital they informed him that he'd never function as a normal human again.
Harris had tried other
Harris got worse and tried the
oldest trick in the book. He moved. He went to
One night he dropped his wife off at a Bible study. He figured that Bible studies were good things for wives to go to, but he went to the woods and dropped some synthetic mescaline. It was a bad trip. While Harris was in another world that was full of torment, Pattie was discovering the new world of salvation. The Bible study prayed for her to get saved, and agreed in prayer that her husband would respond, too.
He got home at about two thirty in the morning. When he sat down on the bed, Pattie woke up and started to witness. He knew he couldn't keep going the way he was, so he agreed to go to church. It was there that he went to the altar and began a whole new life. Praying there that morning, he felt something that hundreds of drug trips had never given him; the awesome presence and peace of God. Mitchell looked him in the eyes and told him, "If you will never pick those drugs up, you'll never need them again." Harris knew it was true.
When he got home his friends were waiting with a new drug shipment. Harris did what no one believed possible for him. He told them that he didn't want anything to do with drugs again, and began to witness to these old buddies. If the Pope said he'd given up wearing dresses it couldn't have hit these men any harder. Jack was really free and never went back.
Mitchell saw these few young drug addicts as the beginning of a move of God. The church was still mainly old folks and "squares," but Mitchell began to prepare them for a future invasion.
He got inspired to have a drug seminar. He gave Bob French a call and talked him into coming and preaching a revival in the evenings with a panel and drug rally on Saturday morning. French finally agreed to come.
Bob French never was the typical speaker. He looked the hayseed that he was. His politics were right of the John Birch Society, and he expressed them freely throughout his preaching. He was a picture, in many ways, of God's using weak vessels of clay, but there was also a real gift. The first night marked a turning point in the life of the church.
When Harris met French, he couldn't believe that Mitchell had asked him in. He thought Mitchell had more class than that. Here was a side of Pastor Mitchell that many had missed. He was as practical as any man in the world. In fact, if any gift was his, it was probably the gift of common sense; yet this would never stop him when he felt God's prodding. He would release any man to minister who could help, even if the good was mixed with a little bit of flesh. Mitchell stayed close to bring needed correction and let God have his way.
As Harris was sitting in the audience, skeptically thinking about changing churches, French called out his wife, Pattie.
"Young woman, do you believe God? Do you believe that the Lord would give you the desires of your heart?"
French had no way of knowing that two doctors had just told her that only surgery could remove the blockages that kept her from having children.
French looked at her and said, "There are doctors that have told you you can't have children. I see a twisted organ in your body, and God is healing it."
Needless to say, this made a believer out of Jack Harris. Pattie found herself pregnant a few months later and the only surgery that she ever had to, have was to stop the blessing after their third child.
The Harris's weren't the only skeptics challenged that night. Ron Jones was there, too. He had been taught at Bible school that the word of knowledge was only intelligence, and he was less than impressed about a revival where this was the main event. On top of all this, French was often defiantly unique in his style of ministry. One night during the revival he started cutting up his tie for prayer cloths. Yet people were being undeniably touched.
Jones was stunned when French began to describe what he could never have know about Pattie Harris. This shook his theology. Then Jones' halo was almost scared off when French turned to him and called him up. During the walk to the front, Jones did some quick repenting for his doubt and unbelief. French looked him in the eye and said, "Just because you're in the hip-bone church doesn't mean you can't come over to the knee-bone church. God's brought you here, young man, to be part of this church."
Until this time, Jones had divided his loyalties between his old church and Mitchell's. Jones and his dad would go to their old church and as soon as it was over, they'd jump in the car and make it to the Potter's House before the song service was over. The contrast between the life in one and the lack of it in the other proved to be too much, and they ultimately chose to hear Mitchell. Jones was stunned that God would speak to him. If God had simply cleared His throat for Jones, he would have been overjoyed, but here was God actually speaking to him. Though it was not an easy transition, Jones came over.
On Saturday, they had the drug seminar. French asked the questions, though it was doubtful that he'd ever taken anything more than the recommended dose of aspirin in his life. The panel was made up of Ron Burrell, Jack Harris and a local hippie personality who went by the handle "Fat Linda". These three sat there expounding like true experts on the local drug problem and its solution. Linda had only been saved for a few days and could barely remember her name. Harris was an old timer of two weeks and Burrell wasn't much better. The astounding thing was that over 150 people showed up, and no one thought it was a comedy routine. In fact, everyone was genuinely interested. Mitchell knew he was moving in the right direction.
He confronted Jones about what his vision was. It shook Jones to the core that someone cared about what he wanted to do. Jones stammered out that he wanted to start some kind of halfway house for kids on drugs. Jones was visualizing a flop house, but Mitchell had a feeling that what he'd heard about coffee houses was closer to what he was really looking for.
Mitchell was moving. It
would be easier to stop a charging elephant than this gospel preacher on the
scent of revival. He made some calls out to the West Coast where all the action
was, getting names and addresses. Then he and Jones took three days and headed
When they arrived in La Habre
where Don Matison was running one of the first coffee houses, kids were flocking
in by the hundreds. As Mitchell walked in, he knew he'd found what he'd been
looking for. In this little building over 100 kids were jammed to the walls,
with others standing outside. The lights were dimmed and everyone was sitting on
the floor. Mitchell wasn't excited by the music. It was as foreign to him as
sitar music is to a harmonica player. He knew that what he was seeing was
outrageous to the religious world, but he felt the hand of God and excitement
surged through him. As they were leaving, he told Jones, "If Jesus were alive
today He'd have a guitar over His shoulder and He'd be doing exactly what we saw
tonight. This will work in
While on the Coast, they
attempted to experience the wide variety of the Jesus People movement. They
checked out the Jesus people newspapers and several other coffee houses and
churches. The event that would affect the mountain town of
Stories about Larry Reed
had reached them before they ever met him. He'd been a junkie for years and had
been saved only after spending 7 years in San Quentin Prison. He was saved
in the early days of the Teen Challenge movement. Sonny Argozoni was one of
David Wilkerson's first heroin addicts to be set free, and he was just starting
a church in
Once, he and another
ex-junkie walked into one of the roughest bars in
Mitchell and Jones traced Reed to
Reed hadn't missed their arrival on the beach. They looked totally out of place. As a city boy he couldn't miss this displaced pair from the country. Jones didn't have the city walk. He looked more like a cow ploughing a field as he came walking through the sand.
Reed dropped his
criticism, though, when Mitchell asked him to come preach a revival. In those
days meetings were hard to find so Reed decided to "accept it now and pray about
it later." He figured he'd have plenty of time later to find out what country
this place called
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