“I fell in to a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down
and the flames went higher.
And it burns, burns, burns
the ring of fire
the ring of fire.”
Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
The snow was piling up over the cars in the parking lot while wind gusts rattled both the windows and my apartment front door.
I looked up from my desk to see the kitchen clock reading midnight.
Light jazz from the college FM station played quietly on the radio interrupted by the DJ’s breathless comments about the storm.
“At least 30 inches of snow in the next six hours, 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but with the wind it feels like ten below; stay inside and stay WARM!”
I took another sip of bitter coffee and looked down at the Safeco check and accounting ledger on the kitchen table in front of me. I could not seem to make it work.
Oh, the accounts balanced alright but the cash flow frightened me.
The wind kicked up outside and once again the front door banged and rattled. I glanced up and then went back to solving the mystery of our account ledger.
“Can we cut anymore expenses?” I asked myself.
But I knew that our local ministry now ran on financial fumes. Unless I went without food completely no other expenses could be cut. Not that I could see.
“Gotta have more income…that is the only answer,” I muttered.
The door banged again.
“That is some wind!” I thought.
Bang!… Bang! Bang!… Bang! Bang! Bang!…Bang! Bang! Bang!
I suddenly realized that this noise came from the slamming of fists on the front door.
I checked the kitchen clock again. It now read 12:15 am.
Who in the world would be banging on my front door in the middle of a blizzard at midnight?
I pushed open the door and the sub-zero wind promptly blasted me with whirligigs of snow powdering the apartment walls. A bundled figure stumbled through the door. It then collapsed on the torn second-hand couch in my sitting room/kitchen.
I heaved the door shut, bolted it and then turned to see who I had let in.
The figured shivered uncontrollably with the full face toboggan, complete with eye and mouth slits, completely covered with snow and ice. In fact the person had white with frost and snow covering their entire body.
The person slid their gloves off, and then pulled the toboggan from off.
His brown hair had frost in it, despite the toboggan, and with a groan he slumped back on the couch. His bright blue eyes suddenly fluttered open.
Tikietwo, one of our prize catches from the fall crusade, looked up at me.
Tikietwo,” I asked him, “are you trying to commit suicide? Did you actually walk clear across campus in this blizzard?”
His short brown hair was now steaming in the warmth of the apartment and for a moment he said nothing but closed his eyes.
Finally he looked up at me again.
“Tikie, I had to see you tonight. I can’t take it anymore and I think I am about to have a nervous breakdown or something. Satan is after me, or maybe it is God. I really need your help…you seem to have all the answers.”
With that he laid his head back onto my broken down sofa shivering.
“Let’s get some of this rot gut stuff into you and then we will talk,” I said as I walked over to coffee maker.
Tag Teaming with Greg Ball
It had started well enough. In fact, it had completely exceeded any expectations we had about getting the ministry off the ground.
Our MCM kick-off started the last week of August coinciding with the frat rush at the large Midwestern University. I felt really blessed, because despite the fact that almost thirty new MCM churches were starting at the same time, I had been able to snag Greg and Helen Ball to help us.
The days of getting Bob Weiner for three weeks along with the Praise Band and more money than Fort Knox for a new ministry kick-off were over forever.
MCM’s new plan called for starting thirty new ministries in the fall of 1981 and then thirty to forty every year afterwards. The entire Ministry would be strained by this expansion effort.
So we approached this ministry kickoff very differently than MCM had in the past.
Greg and I agreed that if we could hook some leaders, some heavy duty sharps they might bring other sharps into the ministry with them.
We also decided to target some athletes –possibly using FCA as a way to get to them. Our goal was to grab kids who would then do our work for us.
We had no choice because we had limited funds and a few helpers.
We had two door openers: one was a ten minute movie about surfing and Christianity. It used west coast surfing terms and great colorful shots of Christian surfers and gnarly lingo.
It was cool for its time.
The other door opener was the video the Cross and the Switchblade that we would use to fill our auditorium the first Saturday after we opened. We would throw almost all of our initial seed money at this opening gambit; we would either succeed or flame out right at the start.
I figured if I could get Greg in front of four to five hundred kids in the first couple of weeks that we would nail some converts.
Our team was slim, about one fifth the size of the planting team that had arrived to open Auburn up.
Our single full time sister had been deemed too fat by Rose and would not be joining us until she had lost at least twenty five pounds or so.
This hurt, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Jim, my co-pastor, his wife, and two children arrived in mid-August. We also had three working couples and three working single brothers to help us get started.
I did not give much thought to this at the time, but the lack of working brothers and sisters and they cash they could have generated would prevent the ministry from every getting on a solid financial base.
But I knew how the frats worked, I knew the rules and I looked the part and so did Greg and Helen.
So we would start where we were strong.
I knew that there would be a few nominal Christians in the frat, I would locate the best of them, pitch them on what Greg and I were doing (helping people live a more idealistic true first century Christian life), and then try to snag the leader or leaders. The leaders would then bring a bunch of followers with them.
These would reproduce, and before you knew it we would have a congregation.
And it worked.
I looked through the IFC booklet at the Student Union before getting started.
Size predicts prestige in frats and I honed in on the seven largest ones; especially the ones that highlighted the fact that they had student athletes or student government involvement by their members.
It was pretty simple.
I would head into the frat before rush week wearing my button down shirt with khakis frat boy uniform. I would find the President and/or chaplain tell them we were reaching out to Christians and students in the frat and ask if we could show a cool surfing film.
I acted like we were an officially sponsored university group without coming out and saying we were. We had learned this lesson well at Auburn.
And I snagged us six events at the largest frats on campus during the first two weeks of school. We put posters up for the MCM event just like Randy and Ellen had at Auburn some three years earlier at Auburn.
We had posters printed for our showing of the movie the Cross and the Switchblade and the ten of us spread across campus putting up at least one thousand posters. The posters were beautiful and they cost us about $ 1,500 to have them reproduced locally.
We also signed a two-year lease on a large hall being vacated by a Jewish Group on the eastern edge of campus and right on the main drag.
It was near off campus housing and the student shopping area. It was a great place, but needed painting and carpets. By the time we had paid the first and last month rent and one month’s security deposit and completed the rehab of the space we had blown through all $ 8,000 left from our seed money from MCM corporate.
But I had built a war chest of $ 15,000 on my own. And we were tearing through that as well at a rapid rate. But I was not worried because I had a lot of confidence in Greg Ball the evangelist sent us by MCM corporate.
Greg Ball, in my opinion, was the best evangelist and preacher in MCM.
Whether in a small group or a large crowd no one could top him. His sermons were effortless, he had a boyishness about him that attracted both men and women, he was good-looking and fearless. He also had a hair-trigger temper and a manic focus on his goals that nothing could stand in the way of. Helen, his side kick and wife, was a sweet, beautiful and gracious southern girl who was an inveterate campaigner with the added benefit of keeping Greg’s testosterone in check. Well as much as that could be done, that is.
Greg, Helen and I quickly learned our roles and how to work as a team.
At our first frat we had about thirty guys and little sisters in the common room. We showed the surfer short movie, Greg did his, “Jesus is looking for real men and women to take over the world,” talk that lasted ten minutes. I would ask for people to bow and close their eyes and commit and then to look me in the eye and then to stand up. Greg, Jim [my co-pastor], Helen, and I would afterwards go immediately after those that committed; we would bee line for the sharpest ones there. Helen being a gorgeous blonde haired sweet talking Ole Miss graduate did nothing to hurt our efforts
The upshot was that at the end of the first week we had snagged about thirty kids including two frat Presidents.
That Saturday, at our first service, we had to turn people away at the door of the Maranatha Hall during the showing of The Cross and the Switchblade and I spent the entire movie out on the front steps witnessing to people who wanted to get inside to see what all the fuss was about.
After the movie, Greg stood up and ripped out a twenty-minute tour-deforce sermon; the kind that would bring a grown man to his knees about Jesus and his suffering, and his looking for the faithful that would follow him, and, the fate of those that did not.
It was an exhausting night with many, many, prayer and counseling and “hootah” sessions. We were completely understaffed for such a response.
At about one a.m. that morning the hall had cleared out and the ten of us including Greg and Helen sprawled on the stage, exhausted and in awe of what had just happened.
“Greg, if my numbers are right, we just topped one hundred commitments and we will be baptizing all week-long.” I said. We high-fived each other and Helen said a beautiful prayer thanking God.
Then Greg threw his head back and laughed “Brother God is just getting started.
Well the first month was heaven, Greg and Helen were there the first three weeks of our kick off. We had a church with over 100 converts at the end of that time. It was insane, in so many ways, of course.
One of my best memories is the night we gave it a rest and went over the Jim and Dana’s house (my co-pastor and wife). All of the MCMers who had joined us were there along with a few of our first fruit converts. Jim was cooking on the grill and Dana threw some records on and we were all dancing and singing…and Helen and Greg were jitterbugging like professionals.
Now Greg had a hair-trigger temper. I interrupted him during one of his frat talks, I don’t remember why, but in the parking lot he dressed me down.
“When I am speaking NEVER interrupt me, because you are interrupting GOD when you do that!’ he shouted.
I was taken aback and had planned on confronting him about it afterwards, but the funny thing was he acted, five minutes later, like it had never happened. Walking into hall with his arm around my shoulder laughing and joking about the night.
I truly believe Greg to have been one the most gifted preachers and evangelists in North America (he still might be). [Editor’s note: After the breakup of MCM Greg founded a ministry focused on pro-sports players called Champions for Christ. After allegations of fraud and other improprieties Greg left CFC after Tikie’s blog was published in 2006-2007. Greg also served on the board of MSI/Every Nation Churches but left the board. CFC continues to be dogged by controversies and is associated with Every Nation (EN) churches).
But Greg had a temper and an ego, and his involvement in MCM, his ongoing collaboration with Rice Broocks and Phil Bonnasso and EN, served to warp and twist his personality until, in his mind, the ministry he worked in and his own ego became inseparable. An environment with more restraint, and a more honest assessment of leadership would have served Greg much better.
The first week in October Greg and Helen headed off for their next assignment…and our troubles began shortly thereafter.