I have no doubt that God led me down the path that I took after leaving Bible College. At first, it appeared that I would become a professional Gospel musician and singer, but that was not what God had planned for me. The call to preach pressed on me night and day, and although leaving Kansas City and professional Gospel music at the age of 19 seemed extremely traumatic for me at that time, I now know (over forty years later) that I was never meant to travel that road.
"Nothing Just Happens"
Whenever you find yourself being ripped away from a course of action that you really thought you were supposed to pursue, you should remind yourself that "nothing just happens" in the will of God. Ask Jacob, or Joseph, or David, or Jonah, or any of the major Bible characters. Their lives were often abruptly re-routed because God had different plans than what they anticipated.
You will eventually experience something of that kind. You will be moving at break-neck speed in one direction, and suddenly, God will change your direction. Sometimes, it is because you were carnal and misdirected. Sometimes, it is because someone else threw an obstacle in your way. Sometimes, Satan lies in wait for your soul, and tricks you into a diversion. But ultimately, it is Almighty God who will move you in the right direction. And you will not always understand why. Satan may have meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Sometimes, God will move you in a direction that you think is entirely wrong. But in the end, you will see that it was exactly right. It was providential.
I believe that my landing in Beaumont at Victory Temple in May of 1971 was providential.
The Apprenticeship Began
Pastor Clendennen’s preaching was awe-inspiring to me in those days. I had never heard his kind of preaching. He was in great demand all over the country, preaching Camp Meetings and Conferences regularly. It was nothing short of revelatory to me. He stayed close to a number of themes, and preached them again and again and again. Prayer and Fasting: Pastor Clendennen preached and practiced prayer and fasting. We had prayer meetings every morning at the church at 5:30; prayer services every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 10:00; fasting until 3 PM every Tuesday and Thursday; and an all-church 30-day prayer and fasting vigil for the month of October every year. He preached constantly about being filled with the Holy Ghost, crucifying the flesh and walking in the Spirit.
It's All About The Preaching
Brother Clendennen preached hard against phony religion. He rebuked the prodigal church for departing from its Biblical roots and chasing after fads and fashions. As an ex-marine who fought on the front lines in the South Pacific in World War II, he had a militant spirit, and he insisted the church be a militant church. He decried the Charismatic Movement, the Ecumenical Movement, the Roman Catholic Church, and all the new-fangled developments as they popped up. He stood for getting back to the basics of Biblical Christianity.
His preaching had the most profound effect on my ministry. I could preach much of his material almost verbatim, because it stuck in my soul. I not only believed what he preached, but I also felt the strongest urgency to say the same things.
For many years, Brother Clendennen had a weekly broadcast on a local television station. In those days, we did not yet have our own television production equipment, so every Monday night a large group of people would drive over to Channel 4 KJAC studios in Port Arthur to make a tape for the future broadcasts. Sometimes we would record two or three programs in one night. We turned the entire studio into a church house. We set up a platform with chairs for the choir. All the musicians brought their instruments, and they all had to be miked. We set up chairs for the audience. Brother Clendennen preached with a hundred-foot microphone cord. He preached all over the place. We had total church with singing and shouting and worshipping, while three cameras looked on. We typically had 100-200 people show up at the TV studio on Monday nights for taping.
Expanding Into A National Ministry
In late summer of 1971, we produced three television specials called "One Nation Under God" crusades. That is when we launched a national television ministry. Brother Clendennen hired the Beaver Agency of Akron, Ohio to help us get on stations around the country. They were the agency who promoted Rex Humbard and the Cathedral of Tomorrow in Akron. After that TV Special aired in probably a hundred markets, the response came daily in mailbags full of letters.
We immediately started signing on TV stations for a regular weekly show. Those were the days before satellite television. There were no satellite networks. We purchased professional-quality Video Tape Recorders, and copied hundreds of two-inch reel-to-reel video tapes to be "bicycled" around the country - we always had one tape going and one tape returning because they were so expensive. Within a few months, we were broadcasting weekly on 150 TV stations all over America.
It was at the summer Camp Victory Camp Meeting in 1971 that Brother Clendennen set out to raise the money for our first TV cameras. They were $14,000 each, and he raised the money to buy three of them. Within a year or so, we had a complete production facility inside the auditorium, with the control room upstairs in the balcony. Not long after that, we bought an old Greyhound SceniCruiser bus, and put an entire production control room in it. From then on, we could take the entire television crew on crusades around the country.
Publishing The Gospel
During that time, I was editing and producing the magazine. For many years, it had been called "Streams of Faith." As the magazine grew from a circulation of 12,000 monthly to over 35,000, I added a byline under the title: "The International Voice of Victory." The name of the church was Victory Assembly of God. Brother Clendennen often referred to the church as "The Temple." So I gradually started putting "Victory Temple" on the return address. Within a few months time, everybody started calling it Victory Temple. After a while, they officially changed the name of the church to Victory Temple. The TV program became, “The International Voice of Victory.”
At that point, the sheer size of the magazine became more than I could handle in-house. We had two large offset printing presses that ran day and night. I had a complete darkroom where I produced all our negatives and metal printing plates. We had a ten-bin collator and stitcher that automatically assembled, folded and stitched the magazine. We had our own addressing equipment, plate-making machines, and a five-place Pitney Bowes mail envelope inserter. We also had a massive audio-tape duplicating set-up which produced thousands of tapes every month for our viewers.
Introducing Computers To The Ministry
Because I had contacts with some local IBM executives from my college days, I was privy to the inauguration of a new third-generation mainframe computer system being marketed in the Beaumont market in late 1971. I had observed the computer-generated letters being produced by Rex Humbard and Oral Roberts, and persuaded Brother Clendennen that we should adapt that process, too. I actually wrote a custom program to accomplish the needed tasks, and we arranged to rent the new System 3 mainframe in Beaumont periodically. I hired data-entry clerks to quickly keypunch our entire mailing list onto 88-column punch cards, loaded that database onto the mainframe computer, and began sending personalized letters to all our followers. That revolutionized our fundraising efforts, and dramatically simplified the entire direct-mail processes.
A large staff of workers answered mail, fulfilled book, tape and record orders, prepared the magazine, weekly newsletters and other direct mail pieces for the post office. We sent over 100,000 pieces of mail every month to the post office.
At first, we did all our typesetting in-house on IBM Executive typewriters, because desktop computers had not yet been invented. It was enormously tedious. We finally started sending it out to a typesetter who delivered it all on photographic film. Then we transitioned the production of the magazine from using mechanical paste-ups, darkroom and negative-stripping to computerized typesetting. Once the circulation of the magazine reached 35,000, we sent it all out to a commercial publisher for hands-free production. It took on a new, much-improved look at that time.
How I Met My Future Wife At Victory Temple
On the first Tuesday morning after I arrived on staff in May of ‘71, I attended the 10 AM prayer service. The Tuesday and Thursday morning services were usually attended by a small group of church members.
That morning, Dixie Weiler’s mother was there. She went home that day and told Dixie that there was a new young man at church that morning. She told her that he played and sang and carried a Bible. She thought I must be a preacher. The next Sunday, Dixie’s dad saw me playing the piano on stage, and he later told me that he immediately began to think that I might be somebody for Dixie.
Dixie was interested. Although she was newly engaged at the time, she said that she believed she was supposed to marry a preacher; therefore she took an interest in me and broke up with her fiancé.
As I began to show up in all the regular services, I saw Dixie and her friend, Billie hanging around. Dixie had won Billie to the Lord by witnessing to her at High School. She had mentored Billie spiritually, and had taken a personal interest in helping her assimilate into church. They had become dear friends.
The young people of the Church regularly went out to eat on Sunday nights at Patrizzi’s, a nearby Italian restaurant. I saw Dixie there. Another night, we all went to Mr. Gatti’s, a new pizza parlor, and Dixie spent her time walking in and out among the tables, laughing and cutting up with everybody. She glowed like a shining light. It seemed to me as if she was the only person in the restaurant that night. That was the night I first took a serious interest in her.
Soon after I hired on at Victory, Pastor Clendennen had scheduled a crusade in Evansville, Indiana, at Calvary Temple, a large Assembly of God Church where Hansel Vibbert was the pastor. He and I took commercial flights to Evansville. He instructed the band to come on the church’s plane, an old Lockheed Lodestar, a 14-passenger twin engine. We had a great church band. Donald Carver was the drummer, Donnie Dean played lead guitar, Russell Thibodeaux played rhythm guitar, Keith Spoonemore played clarinet, Keith Morgan and Mike Thibodeaux played saxophones, Jone Ray Carruth played bass guitar, and Scott Kamp played steel guitar. I played the piano. My brother, David, was a TV cameraman for the church, and he usually traveled with us.
I urged Dixie and Billie to come along with the band, and they did. Their plane to Indiana went through some pretty bad weather, and they got tossed around quite a bit. But on that trip, Dixie had a talk with my brother, David, about me. David tried to tell Dixie to steer clear of me. He advised her that I wasn’t ready for marriage. He knew me pretty well. But that advice didn’t hold much weight, as time would tell.
Dixie experienced a stressful situation with a guy that she had once dated briefly. Early in their relationship, he assaulted her, and she immediately broke up with him. But a year later, he was still stalking her around town, causing her much anguish. Shortly after I met Dixie, he followed her to a shopping center across the street from the church. While she was inside, he pulled the sparkplug wires on her car so that it wouldn’t start. Then he waited on her to come out so he could harass her. Dixie ran across the street to the church to call her Dad for help. I was in the office, and she told me what was going on. I went back to her car to confront the guy, and he became belligerent. Soon, her Dad arrived, after calling the police. Once the police arrived, they sent the guy on his way. The crisis was diffused, and we all went our separate ways.
Later that week, Dixie came by the church office to visit. We talked briefly, and she told me that the church was hosting a graduation banquet for all the high school seniors, and asked if I would like to go to that banquet with her. I told her I would like that. That is how our first date developed. The banquet was held on a Friday night at a popular local restaurant, and it was a pleasant experience. I took Dixie home afterward, but didn’t give her any indication that I had any interest in her.
My feelings had been hurt pretty badly when my previous relationship had ended suddenly. I was pretty wary of girls at that particular point. I was not interested at all in getting involved with another girl just yet, and I told that to Dixie very plainly. That didn’t stop her from talking to me, however.
Sunday came along, and C.M. Ward, the radio minister of REVIVALTIME, had arrived from Springfield as the guest minister for Brother Clendennen's annual week-long Camp Meeting that would begin Monday night at Camp Victory campgrounds. Since I knew Brother Ward personally, I was eager to go. He was the teacher of the Hermeneutics class at Central Bible College while I was attending school there, and being in the Revivaltime Choir, I often sat behind him as he preached on the world-wide radio broadcast.
I mentioned to Dixie that Brother Ward was scheduled to preach on Monday night at the Camp Meeting and told her that I would take her to the service if she was interested in going. That initial invitation turned into a nightly date for a week. Each evening I picked her up in Beaumont, went to Camp, then took her home. After services, she would join me on stage and sing along with me on various songs during the altar services. That was the germination of our future ministry together. She loved to sing and worship and pray.
Still, I deliberately refrained from showing any romantic interests. I was very determined that I wasn’t going to rush into another romantic trap. I was downright adamant that I didn’t want to get involved with another girl so soon. She seemed to understand that and didn’t press the issue. She was a delightful girl, and I enjoyed every minute with her. I was impressed with her impeccable grooming and her high personal standards. She dressed especially well, and had good taste in everything. She loved to laugh. She always brightened the room wherever she went.
Within a week or two after the Camp Meeting, I was invited over to Dixie’s house for supper with her family. Fourteen months later, we were married.
During our courtship, one of our favorite pastimes was to go to the church at night and sit at the grand piano and play and sing together. Dixie loved my music. I played the piano, and we often sang for hours at a time.
We began singing together in Church. She had always been an alto voice in the church choir, and frequently sang alto in a girls’ trio. Harmonizing was her specialty. She explained to me that as a little girl, she remembered standing beside her mother and listening to her sing the alto part during the Church song services. I became accustomed to her alto voice following me on every song. To this day, in the middle of a congregational song, I can imagine that I hear her harmonizing beside me.
For thirty-two years, we sang together in every service. People were always amazed at what a powerful voice came from such a petite girl. Not only that, but she always looked younger than her age, and I always looked older than my age. I can’t tell you how many churches we went to where people thought she was my daughter.
Laverne Tripp wrote a song in the late ‘60s called, “It’s Worth It All.” Dixie and I liked that song and began singing it together before we even married. The words were:
"I don’t want a mansion on a hillside.
I don’t care for wealth or worldly fame.
I don’t worry when those around me prosper,
for I have Jesus and that’s worth everything.
It’s worth it all to feel this fire that’s burning deep within.
It’s worth it all to know I’m saved and I am free from sin.
Just to feel His touch and know that He is coming back again,
It’s worth it all. It’s worth it all."
We sang that song together from Mexico to Canada, from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains in hundreds of churches and auditoriums. We even sang it on national television on Jim Bakker’s PTL CLUB. We recorded it in 1973 with the Goss Brothers in Atlanta, Georgia at the LeFevre Studio and sold thousands of copies on 33 RPM records, 8-track tapes and audio cassettes.
That song not only became our anthem for our entire married life, it was also an omen.
We never had a mansion on a hillside.
We never had wealth or worldly fame.
We didn’t worry when those around us prospered.
But we had Jesus.
And that was worth everything.
In later life, she sang more and more solos. Her ministry in music was powerfully anointed, and blessed many, many people. I have wished so many times that I had featured her solos far more often from the beginning.
Dixie passed away in 2003 at the age of 50, but now she has Jesus for all eternity. She really did get EVERYTHING - just like we sang! And it really was WORTH IT ALL.
When Dixie and I first began to discuss the subject of marriage and the ministry, I had contacts all over the country from my travels, and felt that we could make a life together in the ministry. So in the spring of 1972, I took Dixie to the finest restaurant in Beaumont and proposed marriage to her. She immediately responded with a delirious and tearful ‘yes’, and my fate was sealed. I had won the heart of one of the most beautiful, most precious, most devoted Christian girls anywhere to be found.
We set the date for August 25th and began making plans. Dixie’s mother often catered weddings, and was a spectacular seamstress as well. Delma created and sewed Dixie’s gorgeous wedding dress, baked a beautiful wedding cake and groom’s cake, and catered the wedding reception at the new Red Carpet Inn. (Over the years, Delma sewed scores of absolutely beautiful dresses for Dixie to wear to church. Thanks to her mom, Dixie was always dressed exceptionally nice.)
On Monday before the Saturday wedding, Brother Clendennen and I flew to Spokane, Washington for a two-night crusade in the Masonic Temple auditorium. We stayed in the Holiday Inn. On Tuesday afternoon, I told him I needed to go downtown to find a pair of shoes for my wedding. A couple hours later, I returned with a “high-fashion” pair of shoes - part patent-leather, and part suede, with huge elevator heels. I woke Brother Clendennen up from his nap to show him those shoes, and he nearly died laughing. He hee-hawed and rolled in the bed at those outrageous shoes. I wore them to the wedding anyway. Thirty-five years later, I saw him again just before he died, and he asked me if I had bought any new shoes lately. I was amazed that he still remembered those goofy shoes.
Our wedding was at Victory Temple, with Pastor Clendennen officiating. It was a beautiful event with a few hundred of our family members and friends in attendance. Dixie looked like a very angel from heaven. I always told her that she was like an angel to me. And God knows I meant it. I played the grand piano and sang a song to her -- the theme from “Love Story.”
Where do I begin to tell the story of how great a love can be,
The sweet love story that is older than the sea,
The simple truth about the love she brings to me?
Where do I start?
With her first “hello!” she gave new meaning to this empty world of mine,
There’d never be another love, another time,
She came into my life and made the living fine,
She fills my heart, She fills my heart with very special things,
With angels’ songs, with wild imaginings,
She fills my soul with so much love,
That anywhere I go, I’m never lonely,
With her along, who could be lonely?
I reach for her hand, it’s always there...
How long does it last?
Can love be measured by the hours in a day?
I have no answers now, but this much I can say,
I know I’ll need her 'till the stars all burn away
And she’ll be there... She’ll be there.
We both teared up as we repeated our vows to each other. Dixie was 19, and I was 20. It was a once in a lifetime love affair. Our marriage was made in heaven.
Four months later, we purchased a new car and a new travel trailer, and left Beaumont, to begin traveling full-time across the United States, preaching and singing in Churches, Crusades and Camp Meetings. I had finished my Apprenticeship.
"Long Winding Road - Chapter 5 - The Work Of An Evangelist"
"Long Winding Road - Chapter 3 - Facing The Music"
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