Answering A Specific Call
Back in my Bible College days, while I was living in a fourth-floor dormitory, there was a large, open prayer room where all the male student residents could find a place to pray. Altar benches were built all around the walls of that room, and a row of altars went down the center of the room, from one end to the other. I spent three days in that room in a prayer and fasting vigil, asking God to show me clearly what I was supposed to do with my life. At the end of the third day, God gave me several verses of scripture that I believed were His explicit answers to me. Among those verses was 2 Timothy 4:5: "But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, DO THE WORK OF AN EVANGELIST, make full proof of thy ministry."
Dixie knew that I had no intention of staying in Beaumont after we were married. She knew that I felt the call to do the work of an evangelist, and she was ready to go with me wherever that call would lead. We knew that we would be leaving shortly after we were married.
As a wedding gift, Dixie's parents gave us their nice late-model car. I sold my car, and with the money, Dixie and I took a 10-day honeymoon trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was early September 1972 when we returned home, and there was plenty of work to do back at the church.
We rented a small, furnished apartment from a genteel old lady, Pearly Rogers, who had taught the Ladies Bible Class at the big Baptist Church downtown for forty years. She was delighted to have a young couple in the ministry living upstairs in her beautiful old two-story Southern mansion. We had only one bedroom, a bath, and a small kitchen. Having guests over was pretty funny, because our only chairs were four wooden rockers situated around the bed. As everyone began to talk, and rock in rhythm (or out of rhythm), it never failed to get a laugh. Music played on our stereo by day and night, especially the newest recordings by Andre' Crouch and the Disciples, the Imperials, and others. Working with the choir meant I was constantly looking for new songs.
For the next three months, we prepared ourselves to leave Beaumont and begin traveling in evangelistic ministry. I printed a multi-colored brochure announcing our entrance into full-time ministry, and mailed it with a postage-paid return-response postcard to several hundred Assembly of God preachers whom I knew. The response from that announcement produced our first preaching engagements.
We purchased a brand new full-size Ford, with a 400hp engine - big enough to tow a travel trailer - and installed a full towing package on it. We bought a nice 28-foot travel trailer, the top-of-the-line model built by Fleetwood, and moved all our belongings into it.
In those days, many Churches did not have adequate sound systems, if any at all. I went to a music store and bought a Shure Vocalmaster P.A. System, which was the state-of-the-art P.A. in those days. I already owned a small sound system, and I used those speakers for monitors. I purchased two gigantic Altec-Lansing Voice of the Theater speakers. That system was powerful enough to preach and sing to an audience of thousands. Those speakers were so large that we could hardly get in the trailer when they were on board. I honestly think that some of the back trouble I have to this day traces back to loading and unloading those massive speakers.
Right after Christmas, Dixie and I headed out to start holding revivals. Every night, she and I sang several songs before I preached. I played the piano, and she played the tambourine.
The First Test
Our first week was in the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth. It was my first encounter with a new Charismatic-leaning ministry.
After two nights there, the Pastor took me into his office and told me that I needed to do some miracles. I sat across from his desk and listened incredulously as he proceeded to “teach” me how to stretch legs. He showed me how to set people in a chair so that you could see that one leg was shorter than the other. Then he showed me how to pray for the short leg to grow out. Then he showed me how to stand them against the wall to demonstrate to the audience how they no longer had one leg shorter than the other. It was a surreal experience. I couldn't believe this guy was for real.
I told that preacher that I believe in miracles as much as anybody on earth, but I wasn’t about to resort to a bunch of nonsense like that to prove that God could do miracles. Boy, was I upset, and it showed.
You can imagine how wonderful the rest of that week was. I spent my days inside that empty auditorium, fasting and praying for God to give me the right things to preach each night. I gave everything I had to finish out that week, but we were glad to get out of town. That was my first encounter with the Charismatic-type Church, and I was completely turned-off by it.
The Influence Of Other Ministries
In my growing up years, I had been strongly affected by most of the best-known Pentecostal-style ministries of that day. As a child, my regular Sunday morning routine included sitting in front of the television watching Oral Roberts and A.A. Allen in their massive tent revivals. Daddy used to come in from his midnight refinery shift after stopping by the local donut shop. I would sit on the floor as a 10-year-old boy, eating donuts and watching Oral Roberts preach and conduct his healing lines. Both of them were electrifying preachers in those days. I loved hearing Allen's great mass choir, directed by Gene Allen. His organists, David Davis and Nancy Harmon, greatly influenced my own organ-playing style. Allen called it "Miracle Music," and it was. Allen was one of the first to incorporate the big Hammond organ, drums and tambourines as a notable feature of his music. Thousands of people received every kind of miracle during those meetings.
Roberts and Allen both performed the most amazing miracles. I would call my parents and say, "Come look at this!" Over the years, a lot of people accused Allen of staging bogus miracles to maintain his popularity, and I cannot defend him in that regard, because I do not know all the facts. One thing I can ascertain, however, is that there were many, many bona fide miracles performed by the hand of God, in the name of Jesus. I was personally acquainted with some that were absolutely amazing - nothing bogus or fake about them at all.
Nevertheless, both Allen and Roberts were controversial. I suppose that every preacher who ever sticks his neck out is controversial. I stopped endorsing preachers long ago, because I learned that a man who seems to be a great man of God today may turn out to be the biggest devil tomorrow.
Paul said, "Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God," 1 Corinthians 4:5.
We are indeed called upon (by Jesus Himself) to "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment," John 7:24. By the commandments of God, I must not judge men. But I MUST judge everything by true doctrine and divine principle.
I have no authority by God to judge you or any other man. But I have every authority to judge your doctrine and your principles. I cannot say where YOU stand with God, but I can certainly say where your doctrines and your principles (or absence thereof) stand, because I can compare them directly with the scriptures.
With all of that now said, I will tell you that because of what I saw in Roberts and Allen's ministries, I became thoroughly convinced that God was in the miracle-working, divine healing business in these modern times. Some of the things that the early tent preachers preached were absolutely right, and other things they preached were dead wrong.
I bought Allen's biography (written after his death from alcoholism), entitled "Born to Lose, Bound to Win." Dixie and I read that entire book out loud on one of our road trips. Naturally, the author attempted to whitewash Allen's life and ministry of so many contradictions, but certain truths were undeniable. God does heal people when men preach His Word and act by faith.
I read so many of Oral Roberts' books, including his enormously popular, "Seed Faith." I also followed T.L. Osborn, a world-renowned missionary, who was also from Tulsa, Oklahoma. I received his monthly magazine, and read many of his publications. Osborn and his wife Daisy were significantly influenced by the healing ministry of William Branham. They were one of the first Pentecostal-type ministries to invade the African continent, beginning in Uganda, conducting giant crusades where literally hundreds of thousands of people were in attendance. Enormous multitudes of people had received the Holy Spirit under their ministry, as well as every kind of miracle and healing you could imagine, including many, many people raised from the dead. Dixie and I visited Osborn's offices, met him, and toured his world-class museum which contained thousands of artifacts collected from his global missionary travels. Dixie and I also ministered in a Church pastored by Osborne's sister, Mrs. O.C. Gillock, in Odessa, Texas.
The old-guard tent revival preachers of the 1940s and 1950s (besides Roberts and Allen) had included William Branham, Jack Coe, Aimee Simple McPherson, Kathryn Kuhlman, and many other lesser-knowns. Branham and Coe had specialized in calling out people and discerning their needs.
Those practices, which are included in the "Gifts of the Spirit" of 1 Corinthians 12, quickly fell into misuse and abuse. While such practices, when genuinely inspired by the Holy Ghost, are entirely scriptural, those gifts were often exploited for sensational purposes, and quickly failed the litmus test. All too often, the minister who operates in the Gifts of the Spirit begins to feel some necessity to operate the gifts "on demand." The Holy Ghost does not work in that manner. Any "discernment" or "prophecy" that is not genuinely inspired by the Holy Ghost is destined to produce an undesirable result. We simply MUST NOT attempt to artificially manifest the Gifts of the Spirit. I will defend to the death a genuine manifestation of the Holy Ghost, but will completely denounce a fraudulent version. I have seen both throughout my lifetime, and will stand resolutely behind what I say here.
Let The Miracles Begin
As a young man, I was never personally exposed to the operation of the gifts of the Spirit. I never witnessed first-hand a minister calling out anyone to discern a need or to perform a miracle on-the-spot like that.
My first experience came to me entirely unexpected. I stepped into the pulpit one night in a Church on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As I opened my Bible to announce my text to preach, I suddenly felt an overwhelming impulse that there was someone in the audience who was suffering from a kidney disease. I tried to ignore what I felt, but it literally arrested me. I stood there for a moment, wondering what I should do with what I felt. Finally, I said, "I cannot explain to you what I feel right now, but I am impressed that there is someone here tonight who is suffering with a kidney disease. I can only assume that God wants to do a miracle for you. If you are here suffering with a kidney disease, I would like for you to stand and let us pray for you right now." Immediately, a lady stood up in the middle of the audience. "That's me!" she said. I wasted no more words. I asked the congregation to stretch their hands toward the lady and pray with me for her. Then she sat down, and I proceeded to preach.
The next night, that same lady asked to give her testimony. She said, "I have suffered with kidney disease for twelve years. One of my kidneys had completely failed. I was having increasing trouble, and my kidney function was getting worse and worse. But since last night, my kidneys have functioned wonderfully." After that night, she went to the doctor for an examination, and he found that her dead kidney had started working again.
I believe in the Gifts of the Spirit, but I believe they must be inspired by the Holy Ghost. That is all I will say about that for now.
Street Meetings, Church Suppers, And Missions
Our second revival was in Laredo, just across the border from the Mexican town of Nuevo Laredo. The pastor there arranged for us to conduct daytime crusades on the town square. There was a huge brick bandstand in the middle of the city square, and we set up all our sound equipment and musical instruments for afternoon services. Dixie and I sang, and I preached through a Spanish interpreter. Several hundred people gathered around as the service progressed. In the end I gave an invitation for conversions, and dozens of people responded. We also held nightly services at the church for two weeks, with excellent results. The pastor was delighted with that meeting.
In those days, nearly every revival ran six or seven nights a week. Every night we sang several songs, I preached for an hour, and gave an altar call. There were periods when Dixie and I preached and sang without a single night off for over three months. In many of those revivals, especially in larger churches, I also ministered in daytime services on weekdays.
We held a seven-night meeting in Victoria, Texas, at a beautiful church. At that time, Brother Clendennen was planning a trip to Saigon, Viet Nam, and had invited me to go with him. I needed to raise the money for my own plane fare. I hoped to raise the money during that revival to help make the crusade trip to Viet Nam. Victory Temple operated a Christian Servicemen's Center in Saigon, and one of the preachers from the Beaumont Church was its Pastor. Brother Clendennen made several trips to Viet Nam to preach crusades. Hundreds of people received the Baptism of the Holy Ghost in those days - the first time anyone in Viet Nam had ever received the Holy Ghost.
On a Monday morning, I drove from Victoria to Beaumont to get all FIVE of my vaccination shots for the trip overseas. Then I drove back to Victoria that evening. Those shots made me violently sick. By the time I got in the pulpit that night, I had fever raging at about 105. I remember preaching as hard as I could that night, but I quickly found myself standing in front of the pulpit with my back leaning against it.
I discussed my plans for the missionary trip with the pastor, in hopes that he would help me raise the money for the Viet Nam crusade. He was a millionaire building contractor, besides being the pastor. The church was very wealthy and well-able to help me make the trip. But he showed no interest whatsoever in helping. Ironically, they put on a big fund-raising event while we were there. It was Groundhog Day, so they had a "Groundhog" supper - sausage and eggs -- to raise money for the church. But I learned a sad, disappointing lesson then. Some Churches just horde money, and have no real missionary vision. I don't know how God will judge that in the end, but I don't think it will go unnoticed.
Ken and Dixie Raggio - "Singing, Pentecostal!"
Dixie and I decided to produce a record album of our singing that spring. I booked a studio, and hired a professional photographer to meet us at Victory to take photos for the album jacket. We spent all evening taking pictures, but they did not turn out as good as we had hoped. Dixie hated those photos, and didn’t want anybody to see them. But I argued that we were facing a deadline, and didn’t have time for another photo shoot. I should have listened to her, however, because she knew better. Those less-than-flattering pictures were forever stuck on that album. Poor girl. That was only one of countless times she out-classed me, but I won anyway. It must have been tough on her. On the back of the album, we used a black-and-white photo that we had made at a portrait studio in Laredo. It was only slightly better than the cover photos.
We parked our trailer in Beaumont and flew to Atlanta, Georgia to record at LeFevre Sound Studios. The Goss Brothers were some of the most sought-after Gospel studio musicians in those days, and they backed us up on that album. Larry played the organ, James played the guitar, Ronnie played the bass, and Joe Piscopo played the drums. Larry Goss is still a sought-after musician and producer, having produced countless albums for the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and scores of other renowned musicians. Years later, I became the pastor of a Church near there, and James Goss was my Choir Director and Organist.
Dixie and I were very excited about producing our own album. We called it, "Singing, Pentecostal!" Naturally, "It's Worth It All," was one of the featured songs. We also used a song I had written on that album. We ordered 1,000 long-play vinyl albums and 500 8-track tapes. I later re-mastered it for audio cassettes, and eventually sold more audio cassettes than records or 8-tracks. I rented a mailing list from Word Records of 30,000 people who had previously ordered Gospel records by direct mail. I produced a direct-mail advertising campaign for our album, and sold almost enough records to cover the entire production costs of that album.
Camp Meetings And Revivals
Evangelist Melvin McKnight had been a friend for many years. He was preaching the night I was healed of a high fever and tonsillitis when I was a child. He also preached frequent revivals for Brother Clendennen at Victory Temple. He knew me and my music and ministry well, so when he learned that Dixie and I had entered the ministry as full-time evangelists, he wanted to help us.
He invited us to accompany him to three State-wide Camp Meetings where he was scheduled to preach. One was in Franklin, North Carolina, at the Assemblies of God Western Camp, situated on the Cullasaja River. The second camp was in Windsor, North Carolina, at the District's Eastern Camp. The third Camp Meeting was in Mars Hill, Maine. He wanted Dixie and I to provide the music each night in all of those Camp Meetings, and I would be given the opportunity to preach in the day services. During those camps, we scheduled about forty revivals in North Carolina alone.
The Aroostook County Camp Meeting in Mars Hill, Maine was a state-wide joint camp between the A/G churches, the Pentecostal Holiness, the Foursquare Gospel, the Church of God, and some independent Full-Gospel churches, and superintended by Bill Wilson. The attendance was almost 1,000. Scores of pastors and churches were involved. Brother Wilson invited me to preach several services in that camp, as well.
I was counting on our record album sales to offset the expense of pulling our trailer all the way to Maine. I scheduled the first shipment of our new albums to be delivered to the airport in Presque Isle, Maine, so they would be available for that Camp Meeting. As fate would have it, the albums did not come on time. After several urgent calls to Maurice LeFever, the albums showed up on Sunday evening, just before the very last service of the Camp Meeting. We desperately needed those albums to make that trip profitable, so I made an emergency trip to Presque Isle right after the Sunday morning service.
Arriving back at the campgrounds just before the night service, I quickly set up a display of our records in the back of the Tabernacle. Before I finished, Brother Wilson came to notify me that he did not allow anyone to sell merchandise on Sunday. I was devastated.
Brother McKnight took matters in his own hands. He walked to the microphone just before I preached that night and told that large audience that Ken and Dixie's new album had just arrived by plane that evening. He said that he respected Brother Wilson’s request not to sell anything in church on a Sunday. So he said that he wasn’t going to ask anybody to BUY anything. But he said, “If you will DONATE the price of the record to these kids, they will GIVE you a record after service!” Everybody laughed, and that sales pitch closed the sale. We liquidated several cases of albums that night, and nobody made a fuss.
After the camp, Dixie and I preached several revivals in Maine. All the churches wanted to have a revival before the potato harvest in the fall. In Maine, they literally shut down businesses and churches during the potato harvest because everybody participated in the potato harvests. They only had a narrow window of opportunity, or the potatoes would be lost. We had to beat that deadline.
In Presque Isle, we preached at the Foursquare Church originally founded by the famous Aimee Simple McPherson. The congregation of about 200 was without a pastor at the time, and throughout that revival they tried to prevail on us to accept the pastorate of that church. It was very tempting, but Presque Isle was a very foreign climate to us Texans, and we couldn’t imagine living in six feet of snow every winter. It was already 40 degrees in July!
In East Millinocket, we preached and sang for two weeks in a good church pastored by Vinal Thomas. In Oakland, a lady pastor, Edith Morton, had a large congregation, and a strong youth group. We set up an outdoor service on the parking lot of the main grocery store in town, and Dixie and I sang, I preached, and several people responded to the invitation that day. We wrapped it up in Maine and headed back to Texas for several meetings there in the fall.
We took a trip with Brother Clendennen on his Silver Eagle Bus to Albuquerque, New Mexico. He and I had been there in a crusade the year before, and we expected this one to be much larger. I helped drive the bus out to Albuquerque for a three-night crusade in the Albuquerque Civic Center. The guys in the Church band were on board with us.
The first morning we were in town, Dixie and I and the band decided to take the cable car to the top of Sandia Peak Mountain and have lunch in the lodge. While we were up there, it began to snow, so for safety reasons, they closed the cable car to the bottom. We sat for hours waiting on the operators to open up the cable car again so we could get down for night service. It was so late when we finally got off the mountain that we barely made it to the crusade that night. We came running into the Civic Center just a few minutes before the service, dragging guitars, amplifiers, drums and sound equipment. Brother Clendennen was just about livid. About a thousand people were sitting there waiting for service to start.
I led the song service, playing an old-fashioned calfskin tambourine, as the band furnished the music. It was a rousing, Pentecostal-style service, and Brother Clendennen's preaching had the crowd on their feet again and again. Dixie and I also sang that night. We booked several revivals in New Mexico while there, and made a return trip a few months later. While in Albuquerque, I preached daily on a Christian radio station, and at night in the local A/G Church. One of the Churches was a Spanish-speaking congregation, and I preached nightly through an interpreter. Another revival was held on an Indian reservation with all Indians in attendance. In one city, the pastor dismissed a Friday night service because the youth had a skating party booked. I was astonished that the Church cancelled a revival service for a skating party. Another pastor had a good church in Socorro, where we had great attendance and many conversions.
Waking The Dead
I love to recall one occasion when Brother Clendennen held a crusade in a church in Golden Meadows, Louisiana - down in the southern Cajun bayou country. Our Church band caravanned in several cars from Beaumont to Golden Meadows. Brother Clendennen went far ahead of us, and none of us knew exactly where the Church was located. Each car was loaded with guitars, amps, horns, and instruments, and we were running late, driving as hard and fast as we could.
We came into the edge of Golden Meadows just about service time. We saw a Church on the left that had a large crowd of cars around it so we all turned in, jumped out of our cars and started grabbing guitars and horns and drums and other instruments. The guys ran up the steps and burst in the back door of the church expecting service to already be in progress. It was in progress all right. It was a Catholic funeral wake. We were in the wrong place! Red-faced and embarrassed, we all turned and ran out as fast as we could down the road to the right church where we were truly late. Those funeral mourners never knew what in the world that band was all about.
At one particularly difficult Church in the vicinity of Tyler, Texas, I struggled to get any kind of response from the congregation. It was one of the deadest Churches I had ever been in. One day, I sat down at the piano and wrote a song called, "I'm Just Praising The Lord." It was a truly Pentecostal-style song about shouting, clapping, foot-stomping and dancing in the aisles in worship. We tried that song out on that congregation that night, and it literally brought the people out of the pews. I was both amazed and thankful and relieved. Nobody but an itinerant preacher can appreciate the vast differences in people's manner in praise and worship.
Traveling For Jesus
Dixie and I pulled our travel trailer for almost three years from Mexico to Canada, from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast, and hundreds of points between. Occasionally, we would meet Brother Clendennen for a crusade somewhere, and provide the music and singing. We booked additional revivals in those meetings. By the time I was 24 years old, I had ministered in hundreds of churches, auditoriums, camps and conferences in 38 states. We saw thousands of people come to the altars to give their lives to God, to receive the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, and to receive every kind of miracle and healing.
But we were still kids, and that was only the beginning.
Long Winding Road - Chapter 6
"A Word, A Dream, A Miracle"
Long Winding Road - Chapter 4
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