One early summer evening in April of 1972, our entire world changed. Life would never be the same again, not for ourselves and our six beautiful children, nor for most of the friends who gathered at our home that evening.
The challenge? A simple social event in our home turned into a time of prayer, and we would be brought up in “church work.” Who knew that “praying with friends” would not be acceptable? We were all members of an ultra-conservative church called “The Church of God in Christ (Mennonite.)
It started with a simple phone call—friends called to ask “Could we come over and talk with you regarding some questions about Scripture? Our friends from the north have raised some questions in our minds about how we should live out our walk with the Lord.”
We said, “Of course,” and then decided to invite a few more couples who we believed would enjoy the fellowship. And so, five young couples in their twenties came for a “social evening” that would likely include a time of singing. We knew the old hymns but were always eager to learn new ones that someone had learned and could teach us. Most Holdemans knew how to sing in four-part harmony, making for a pleasing blended sound.
Musical instruments are forbidden.
However, after visiting causally about news in our tight-knit social group, someone brought up the “prayer movement” that had started in a Northern California congregation. One of the couples was from the North and were eager to share. This was intriguing to all of us, since there was always a desire to draw closer to the Lord.
So when someone suggested we have a time of prayer, we thought this would honor the Lord. And so we gathered in the living room and rather hesitantly began to pray. Most prayers were prayers of petition: “Lord, is the way I’m living and are the desires of my heart pleasing to You, or is there some way that I could draw closer?” I want to honor You in every way.”
To our amazement everyone prayed, including the women, who did not usually pray aloud publicly. And the prayers continued for nearly an hour as this group of young couples sought to draw closer to the Lord.
When we stopped, we knew that we had connected with the God of the universe and that our requests had been heard. And in some way we could not define, our lives had changed.
Our friends went home about eleven o’clock, and my husband and I stood in the living room with our arms around each other, wanting to pray a prayer of thanksgiving. We began to pray, but then stood in silence as the Presence of God invaded our lives. We were being bathed with a love so sweet and comforting being poured over us and into our hearts, and we had a sense of the presence of Jesus standing in the room with us. Our questions were being answered with the words, “Just trust Me.”
Little did we know that our local ministers would interpret this event in a very different way. What we saw as a precious time of prayer, they saw as questionable at first, then as deceptive. Soon they identified the events of that evening as “demonic” and all who had been at our home that evening needed to repent. But for most of us who had experienced this prayer time, we knew our lives had changed and that our desire to live for Jesus had intensified. We had broken no rules nor had we tried to “teach” that we needed a “prayer movement.” However, in about two weeks, a church council meeting was called and we were brought into account by the three ministers in our congregation.
The entire story is told in a book by Leona Koehn Nichols entitled “Other Loves All Flee.” This book is an opportunity to learn more about how ultra-conservative churches such as “The Church of God in Christ (Mennonite) operates and why they excommunicate members whom they feel have “deviated” from the truth as their ministers understand it.
The book of poetry entitled “Quiet Things, Quiet Places” are poems Leona Nichols has written over the years as she tried to put into words the thoughts and inspirations that were part of her life.
Willis and Leona Nichols are those rare individuals where the joy of the Lord really does show in every conversation and encounter. They have been a part of the family at New Life Christian Center almost since our beginning. They have never been spectators or casual attendees, but have been actively involved and connected in every aspect of New Life’s call to see people come to a real and authentic faith in Jesus Christ. The vibrancy of their own authentic faith has been an inspiration to me, as well as to our entire church
Pastor David Larson New Life Christian Center
Leona’s books are inspiring and have expressions that touch the heart. Her unique way with words carries the reader to a moment in time where many have been before. She always brings glory to God and makes our world more loving and peaceful in His love.
Other Loves All Flee is beautifully written and told in a truthful, unforgettable manner. It held my interest from the first page to the last. It is a “must read” for all seeking to know the Lord and break free from the bondage of legalism.
I also loved her poetry book, Quiet Things, Quiet Places, and used many of the poems as a devotional for my quiet time.
In a culture of little change and a high regard for the traditions of the elders of their church, an amazing story takes place. When God is encountered in new ways, the old wine skins of tradition are found to be too brittle to contain the new things God does in a conservative faith community. New joy and great sadness erupt.
A Word of Thanks
To give thanks to the many people who have impacted our lives in a positive way would be impossible. However, certain individuals stand out as having been especially encouraging. These I would like to mention by name.
First of all, my husband, Willis, with whom I have shared this journey, and whose insight and kindness have always been a blessing, especially during the most difficult times.
To my three daughters, Micki, Bethany, and Darlisa, all of whom have prayed and encouraged, and whose personal commitment to Jesus is always an inspiration to me.
To my three sons, Bruce, Danny, and Jon, whose love for their mom has given me joy and has encircled me with their tender caring.
And for the many friends who listened, prayed, and encouraged during the hard times. I especially thank friends, Ray and Glenda Eck, who walked through much of this journey with us, and whose prayerful support and knowledge of the Word was fittingly given at just the right time.
And to our pastor, Pastor Dave Larson, whose gift of encouragement extends to the many and diverse members of his flock who depend on the Holy Spirit teaching them through his ministry, week after week. All of these dear ones have impacted my husband’s and my walk with the Lord.
I owe a debt of gratitude for the hours my daughter Micki spent in editing and re-editing, catching many of the mistakes I made in this manuscript. Her skill brought clarity in how events and thoughts were expressed. And for Darlisa and husband Tim, who understood the directions and prepared the photo section that gives a glimpse into our family.
Finally, and most of all, to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who loved me enough to walk with me though the Valley of Misunderstanding that was so much a part of our story. May His name be lifted up and may all men be drawn to Him. Amen.