Saturday, July 14, 2007
Warriors in Need of God’s Shield: The Pentecostal Conversion of Betty Jean Holmes
(Cowgirl, Betty Jean Holmes in last picture at bottom hanging out with friends on a "Senior Outing Day.")
As told to and edited by Qiyamah A. Rahman
In an effort to explore a more intimate presentation of the Pentecostal conversion experience I conducted an interview utilizing ethnographic methodology. I am grateful to my participant, Evangelist Betty Jean Holmes, a sixty year old African American female. She is currently living on disability in a senior citizens community in Atlanta, Georgia where she is active in local politics focusing on aging and community development. She was inspired to create a non-profit in 2002 called, Warriors in Need of God’s Shield, Inc. (W.I.N.G.S.). Its mission is to: encourage others when they are down and to lift up others higher than “we do ourselves”; to fellowship where there is no fellowship and to internationally help pastors to spread the word of God.
Evangelist Holmes does not currently pastor a church, however, she began as a member of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc. (PAW) in 1984 and less than a year later began her ministerial training .PAW had their beginnings out of the Azuza Street Mission under Elder William J. Seymour, an African American evangelist in 1906. During the next decade the movement spread into numerous small dominations, separating racially into black and white. The principle doctrines of PAW include some of the following: salvation; repentance and remission of sins; divine healing; the Lord’s supper; feet washing, coming of Christ; translation of saints; millennium; final judgment and speaking in tongues.
I identified Evangelist Holmes because I have grown to admire her strong faith and conviction in God, her cheerful countenance and her willingness to step out on the word of God. When she was diagnosed with cancer two years ago she was unwavering in her belief that God was going to heal her. She underwent surgery successfully and is now cancer free.
I became Pentecostal in 1984 because of my own emotional needs. Most churches did not seem to have the warmth to meet you, greet you and pull you in and meet some of your emotional needs. I found being at Pentecostal churches, that there was a lot of hugging, a lot of touching, smiling and entering into your space. And it began to challenge some of my own emotion issues, therefore, making me address my own. I noticed a lot of my emotional issues were coming out for me to deal with or they simply were no longer issues. As a child I was not familiar with hugging and I found hugging to be a natural form of greeting and realized that it was ok to hug. I found myself drawn to a loving culture of people. Healing began to take place because now not only was I being hugged but it was ok for me to hug too, therefore, replacing a lot of my own coldness and lack of intimacy. Smiling and cheerfulness became a way of life, and so I knew this was where I needed to be if I wanted to grow to a normal level.
My husband was saved before I was and his personality had drastically changed for the better. Where we did not go to church very often, all of a sudden he was at church daily. I became curious why he was attending church daily. So I decided to follow him to see what exactly was holding his interest. I never will forget, when I arrived at the church I looked to see if there was a woman sitting next to my husband. To my surprise he was sitting alone. I walked up to the aisle he was sitting in and slid into the seat next to him. He was pleasantly surprised to see me. After the sermon was over and the altar call was beginning, that is, the time when all the ministers are at the altar and they ask if you would like to turn your life over to Christ. I sat there wondering if I did which minister would I go to. But I was not really intending to go to anyone. As I looked to my left there was a minister with a huge hat on standing at the altar. But when I looked to my right I saw myself in my minds eye, gravitating towards an altar worker who was standing at the end of the aisle where I as sitting. I was still seated in my seat and watching myself float to the end of the aisle. When I looked down, my feet were not even touching the floor. The choir was singing but I couldn’t hear them. Bishop McMurray was standing in the pulpit. His lips were moving but I couldn’t hear him. I noticed a hand right at my elbow and I heard someone say, “What would you like for the Lord to do for you today?” as she led me to one of the ministers at the altar. I never uttered a word. But when I looked straight ahead I was standing before one of the ministers. Services were coming to a close so we were ushered to the back to the “tarrying room.” I clearly heard the minister that led me to the back say, “What would you like for the Lord to do for you today?” My reply was simple, “My husband used to have cold feet and cold hands. His entire demeanor is completely different. His hands are warm. His feet are warm. He made a complete turn around change. There is a renewed person in him and I want whatever he has.” She opened the Bible and she said to me, “I am going to show you some scriptures.” She showed me various scriptures and had me to read them out loud. And then she explained to me the necessity of turning my life over to Christ. She said that it was necessary for me to become baptized in Jesus’ name, symbolizing the death, the burial and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. So I prepared myself for this ritual. I was baptized that night and filled with the gift of the Holy Ghost, speaking in tongues as the spirit of God gave utterance. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that something miraculous had happened to me. It was as if I had buried the old Betty but had given birth to a new Betty. From there on end, everything began to whiz by me. There was the death of my son, my husband who used to be a drug user was no longer a drug user. I became more acquainted with the apostolic faith and I knew that I had made the right decision.
Over the course of the years I developed relationships within the church on various levels. But the most important relationship was the one that I had developed with Jesus. As a young adult I learned a lot in church but this level of experience seemed to be hands on. I learned more about the Bible. I learned how to stretch my learning abilities. There were classes that caused me to want to dig further to learn about this Jesus that I had reached a point of loving. Taking various classes empowered me. I had the type of pastor that through his actions you were able to learn from him. I watched him very closely. And even just by watching him I learned things I couldn’t learn in a normal classroom setting. He was the type of pastor that even though the congregation was large (1,000), if you were not in attendance he somehow knew it and would always say to you, “I missed you last Sunday.” They had new member classes that taught you from the beginning of the bible to the end. We were also taught how to look like women of God. For example, we did not wear sleeveless outfits. We were taught a decent length of a skirt or dress, maybe two inches below your knees. We were taught the proper way of wearing makeup. We were even taught the proper way of hugging a brother of the church, because there is a right way and a wrong way. Women didn’t seem to think about things like the appropriate way of hugging the brothers of the church. It was considered inappropriate behavior to stand so close to a man that he could feel a woman’s breasts on his chest. We were taught to carry lap hankies because whenever you sat down your skirt or dress would rise a few inches. And it was common knowledge that every Holiness/Pentecostal woman had to cover her legs. We were taught never to wear pants. We were taught modest make up. However, we didn’t wear make up or rouge, or wear shadow or eye liner.
They personalized everything that you learned about Jesus, including teaching you how to baptize. Bishop always remarked, “Be ye ready, in season and out.” So if someone came into the church and a minister was not available we knew how to baptize them.” So we didn’t stand on ceremony with people that had a need to turn their life over to Christ just because a minister was not there. He said we needed to know where ever we went that we needed to be able to baptize – in a bathtub, a river, etc. I began to notice in the church that there was a chain of command. But there was also an organization that we were under and there was a chain of command. This was the first church that I had been in where we were encouraged to participate in various auxiliaries. The only thing I was sure of is that I wanted to do whatever I could do to help people. So I guess you could say at that time that I was being faithful over a little bit, without realizing that God would make me ruler over much. As I began to utilize my natural talents I was taught a variety of other perspective talents, coming closer to my call to the ministry.
Mother Green taught me about the oneness of God. She said, “You are a sister, a mother, a daughter, but you are one.” When you write a check you sign it with your name. Your check is no good until you sign it with your name. The same is true of baptism, when you are baptized you are being baptized in Jesus name. I ran home and called my mother and told her what I had learned about the oneness of God. That didn’t go over well with her. She is a Trinitarian. They taught us in a one year new member class from the beginning to the end.
When my son was killed I didn’t know that much about the bible to even know that this scripture was there (Psalms 54)” I will bless the Lord at all times and his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” This versewas telling me to praise him despite what had happened. And I found it difficult when I was going through such a traumatic change in my life. But as I sat crying I remember being shown a vision. The vision was a gas gauge and it showed empty and full. And I kept hearing, “Praise me.” And I kept seeing this gas gauge moving slowly toward empty, because as I would look at the needle it was coming closer to empty. My fear was that I would lose my mind and never regain it. Because of that fear, through my tears I began to say, “Thank you Jesus – Lord I praise you.” And I said that so much until I found myself in a full blown praise worshipping and magnifying God. Once again I saw the vision of the gas gauge, except it was going back towards full. I didn’t know then that God was trying to increase my faith in him to show me in fact that his words were true, “I’ll never leave you nor forsake you, lo I’m with you even until the end of time.” I began to have visions and more visitations from the Lord, knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt even though we all say that we believe in God and we know that there is an existing God, all of a sudden I knew, as big as a skeptic as I was about everything that He was increasing my faith in Him. He was wiping away my skepticism and increasing His spiritual presence in my life.
True to fact that when the Bible says old things have passed away and we will behold the new, from the beginning of my salvation so many changes have been made within the church. Long dresses have become shorter. Standards have changed. Things that women were not permitted to do, now they are able to do. I have seen women wearing pants in church and jeweled ears are now a thing of the present. We were taught the true meaning of the word holiness, and holiness came with a price. During my call into the ministry I discovered there were even greater levels of knowledge. It wasn’t about judging people and wondering if they would make it into heaven or not. But it was all about letting your light shine so that others would see the Jesus in you. In any relationship, the longer you stay in that relationship the more knowledgeable you become with your partner. Jesus has become a viable importance in my personal life and in my ministry and as we used to say, “Not in just talking the talk but in walking the walk.” I once heard someone say, “Take the Holy Ghost with you everywhere you go.” I am so glad that I have become close enough with the Master to know that He follows me everywhere I go because I invite Him to go everywhere I go. Without Jesus there is no Betty, there is no ministry, there is no life. But with Jesus all things are made possible. With Jesus I can speak to the mountain and command that that mountain be ye therefore removed. With Jesus I know that the weapon will be formed but it certainly will not prosper. Because of Jesus and my knowledge of Jesus I know how to dress myself in the full armor and I know that when its all said and done I will see Him face to face. I am blessed because of the Apostalic faith and its teachings that have caused my faith that started off the size of a mustard seed and will continue to be increased. Because through sanctification, the things I used to do I no longer do anymore.”