Forty Years

Bible Baptist 3

Forty years – I guess I can forgive someone for something that happened over forty years ago. That’s how long ago my dad said the Bible Baptist Church on North Beale Road stole our firewood.

The church had bought the property where my dad and I had been given permission by the previous owner to cut down old almond trees for firewood. When he called the church’s minister to get permission to remove the several cords of wood we had cut he informed my dad that the church had bought the property, lock, stock and barrel, and that the wood was theirs. When that pastor was warming himself in front of his fireplace, I do hope he was feeling some pangs of conscience.

I pull into the parking lot of that church and find it hard to believe how nervous I am. “It’s just another church”, I tell myself. Quickly my fears are calmed as I walk towards the sanctuary.

The property is well-kept with many outbuildings. I walk towards the main building, past the coffee kiosk, and into the sanctuary. I notice a book and CD table and look at what they have to offer. There’s nothing about cults or about how bad other churches or religions are, which is a good sign.

I pick a place to sit in the back row and think, where is everyone? Where is the choir? A young man starts singing a capella and a few people join in. Something’s odd; there are mostly older people sitting in the pews. The pastor walks in and asks everyone to open their Bibles. Luckily, I remembered to bring mine, but wonder if anyone will notice the small yin and yang decal I have stuck to the front. I soon realize I’m there for the Adult Sunday School and not the regular church service which starts in an hour. Oh well, it looks like I’ll get more church than I expected today. I open my Bible and join in the study.

The theme of the Bible study is how we need to be a living sacrifice. The pastor, Kerry Brown, quotes from Saint Paul where Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians that he “dies daily” and that he is consumed with serving the Lord, not with his own desires. Again the pastor quotes Paul: “My desire is on the altar.” Pastor Brown explained that we need to give our all to God because we often only give God part of ourselves.

Once the Bible study is over and the regular church service begins, many more people come into the sanctuary. It’s a much younger and more unique crowd now, although the congregation is almost entirely Caucasian. There were no African-Americans in attendance.

Pastor Brown’s sermon continues with the theme of being a living sacrifice for God. He speaks about the prophet Jonah who tried to turn his back on God and how we are often like Jonah and that we often just want to do our own thing, and hope that God blesses it.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sermon and felt that it was a good message. To do our best to serve God and do His will. Of course, that’s easy to say, but doing it is another matter.

Pastor Brown ends his sermon and asks everyone to join him in prayer. I bow my head and after he’s finished praying and everyone says “Amen”, I keep my eyes closed. I think back to the time when I was working hard in that almond orchard where the Baptist Church now stands. I can see myself as a young man, piling the cut almond branches and I can almost smell the scent of fresh cut almond wood. A deep fog embraces the orchard as wild geese cry out overhead.

I open my eyes and look out on the congregation. It’s a mixed crowd now, old, middle-aged, young, some with tattoos, some not. I can see the butt-crack of a twenty-something man in front of me, but I don’t mind. I know he could be somewhere else on a Sunday morning.

I get a premonition, as if God is talking to me, “I love these people.”

“Even if they stole our firewood?” I protest.

“Even if they stole your firewood.”

Outside the Bible Baptist Church


Pegman Tours the Old Neighborhood


My old neighborhood in Linda, that’s where I’ll go Sunday.

I search on Google Maps for Hammonton-Smartville Rd. and Dunning Ave. When the map comes up I drag and drop the little orange guy (Pegman) at the corner and head west on Hammonton-Smartville Rd. until I come to McLaughlin Way. I take Pegman down McLaughlin a short distance to a building where I used to attend church as a young teenager. It’s still a church, but it’s a Romanian Pentecostal Church now, whereas I guess it was just a regular Pentecostal Church when I attended nearly fifty years ago with my friend Joey and his brothers. We always went on Wednesday nights because that was the shortest service. If we didn’t go once a week, we couldn’t play on the church’s softball team. (Unless you were a really good baseball player, and then the pastor/coach would bend the rules a bit.)

Pentecostal Church
Pentecostal Church

A lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ went on in that church, often referred dismissively as a holy-roller church. I never could quite figure out what all the commotion was about. Pastor Booth would sweat profusely when he preached in that small non-air-conditioned building. During every sermon he’d have an altar call and ask for volunteers to step up to the front of the church. Since there weren’t many congregants it wasn’t long before I quickly noticed the same people were going to the altar again and again. I had been attending services for a short while when an elderly lady in the pew in front of me turned around and glared at me when the call came. I never did take that walk, death stares or not. I just didn’t want to take part in something I did not understand.

I did however take part in a Harvest Festival Celebration at the church. I dressed up as a girl and since I had long red hair nearly everyone thought I looked like Margaret from Dennis the Menace. I even won a prize. That was the first and last time I ever wore a dress.

I’d love to attend service at the Romanian Pentecostal Church, but I’m not sure if the service will be in English. I’ll have to phone to find out.

There’s another church nearby on Hammonton Rd. near Dunning Avenue. It wasn’t a church when I was growing up. It was the Linda Community Hall, a meeting place for the citizens of Linda. Now it’s the Abundant Life Church. Most of the words on the church sign are in Spanish, so I’ll have to phone to find out if they have an English-speaking service.


I drag Pegman east on Hammonton-Smartville Rd. past Alberta Avenue and soon I stop at 2422 Hammonton Rd. That’s where the Jehovah Witnesses Kingdom Hall sits.

JW 11

When I was a kid, it was an open field. Sometimes I would cut across where the church now stands and head over to the Peach Tree Golf and Country Club to take some oranges off the trees during the winter or in the summer to meet up with Joey and some friends to go swimming.


The golf course was a wonderful place for exercise and recreational activities. Best of all, we didn’t even have to pay membership fees. Swimming in the pool on moonlit nights was especially exhilarating, even more so when we had to hide from the security guard.

Our daylight recreational pursuits at the golf course often took place near a putting green that was close to a small pond. Joey and I would hide in the pond and run out and grab the golf balls that were hit near us. One day we almost got caught.

“Did you see those kids?” One of the golfers shouted as they drove up and jumped out of their golf cart.

“Yeah!” the other golfer shouted. “They stole our balls!”

We almost drowned trying to suppress our laughter as we lay motionless, our faces above the water, breathing, but barely visible, covered by the loose pond reeds. They never did find us.

Linda (3)
Place on Dantoni Road where we used to enter golf course. (Before the trees grew big and chain-link fence was erected to keep out hooligans like ourselves.)

Joey eventually joined the navy. He didn’t even try to be a Navy Seal, which was too bad. He might have been a good one since he already had some training.

I check the hours for church service at the Kingdom Hall. The public service takes place at 3:00 P.M. I’m taking part in a Lenten Book Study Group at the Episcopal Church in Wheatland Sunday evenings, so the Jehovah Witnesses will have to wait.

I give Pegman a rest because I know there’s a church on North Beale Rd. I can attend next Sunday. That’s where I’ll go;  Bible Baptist Church.

Bible Baptist 3

Stories about growing up in Linda, California, my life in the Unification Church and..other stuff..

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