This past weekend I had the privilege of going to Tampa, Florida to see my in-laws honored for beginning a church fifty years ago. I have been in the Cheney family for a long time and have always known about them starting a church, but until this weekend I never really understand just what they did and the sacrifices they made.
My father-in-law graduated from Baptist Bible College in the late 50’s and moved to Jacksonville, Fl with his bride and two small boys (my husband and his baby sister had not yet arrived on the scene). He was a youth pastor at a church in Jacksonville but felt very certainly that the Lord had called him to start a church to share the Gospel and offer the Hope of Christ. He was told that he couldn’t start a church in Tampa as the city would just not receive it well. Apparently whoever told my father-in-law that did not understand the will of my father-in-law but most importantly the will of the Heavenly Father. So to Tampa he went. Alone, jobless, and penniless. His family stayed in Jacksonville until he could secure employment and a place to have church services. We live in an age where communication is so taken for granted. His only source of communicating was through letters back home to his bride. These letters were shared with us this past weekend and may I tell you I still have not fully recovered from the impact they made on me. I hope I never do. Letters from a 24 year old young man with a family to support and a burning passion for serving God in his heart that could not be stifled. We listened in these letters as he told his wife back home that he had walked miles seeking to find employment to no avail yet. He walked miles knocking on doors to invite people to come to church when he still had not secured a meeting place. He wrote how proud he was to have had 10 people in a church service one night, 11 counting the Lord. Tears just rolled down my face as I heard letter after letter and saw picture after picture of this church coming to fruition. Then as we sat at lunch that day I watched lines of people approach my father-in-law and mother-in-law and thank them for their sacrifice and told them had it not been for them and beginning West Gate their families would not have heard the message of Christ. This church was the first one in that part of the city. There are charter members still in attendance! It blew my mind.
As I heard these letters I wondered about the sacrifice both of them made. No money, wondering how they would feed their children, would they be able to find jobs. Totally dependent on God’s provision for fulfilling His calling He had placed on Gerald’s life. Not too often in life do some get to see the fruit of the seed they planted. This church now houses a Christian school and a state seminary of which my father-in-law received an honorary doctorate in divinity. He was so handsome in his robes. With all the humility that they began their dream fifty years ago, my in-laws still displayed this past weekend as they were able to celebrate with their family and friends. We are a family of 22 and 15 were able to be there. What a time we had! As we all talked of their sacrifices, neither one of them sees it that way. They said compared to the sacrifice at the Cross theirs is small. But they are great in our eyes. I have never been more humbled, honored or proud to be their daughter-in-love as they so sweetly refer to me. What a blessing for my children to get to see what their grandparents did in the cause for Christ.
How faithful our God is to us. I am beyond thankful for this family that I love so very much. Though like all families, they are not perfect – no family is. They still love each other madly and all the more their Savior. This weekend I rejoiced with them, celebrated with them, cried with them, sang with them, and marveled at the thought that we will continue this time of celebration in Eternity. We will all be there together because of people like Gerald and Judy who shared the love of a gracious Savior. I love them dearly.
“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”
As a young man eager to share the Gospel.