Category: Mercy and Healing

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

A Global Gift

Toni Dolfo-Smith’s help to me in Germany was but a glimmer of what he offered to the global work of Living Waters. He has since come alongside of me to release Living Waters in humility and power; he is matchless in mercy.

I first met Toni 20 years ago at a Leanne Payne conference in Canada. I was on her team; he was curious. As a man vital in faith who had come out of homosexuality and recently married, he wanted to understand the ministry of ‘Living Waters’ and to benefit from it.

That conveys Toni’s humility. He is infinitely more gifted and well-rounded than me. As a young political activist, he fought apartheid in his native South Africa, then became a doctor of architecture (he taught at University), a seasoned businessman and trained therapist, not to mention a world-class painter, interior designer and florist. My former assistant Char rightly described Toni as a new ‘concept’ in human possibility. I alternate between weariness and envy in considering his many talents.

Try gratitude. Toni is worldly in the truest and best sense. It cost him. Satan led him out to the end of his earth and offered Toni everything. Toni chose the narrow way of Jesus: death unto real life, the kind of influence that only pure mercy can afford one. He makes my heart glad.

He slowly—one by one—released his grip on a variety of enterprises in order to dig ditches of Living Waters in Canada. God increased his measure. He helped me navigate the development of Living Waters in South Africa then took it over. He has come alongside of many to help release Living Waters on every continent; he now oversees the development of Living Waters in Asia.

Toni in his exotic good looks is perfect in appearance for the role. He is the ‘international man of mystery’—as Indonesian as he is Turkish, Mexican, or Brazilian. Airport immigration likes him; they ask him a lot of questions.

In his mercy-giving, Toni combines the wisdom of a learned man, the tenderness of a man humbled by weakness and grateful for healing, the creativity of a fine artist, and the drive of a disciplined achiever. I hope that God used Living Waters to help bring out the best in Toni; certainly He has given His best to Living Waters through Toni.

I do not know of one who had so much to give and yet who came alongside of me to serve and to learn. He worked really hard to trust me, even as I did the same.

I trust Toni. We work out hard things, and they get harder as he steps out more in the authority God has given him to release Living Waters. It is a blessed challenge—it has made me grow. It has made our global offering of mercy grow.

I trust him with the ‘water world’ God has entrusted to me.

Would you please agree with me: ‘Please God, bless Toni Dolfo-Smith (and wife Mardi plus kids Cal, Mackenzie, Dakota, and Garrison) as he has blessed me and countless others with the work of Living Waters. Pour out abundant mercy on them as they have given their lives for the sake of Your mercy.’

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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Dancing in the Dark

In the expanding world of Living Waters, God’s mercy always took the form of my travelling partners: alongside of men like Kin Lancaster, and women like Sonja Stark (our first international coordinators), we were able to overcome cultural and spiritual hurdles to releasing water from the Rock, Christ’s beautiful, broken bride.

No solo efforts here. We became a united ‘body’ to serve the Body. All over the world.

Jet-lagged, facing crowds for whom our offering was all-new, usually offensive, and always emotionally draining, we relied upon each other. We exposed our own weaknesses to each other, so that God’s power might rest on us. He wanted our ministry of deep healing to be real, not a show; we wanted it too. The church had suffered too long from her unacknowledged sins and wounds.

Sonja came from Germany to help build the international expansion of Living Waters. One of our earliest and longest trips was a three week tour of her native land—from Munich to Hanover. Every day was a different ministry stop; we flew over the autobahn in a van then stopped to release ‘living waters’ in churches throughout the nation. Toni Dolfo-Smith and Susan Highleyman made up our foursome.

Our last stop was a castle in the middle of Germany. Weary yet invigorated by doing two-weeks of intensive ministry, we spent our last week there leading a Living Waters training.

The castle had become the center of an ‘ecumenical’ Christian community; we discovered that meant they believed in everything and nothing. Not helpful. The castle had been a Nazi hospital during WWII, and was perhaps the most spiritually oppressive site I had ever ministered in. I knew that if we did not stand firm in simple, Jesus-centered faith, we would not be able to stand at all (Is. 7:9)

The spirit of death usurped our strength and threatened to flatten our efforts. So we danced. At every worship set (led by the irrepressible Susan Highleyman), we would kick up our heels and overcome the spirit of heaviness with child-like praise and movement. We danced on the ground of oppression. In so doing, we reclaimed that ground for the Kingdom of Christ.

God gave us the grace of David in 2 Samuel 6:20-22 when he danced like a wild-man before the Lord and declared to those who accused him of vulgarity: ‘I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But I will be held in honor…’

We endured the shame for the joy set before us. Our joy? To witness the resurrection of our German friends, still living in the shadow of death. I spied one particularly morose nun looking from the sidelines then joining us in the dance. God turned her mourning into dancing.

We danced, we prayed, we taught, we fought in the Spirit. My beloved friend Toni D. roomed next to me and awoke to hear me screaming in my sleep (I recalled nothing.) Like the amazingly faithful man he was and is, Toni stayed up most of the night outside my door and simply interceded for me. That’s the kind of guy Toni is: an embodiment of God’s mercy.

That’s how we dug ditches of mercy throughout Europe. We did it together.
‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.’ (PS 12:3)

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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Finding the Way Home

One of the perils of my long distance running overseas is the threat of getting lost. No idle threat: I have been thoroughly disoriented in the great capitols of Europe (and beyond)–without map, address, or language with which to find a way ‘home’. I now recall amusedly what was then ‘panic in the streets’ of Helsinki, Rotterdam, Milan, Bergen, Munich, Copenhagen, and Brussels, to name a few.

Yet nothing compared to the panic I experienced in the forests of Fountainbleu—the hunting grounds of the French kings outside of Paris.

A little background: I had been invited to speak at the Exodus Europe conference there. I was particularly excited as Desert Stream had received a strong prophesy from a reliable source that ‘Living Waters’ would find its richest expression in the French-speaking world. This was my first ministry trip to France, and so I saw this opportunity as significant.

Before my first address, I became hopelessly lost—clueless—while running in a maze of forests. Quelle Horreur! There were no markers and worst yet, no people–the further I ran, the lonelier the landscape became.

I was terrified. Then I came upon an elderly French couple who were camping in a clearing amid a thick wood. They were startled by me, and I them. But fear gave way to joy as I realized that they might help me. I spoke broken French, they no English. He was a war vet with a wooden leg, she was arthritic and moved very slowly. They were as sweet as could be and volunteered to drive me to my destination whose name I did not know. (We were in a conference site somewhere in the forest…)

Wearing almost nothing, I sat in the back of a tiny, two-seat Citroen as my benefactors patiently traversed road after road with me. No luck. We ended up at a YMCA crammed with Ethiopians. No help. Time was running out for me—I was scheduled to speak in 30 minutes. Yet my friends were patient as could be—genuinely at ease.

Just then a woman walked by the YMCA whom I recognized from our conference. I asked her where it was: she beckoned us to follow here there. I hugged my new French guides as they dropped me off.

My talk that night reflected what God had taught me: we wander far from our spiritual home, so far that we lose peace, hope and even the language that might lead us back. We need guides. These elderly ones represented to me faithful guides in France, those in the church who love Jesus and who will go the distance with prodigals. They just need keys—tools of equipping that might help them help those like me who had been rendered homeless by sin, confusion and rebellion.

France needed ‘Living Waters’. God poured Himself out beautifully upon us in the forests of Fountainbleu. He gave us keys to be better guides for the lost; He gave us wisdom, language, mercy, and patience to help them find their way back home in Christ’s body.

A couple years later, God identified two amazing leaders in Paris for Living Waters: Werner and Charlotte Loertscher, who sponsored a large conference there. Most significant about that initial gathering (at the Church of St. Joan of Arc, no less!) were the dozens of pastors who wanted to know how to best guide the sexually broken in their churches. We gave then ‘Living Waters.’

Through His shepherds, God was answering the cries of the poor and needy for mercy. He was helping them to find the way home.

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight that what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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A Deeper Well, Waters Rising

The move to Anaheim was a shakedown. Everything that could be shaken was—from our relationship with our previous church to the still reverberating effects of our sexual abuse crisis.

God was merciful. He used both earthquakes to level us. He was preparing us for a new season of growth founded on simple trust in His goodness towards us. We sent our roots down a little deeper in the Source, and ceased to be so readily dismayed by hardship.

God demonstrated that goodness through the advocacy of John Wimber. As head of the Vineyard movement, a pastor of pastors, John had navigated dozens of sexual messes created by unhealed churchmen and women. He knew the need for safe and powerful places in the church for getting real and getting healed. He loved our main offering– ‘Living Waters’–and insisted it become a primary offering in his church and beyond.

Strength in weakness: could our little band of wounded healers step up and quicken our training of lay persons to make their churches such a merciful haven for the sexually broken? John said yes; DSM prayed: ‘Lord have mercy.’

God had mercy and insisted we do it His way. John featured me in one of the annual conferences sponsored by the Vineyard Anaheim. This 5-day conference sold out and so another was slated for the next week: total conferees over two weeks? 10,000 people! (Desert Stream did daily workshops for hundreds and I was scheduled to address the large group a couple times each week.)

Like every novice given such an opportunity, one tends to over-function, jamming a brief talk with every sparkling insight ever mined. Not helpful. God knows this. After laboring over ‘the talk above all talks’, He made it clear to me that my efforts were unacceptable. (A few hours before?!)

He led me to preach on PS 103:6: a simple word on how God works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed, those like me who had been damaged by sexual sin.

I essentially shared my story. I left my impeccably prepared teaching on my seat, and mounted the podium with a few notes jotted on scrap paper. I taught for 20 minutes and prayed over the people for 40.

God poured out His mercy in a manner I had never seen before, or since. This ‘mercy surge’ lanced the shame and pain of a Christian people who had little experience in bringing their sexual brokenness into the light of Christ’s merciful body. The screams and agonizing sobs sounded like hell breaking loose but actually it was Heaven freeing captives.

Pastors took note of the healing available for their people if the church would take up her responsibility. Desert Stream began to flow with a new force and freedom throughout the USA and beyond.

Our strategy was to train a group of lay leaders to do ‘Living Waters’ in a church; then, when locals were digging a good well of healing for their people, we would come and stir up the waters a bit in order to bring people into ‘Living Waters.’

Around this time, I recall fondly a conference we did in the heart of San Francisco.

That Vineyard Church happened to be on Folsom Street in the middle of the city’s notorious sadomasochism district; and our conference happened to coincide with the weekend of their annual ‘Leather Festival’. It was hard to bear the oppression of the enslaved. How much more heartening to watch over 400 Christians of every ethnicity pouring out of the church and bearing powerful mercy for the sexually broken!

The Kingdom of mercy is more potent than the rule of any perversion.

We were in the right place at the right time. The Vineyard Anaheim had become the hub of an international network of churches and Desert Stream benefited. Following the Vineyard model, we began to plan an international strategy for identifying and raising nationals to dig deep wells of Living Waters in their lands.

We were digging a network of wells vigorously. The waters of mercy were rising and beginning to pour out to the nations.
‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight that what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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Falling Mercies

You could say that the way to Vineyard Anaheim had been paved in righteousness—we had been cast out of our home church for doing what was right, and God promoted us. Noble.

How ignoble to discover a darker strain of sin in our own ranks. The hardship we endured in the first desert was a mere test run for the Sahara of our own making. Mercy met us facedown, seconds from death as a ministry.

It seems that a longstanding staff person from Desert Stream had sexually abused at least one teenager who had sought help from us. (I will spare you the details; needless to say, its revelation shattered us.)

Before we as a ministry even knew what had actually happened, one relative of the boy, savvy in the ways of insurance, insisted on a face-to-face meeting with Jonathan Hunter and I. He wrote down an astronomical figure that he insisted we pay out to him, or else. He threatened to take the case to the press and a flamboyant celebrity lawyer in LA. (He assumed that our large and prominent new home–Vineyard Anaheim—had millions for such settlements).

I remember looking at the 7 digit figure then at Jonathan in the unfounded hope that we were mere players in a nightmare. There was no waking up. We were living the dream.

And so we did for the next 3 years—a scourging of our entire ministry through police interrogations, the naked bulb of insurance agents and their lawyers, and Vineyard elders who for good reason wanted to know what was really going on in Desert Stream Ministries.

We the righteous became the scum of the earth—not only the defender of victims, but the predators.

More deeply, we as a ministry were torn in two. The man who had abused was intrinsic to our operation—his influence pervaded DSM. In waking up to the depth of his brokenness and capacity for deception, we were torn in two. His wife had been Annette’s lifelong best friend. Torn in two. Faith in my capacity to discern another’s readiness for ministry: torn in two. Our faith that we as a ministry could endure anything: torn in two.

News of our tragedy, now official on police and court records, attracted our accusers like vultures: ‘Do they change homosexuals or create them?’

We were torn in two. For good reason. We as a ministry had committed the sin of Achan (Joshua 7). In the name of DSM, one man had taken what was holy—a vulnerable life—and had partaken of him hideously. He then hid the evidence.

God’s anger burned at us in the same way that God’s anger burned at the whole nation of Israel for the sin of one man (Achan). He did what our staffer did–he stole Israel’s treasure then lied about it. The blood was on the hands of DSM.

Achan’s sin made us ‘liable to destruction.’ (Joshua 7: 12) As the Israelite’s did, we removed the violator from our midst and got low. We cried out for mercy. We fell face down, over and over and over. We gave Desert Stream back to God.

We knew that if He wanted us to live, we would live. Or He might gently withhold His hand and we would die. He gives, He takes: bless His Name.

At the end of 3 years, the case was settled. Our insurance covered most of the costs. Our groups were reinstated at the Vineyard, with new boundaries and requirements intact. Not one story was printed about the tragedy. God spared us. His mercy leveled and sustained DSM.

‘He who falls on this Rock will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.’ (Matt. 21:44)

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight that what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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