Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reflecting on Jill Austin's Early Ministry Days

Once a person becomes well known, the early days when they were slugging it out in the trenches, trying to forge ahead through the fires of trial and tribulation to do what they felt the Lord was calling them to do, can easily be forgotten.

We’ve been blessed to have the privilege of learning and having been in some insightful discipleship situations from some significant figures in the Body of Christ.

God, by His grace, let us learn some important lessons through relationships and friendships with people like Harald Bredesen, who was one of the fathers of the Charismatic renewal and who ministered to presidents and other heads of state, as well as Lonnie Frisbee, who was significantly used in the Jesus people movement and a catalytic figure in the birth of the Calvary Chapel and Vineyard movements.

Jill Austin was another minister with whom God connected us and had us glean many important lessons from, especially in the earlier days of her ministry. I keenly remember those times, and still draw not only from many of the things she said but also from what she was experiencing and going through as she sought to follow that heavenly call.

Jill would speak about the price behind the anointing on many occasions, but these were not just idle words drawn from some vague theory divorced from personal reality. No, she had lived out and was living out the very things she would speak about at her meetings, being a living example of the very lessons she was trying to instill into our lives.

My wife Mercedes, back when we were dating, worked for Jill as her secretary at her office in Tustin. I happened to work for a modeling agency located a couple doors down from Jill’s office. I would stop in to see Mercedes, and in the process, got to know Jill. Jill on occasion would start ranting about the heathens from the modeling agency. I ranted along with her and then let her know I was over there working with those heathen. Later she’d rant about the place just to make fun of me and the crazy stuff I was doing like modeling, surfing, and going to Fuller Seminary, all at the same time.

Jill’s response about Fuller was that they sure give you a lot of boring reading to do and not enough fun stuff, and so I should keep on modeling and surfing, so I wouldn’t become a stodgy, stuffed-shirt, conservative, boring Pharisee.

Anyways, seeing that I was in fairly decent physical shape and that we were game to go to a lot of the meetings she was doing, she started recruiting us to help with some odd jobs, odd being the operative word here.

The first crazy thing was helping her push start a VW Carman Ghia she was driving for a short time. The starter or something was dead and so you’d have to push the car and pop the clutch to get it started. This was old hat for me as I used to have to do it regularly with an old Volkswagen I once owned, I was always recruiting guys so we could cut school and go surfing, now I was on the other end being recruited by Jill.

So you could say I was primed for the challenge, except for when Jill wanted to be in the car while I pushed. It’s hard enough to pop the clutch and turn the key all at the right time, which she was struggling with, but pushing the car by myself with her in it was an exercise in futility, so we soon had to change that routine to doing the whole thing myself, pushing and jumping in starting it all myself.

On one occasion after a home meeting in Tustin, it was running so bad I had to drive it back home for her while she and Mercedes followed in my car; it would stall and then I’d have to push start it again as it then lurched around when it started. I almost hit another car because the brakes were bad on top of everything else.

She soon moved on to a station wagon, which worked a lot better for her because now she could bring all her materials more easily to the meetings. The station wagon didn’t need any push starting, which was a relief as it was huge, but we helped her out by carrying stuff in and helping her set up her table of materials that she would sell to help fund the ministry, a job that was less stressful and straining, but lacked the wild and sort of fun adventure of the crazy car.

Jill’s need to raise funds led to other crazy stuff. We were visiting her mom’s place when she was living there in Mission Viejo, when she asked if I could go down and feed the cats in the garage. I was thinking, “No big deal,” expecting to feed two or three cats. My eyes popped out and my jaw dropped when I got in the garage and there were all these cages filled with cats. I don’t know how many there actually were, but it seemed like she had about 30 cats in cages. “What on earth do you got goin’ on here?” I asked.

She meekly explained in a sort of embarrassed way that she was breeding cats to try and raise extra funds. All I could say was, “This looks like it costs a lot of money just to feed all these things plus all the cleaning up after them, and you’ll probably just get a lot of cat hair all over you and not get a lot of money out of it.”

I was smitten with hilarity every time I thought about going in that garage and turning on the lights and seeing all these cages filled with cats. I felt like I had been translated from Jill’s house to some secret cat experiment in the back wing of a laboratory.

This is a bit of a slice-of-life of what Jill was going through and experiencing in her stepping out to follow God in the ministry He had called her into, back in those early days. She wasn’t well known at this point, and was doing whatever she could, even if that included breeding cats or push starting cars, in order to keep stepping out and doing the work of the Kingdom that God called her to do. She was ministering by and large mostly in home meetings, but doing it willingly and obediently and sticking it out by doing the work full-time as God had called her.

Those home meetings were extremely powerful and we saw the Spirit of God being poured out regularly in a mighty way. These would often go on for hours as Jill prayed and gave many prophetic words to those there; the words she gave to us really helped us move forward towards God’s call on our own lives. The power of God was at full bore in her ministry even in those early days, and I truly don’t see any difference in the power that was moving through her later on when she became more well known. Rather, she just became more prominent and thus more people were touched with, and affected by, that same level of Holy Ghost power!

There was absolutely a price behind the anointing though. She experienced years and years of struggle before rising to prominence with many different rivers to cross: including shortness of funds and all that comes with that, but also with hoping and praying for some newer and bigger doors to open and to be able to move forward to reach more people with what God had put on her life to share and minister.

We saw firsthand that she was really going through some trials, but nevertheless she sought to do these meetings wherever the doors would open, often in homes, sometimes in small churches. Wherever God would give her opportunity to minister in those earlier days, she would take it and was willing to cut her teeth in the tough trenches that come with stepping out to do the ministry that the Lord had specifically called her to do.

She was not willing to compromise by following the vision of some other pastor or preacher in an established setting or church, which of course would have been much easier and would have been the much more respectable and accepted thing to do in todays Christian world. Rather, she chose to be faithful to the unique calling of God upon her own life, doing the things that God, and not men, had specifically called her to do, and she was willing to pay the heavy price that comes with following the specific vision and ministry that the Holy Spirit had placed on her life.

Trials and more trials followed, even with churches and pastors, which seemed to be the norm in those days, and I remember her saying on occasion: “Please pray for me. I cast out a demon in this last meeting and now the pastors are all over my case.” I was perplexed that they could be upset about this: “What, they want the demons to stay in the people?”

But just like in the Scriptures, even the disciples got upset about people who cast out demons who weren’t part of their little inner circle clique. They had to be rebuked by Jesus—yes, even Jesus’ very own disciples needed rebuking for opposing the work of the Holy Spirit. (Mark 9:38-41) Welcome to Spiritual Warfare 101!

Jill sought to see people filled and empowered by the Spirit and her heart’s desire was to see others fulfill their destinies in God. She was willing to pay the heavy price of following Jesus all the way and not looking back, of walking through trial after tribulation, through one suffering circumstance after another, in order to do what God had called her to do. Pull on that mantle and you’re going to find there is a very, very heavy price to walk it out, so don’t do it lightly or flippantly!!!

She was willing to fight it out in the trenches and pay her dues when pastors of certain big churches ignored her, even though she had attended faithfully and jumped through all the hoops they had put before her to get their endorsement, but even then they still wouldn’t give her the endorsement she wanted. Later, of course, when she became well known they wanted her back to help pack out and fill the seats at their conferences.

She was, as Paul said of Timothy, one who proved herself in suffering for the Gospel, a soldier for the Kingdom. She paid the price behind the anointing and further on in her ministry saw the mountaintop and now has her reward with the King of Kings.

We ourselves learned so much and were really helped and prepared for our own ministry in renewal in the Holy Spirit, evangelism, teaching, and missions, not only through hearing her speak about the price behind the anointing so often but also by watching her actually pay that price in her own life.

When we are toughing it out in the trenches in Mexico or the barrios of San Diego or living out of a suitcase on another lengthy mission journey in Europe, or sweating it out in Africa, often struggling with funds just to do the work God called us to, we are reminded of Jill. Not only of her words but also of her example and the trials and Cross she willingly endured as we saw her walk out right in front of us “The Price behind the Anointing!!”

It was a blessing to know her and be her friend, but also to gain that important revelation she often shared about being willing to endure whatever the cost.

I remember standing in Germany at the prison camp in Buchenwald on the very spot where Dietrich Bonhoffer was hung and martyred for his faith by the Nazis who were actually his own fellow countrymen. At that moment I was taken and impacted by the Holy Spirit with Bonhoffer’s theme of “The Cost of Discipleship.” Reflecting now upon Jill’s death reminds us that she lived out before our very eyes what Dietrich Bonhoffer talked about regarding “The Cost of Discipleship”: she not only spoke of it, but lived out “The Price behind the Anointing.”