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Hearing the Call
"Chara, go! For this may be your last chance!" I heard this whispered in my left ear, and I recognized it as the unmistakable voice of God. It was Sunday, September 11, 1975, in the late afternoon. I was sixteen years old.
Our regular church service was over, but my dad, the pastor of a church, in Alabama, at that time, had scheduled yet another service. That one was what we called a "singing" in the South. A special group of singers would come to minister in song for the entire service.
The Altar Call
That Sunday was different for me. As a preacher's kid, I was required to go to church every Sunday, every Sunday night, every Wednesday night, and for all other church events that my dad would preach. At the end of every service, we always had what we called an "altar call," a time when the sermon is complete and the preacher asks if anyone wants to repent of his or her sins, join into the family of God, and give his or her life to Christ. My dad would ask people to come forward and pray at the altar. I just wanted to pray right in my seat. I didn't want to go down there in front of everyone. Dad pleaded with everyone in a tone of conviction and power as if it were our very last moment on earth. He reminded the congregation that we had a choice: heaven or hell; and that in an instant, (Dad would snap his finger), we could be taken into death and face eternity! He would explain that eternity is where we would live forever. It is where we would live either in heaven with Jesus Christ or in hell with the devil, burning in fire without even a drop of water to be tasted.
As a child, I was so afraid and felt guilty each time I heard the altar call. I would go to the altar, cry, pray, and beg God to forgive me. I remember I would sometimes be the first one down and the last one to leave. I would cry earnestly because I wanted to do right and live right. I was sincere, but I always felt I was sinning. I was so young. As I think back, I wonder what sin I could have committed at such a young age that would cause me to feel so convicted. I do remember having a sassy mouth and talking back to my mother a lot. I think perhaps I was feeling guilty and convicted over that.
Or — perhaps I wasn't really feeling guilt. I realize now that, even though I was young, God was preparing me to do His work. God was calling me, but I didn't know how to interpret Him. I only interpreted Him as feeling guilt rather than recognizing that He was calling upon my life and pouring His love upon me. Maybe, I was like a small Samuel in 1 Samuel 3 who heard the voice calling him but went to the Priest Eli instead of recognizing it was God.
1 Samuel 3:4-5 (KJV)
4 That the Lord called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.
5 And he ran unto Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou calledst me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down.
Fighting the Call
Most of my life, I felt I didn't fit into a group. I understand better now, but growing up, I didn't know why I was always set apart. I was not a fit in grammar school. I wore long dresses below my knees when everyone else was in mini skirts. When maxi skirts were in style, I still wanted to try out mini skirts. I remember going to school and rolling up my skirt until I made it really short and then unrolling it before I went back home. I wasn't allowed to wear pants, so that prevented me from participating in many sports that others did. I wasn't allowed to go to movies, so dates, activities, and socials were limited primarily to church events — until I began sneaking out.
When I started high school, I began to experiment with the wrong crowd. Peer pressure to go with the crowd was an overwhelming temptation. After all, I was a preacher's kid, and sometimes, I was called names like "Miss Goody Two-Shoes." Whatever that meant. I wanted to fit in. I tried to fit in. I began by smoking cigarettes, and then cursing became part of my language, so I could be "cool." One evil birthed another and another. I had a car, and I worked at Jack's Hamburgers after school, so I had some money of my own. I believed I was all that I needed.
Only God's grace saved my life. Grace is the unmerited favor from God. There was nothing I did to earn this favor! His grace is free. Only His grace kept me out of jail, kept me from becoming pregnant, and kept me from sexually transmitted diseases. Only God's grace kept me from harm and dangers when no one knew where I was and I didn't even know whom I was with. He allowed me to go through that only to turn it around for His glory later in my life. I knew God had a purpose on my life.
Going back to my earlier years, I attended junior high, during the time of racial unrest. Martin Luther King marched, and bussing was instituted in the South. I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. My family always invited black people into our home, and we went to their homes. Mother taught us to love one another and that God loved all people. She never met a stranger. I didn't understand why I was being called a "CRACKER," and black people were called other horrible names. I couldn't understand why our school children were being bussed from our regular school one day to another school far away and then we couldn't get off the bus because of the violence.
Eventually, all of the uptown, well-to-do white people had either moved or enrolled their children in private schools. Meanwhile, the village white, poor kids seemed to have moved out of town or quit school. Whichever way it happened, I was the only white girl at an all black school. I became the brunt of everyone's anger.
One particularly hard day in school, I went out running and crying. My bus driver asked me why I was so troubled, and I shared with him that I had been told by a group of young boys that I was going to be raped if I came back. What I have come to realize is that all of us, regardless of age, ethnicity, color, and creed, are effected by racism, bullying or whatever the evil may be. It hurts everyone.
That night, my bus driver and the bank president knocked on our door. I answered and they asked to speak to my dad. After explaining the day's events, they offered my dad a job as janitor at the Southern Company if he would put me in the private school. Dad was already the pastor of a church and was also a welder at King Pharr, a canning company. He got up at 4:00 in the morning, went to work, came home, prepared his sermons, prayed, and ate dinner. So, if he accepted the offer, he would also go to clean the Southern Company just so I could go to school in a safe environment.
Dad agreed to take the job, and I changed schools. Sometimes, my father looked so tired, and I wanted to say or do something, but what could I say to a father who was just trying to provide for his children and keep them safe?
Dad took a lot of persecution from the church board for taking the job. They didn't like the fact that their pastor was a janitor and even told him he had to wear a white shirt while cleaning the power company in case anyone saw him.
I was so angry with that particular board member. One Wednesday night, at the prayer meeting, Dad went around the room and asked each person if he or she wanted to pray. Everyone probably thought I would just pass on the prayer because I was so young. However, I was hurt, and I loved my daddy and knew the amazing sacrifice he was making for me. I wanted to protect him, and I couldn't. As a humble servant of God, my dad always turned the other cheek. When it was my turn to pray, I prayed in earnest and then said something like, "... and help that lady to see her sins in what she is doing to my daddy and make her stop ..." The lady and the rest of the board were present. I think God and the board got the message because it was bold, direct, and to the point. My personality, my hurt, and all that was inside of me came out clear that night. That was the only way I could protect my daddy - by talking to God.
Well, just watch how God works. That job at Southern Company actually became a huge blessing for our family. Dad moved up the ladder to a meter reader position and retired after twenty-three faithful years of never missing a day of work. If he heard a forecast of snow or other bad weather, he would spend the night in his car at the job, so he would be on time. I learned sacrifice, loyalty, and commitment from my dad. Yet, even his sacrifice couldn't carve out a place for me in my new school. I didn't fit in that school and in that group either. Most of the kids were from well-to-do families; I was from the village, and we were poor. When the kids had parties, I wasn't invited. It wasn't as though I could have attended, but the point is that I wasn't asked. I remember the kids talking about the things they were planning for their party, acting as though I was not even present. I think all those circumstances led me to be the rebellious teen I had become by the time I was in high school ... before The Call.
That Sunday, there was no guilt drawing me towards the altar. I was sixteen years old and truly rebellious. I had tasted all things that I wasn't allowed and probably should not have had. I had been searching for something in all the wrong places and in all the wrong things. I had had a taste of the real world. I no longer lived in the deep country but had been exposed to the city lights of Big City, Alabama.
I had secretly gone to movies without my parents knowing. I had experimented with smoking and alcohol and even with men. For quite some time, every other word from my mouth was a curse word, except when I was around church people or my family. I was done. If Dad made that altar call again, there was no way I would go. I made a determined decision that I'd had enough. I was one hundred percent sure nothing would sway me.
Then, Dad gave the altar call. I was convinced that he wouldn't have one that day because it was a special "singing" service. But, he did. I sat emotionless as I listened to him plead and beg. I was so full of rebellion and feeling no guilt.
Then, I heard the voice in my left ear. The voice, so sweet but mighty and powerful, said, "Chara, go! For this may be your last chance!" It didn't take me long to think about it. I had heard the voice! I immediately got up and went down. However, that time was different. I knelt down, looked up, and prayed. I can remember it almost word for word to this day.
"God, I don't know if that was you, but I think it was you, and if it was you, this is what I have to tell you. I can't live like my mother and daddy. I don't understand that life. I don't understand who You are. I don't know You, but if You ever want me, come and get me." I left the altar without any tears whatsoever. I felt the greatest sense of peace and love overwhelm me. I felt a sense of release and an embrace from heaven. I knew God had spoken. I knew that God had met me where I was.
I sat down on my pew, the third pew from the back on the right-hand side of the church. I had heard God's audible voice, so I opened the Bible to search. It fell open to Acts 1:4 and the words, "Ye have heard from me," jumped from the page, and then, I really knew! I kept reading:
Acts 1: 7-8 (KJV)
"7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.
8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
I had been called to be a missionary to the uttermost. Excitement came over me! I knew it; I absolutely knew I was called to the uttermost places of the world! That was the part that reached my heart as I read the Scripture. Not the Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria portion, but to the uttermost. That was the place that seemed was far away and dangerous, where no one else would go. That was the place for the worst of the worst situations. It was a place where people were forsaken, forgotten, and didn't seem to have a fit in the world. It also seemed like the place people who had lost their hope would go/be. That was the place for me!
Frequently, Dad would have missionaries from various countries come to our church and give reports of their work. They would show their artifacts, and I would get a thrill when I heard their stories. The more dangerous the story, the more excited I would become.
Later, I learned that God puts a passion on the inside of you and that passion leads you to your calling. God had called me, but I was still young. How could that happen? Where was the uttermost? Who was the uttermost? Why was I called to go? How could this poor preacher's kid ever get there? How could God use me when I had done nothing but run from Him? There were so many unanswered questions running through my mind and my heart. I didn't know the answers, but the one thing I did know, with certainty, absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt, was that I had been called to the uttermost.
When God calls you, He equips you. He trains you and prepares you for His service. Little did I realize that every aspect of my life was training me for special duty. I knew God had a plan for each one of us. Momma and Daddy had always taught me that. Momma would tell me, "Chara, you are special." I have to admit, I didn't feel special, I didn't look special, I didn't act special, but Momma thought I was special. She always seemed to see things beyond the natural realm. I wish she were alive today, so I could ask her more about these things.
I was the only girl in a brood of five children, the second of the bunch. It seemed I had to be the little mommy and that Momma pushed me harder. She saw something that God was doing in me that I couldn't see.
Momma laid the foundation and equipped me for my purpose and my destiny in life. She didn't love me more or less than the others. It wasn't that I was superior or greater than anyone or better than anyone, but she seemed to know I was unique and held a special calling, that I had been set apart to do a specific assignment that was intended just for me. My life would require a specific pathway, much like what Job 23:10 says, "He knows the way that I take."
I am sure that each of my siblings interpreted our family life differently. Why? I believe it was because of the difference in the nature of our assignments. If people could realize that, if they could realize what their own roles were, there would be a lot less jealousy and envy. There would be appreciation and support for each other along the journey. We are all different parts to the whole body.
I didn't know it at the time, but being called to the uttermost requires learning from a different set of rules. Later in my life, I was a nurse in the United States Navy, so I like to use military analogies. Nurses, Seals, and Marines are all in the military, but Seal teams have to play by a different set of rules because of the nature of their missions. Marines have to train differently as do nurses because of their assignment, but they are all military. People may be in the same family, but they have different rules because they have different missions in their life.
Growing up, I never realized the training Momma instilled in me. It is only after I wrote a sermon on Birthing Greatness that I understood. The example I used was from Samuel. Hannah wanted a son more than anything, but she was barren.
1 Samuel 2:21 (KJV)
21 And the LORD visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters. And the child Samuel grew before the LORD.
This verse clearly points out that Samuel was different than Hannah's other children. There were other children, but Samuel grew before the Lord. To understand how Samuel was set apart we must see this verse in its context.
In Chapter One, Hannah was one of two wives of Elkanah. She was unable to have children, but Peninnah, the other wife, not only had children but also "provoked her severely" (1 Samuel 1:6 NKJV). Peninnah was the antagonist to Hannah. Can't you see the picture? A "I can have a baby and you can't. ... hahaha. ..." kind of picture. This situation grieved Hannah's heart (1 Samuel 1: 8), gave her "bitterness in her soul" (v.10), and made Hannah pray continuously (v. 10, 12), as she "wept in anguish" (v. 10). Hannah prayed for a son and vowed to give her son back to God. God answered her prayer with the birth of Samuel.
Samuel was known in the Bible to be a great man and prophet. The word "grew" in the verse above means to "become great or powerful, to become important, to be magnified."
When you birth extraordinary things, you experience different types of labor pains. These types of births require many tears of anguish of the soul, bitterness, dedication of vows and continuous prayers, which finally cause the birth to come forth in greatness and extraordinary significance.
Excerpted from "Called to the Uttermost"
Copyright © 2017 Chara Vovou.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword: One, v,
Foreword: Two, vii,
Chapter 1: Hearing the Call, 1,
Chapter 2: My Way, 14,
Chapter 3: Join the Navy and See the World!, 20,
Chapter 4: In the Nick of Tithe, 45,
Chapter 5: Dad's Work Ethic Instilled, 50,
Chapter 6: God's Calling is Personal, 66,
Chapter 7: What is the Call to be a Missionary?, 86,
Chapter 8: How Do You Know You Have Been Called?, 120,
Author's Note, 135,