3/01/2010 | Share this article:By billybee --
I was a "True Christian" for about eight years starting back in 1981. I attended a pentecostal non-denominational church (Glad Tidings-Boise) back in the first five years of my time as a believer.
After five years at Glad Tidings (a very legalistic church) I became drawn towards a different fellowship; Calvary Chapel of Boise. The vibe at C.C. was way more up my ally. I'm a professional musician and C.C. was just then forming in Boise and I fit perfectly into the youth oriented fellowship.
Calvary's Pastor (Bob Caldwell) and I became really good friends. We not only built the C.C. fellowship together, we also did a lot of prison ministry and even had some "leadership retreats" together.
After three years as C.C.'s music minister, I met some other musicians in the church and we decided to start doing some secular gigs just for fun (I even had Pastor Bob's blessing on it). It wasn't long before I wanted to get back full time into the professional music club circuit.
Pastor Bob and I parted company at that time ...but we parted ON THE VERY BEST OF TERMS. There was no condemnation from him towards me, and, I had no negative feelings for leaving the church. This would turn out to be the key to why he would eventually grant my "request" for a refund of my tithing contributions to Calvary Chapel.
Of course, I soon backslid into partying and wound up getting a divorce. After several years of living the old musician lifestyle, I met my current wife (of twenty years) and stopped drinking and settled down and had two daughters. Once I quit drinking (without A.A. or any other "spiritual" assistance) I began to read Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll. Once I discovered the internet (Infidel Guy Show) there was no turning back. I found complete freedom from religion.
After some time, I started to remember an incident that had happened to me way back in my days at Glad Tidings Church - (http://exchristian.net/
I had been watching the P.T.L. Club on TV and got suckered into believing that the Lord wanted me to send P.T.L. a thousand bucks! I sent the money. When my Pastor's wife (sister Barnett) found out that I'd sent P.T.L. $1000.00, she took me aside and scolded me that the Lord wanted his people to give their money to "where they are fed" i.e., Glad Tidings. She suggested that I call P.T.L. and ask for my money back.
So, I did just that. When I asked P.T.L. to return the money they agreed and I allowed them to keep $100.00 for being so understanding. I then, of course, gave the remaining $900.00 to Glad Tidings. After all; had I not already given the money to "The Lord"?
My jaw dropped and my eyes almost popped out of my head. We were hysterically laughing, jumping and shouting, "It's a MIRACLE!" We never in a million years seriously expected to see a dime of that money...Fast forward to 2006. One faith-free day I happened to recall my P.T.L. experience and began to ask myself: "Why not simply ask, NOT DEMAND OR INSIST, but politely ASK for my money back from Calvary Chapel?" All they could say was "no"...right? I had left the church on excellent terms, and Pastor Bob was a very cool, very laid back guy. (To view a video of Pastor Bob witnessing, just to see what his personality is like, click here.)
By that time Calvary Chapel was HUGE (for Idaho standards), I knew that Bob would certainly remember me so I wrote him a short email letter. My letter simply began by politely as possible asking him if he could help me with some questions that I had involving donations to the fellowship. Bob wrote back almost immediately with a nice letter saying that he had thought about me many times over the years and had meant to contact me and that he was sorry that he had never actually done it. He was very sweet and kind as always.
He then referred me to his assistant Pastor (Mike Sasso) for help with my questions. I send a courteous response thanking Bob for his kind words and attention. I then connected with pastor Mike and began writing questions back and forth. I wrote to Mike that my understanding was that when I gave money to the fellowship, I was essentially giving the money to God and that the church was merely "the conduit" between me and Jesus.
At first Mike was very friendly and eager... on his best pastoral behavior. Once my questions began to turn towards a "could the church ever refund money that had been given" type of query, Mike's language became stiff and defensive. He then referred me to deal directly with Pastor Bob.
In my next email to Pastor Bob I selected my words very carefully.
"Dear Bob,I did not hear back from Pastor Caldwell. I waited for a couple of weeks, sent another similar letter and included an apology stating that I understood that he (Pastor Bob) must be very busy, but I would really appreciate a response.
I know that what I am asking is probably a first and highly strange request; even for someone like you who has spent so many years in the ministry. PLEASE always keep in mind that what I am proposing is a REQUEST, not a demand. You can deny my request and I give you my promise that there will be absolutely no hard feelings on my part.
Here is my request:
Would you be willing to return to me all or any part of the money that I gave to the ministry at Calvary Chapel during my years in the fellowship?
If you say "no", I will fully understand. Your choice is final and that will absolutely be the end of my inquiry. I await an answer at your convenience.
Again, there was no response.
I sent a third letter stating (paraphrasing here:) "Thank you for the time and attention that you have already given to this matter. I will assume your silence means "no" to my request."
I had also included an estimate of the dollar amounts that we would be dealing with. BTW; This is another very amazing factor of this event: In lieu of the amount of time that had passed since my days at Calvary Chapel, neither I, nor Calvary Chapel, had retained any written records. I contacted the IRS on the matter and was informed that the process to recover hard copy of the info would be costly and time consuming.Luckily for me, my records were not needed.( I'll skip past the details, it's a story in and of itself.)
So, what the situation ultimately came down to was that my word of honor and best recollections were placed into Bob's hands for him to judge.
And then came his decision.
Pastor Bob wrote me back telling me that he was handing the situation over to the church accountant and that he (Jim) would be authorized to work with me towards a settlement!!
I want you to imagine the reaction that Bob's "concession letter" caused from me and my wife! My jaw dropped and my eyes almost popped out of my head. We were hysterically laughing, jumping and shouting;" It's a MIRACLE!!" We never in a million years seriously expected to see a dime of that money, and now here I was reading a letter from Pastor Bob granting my request for a refund.
After a phone conversation with the accountant at Calvary Chapel, Jim agreed to send me monthly installments of $500.00 until the agreed amount of $3200.00 was paid off. The checks came every month and were quickly deposited into MY storehouse!!
That was the end of my contact with Bob and Calvary Chapel - Boise, Idaho.
In closing: If I was an organized, focused and disciplined type of person, I would probably have kept better documentation of all of the components of my saga and written a book. Alas, I am not that type of person. My friends and family know me well, however, and most of them agree that out of all of the goofy shit that I have done over the course of my 57 years, my "refund from Jesus" is, most likely, the crowning achievement to date.
The moral of my story: It sometimes LITERALLY PAYS to be nice to people.
Related Article: I was a true believer, yes siree! by billybee