The Journey - How God Started The Lighthouse Church
as told by Pastor Bill Orf, Founding Pastor
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27
Much to my surprise, I was saved by Jesus from my sin, my divorce, and my wrong view of life in the Spring of 1973. It only took one week’s encounter with God to begin my life’s change. The story of events leading up to and including that amazing week can be read in the story of One Man’s Easter, Another Man’s Spring. The account that follows begins the next week and chronicles highlights of the next eight years revealing how God spoke, how we tried to follow Him, and how He turned a broken family into His church.
As for me, for the first time at age 30, I found myself really believing in God who speaks and is present with us (the God of the Bible), dating the wife that I was divorced from 6 years earlier (who had become a devout Christian), and entering a totally new and uncharted life. The Lord had clearly spoken to Sandy and me that His plan for us included our remarriage, so we began dating, expecting to fall in love again, leading to a remarriage. But nothing happened romantically. Hmmm. Now what? I recall the two of us kneeling at a sofa one evening in Sandy’s apartment and asking God what to do. To me He said that I married based on feelings the first time and it did not last. He was right. Now He was asking us to get married by faith because it was His will. I was a new Christian and surely had never heard of marriage by faith, but if that was what He wanted, I would do it. Sandy had the same impression. With fear and trembling, we told Him we would remarry because He said so, but we expected Him to help us. As we arose from prayer to live out this decision, we began to fall in love once again and remarried in June with many of the same people attending, but we were changed. Our wedding rings have two June dates!
We began our new life together in Wilmington Delaware where I was employed in the Commercial Insurance Business, but soon felt the Spirit’s leading to move and start afresh. I applied to two similar businesses, one in New Hampshire, the other in Binghamton, New York. Binghamton was closer to our relatives in Pennsylvania while New England had all the charm, but the Lord spoke Binghamton, so we accepted the job offer and moved. We were to discover it was God’s appointment in many ways and we were glad we followed Him.
My boss was not a believer but strongly supported our family. We saw an old country farm house in need of repair and for sale, and having a longtime desire for such a place, we applied for a mortgage and were promptly turned down. After living the divorced life, we had little money to put down, the place needed much work, and it was not an ordinary property, being a 200 year old farm house, 2 barns, and 8 acres. To our surprise, the next day the bank called and tersely reversed their decision. I found out later that my boss heard of our denial, was on the bank board, and made our dream happen. He even bought us a table saw as a housewarming present! We loved the house, but found that it needed much more repair than we had anticipated. I worked at rebuilding the house in my spare time, Sandy grew a large garden, cared for Jessica, and God helped us rebuild our family.
During this first year, we looked for the church God had for us, and tried several. While calling on a prospective client, Howard Potts, we began talking about God and he invited my family to the church he attended. It was a Christian & Missionary Alliance Church that was Spirit-filled, a rarity, and had about 400 people. We felt at home and joined. One day while I was in prayer about growing with God, the Lord told me to follow Howard’s pattern of church life, so he became my mentor, although he did not know it! We became active in the Church, sought the Holy Spirit’s filling often, I began daily morning Bible study, and developed a “prayer closet” in my car during the 40 minute drive to work. We started tithing, tore up our misused credit cards, and resolved to live on what God provided for the rest of our lives. Sandy was the more mature Christian and taught a valuable girls Bible study.
We grew in love for the Lord, His church, the neighbors, and our area. And God blessed us many ways. Yet our daughter Jessica suffered from seizures that resulted from a birth delivery problem. One day the Lord spoke separately to Sandy and me of His intention to heal her! To me, driving to work, it was as if He spoke aloud from the back seat. He said to have her anointed with oil and prayed for. I didn’t know such a verse existed in the Bible. We were considering this when a deacon of the church who didn’t know us personally nor Jessica’s problems showed up at our farmhouse to declare he too heard God speak of healing! So we asked the Church to anoint her with oil and have the elders pray for her. We believed so strongly that we invited our parents to drive 130 miles from Pennsylvania to join us at the Church for this event. That day, to the eye, nothing happened, but we still believed, so we stopped her seizure medication and waited to see what would happen. In a few weeks, the first signs of change began to occur in her right hand which opened for the first time. Progress was gradual, but changes were coming. She then had a life threatening seizure, was hospitalized, and went back on the medication to help reduce the chance of these occurring. The battle against seizures was to be long and hard. We waited with faith and patience (Heb 6:12) for the final freedom which took 25 years and a surgery to complete, but God started the healing with those prayers and that anointing.
The church began a Wednesday morning prayer time. Eight men from the 400 person congregation attended, including Howard and me, and all eventually would become pastors or Gospel workers! God was moving in many places in that time period. One Wednesday morning in prayer I told God I was an old rock and roll musician (high school and college), not a choir singer, but if He could use me, I was available. This was at the time that the American church was just hearing the first worship choruses. The next week Howard’s son-in-law Dan Little came to the prayer meeting, was kneeling next to me praying, and told me the Spirit told him I played piano. In a short time, four men began a ministry together of teaching praise and choruses to churches in New York and Canada. Dan later became a pastor and his family and ours are still friends today.
Many things happened in these times. We called the farm “Genesis Farm” because it was our new beginning. Sandy had hand-painted a beautiful sign that hung on the edge of our driveway. We needed to paint our weather-beaten silo (and I fear height), and wanted to put some meaningful date, name, or sign on it. You could see it from the golf course across the road, and since Rt. 38 was perfectly straight, lying in a valley between two high ridges, you could see the silo for a mile down the road. With the Spirit’s help, we found the right picture, drew our design on paper, and measured various scale distances on the plan. We then went out and climbed a shaky ladder, making corresponding chalk marks on the silo, then connected the dots, and began painting. The background was dark red, with a white 33 foot high hand pointing up to a cross with the words “One Way” written across the back of the hand. It amazingly looked great! Lit by spotlights at night, it was the subject of newspaper articles, became a well-know landmark, part of the visual landing pattern for Broome County Airport, and travelers stopped in just to talk. At that time I worked in the yard every Sunday afternoon cutting grass and doing other yard work. One day God spoke, saying that if I wanted to put up a sign about Him for the golfers and others to see, He didn’t want me working on Sunday beneath it! So I quit. We were changing, doing new things. I began greeting people at church. Sandy and I were called by the church to help a woman in severe emotional distress. We held a Christian musical concert in our field. We were becoming a real part of the community of God. We received a property tax bill, and in error, we were billed for vacant farm land. We knew it was not right, so called to have it corrected and were told either forget it or come to “Grievance Day”. They said we were the first people who had ever complained about their taxes being too low, but happily adjusted them. Then I though they were too high, but didn’t object (I must be hard to please). In those days, we had little extra money, but life was good.
I was beginning to prosper at my job, but ran into a stumbling block, cocktail parties. We had a clientele of affluent business owners for whom we provided various insurance and bonding services, as well as chartering aircraft to fly with them to special bid openings around the country. I discovered that parties were part of the program. As a young Christian, I had recently said goodbye to alcohol, and I knew that parties with alcohol also presented moral temptations. So I sadly went to the boss to resign because I could not fulfill that part of the job requirement. By the grace of God, he immediately asked me to stay, relieved me of all “party” responsibilities, and my assignment was strictly professional. Hallelujah! We loved my job, our farm house, local church, and our neighbors in Newark Valley – our life was set!
Then God spoke again. Driving to work one day, He said, “I want you to leave your job and move back home. I have something for you to do.” That was it. Sandy heard the same thing. What did He mean? We talked to our pastor who felt it was God who spoke. Our friend Dan Little said he thought I was called to be a pastor. I said I was sure that was not the case. However, when God speaks, either you listen and follow Him or you don’t. There was no explanation, no figuring it out, nothing but His word, “GO”! The Bible says faith comes by hearing God’s voice (Romans 10:17), and with His Spirit’s help, we decided to go, leaving all, not knowing where we were going. It was a bit like Abraham and Sarah.
Our first problem – how can we sell our house? The market was flat, and our old house was far from being redone. Seeking the Lord’s help, He asked me if we would accept what we paid, plus the cost of materials we had put in our home in three years remodeling. (No profit – apparently there are times that less money is more profitable in learning certain lessons about His Lordship.) We agreed, and did not put up a For Sale sign, nor tell any realtor. In a short while, a Gospel group asked to use our silo for a picture for their next album cover. It was a sunny but cold Spring day, and Sandy invited them into the house to warm up. One of the guys instantly fell in love with the house and offered to buy it for what he could afford. You guessed it, exactly what God had said! Meanwhile at the office, my boss was astounded when I told him we were leaving, and our reason. He closed his office door and asked me to tell him how God had spoken to us. After listening, he wished us well and also said if we changed our mind, we could come back and he would give me my job back. Nice blessing! Incidentally 2 years later, when we had very little money pastoring our new church in PA., that boss sent us a $500 check! Who gets such blessings but those who serve God!
In June of 1977 we moved back down to our home area and since we had no place else to go, moved in with Sandy’s parents who welcomed us. As we waited for God’s word, I thought that if we want to eat, we must work (2 Thes. 3:10), so I decided to temporarily sell wood burning stoves, a popular item in New York when we left. My father-in-law helped me, but it was not in God’s will to prosper us that way. God was teaching us to rely on Him, not ourselves, so the business lost money. I gave it up and we then trusted God alone for our provision. We built a very small house with much family labor, moved in while undone, and heated it with firewood (for the next ten years). We lived with only the basics of life, not even health insurance for Jessica, yet kept “tithing”, as God provided. Throughout this period, our families were ever gracious to us, though no one knew what we were doing, including us!
And finally God spoke. I could feel it coming. One Sunday while worshipping in a local church, I told God I had no special talents or gifts, but would serve Him wherever needed if He would covenant with me to give me His Holy Spirit and not take Him back. He agreed. Soon after that, late one night God said He wanted me to pastor a church. I was surprised, but recovered enough to ask where I should go to school. His reply was to start a church now in our home! I said or thought, “Who would go to such a church? I wouldn’t!” When I got up the next morning and told Sandy the news, she told me God had given her a list of names of a few people to invite! Who can understand the wondrous works of God? As to a name, God had been leading our family for a long time by using the Book of Isaiah one chapter at a time. We were in Isaiah 59, and 60 followed, opening with, “Arise, shine, for your light has come!” We were to be called The Lighthouse. Again, faith comes by hearing God’s voice, so we told these few friends of our calling and prepared our unfinished home for our first Sunday’s service on April 9, 1978. I put a long board on props to walk up to the door, as there was yet no walk or steps. Sandy made me buy and install a door on the bathroom, and so we began, not knowing where we were going.
There were just a handful of us in those early days (God’s plan and a good thing). Sandy remembers one service with our family and just three other people. We met in our living room with no carpet on the floor. We led worship, Sandy playing organ and I played piano, and then I preached. We were a church built on faith out of necessity and belief - God would provide or we would fail. We were a family, and sometimes invited the entire congregation to dinner afterwards! Tithes and offerings for the first year was $3749. God had told us to use ½ the offering for the church and ½ for us, and to not tell people of any personal financial needs. We routinely prayed over all household goods like food, detergent, etc. asking God to make them last. It was in this period that the “milk lesson” came. We had very little milk, so I thought we should not drink it. One day the Lord said faith drinks the milk and believes He will keep the supply coming if we serve Him. The light came on! So we grew, learning many lessons the best way, and Sandy’s parents and brother’s family, the Shifferts, the St. Clair’s, the Evans family, and a few others joined us in our living room. My mother, as kind a mother as anyone could ask for, was absent and unsaved. It greatly upset her social order that I was pastoring a different kind of church in her home area. In fact, she once told me this would kill her. This alarmed me, but God encouraged me not to worry or argue, but simply to tell her His truth when asked, and of course, pray. One evening in 1980 our daughter Jessica asked her if she would like to be saved. God used that to melt her heart and she was saved at age 78. She soon became our strongest supporter!
By fall of that first year, almost 50 people jammed into our small house. We were out of room and winter was coming. We lived on the top of a mountain with an extremely steep dirt road as our only access. Unless we got another place to meet, the first snow would be our last service. We prayed for God to open a door and called many local churches, hoping someone would rent us their building for Sunday afternoons. No one responded. I recall Bruce Evans, a born-again Jew who had joined with us, telling us that he felt God would give us a building on the week we needed it. We received a phone call one day late in fall from a woman asking if we still needed a church building. YES!!! I imagined her to be a church’s secretary, but she then asked me one question and only one, “Did I believe in speaking in tongues”? OH BROTHER! Few churches in our area were born again, fewer still Spirit-filled. There was no more controversial topic. I was sure she wanted a “No” answer and considered not telling the truth, but I couldn’t lie, so I told her “Yes”. Rose Hoffman, pastor of a Nazarene Church in Schuylkill Haven, said that we had gotten ourselves a church building that she owned in Port Clinton on Rt. 61, close to our home. She had intended to start a second church there, but that never happened, so it was empty. She asked only $5 per service, and the week we moved in, it snowed! Hallelujah!
Many good memories followed in those early days. We had our first Thanksgiving Eve service where people actually gave thanks, and it was wonderful. We visited Blue Mountain Christian Retreat often for fellowship and teaching, and through them met Ari and Shira Sorko-Ram and their family. Ari, a born-again Jew, had played professional football and been an actor on the Hawaii 5-O television series. Now he and his wife felt called to bring the Good News of Jesus to Israel. God had already spoken to me about the importance of supporting Israel, so they became our first missionaries, based in Tel Aviv. Though they have become famous and gradually attracted many other supporters, we have supported them by finances and prayer every month since then. They too are 30 years old, and in recalling their history and support, mentioned us! And who can forget when the Jewish music group Kol Simcha was coming to our church. God warned several church members that the church floor would collapse if we all danced with them in worship. So having been warned, we did not dance. Nevertheless, during the evening, there was a very loud CRACK. I knew the support beam had split, but the floor had not collapsed. We asked the people to quietly go outside to finish the concert. The next day, our inspection of the beam revealed it had split. That very night when God saved those who listened to His voice in Port Clinton, on the other side of America scientists were observing Mount St. Helens volcano, relying on their instruments and judgment, and it blew up, killing many. Hmm. And we remember Sandy’s wonderful annual slide shows set to music, showing life in God’s family for the past year. And one visit to our County prison led to another, and finally to a prison ministry. An inmate (Paul Stoppie) awaiting trail and I became friends. Many people in the church also befriended him and his family, and we have visited him monthly from then until now (recently we figured I’ve driven 40,000 miles over all these years). He has prospered in prison, having become a leader of his church, a preacher, and a trusted prison employee. And a multitude of other memories – hot summer services, cold Easter Sunrise services on the mountain, the Holy Spirit sending people and bringing healings, and Bruce Evans and Ed Shiffert were Deacons.
By the end of 1980, more people joined us and our offerings had risen. Led by the Spirit, in 1981 we purchased our own building on Rt. 61 in Deer Lake, which in our youth had been The Pines Restaurant. It was then a defunct pizza place upstairs with a garage in the basement, and the price was $84,000. The bank required Sandy and I to personally sign the note to borrow the extra money needed. We renovated the building with our member’s labor, making the upstairs useable first. The basement was completed about two years later.
Now 30 years of amazing grace have passed. We have tried to listen to Jesus’ voice, spoken by The Word and The Spirit, and then tried to follow Him. The whole story has so many more events, people, miracles, joys, as well as sorrows and sacrifices, that an interesting book could be written about lives made extraordinary because God was with us. Emmanuel. Things change but He has been faithful. His call to live by faith, hope, and love remains as “darkness covers the land and deep darkness the people. His Sheep still hear His voice, and follow Him.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.”
We are The Lighthouse Church.