The Visitation is definitely not my favorite Frank Peretti novel.
I finished it today, and I must say what a stressful read it was. There were so many details, so many issues, so many things that made me angry. Sure it was fiction, but I trust that the complications and defects in the churches, Bible schools, Christian marriages, and denominational interactions as illustrated by the book reflect what’s really going on, well, at least in American Christianity.
A man posing as the Messiah comes to town and establishes a cult. He makes a close connection with a burned-out former Pentecostal minister, who in his effort to find out about the man’s past to frame him down to his senses, backtracks through his own life as well, revisiting doubts, trials, and traumas that had brought him to his sorry state. Yet in recalling his own past, he finds out the truth that grace has been with him all along.
I was bothered by the protagonist’s spiritual idealism and fervor as a youth. He grew up in a Christian family, with a Pastor dad. He was a God-pursuer, an intense prayer man, nearly patient as Job. Yet somehow quite impulsive. After high school and receiving signs of sorts, he concluded that God wanted him to go to Minneapolis and join Billy Graham’s ministry. He was completely unprepared, with money to last only a few days. He reassured his parents that since it was God’s plan, He’ll get him through. He went to Minneapolis alone, and got turned down by the many ministries he applied in. He ended up a lonely wandering musician earning ten bucks a night in sleazy country bars.
At another time, after Bible college, dragging his young wife along, he took another leap of faith to work as a minister in a distant small town church. For many years they struggled with the politics and bigotry of the elders and board members, who were callous and hard-bitten as if they’ve never had an encounter with grace. They were held in contempt in the church, despite the fact that their youth ministry was flourishing. Moreover, they weren’t paid staff, so he had to work in the mall scrubbing toilets, and his wife had to do accountancy in some hardware business. Yet struggling and guilt-laden as he was to provide that kind of life for his wife, even as he followed where he believed the Lord wanted him to go, he still remained faithful, believing everything was part of His plan and hoping for the better.
These experiences and so much more (and it would be unfair for you prospect readers of the book if I narrate further) contributed to his burned-out state, succumbing to his doubt and giving up on his passion. Yet it’s funny how as he recalled the events of his life, his fire seemed to reignite, and through them he knew for sure that the real Jesus was faithful.
But what disturbed me so much about the book was the idea that so much wrong could happen in this world—specifically within Christian circles. Politics, bigotry, blind faith, conservatism and all that stuff that comprise “Christian culture”, like mandatory skirt lengths, greeting people with “Praise the Lord”, or looking down at someone who doesn’t have the gift of tongues. Little compromises, glitches, misinterpretations of the Word that seemed to have magnified into cold tradition. And then there was the kind of church the protagonist used to attend in L.A. It was huge, and its services packed. It closed the doors when the seats are full, and the rest will have to wait in line for the next service to get good seats. The pastor was eloquent, but kept a distance with the members like a lofty celebrity. The smaller group gatherings were futile, and the volunteer ministries were full. I cannot believe God would allow these things among His people. Weren’t Christians supposed to be redeemed?
I don’t know if the same things happen in Philippine churches. At least I know the churches I attended were healthy. There were drawbacks, of course. Victory in Dumaguete suffers from mediocrity, but the hearts of the leaders and members are pure and admirable. Victory Quezon City is huge. In the few months I had to know the church, it was hard to adjust. There were so many people, so many jobs to do, so many distractions to keep members from talking to the new people. But I knew these people were true and genuinely faithful.
Now, I’ve known Victory Los Banos the longest. I attended and served for 4 years—since I became Christian during sophomore year until my first extended semester. I knew my leaders well. They hoped I became like them, evangelizing, discipling, and leading small groups. To be honest, all Victory churches seem to have that effect on me. There seems to be a general expectation towards all members which created some sort of strain for everyone. If you’re not making disciples, you’re not spiritually okay. You had to be making disciples—that is, doing One-to-One with someone or leading a small group—because that’s the Lord’s mandate. It’s a command. If you don’t do it, you disobey. Victory Los Banos was not direct or condemning when it convicted me of this in its many little ways. Nevertheless, it communicated it well, and I lived most of my life convicted of faithlessness and disobedience in this area of my Christianity. Up until today, I’m still struggling and dealing whether it’s a false burden or a finger point at my faithlessness.
Other than this, my churches have been a wonderful agent of grace and comfort in my life. Miracles, revivals, transformations have happened in my life through my church, and I’m proud to be part of it. I’m proud of the wisdom and openness of our leaders and ministers and how the stories of even the topmost men in the ministry convince us that the Lord is mightily working within their surrendered lives.
Yet it troubles me to think that we can’t all be too perfect, and in some way the enemy might have gained a foothold to bring Victory Philippines down. And it’s all hidden, unknown to the public to protect the image of the church. God forbid. Suddenly, I’m convicted to pray.
It’s the “reality” that my friends who grew up in Christian families refer to when I talk to them about my idealistic God-favored plans. I think what they have been saying is that in one way or another, the enemy is going to step on my plans, and I’m just going to have to accept the fact that it can’t all be too perfect as I intended. Travis Jordan, the protagonist of this novel, was a real, faithful Christian worthy of respect (despite the fact that he’s fictional). His responses were as God-willed as his destiny didn’t seem to be. And even when he stumbles and gives up, God didn’t fail to prove his faithfulness in His rightful time.
I could learn a lot from that.