The Day the Jesus Movement Caught Up to Me

It was the early Spring of 1971 and I sat frozen in the passenger seat, silent and numb, while my girlfriend drove the San Diego Freeway. We were cruising to my execution, I knew, because if I followed through with what we were proposing, I’d die to myself in countless ways.

Yet what else had the last few months been leading up to, if not this? Anne and I had been dating since January and, at her insistence, also making the trip 4-5 times weekly from Long Beach to Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, a little Spanish-style church bursting at the seams with newly
converted hippies.

For three months I’d attended Calvary’s Sunday services, weeknight Bible studies, and two evangelistic concerts held in high schools. Every meeting ending with invitations to receive Christ, scores of people coming forward to respond, and me glued to my seat stubbornly assuring Anne, “Soon,
I promise.”

Now it was Soon, a Tuesday afternoon in April, and I’d agreed to go with her to Calvary and speak to a man she called Pastor Romaine about becoming
a Christian.

I was 16, crazy about Anne, curious about Christ, and clinging to a gay identity. Of course, in 1971 you clung quietly to such things, but I’d been secretly enjoying a heady, hedonistic year meeting adult men in LA for drinks, parties, and sexual encounters.

It was a dangerous pattern, for sure. But somehow the affirmation I was finding from so many men, and the pseudo-sophistication of passing for an adult while enjoying the seamier parts of the Hollywood scene, left me feeling ridiculously important. Christ would require all of that from me, replacing it with … well, what?

That’s what I pondered when we pulled into the church parking lot, Anne dropping me off in front of the office while she went into the sanctuary to intercede. It was now or never.

What Must I Do to be Saved?

An attractive middle aged lady named Liz oversaw the reception area, polite but crisply efficient as she welcomed me, indicated a chair, then returned to her typing while continuing to talk.

“And your name is?”

“Joe.” I was shy, and Liz was a machine. Obviously the woman tackling the paper mountains hiding her desk wasn’t up for small talk.

“And you want to see Romaine about?”

Typewriter keys sound so loud during awkward pauses. Oh, just say
it, coward.

“I’ve been hearing a lot about – you know, all this, and, well, I wanna know how to – I mean …”

Liz froze, stopped typing, and looked my way, the entire building seeming to hush with her on cue while she whispered:

“Do you want to know Jesus?”

No deer was ever caught in such headlights.


Definitely not whispering now, Liz glowed, morphing from robot to angel like a Disney character, all smiles and gleaming eyes.

“Yes.” I looked around to see who said it, realized who, then repeated, “Yes,
I do.”

“Halle LUUU jah!” One desk pound. “Romaine, come on out here!” Two desk pounds, summoning a short, sturdy looking guy who clearly didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Liz composed herself. “Here’s a paper I need you to sign.” Then not. “But THIS young man wants to know Jesus!”

Romaine assessed the blonde kid in bellbottoms trembling before him, smiled a half-smile, then crooked his finger, inviting me into his office. The options were limited: let Liz throw me over her shoulder and drag me, drop and give Romaine 30, or walk in voluntarily. I walked.

Then sat. “Joe, I hope I’ve learned not to play games with the Lord”, Romaine began, pulling a chair close to mine. “So tell me, do you really want to
know Jesus?”

“Yes. Really. But I’ve got a problem. I’m a homosexual.”

Back then you expected a punch in the face after saying that. Instead I got a firm hand on my shoulder.

“OK, let me tell you something. God never meant you to be that, any more than He meant a woman to be a lesbian. But Jesus can free anyone. More than that He can save anyone, because if you weren’t a homosexual you’d be something else. There’s always some way we fall short, don’t you
know that?”

What strikes me to this day is the gentleness of his tone. Later I learned Romaine had been a Marine drill sergeant, but that afternoon he was a shepherd, tenderly reassuring a confused boy that his hunger for a man’s love was being directed all the wrong ways, and that only God’s love would free him, much less fulfill him.

He invited me to pray, then led. I followed. It’s a sacred dance, one person helping another articulate Lord have mercy on me a sinner then pivoting into Whosoever will may come and finally For this which was lost is found. We’ve been doing it for centuries.

Then Romaine peered at me. “You know, Joe, Satan’s pretty heavy. I really felt him while we prayed. He wants you. Get right into the Word, and I mean daily. God will blow your mind.”

Another pat on the back, then he stood. Meeting’s over, Roger that.

One more finger thrust. “You make sure I see you in Bible studies this week!”

Indeed, a week later I met him in the church foyer and he reminded me again to walk with God, because I could always choose to walk in the gutter again. But I mustn’t.

Found, But Not Forgetting

So the Jesus Movement, or more specifically Jesus moving through His church, caught up to me, then caught me, then kept me. 48 years later, despite errors and wanderings, yes, He still keeps me.

Now my kids are grown, my work’s been wonderful, and I qualify for Medicare this year. I cry lightly as I write this, not at the prospect of 65, but at the memories of so much that happened so fast in those electrifying days, and at the fact that we don’t know – and therefore cannot appreciate – that we’re experiencing something historic until it becomes literal history. How good we had it; how amazing it all was.

But can movement from Jesus ever be historic? As Andrae Crouch famously wrote, “It ain’t no new thing, ‘cause Jesus started moving a long long time ago.” Yet something’s missing today, something I remember from those days and truly wish I saw more of in 2019.

Where are the Anne’s, who’ll risk a relationship (as she surely did) out of love for an unsaved soul, the sort of love compelling her to continually remind me of Christ’s claims, promises, and warnings?  She didn’t “nice” me into salvation with seeker-friendly generalities. She shared the gospel, never feeling that “sin” was the S-word to be avoided, yet always reminding me of God’s love and desire for me.

For that matter, where are the Liz’s who get so pumped about a person’s imminent conversion that they put angels to shame? The excitement she exuded was the perfect prep for Romaine’s prayers, because it showed me that Christians really believe this stuff, and they go outright manic when you’re given the grace and faith to believe it, too. Her joy upped my faith right then and there.

And the Romaine’s, where’d they go? Where are the men who’ll gently remind a homosexual that God has so much more for him, not avoiding the controversial truth about sex, but tempering it with the more general truth that all have sinned, all are desired, all can come, and all must decide?

I tremble to think of the hemming and hawing so many pastors today would make if that same 16-year old gay kid walked into their studies asking honest questions about sexuality and salvation.

Today, every believer I talk to is praying for revival. Good; let’s keep at it. But let’s also remember that where there’s revival, there’s passion
and clarity.

There’s passion for the truth, because it’s truth of the life and death sort. Passion to see souls saved, saints matured, society impacted, and God glorified. Take passion out of the equation and whatever you may have, it certainly won’t qualify as revival.

But revival without clarity is also unthinkable. Clarity, in fact, seems to have marked every revival I’ve read about. When God moves, certain truths emerge and are expressed in bold type. People are seen as either saved or unsaved; something is either Biblical or it’s un-Biblical; believers are either carnal or spiritual.

Is it possible the lack of these two pillars – passion and clarity – is at least one of the culprits in the Why’s There Not More Revival mystery?

I don’t know. But I know what I saw and experienced then, and like you, I cannot believe it was meant to be a footnote in time rather than a way
of life.

So Lord, grant us passion for eternal truths and boldness to speak them clearly. Let people despise us if they must for saying what’s not acceptable to say these days. Let it even be said that we say it imperfectly, as I’m sure we have, do, and will.

But let it never be said that we never said it.


Jocelyne | Apr 4, 2019

I love to hear the story.... of a soul's time of salvation. What a loving God that would draw us even when we so resist. If ever you would like to read mine... it happened in the same time period, just a tad later.... here's the link.

But I agree... and I am determined to pray for such a passion that cannot keep silent when an opportunity presents itself. Passion and clarity. Thank you for this wonderful reminder.

(Please delete the link if it is inappropriate...)

Roger Agness | Apr 4, 2019

Joe, I've known of you for years and heard you speak several times but have never actually heard your story of salvation. TY. I was with CCC in San Bernardino in the late 70s and often made the trek down for a concert. 😎😎

Pbob | Apr 4, 2019

Joe, I was fresh out of seminary in 1970. I began meeting with a few kids in our church, being very upfront in challenging them and before long they were rocking their school. Our church grew rapidly, people getting saved and Dell and I just assumed it would always be like that. We took a bus load to Explo 72 and had kids witnessing to truckers at traffic lights. Now we spend a lot of time praying “God, do it again.” We so want our grandkids to see that in our lifetime.

Randall Slack | Apr 7, 2019

Always good news. I miss Romaine...

Gmulak | Feb 23, 2023

I too remember sitting at the foot of those three carpeted steps at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa looking up at pastor Jack Smith. Thank you for sharing this testimony. What a blessing you are.

JE | Apr 12, 2023

Joe, what do you think of this video?

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