The Lord directs the steps of the godly.He delights in every detail of their lives.
PSALM 37:23 NLT
Communal living was at its very best in the Shiloh ministry. There was purity of motive; girls and boys lived in separate dorms or sections of houses. We had a common goal, and that was to do everything we could to make our- selves available to God, to find His will for our lives, and to tell others about Jesus Christ. We would work together in group labor jobs and then throw all of our earnings into a common pot. The range of jobs went from planting trees for Weyerhaeuser, to picking chickens out of barns late at night and putting them into cages on trucks to be delivered to slaughterhouses, to trimming Christmas trees or pick- ing strawberries, and to doing odd jobs here and there through temporary employment agencies such as Manpower, and so on.
At the heart of all we did were prayer meetings, Bible studies, street witnessing, serving one another, loving one another, and getting ourselves grounded in the study of the Bible. Our mid-week Bible studies would cover 20 chapters of the Bible. We would read those 20 chapters in the days leading up to the study, and then one of the pastors would give us a running commentary on them. What exciting times! Again, I felt that sense of destiny of just knowing, deep down inside, that I was on the track that God had for me and that God and His will were the most important things I could do or would ever want to do.
By the way, do you know that it’s still that way today in my life? Now some 35 years later, the heart of life is no different than what it was when I first began to follow Jesus Christ. God truly has been ordering my steps, as the Scripture says at the start of this chapter, and what an ordering it became upon going to Oregon; and my, how it continues even to this day … and how I look forward to His continued leading and guiding.
In addition to doing any and every group labor job that came along, the ministry had me working on the further development of my pilot’s certificates. Restarting my flying career was no small thing for me. Getting back into a small two-seater airplane with an instructor, and in a sense starting all over again, was very challenging. Then, after getting my license updated and checked by an FAA official, I was ready for my first solo flight again. “Can I do this?” I thought. It takes a clear mind and a steady hand and nerve to fly an airplane. “Lord, help me, I pray,” was prayed often. “Cleared for takeoff,” said the tower; and off I went. Around the local area I flew, thanking the Lord each second of the way; then I was cleared to land, and down I came all in one piece.
Well, I guess there is such a thing as a miracle: brain coming out of a fog and getting reactivated. Thank you, Lord. God helped me to obtain my instrument rating, my flight instructor rating, and my ground instrument instructor rating. When I look back on all of this, I know that it was only the Lord who could have helped me make this progress. All in all, I wound up with about 600 hours of flying time.
The Shiloh ministry purchased two airplanes over time: one was a Cessna 310, and the other an Aero Commander. Both were twin engines and were used to fly different folks around in the Shiloh ministry. We would fly all over the United States, visiting the different Shiloh houses. My part in the aviation ministry was as co-pilot, serving alongside the pilot in command, who was a man named Gary. We would fly all through the Mid-west, down into Colorado, up into the Wisconsin area, down into Florida, and up and down the east coast of the United States. Can you guess what airport might we have stopped at on one occasion? Waxhaw’s airport. It was really more of a small airfield at that time. It did not have a control tower, but, rather, a small radio system that you could call to let them know that you were going to be landing there. The folks running the radio there would not have recognized the call letters on our airplane, nor would they have recognized my voice as I called in to say we were landing.
On that day, I was the pilot in command of our Aero Commander. It was a nice landing, and we pulled up to the area near the hangar and office and brought the airplane to a stop. We opened the door, stepped out and were greeted by one or two people who worked there at JAARS. I asked, “Is Mr. Piper around?” “Oh, yes, we’ll go get him,” they said. My shoulder-length hair had long been cut, my beard was trimmed neatly, there was no dog named Bernie on a leash, and I was not wearing a military fatigue jacket; so it took Mr. Piper a minute or two to realize that the person here “flying for Jesus” was the same person he had met a couple of years earlier. What a moment for the both of us! We realized that the Lord had been at work. I went on to explain to him what had happened since I last saw him that February in 1973. Needless to say, it was a moment of encouragement for both of us to see what the Lord had done. Little did I know at that time the real plans or the specific plans that God had for my life — my future wife, and the wonderful calling of God to be a pastor-teacher.
She did not catch my eye too much the first time I saw her, nor the second time, nor the third. But after a while, having become friends, attending Bible school classes together and working next door to each other (she is at an ice cream shop and me in a sandwich deli), the love bug started nipping away at me and eventually gave me that bite that I thank God for all the time. Gayle is her name. We joke to this day about who invited whom for dinner. I claim she invited me, and she claims that I invited myself. One thing I know for sure is that the pork chops she cooked that night were unmistakably delicious. My wife is one of the best cooks I know. Her specialty is home cooking, and she does it every week in our church café, even to this day. I would also say of my wife that she is one of the best Christian women I know. She loves the Lord with all of her heart, and we serve Christ together day by day and side by side and are committed to serving Him ’til He comes for us or ’til He takes us home. We consider it a tremendous privilege to be in the ministry, and we don’t take it for granted.
We fell in love — me more than she, at first. My wife came to know Jesus a few years before I did. She was in Pastor Chuck Smith’s church when it was very small. To this day, whenever we see him, I can tell of his great love and fondness for her. He has known her since she was just a young girl. As of this writing, we have been married 31 years. My wife is my best counselor. She also has excellent discernment. We are a very good match for one another.
What can I say about the value of my wife? Only God knows the depth of it. The book of Proverbs says that a virtuous wife is of great value; that’s what I have in my life. One of the things that I appreciate about my wife is that she helps hold me accountable to the Lord and to myself. She also is very humble and a great example to anyone of how to take responsibility for your faults when you become aware of them. I’ve never known my wife to back away from the truth about herself or anyone else or anything else.
Serving the Lord is our main priority together. We realize that time is going by so quickly, and we know the Bible says to redeem the time or to take advantage of the time you have. We are together trying to do that. The older we get, the more we recognize how little time we have left on this earth. We try to start each day together with prayer and reading the Bible. We will sit in my home office, and I’ll read a chapter, and then she a chapter, then me, etc. We then end our time together with prayer. We have found that this is one of the best ways to draw close together … by putting Christ first and seeking Him together through His Word and by prayer. The title of this chapter is “Cleaning Toilets at 2:00 a.m. and Cleared For Takeoff.” Well, the takeoff part has been shared, but let me tell you what happened as time rolled on.
The aviation ministry started to wind down, and I was asked to fill in for one of the pastors in one of the Shiloh houses. Back to New York, I went; actually, it was Flushing, New York, just outside of NYC. It was hard to leave Gayle. We were not married yet, but were very much in love; it was the typical heartache and heartbreak you read and hear about. My heart was aching and breaking for her, but we realized that God was calling me to go do something at the time. It’s funny how God works. He does it in such a way that there’s no mistaking it’s Him. That way, it’s easier to give Him the credit for it. He will take a very common, normal, everyday person, give them a heavenly gift, and then allow them to use that gift for Him and for the good of His people.
Well, the gift of and calling to be a pastor was not something I had ever wanted to do or even imagined myself doing, but here I was now the pastor of this Shiloh communal house in NY. One day in Oregon, and the next day in Flushing, with a house, full of people, just like the one I had gone to in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Soon I was asked to go and fill in for another pastor up in Minneapolis. So, off I went. That particular ministry had secured a contract with a janitorial company that cleaned the international airport there. We would work the graveyard shift, cleaning every imaginable square inch of the place: the main lobby areas, in front of the ticket counters, all the concourses, the bathrooms, and so on. As hard as it was working in the middle of the night, God gave me joy in my heart. I knew that this was just where He wanted me to be at that time in my life.
It was around July of 1977 at this time, and my phone bill back to Eugene was a big one each month. The letters Gayle and I wrote back and forth she still has to this day. One night while working at the airport, just after midnight my time, I called and asked her to marry me. How exciting it was to talk with her and for her to say “Yes.” Soon, I would be going back to Eugene. Those days went by slowly, but they did go by, and God’s will for the future was coming into focus. Little did I know what lay ahead.