A significant part of the vineyard movement began in a living room in Yorba Linda, California in 1977. This description of those meetings by Carol Wimber is remarkable for it’s honesty and sense of intimacy with Jesus. While we never want to live in the past, it builds faith to remember where we’ve been as we seek the Spirit for what comes next.
These letters were originally published as part of The Way it Was, a memoir on the early days of the Vineyard movement written by Carol Wimber to John and Carol’s friend and mentor Gunner Payne. We left the letters unedited, as she did. Also note that at this time, the Wimbers were associating themselves with Calvary Chapel churches. later on there would be an amicable separation of the Vineyard churches from the Calvary Chapel movement.
November 28, 1976
Gunner, a most beautiful and wonderful thing is happening in our lives… John is fine. God is healing a wound that has been hurting him for years. He once again feels that approving smile shining on him. I think the Lord has given us back that hope and expectancy that we had at first… for holiness, for change, for his presence. There is a group of us that meet at Wickwires after church on Sunday night… it is a worship time. We just talk about Jesus, sing to him and pray. It’s really great. We love it and it is the highlight of my week. No one leads. Different men are asked to share some verses or a thoughts from the Word, but everybody gets to share… I am impressed that this thing with me seems to be lasting. It’s been three or four months.
January 19, 1977
Gunner… much more has happened here since the first part of this letter. God has had mercy on us and we are in the midst of a beautiful renewal. The way the Spirit of Jesus moves on people is the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. It seems that somehow God waited for John and me to be healed spiritually, before he could move on the people here. Some sort of invisible connection that I recognize, but don’t understand…
Jesus had been our focus… just worshipping him, and it’s been beautiful. It seems that in some of our experiences we have found that we can speak a different language when we are praying… if we want to. Of course, this has been in a private time of worship… just the individual person and Jesus (no group prayer meeting). Speaking or praying, actually worshipping in tongues is much different than I had thought, before all this happened. By the way, we would appreciate you not saying anything about this yet to anyone. If the Friends Church in America knew that John had experienced this, their ears would be closed to him and his ministry. Boy, Gunner! John has changed so much. That hardness and distance that has characterized his life for so long is gone. He’s all soft again, like when you were here. Remember?
I have never been happier. And then to see the people I love, who had been wounded or just wandered away for other reasons, come back to Jesus in such a full beautiful way… well, it’s more than I can express.
February 16, 1977
Dear Gunner, God continues to move and it’s so beautiful to be a part of it and to watch what he does. I have never seen or heard anything like this before… With no one person being predominant, this thing continues to grow and grow. There were over one hundred and twenty-five last Sunday night at Wickwires. We have no program, no lesson from an appointed individual, but after worship (and sometimes during), different ones will share from the Scriptures… and all on the same theme. God’s goodness and mercy and holiness and his desire to feed and nourish the hungry ones. His care of the weak and wounded. God works it all together.
No kidding, Gunner, there is a sweet heaviness that keeps control and orders the meeting. At the end we break up into small groups and pray. It’s not unusual to hear sobs… deep sobs, during this time, and God breaks another one…
John is fine. He’s getting healed like the rest of us. It is interesting that the earmark of what God is doing here is not the gifts (tongues, etc.) but brokenness and holiness. John is in Kansas City tonight. He hates to travel now. For a while it was a sort of escape from the church. Gunner, John going on the church staff was a very destructive thing in his life. You probably knew that. Well anyhow, he plans to reorganize things so that he will do almost no traveling after May. He’ll probably finish school at Fuller and teach more up there. We’re praying about it anyhow. I know your opinion of seminaries, but John is a good teacher, and besides, it’s a living!
May 3, 1977
Dear Gunner, I wanted to wait until things settled down here before I wrote you. John met again with K.S. and D.B. [Yearly Meeting and Monthly Meeting and it was plain that we must leave. Dave wanted us to, and John agreed with him that it was the best way. Keith was very bewildered and hurt, needless to say… I know he loves and respects John and can’t understand this strange thing. He was hoping that we would put aside our ‘position on tongues’ (his words) and compromise and blend back in to the church system… Well, anyway, we agreed to leave peacefully and save them the agony of having to expel us. We asked Ministry and Counsel for a letter of release, with their blessings to pursue the work God has for us. They accepted our letter and responded beautifully. They prayed for us and told us to go with their blessings and prayers. They are sad, but greatly relieved for the most part. After meeting with Dave and Keith, Don McClure from Calvary Chapel, Twin Peaks, called and wanted to sponsor us as another Calvary Chapel. We didn’t even know that it was possible but it was so right! So Gunner, we are now Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda! John is the pastor and Bob Fulton and Carl too! I don’t know what you know about Calvary Chapel but we have been blessed and impressed by their ministry for years. Did you read “The Reproducers”? All of the Calvary Chapels have come out of Costa Mesa Calvary Chapel and I believe we are the only adopted group to happen! We feel very blessed and honored. Each church is independent, by the way. They are on their own except for any help they might need. There is something very right about that!
June 22, 1977
Well, Gunner, he continues. It’s still happening. They are all coming back. All the lost and wounded… all the strong and healthy. All of them. Everyone is being touched. I have never experienced anything like this movement of the Spirit of God in all the 14 years of being a Christian.
I wish I could make you understand… the knowing… the rightness. Do you remember that story John shared with you when you were here last? About his early experience with God and how I convinced him it was Satanic. He became disillusioned at that time… felt God didn’t love him – didn’t feel Jesus’s face shining on him like he had.
This is becoming a long story, Gunner, but as God dealt with poor John and his bitterness and brought him back to that sweet relationship that they had together at first, he also began to show John what he wanted to do here in Yorba Linda. We outgrew the Masonic lodge so we have rented Barnardo Yorba Junior High School auditorium. It’s big, so we’ll be able to stay for a while. John looks good and is so happy, and for him, relaxed.
A neat thing happened a few weeks ago on a Sunday night. One of our young men had just lost his job after taking a physical examination because he was born with a spinal deformity. A narrowing of the spine that made his back weak and easily hurt, in fact it hurt a lot of the time. Anyway, at the end of our service we break up into groups and pray. His group had all young people and he shared his problem with them and they laid hands on him and prayed that Jesus would heal him. Larry said that he felt a hot pain come on his lower back and he bent over and he felt something move and he knew he was healed and went around telling everyone. And he was healed, too! He went back to the doctor the next morning and demanded that they take new x-rays. They did and his spine was normal! He got his job back! Isn’t that nice?
I quit writing to Gunner about that time. God knows it wasn’t from lack of passion! (And I thought I was restraining myself from saying anything too emotional!) It was because of lack of words to convey to him that this indeed was God. Even reading it now, twenty-two years later, I almost slip over to Ministry and Counsel’s side. I knew even then as I was trying my hardest to make Gunner understand, this was surely a situation where ‘you had to be there.’