Signs, wonders, and the very present Kingdom of God - Part 2 - Abuse and Blessing - The Toronto Blessing

Read the whole series - Signs, wonders, and the very present Kingdom of God

Now I'm not too sure where to start. I guess I should start with some abuse (and God working despite it) as that is about as far back as I can remember.

When I was in elementary school our church had a partnership with a few churches in Germany and had planted one in Vienna, Austria. Every summer for about 3 years in a row my family flew to Europe for the summer and my parents were involved as lay people doing ministry there. One year the money for the trip fell through at the last minute and my father decided we should take a road trip instead.

I was young (around 11 I believe) and I don't remember every place we visited but I do know that my father had a friend who had gone up to the Toronto Airport Vineyard to see what was happening with the Toronto Blessing. I'm not exactly sure of the timeline but I believe at this point the church was already asked to change their name (from Vineyard to something else) as the Vineyard was not sure what to do with them. I know my Dad was curious to sort out for himself what was going on. It was interesting because my father really respected the man who was working there but wasn't sure what he thought about the church being asked to leave the Vineyard.

We went to the church for a few nights in a row, and I remember a few things. Among them were that the church really was right next to the Airport. Airplanes would land while flying what looked like inches above the hotel next to the church in their descent. Next I remember the lines of duct tape at the back of the church. The sanctuary was packed (I would guess 800-1000 from my memories... but I was small, it could have been MUCH more or MUCH less) and at the back of the sanctuary was a very big open space of carpet with parallel lines of duct tape on the floor. The lines were about 8 feet apart and I asked my dad about it. He didn't know either as I recall, but there were people dancing with flags around I think this was the first time I had ever seen that. I remember not knowing what to think of the dancing but I almost vividly remember thinking women should not wear spandex in church, even if they were dancing (thats a great memory).

The first couple of evenings were pretty uneventful and I remember little except that after the teaching the whole sanctuary of people would stand up and move to the back of the room. We would all face the same direction shoulder to shoulder and stand on the duct tape. Then some men (maybe two or three groups of two) would walk along the crowd one man in front of the people and one man behind. The man in front would pray for people and then they would fall over and the man behind them would catch them, lower them to the floor and then they'd move on. The first night the men prayed for me and then pushed me on the forehead and I fell over and was caught and laid on the ground.

Now I've heard of being slain in the spirit but this was not what was happening. Nothing supernatural that I could see had happened at all, I head merely been prayed for and then pushed over. That seemed dumb. I remember having the conversation with my father and he too thought it strange. The next night we went back and I lined up on the same lines. When the men came by to pray for me one of them pushed me over again except this time I took a step back to keep my balance. He actually smirked at me and then moved on. I was mildly entertained by this.

Day three I decided to not even play the game and just sit on the lines cross legged and wait for prayer, and that day they didn't even pray for me but just skipped right over (now I imagine them thinking, "What do we do? We cant push over a kid who's sitting down, this is out of my comfort zone, lets move on). I remember thinking, "What? If you sit down you don't even get prayed for?"

In retrospect I imagine it probably did happen that originally some people were slain in the spirit - that is, when they were being prayed over they were so overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit that they actually fell over. But this was certainly not what was happening any more. Maybe the revival started with something real like that, but had turned into men wanting to have the same sign from the Spirit instead of letting Him work as He saw fit.

But read on. This isn't the end of the story.

On the last night I came to the service rather discouraged about this whole conference. What kind of people come to a show every night where they play the fools? But I came because my Dad was still trying to sort it out and it was our last night in Toronto. That night a man by the name of Gerald Coates spoke. I don't remember anything of what he said. I remember that he was more interesting than any of the other speakers and I remember that he had a ridiculous British accent. At the end of the night this time we went to the front of the sanctuary instead of the back for prayer. As we walked up to the front Gerald Coates was talking to someone on the stage. He was looking out over the crowd and seemed very engaged in what he was talking about. As I recall he asked the person who was talking to him to hold on, and then he pointed at me from the stage and said, "You, I'm supposed to pray for you."

This was weird, there were a lot of people there, why did he pick me out of the crowd? He came down and picked me up in his arms, which was also weird, I wasn't a small 11 year old. He then asked my Dad how he could pray for me and my Dad asked that he'd pray for my relationship with my older brother (our daily fighting was a source of difficulty for our family). And so he did. And then he set me down and pointed right at my face and said look at my name tag. My name is Gerald Coates. Remember my name, because I'm going to see you again someday and you're going to have a story to tell.

Hmm... That's interesting.

The next night I remember laying in bed in the same room as my brother (he's two years older than me) and we were both staring at the ceiling. "Wow," I think I said, "Do you realize we went the whole day without being spanked?"

And it's true. I remember the first day of my life when I wasn't spanked. Because I was 11 years old. My brother and I fought literally everyday. I provoked him until he punched me and then we were both spanked. Something happened that night and my brother and I weren't perfect friends but there was a very noticeable change in our relationship. Something for which my father is to this day extremely grateful.

A few years later my father received an opportunity to move to the Middle East with the Embassy and my mother asked me what I thought about moving overseas. And I remember vividly. I remember being in the red passenger seat of our Pontiac Bonneville and heading south about a mile from our house. I said, "I'm excited about it. I think this is the beginning of the story Gerald Coates told me I would have to tell."

Maybe it's not, but living in the Middle East for four years in Jr. High and High School certainly helped give me heart and willingness to move overseas for ministry.

So what do I think of the Toronto Blessing? I think it probably started out with some great things and some real supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. I think it was sustained probably too long by weird human sentiment. I think there were sinful people involved as well as those who truly loved and followed Jesus. Probably these people were frequently back in forth between the two. But I also believe our God used this event in a powerful way in many lives - my own included.

I hope someday to see Gerald Coates again. I have an interesting story I'd like to tell him.