Bill Thrall was the person from Open Door Fellowship who provided the mature oversight and leadership of the ministry. Tom Allen handled most of the day to day details that allowed me, as Program Director to concentrate on the Saturday night Program development. I auditioned groups and individuals and came to all of the rehearsals to check on the status of the music development and contributed, from time to time, suggestions and training that I believed to be helpful. I even began to write music for some of the bands, and hoped to encourage with some disciplined rehearsal techniques the abilities to provide a good musical presentation.
The people who as a general rule that were involved in the ministry were mostly young High School and College aged people. Most were single. At the start, there was a core of about a dozen or so young people who were not in bands who were committed to be at every ministry activity. Eleven of those people were guys. Nancy Perkins, the sole female for a while, was the beloved and protected little sister of the group, whose quiet spiritual strength and encouraging smile brought a unique strong personality to the core of the ministry.
We were fortunate enough to continue to have Denny Collins provide the visual chronicling of the ministry with his amazing photography. If anyone wanted to know what Hand in Hand was like, a series of Denny's pictures, at least visually, told the story.
I will discuss some of the bands and individuals in the bands a bit later on. There are some really cool histories and stories there.
What I will say here is that the make-up of the bands, more often than not, was quite unique and even another example of differing backgrounds, but one heart for Jesus.
No titles or denominations were mentioned in the programs. But there were individuals from baptist, apostolic, bible, lutheran, brethren, pentecostal and methodist backgrounds, just to name a few, not including a few new arrivals who didn't even know what the differences may have been. But the differing backgrounds all seemed to be a unique tapestry for Jesus to display the unique one-ness we had in Him.
Moreover, the love among the members on stage was apparent - both to each other and the audiences watching them.
The New Beginning had long ago determined to use language to communicate the message of Jesus without using "cliches" or words or phrases that might be confusing to anyone who may not have a church background. If an important word needed to be used and there was any question whether it needed clarification, it was defined, along with a couple of examples. Our brother Paul, when writing the letter to the Corinthians had a similar concern, though directed towards another aspect of folks gatherings, about speaking to crowds with words that didn't make sense to them. We took that as kind of a directive for how we would communicate with those not familiar with church "lingo."
Some of this was quite easy, since several of the members were recently "off the streets". Even so, this does require a bit of work sometimes and the practice had to be monitored, since other folks from around the valley and the country were invited to be a part of getting the Word out. It was my responsibility as Program Director to review the things that were going to be said, including personal stories and song introductions to assure, as much as possible, that the thoughts that had been prepared had taken this communication essential into consideration.
The net effect was that words like atonement were not used before it's definition was already clear and clarified with an example or two. Other words that fell into this category were saved, justified, born again, etc. In lieu of the all encompassing words, the definitions were used. Atonement became something like "when God himself found a way to make things right". Saved became something like "the day I received Jesus," and so on.
What we found is that the people sharing became fresh in their thoughts and presentation because they had gotten in touch with the meanings of these precious, sometimes all encompassing words. Over time, they had become "familiar" with the words and had begun to gloss over the huge significance of them. But as they found a way to communicate them with those not familiar with church language, the truth of it not only was clearer to the audience, it was fresher to them. And so the presentation became refreshing even to those who were sharing.
And I think most would say that freshness was something that was part of every Hand in Hand program.
But the bottom line was that there was never a call to a creed or a denomination or was any other human cultural idiom spoken about or was criticized or lifted up that night -
They lifted up Jesus.
And every program included, normally towards the end, a presentation giving those who'd come
an opportunity to receive Jesus that night.
This same kind of practice was used in the selection of the music performed. As much as possible, the songs were designed to be simple, straight-forward ideas and words, that would hopefully be thought-provoking for the audience. The music style and difficulty level of the songs was monitored so that the presentation matched the skills of the performers.
No one wanted to have poorly performed music distract from the message we were trying to get out.
Every Saturday, the performers would arrive anywhere from 3 to 5 o'clock, depending on the time they needed to get their sound and equipment set up. Everything was set so that Tom Allen could open the doors at 7:30 to allow folks in. By then the band and the MC were offstage, in a side room praying.
Programs started (when there was initially only one concert) at 8 PM. There was no front curtain, so the MC and performers would enter the stage area simultaneously at about 7:58. Everyone would take their place so that when the MC made the introductions they were ready to go.
The Programs were generally of the two set variety. If a Band had enough good material to perform for both sets then that one band for the evening could be expected. Otherwise the two sets would be represented by two different groups or soloists. Several times during the program we would have to ask everybody to scoot forward to make room - a lot of times, it was like packed sardines!
During the program, Tom Allen and others would hang around outside or walk the parking lots. Tom eventually became the Administrative Director. Though not gregarious and somewhat soft-spoken, he has always had the unique ability to talk with people he's not met before, especially those who some might call "rebels" or even outsiders. There were several times when people had come with others and had gotten up to go outside during the concert, because they had started to become a bit uncomfortable for one reason or another - most of the time it was a spiritual discomfort. Anyways, Tom was always there and was able to chat with them. There wasn't a place on that property that Jesus wasn't taking care of spiritually.
At the end of the program, the MC would say a few things and then introduce the comment cards. Band members and select others would hand out the yellow 3x5 cards with green inked type as well as your standard golf pencils. We would ask the audience to give us their feedback, as well as let us know, if they wanted to, that they'd received Jesus that night. There was also a box they could mark if they wanted to be on our mailing list, or if they wanted to be more involved with us. We asked that they hand the cards to the person in the back, on their way out.
The bands would, after the concerts, hang around the stage, prepared to talk with anyone who approached them. If the person who approached them was someone they'd not met before, the question was asked if they'd received Jesus that night. There were many times that additional folks were added to the kingdom after the formal program was done.
Then after the audience was gone, about 10 PM-ish or so, the band and MC would gather together and pray and review the comment cards and pray again. There were lots of tears during those afterwards meetings, reading the cards and knowing God had used the people in the program, (sometimes the imperfect program) to get people to Jesus. It was always humbling.
When all was clear, the bands would tear down their equipment and head off. A lot of times, since the evening had been so sweet, the folks in the programs would head out to Coco's or somewhere, just to hang out and bask in the sense of what had happened. During the years that Hand in Hand was going on, Coco's did a good business. Bob's Big Boy did pretty good too!
The following Tuesday morning, the staff would meet together and review the comment cards. At first Tom called all of the New Ones, as a matter of follow-up, to assure, as much as possible that they were being connected to fellow believers. If they'd come with someone who'd brought them, they were encouraged to meet with their friend and look into going to church with them.
If that opportunity was not available to them, we had generated our own follow-up program from a conglomerate of information we had garnered through the years. Some of it had come from Wayne Shuart's Bible Study and some from other trusted sources. They were simple, fill in the blank type things where the answers could be found in their Bible - sometimes the ones we provided them. Some of the staff and band members would set aside Tuesday nights to meet with the New Ones and lead them through these simple studies. After a while, others who wanted to be a part of the ministry to these New Ones made themselves available. It was awesome to see the excitement grow in the New Ones, who brought their friends - and so on.
We began to get help from all kinds of places. One place of note was our mailing list flyers. Doyle Meyer not only ran sound from time to time when the NB was playing, he also ran an antique printing press that someone donated to us. Every week or so you'd see him in the kitchen with that ink-stained apron on, nursing that machine on to get one more copy printed. We scheduled the performances with the groups and soloists months in advance. At the start, we did a pretty vanilla monthly listing calendar of upcoming concert performers, tri-folded it and sent it out. One of Tom's "outsiders" who was somewhat of a soft-spoken artist kid wanted to help. When Tom asked how, Harold said he thinks he could help with the flyers. Tom thought he meant with the labor of putting the mailing out - but what he actually meant was that he wanted to help in the design of the flyers.
Oh, my. When he brought us his first cartoon strip that was to be the upper section of the flyer, we were blown away with how he captured the fun and fresh essence of Hand in Hand. The mailing list requestors doubled by the next month. I can't help but believe part of that was due to folks looking forward to how Harold Graves would handle the continuing adventures of characters finding out about Hand in Hand. I particularly liked the space mice expedition/adventure.
Hand in Hand continued to grow. Concerts were consistently packed. There was a concert every Saturday night without fail, presided over by someone from the home team.