7-How it all got started

Since I now give a little personal family history it becomes necessary to reveal things about persons, living and dead, that ordinarily would be just best kept under wraps. I have tried to limit these things to just the parts having a principal effect on the founding of the Assembly of the Body of Christ denomination. Many things I relate are painful but they always will be painful and I put them into print simply to reveal the truth of the origins of the ABC denomination. My sole intent with this post, and this blog actually, is to dispel some of the myths that have developed since the founding of the ABC by my father Ramon A Haas.

From my perspective there are no levels of sin or transgression. We often gasp at one type of sin or transgression, but then turn a blind eye to another, as though one is worse and one is better.  The evidence would indicate that all sin or transgression is simply something to be forgiven. We're human...we mess up. End of story. Having said that, I have no intent of  laying a judgment on any person  through my writings so this account is simply a historic retelling of the facts that brought about the creation of the Assembly of the Body of Christ denomination. As humans we tend to wrap our emotions around hurt and carry it with us but when we do we only weigh down our life.

The founder of the Assembly of the Body of Christ (ABC) was my father, Ramon A Haas. Understanding how the events in his life brought about the founding of  a new denomination  is important. When you understand the man who set it all in motion you understand a great deal about the organization itself. Since the  founders philosophies guided the formation, formed it into what it is and will become those philosophies are really the substance the structure was created from. Especially when you have in individual, like my father, who has been nearly deified by some.

Without a doubt my father was a great man in some ways. I say that sincerely and without hesitation but refer only to his participation in military service and not to his involvement in forming the ABC.  My father was a decorated war veteran in World War II. He piloted landing craft filled with Marines to multiple beaches in the Pacific theater under heavy enemy fire.  He was commended in his military records for his bravery under fire and, you might say, he was part of “The Greatest Generation” written about by Tom Brokaw.  It is evidenced in my dad's military records that the strain of battle was very intense as he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in New Zealand following a long and intense battle sequence to take one of the Pacific Islands from the Japanese.  The documents I acquired list only “battle fatigue” as the reason but  he suffered flashbacks from these incidents during the war for quite a few years after returning. I am not sure  exactly when these flashbacks ended but it was long after I was born in 1955 and I do remember him having these flashback episodes in Ballard Washington, when I was ten, which would make it after 1965.

When my father came back from the war in the Pacific against the Japanese he was, like many from that generation, intent on changing the world and making a difference.  My father’s goal, for as long as I can remember, was to start or head up a church. It was the pervasive theme of our household and most of my memories of my father are of him hunched over a desk reading, studying and writing. When he was not reading or studying he was off ministering somewhere  in one form or another. Rarely was he home for long as he was driven to make a difference by "bringing souls to Christ". It is unfortunate that in  the pursuit of this goal he also brought about such great pain to his own family and then to many others as well.

I have always been fascinated with the Second World War era and, as such, researched my dad’s involvement in that war. I have the bulk of his military records and am proud of the bravery he exhibited during the war even if I cannot be proud of what followed after. My dad left military service just prior to my birth in 1955 and before I was born brought two additional sons into this world; one two years older than me and the other seven.  My first true recollection of life was in the little hamlet of less than two-hundred people called Noti, Oregon. We lived in, and around, the Noti / Elmira / Veneta area from the time I was barely two until I was just shy of turning nine. During this time our family was connected with several churches but, for the majority of the  time, we attended the Noti Pentecostal Church where my dad  was an assistant pastor. We spent a great many hours at the church or at the home of the pastor Don McGregor and they retained a friendship long after we left Noti. The Pentecostal church we attended would be considered a "holy roller" church with groups of people speaking in tongues all at once and being "slain in the Spirit" passing out onto the floor.  We were dirt poor in Noti, living  mostly hand to mouth on what we could grow or obtain from government commodities, and the homes we lived in were mostly shack like structures. For a time we had no running water, no indoor facilities and used an outhouse. Jobs were not plentiful in the mid to late fifties so  my dad floated from job to job making money in any way he could. In 1963 my dad finally  landed a very good job with American Sterilizer Company in Seattle Washington repairing hospital equipment and this is when we left our status as poor.  At this job my dad had a good salary, a company car and benefits. He was initially assigned to the Eugene to Florence Oregon territory while the company made preparations for him to enter the Seattle market and it was not long before that happened and I left Noti was a mix of  sadness and joy when the Mayflower van showed up to box all our belongings and move them to our new home in Mountlake Terrace Washington. I loved life in Noti and have very good memories of those days. I have returned a number of times and it is always a mildly emotional experience. It has remarkably not changed much since the fifties.  I often wonder how different my life would have been had we not ever moved to the Seattle area.

We moved to Mountlake Terrace just before school was to start in 1964. For church we began attending Ballinger Terrace Assembly of God. This church had no established  pastor when we arrived but was in the process of selecting a new one. For the first few Sundays there were different petitioners for the position and each would  give a sermon so the congregation could decide if they were right for the position.  When all of  the applicants had preached the congregation voted for a man named Finch. He had preached a powerful sermon and impressed many but after just a few weeks it was evident to many he  was not the best choice. Membership in the church began to dwindle rapidly and it was not long before our family left as well. 

It was at Ballinger Terrace AG my parents met a couple, about a decade younger, named John and Esther (Yvonne) VanDeKamp. They had two adopted children named Jon and LaVonne and my parents quickly became very close friends with them  and began doing many things together...including  summer vacations. My brother and I regularly babysat Jon and Lavonne while our parents went ministering at missions with the VandeKamps.

The Van de Kamps; unsatisfied at Ballinger Terrace Assembly of God as well; were one of  the first to leave in search of a new church. In the process they discovered Broadway Tabernacle in Seattle, now being pastored by James A Watt. They brought word to my dad that they were leaving Ballinger Terrace AG to join this new church led by James A Watt and encouraged him to follow. Our family remained  at Ballinger Terrace AG for perhaps one or two more weeks then began attending Broadway Tabernacle with the Van de Kamps instead.

My dad rose quickly in this new church and was soon sitting on the platform as an assistant pastor. The Van de Kamps lived in Edmonds at the time  and we moved to Edmonds from Mountlake Terrace so we could be near them. About a year later they moved from Edmonds to Ballard and we also moved to a home in Ballard not far from them.

In the summer of 1967, the Van DeKamps planned a vacation to a resort on San Juan Island. San Juan Island lies in the middle of the Puget Sound and is accessible only  by ferry. We followed them to this same resort for vacation that year. During this vacation tremendous fights broke out between my parents and the Van deKamps began feuding non-stop as well. I did not understand the dynamics then, as a twelve year old child, but the marriages on both sides were crumbling rapidly and on this vacation it became clear my dad and Yvonne were romantically involved and had been for quite some time. The tension of the situation began to rapidly tear both marriages apart. There had always been knock down drag out fights in our house, sometimes lasting well into the early hours of morning, with things becoming broken but on this vacation the fighting escalated greatly.

At this same time my dad was teaching a class at Philadelphia Bible College along with James Watt. When my dad and Yvonne’s romantic involvement became common knowledge he was asked to leave the college. This caused a huge rift to develop between my dad and James Watt, we left Broadway Tabernacle, and my dad moved us all to San Juan Island and began his own church in a rented historic church building right by the cemetery.
Church on San Juan Island

When we first arrived on the island all four of us lived in a 15” travel trailer on the property of a commercial fisherman. This was only temporary so we then moved to a one-bedroom cabin on the beach and eventually into a large house mid island rented from Seattle City Light.  As kids, we knew nothing about the reasons for all these moves, we just knew the island was a great place to live, there was plenty of woods to roam in and some really great places to fish. We were once again out of the city and I felt at home.

On January 14, 1968, the day of the second Superbowl, only one elderly woman showed up for church in the rented building by the cemetery. It was determined that morning that it would be senseless for my dad to preach to just one person in the church building so we moved the meeting to our house that day intending to  have just a prayer meeting. For several months after we continued home meetings and my dad gave up the church building altogether. This was the event that led him on the path of holding meetings in the home exclusively and we never went back to a rented building.

The meetings on the island rarely exceeded  more than one or two people. My dad continued to work for American Sterilizer in Seattle and continued to live in our home in Ballard. He would come up to the island on Saturday afternoon, spend the night, preach on Sunday then return to Seattle on Sunday afternoon so he could get ready for work Monday morning. This continued through that first summer of 1968 and into the fall.

Thanksgiving of 1968 we had a  family trip planned to Victoria and we were all in great anticipation of  dad showing  up to take us to Canada. When he arrived that Thanksgiving week however he had brought a trailer with him. I was in the barn but returned to the house when he arrived to see what was up. When I approached the door I heard shouting, screaming crying and fighting like I had never heard before. My mom and dad had some pretty horrendous fights but this was different. My dad was not really violent, per se, but he would often throw things when he became angry. This day was no exception. My mom informed me when I walked in that my dad was leaving us on the island and he did not plan to ever return again. He loaded the trailer with his things, took the checkbook, all of the money and then just left…permanently.  After that he never wrote, called or attempted to visit.  My brother,very  ill at the time with pleurisy, ended up in Seattle for medical treatment shortly after this day and for this reason ended up living with my dad instead of with my mom. In the divorce settlement my dad was awarded custody of my brother Robin and he signed over custody of me to my mom. He was ordered to pay child support which he did not ever pay.

My mom found a few odd jobs and we remained on the island for a short time but my mom had never worked a day in her life, having always been a "housewife", and now she found herself on an island with now way off and a thirteen year old to care for. She had no money, very little way to earn money since she had no job skills. She contemplated  suicide a number of times. Her intent was to jump off the nearby high cliffs into the Puget Sound but she never actually worked up the courage to step off the edge.  She would go on long walks many evenings during this period and I found out many years later she was trying to work up the nerve to commit suicide but only got as far as putting her toes on the edge. I only knew she was gone for long periods and that when she returned was in a highly agitated state. After these walks she would scream and cry and shout statements at me  like “What am I going to do with you! How am I supposed to take care of you! Maybe I should I just kill you!”  I do not think she meant those things exactly but it was still a pretty full plate for a thirteen year old to carry. Each day she became increasingly unstable emotionally and quite often I would run to the barn, or out into the woods, to hide until she calmed down. To this day, she has never fully recovered from the days we were abandoned and she carries some deep personal scars from this time of her life. In our family we all do.

We lived on the island perhaps another month and left it when my grandmother sent us money to move to Bellingham Washington. We left everything behind except what we could fit into our  “62 Ford Falcon Wagon…which wasn’t much. We lived first in a storage closet in the basement of the Bellingham Hotel on cots. It was nearing Christmas time. My grandmother lived, and worked, at this hotel and the manager let us eat free at the cafeteria for lunch. We ate dry cereal for breakfast in our basement closet and most nights my grandmother bought us dinner at the hotel restaurant when she got off work. During the days we would just go places or sit in my grandmother's small room as we could not hang around the hotel except after hours to sleep. We we were able to get on welfare eventually so was now able to buy some of our own food but times were still pretty lean.

After about a month of sleeping in the basement closet, my great uncle, who owned a large house on Lake Whatcom, invited us stay at his house until my mom could find us a better living situation. He also allowed us to buy groceries on his account at a local store so we began eating much better. He, and my aunt, were intending to be in Europe for several months so we more or less house-sat for them while they were away.  Food, and the use of their house and car, were payment for our “services”. 

After a few months of living at the lake, my grandmother bought a small house and we moved in with her. My mom started technical school and found a part time job with a military recruiter to supplement the welfare we received. Her emotional state did not improve much though but honestly who could blame her.  I began high school as a freshman and my health began to deteriorate rapidly due to the  family stress. My brother Robin came to Bellingham to visit me during this time, was shocked to see my physical condition and pledged to help me. At this time I was under weekly medical care, was passing out in school on a regular basis, had kidney stones, severe hypoglycemia and was beginning to have a difficult time walking.  This was a result of an exacerbation of a congenital defect exacerbated by malnutrition and the ongoing stress at home.

At the end of this visit my brother gave me money and told me to run away from Bellingham to Seattle so we could be together again. It was obvious my mom was not able to care for me properly and he did what he could to help me out. My mom dropped me at school the next morning after he left. I went straight through the school, exited the other side and walked the few blocks to the Greyhound station where I took a bus to Seattle. My brother told my grandmother I was coming, but had failed to tell my dad. She met me at the Greyhound station and we took the city bus back to her house. She then called my dad, told him I was in Seattle but he was not happy with the news at all. When my dad showed up that evening there was no hug, no hello, nothing. He was steaming mad I had come to Seattle to live with him and I was treated with total silence in the car all the way to his home at the Wilcrest Apartments.

When I arrived at his home I discovered his extra-marital affairwith Yvonne  had now led to his marriage to Yvonne (previously VandeKamp), and I now had Jon and Lavonne as my “brothers and sisters”. I was given direct orders that night that if I was going to live at their house I must never tell anyone that Yvonne was not my real mother and I would be punished severely if I ever did. I was happy to be with my brother again though so I planned to do whatever  I needed to stay. I slipped up one time in a meeting mentioning that Yvonne was  a step-mother and was subjected to a severe chewing out that evening and was confined to my room after school for a few days.

The small bible study that would eventually become the incorporated  "Assembly of the Body of Christ" denomination, with meetings in several Western states, had started a few weeks prior to my arrival at the Wilcrest Apartments.  My Dad and Yvonne, having met another couple named Ralph and Karen at the Assembly of God church they were attending, and having become close friends with them, started a prayer meeting at their house as an adjunct to church. This was to soon turn into much more.

In my next post I will talk more about the beginnings of the church and describe the introduction of Gilbert Larson the current "Apostle" to the church during this time. I will also discuss how it came to be that more than one home began to be used for the meetings.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your dad was NOT a great man, he was a charlatan and just evil.

Anonymous said...

I use the term "great" only in the context of my dad's time prior to forming the ABC and as being part of "The Greatest Generation" coined by Tom Brokaw. I state this because I have seen how many of the "great" men who came back from the war as part of "The Greatest Generation" became narrow focused driven men that steamroll over others in pursuit of their dreams. Some for money or fame, others in pursuit of religion. Or some, like my dad, for all three. War changes people. Had my dad used that "greatness" and drive to bring about peace and safety to others he could have done some great things. Instead he used that "greatness" to form his world into his own design and for his own peace, safety and pleasure. Taken in context my term about being a "great" man was not fully a compliment nor was it fully an insult. It was just a fact. In war his military records show he was brave but also very driven. He moved deliberately from a role of tending submarine nets far from the front to one of piloting landing craft in the Pacific Islands under heavy fire. He was driven to become "great" and it changed him. Not necessarily for the good. I looked up the common American English usage of "charlatan"; a noun meaning one making showy pretenses to knowledge or ability; and "evil";an adjective meaning harmful or injurious; and would agree both apply as the evidence of both are plain in my dad's story.