Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Game Warden Files (the Faith Factor)

The chronicle of my life would be incomplete, and leaning toward valueless without this portion of my life being examined as some length.  Indeed, much of what I have become professionally is a result of following what was clearly laid out before me as the will of God.
The Pitcher family has a long history of the Christian Faith.  There have been full-time clergy and other dedicated, though not full-time, servants in our past for many generations.  Most of my generation, and our offspring are following the same path.
Growing up in East Chatham, our family had long been been part of the East Chatham Methodist Church.  Though part of the United Methodists, we often referred to ourselves as "Untied" Methodists, as we didn't have much association with any other UM churches in the area, due to the trend in the first half of the 20th century in which the denomination had begun a slide into liberalism and loss of doctrinal stability.   That little church would serve me well all my growing years and into the early years of my marriage, up until we moved to Brooklyn.
It was not, of course, about a church; it was about having personal, saving relationship with Jesus Christ, that mattered.  Through good background training in East Chatham, strong family teaching, and ultimately a message by Jack Wyrtzen, the founder of Word of Life, I came to that relationship with Christ at age 9.  Life was pretty stable with regular church attendance, summer camp at New England Keswick, and other appropriate, though unremarkable activity.
That's not to say there were not a few rough spots.  In my late teens, I often found excuses to stay out of church when I could get away with it and avoided anything other than Sunday Morning services; but starting a relationship with Peggy put an end to that and we settled into regular attendance, though often going to her home church.  The other bump in the road was after I'd started work for Chatham Police Department.  The first solo shifts any newcomer was allowed to work were day shifts on Sunday--the perfect excuse to not go to church.  Even after that settled out and I was working other times and days, late nights on Saturdays made it tough to get up for Church on Sunday AM.  Peggy would leave for Sunday School with the boys and would have a firm promise from me to meet her in can guess how that worked out.   I'd hit the kill button on the alarm, roll over and she'd wake me up when she got home from church.  Then our pastor and good friend, Noel Williams got into the equation.  He jokingly--so I thought--told me that he'd call me to "help" me get out of bed.  He did!  Up until those late shifts ended, he dutifully called me every Sunday morning so that I could get to church on time.  The lesson here is that sometimes it takes a bit of a forceful friend to make a person do the right thing.  I'll be ever grateful to Noel for his diligence and good humor to do what he did, the way he did it and for keeping at it long enough to get me past what could have been a rough time.
Moving to Brooklyn after becoming and ECO, we joined long-time family friends worshiping at King's Highway Baptist Church.  We tried a couple others but there was nothing there for us: no doctrine, no sense of community--nothing,  It would be King's Highway for us; we'd be well taught for our time in Brooklyn.  Our last Sunday evening service there upon transfer to Staten Island was special for us.  I have no specific memory of what the pastor said or the text of his message; but at the end of the evening Peggy and I both recommitted our lives to the Lord and we moved to Staten Island the next week no knowing what that would bring.
The following Sunday morning, a collection of events and thoughts took us to Bethel Evangelical Free Church.  We were immediately welcomed and plugged into an adult Sunday School class while our kids were escorted to the age appropriate classes for them.  By nightfall, we were having coffee with the Pastor Bob DeRitter and his wife Nancy--two of the most transparent Christians we'd ever met--our kids were playing with their kids and our church home for our years in Staten Island was well established.  The preaching, teaching and other ministries of Bethel perfectly fit us where we were at that point in our lives.  We joined the church in due time and one evening the pastor told me that my name had come during a nomination committee meeting and anything I would be asked to do had his complete agreement.  It was only a short time afterwards that one of the deacons, Bob Carey, came up me and told me that they'd like me to join them on the board.  I replied that I'd need a while to think about it so, he took a step back, then stepped back up to me, raised his eyebrows and said "Well?"  I assumed the empty spot and took my responsibility seriously.  For the first time ever I sat down and read the Bible cover to cover, doing it in about a couple of weeks.  I was helped along in that because, for the first time in my life, I'd been really exposed to something other than the King James translation.  Though Peggy had long used an New American Standard, something had kept me from getting into it.  I started reading the Old Testament with the NASB, and shortly bought my first New International Version, the translation that (in its older form) is still my favorite as of this writing.  My spiritual adventure had begun to take off.  Life would never be the same again.  We were ripe to learn and in the perfect environment for us to do so.  It was in Bethel where I first preached and thought I could really get used to doing that.
We left Staten Island in 1986, heading to Fulton County and first tried to establish ourselves in a church in Johnstown.  That didn't work well--about drove me into another time of failure to attend--and we soon found ourselves in the Cranberry Creek Community Church.  We were there for 17 years.  I again served as deacon, taught an adult Sunday School Class for quite a while and even had a few more chances to preach.
It was also in that time that I uttered what a friend calls a "self-satisfied prayer."  Though it was heart-felt and  I surely don't regret it, it was a true life changer.  I was praising the Lord for His grace and goodness especially about what he had made me into: I was approaching the top of my career, had acquired some special skills and was just so happy with my family, professional, and spiritual life I didn't really know how to properly express it.  It was in closing that prayer that I added something like "...and if you need a police firearms instructor, you'll know where to find one."  Oh, how that changed my life.
We'd started supporting a family doing ministry with Peace Officers for Christ some time before that and were getting the organization's newsletter.  Shortly after that prayer, I opened the newsletter and read "HI, BILL, YOU'RE GOING TO VENEZUELA."   Actually it said "POFCI goes to Venezuela." but that's not how I'd seen it.  I'd seen it as God calling in the IOU. As a matter of fact, there was a need for a police firearms instructor!  We raised our support, obtained passports and a few months later my wife, our youngest son and I packed up and spent two weeks on a trip ministering to police, their families and some neighborhood kids in and around Caracas Venezuela.  It was the beginning of a long-term commitment to ministry.  There have been many trips to Latin America.  We're still involved with POFCI and have a great heart for the police of the region.  Our pastor at the time we got involved with that first trip made the observation that  no matter what what we did among the people we went to serve, we would come home changed.  He was so right.
In my last 10 years or so as an ECO I started to become far more vocal in my faith while in the workplace.  Though I took some good-natured harassment over it, I was pretty well respected and so my faith was accepted as part of what and who I was.  I was also frequently asked to offer invocations and benedictions at graduation and award ceremonies.  That opened the door for some conversations and I found that I had a gift for smoking out the closet Christians within the department. Now, in my semi-retirement work in other agencies, the Lord is still doing that same thing with me.  He's also allowed me the opportunities to open conversations that would bring people to the saving knowledge of Christ.
As of this writing, we're members of the Baptist Church of Northville NY, where I am a deacon and Peggy sings in the choir and helps with several youth programs.  I'm also a lay-preacher and preach often in local churches when they need pulpit supply.  It's a great thrill to be able to do that.
God has been so good.  He's blessed me all along the way giving me successes in personal, professional and spiritual realms.  He promises that if we trust Him, He will give us the desires of our heart.  He's gave me the love of my life who has given me three great children.  He's supplied a profession I love, within that was my career as an ECO that I had wanted so badly.  He gave me the opportunities to train police internationally while proclaiming His Gospel.  Finally, He's given me the chance to proclaim His Word as a preacher.
God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good!  I've seen it proven.

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