The Teens for Christ were first called the Children of God by a local newsman in Camden, New Jersey, who found them camped next to a junkyard behind a truck stop and whose curiosity they had aroused. David was first called Moses in some prophecies received by the young people at Laurentide.
For such a nomadic group of wanderers in the wilderness as they were then, the names were very appropriate and became popular with the news media, so they simply accepted them. Neither David nor the COG were self-named, as some have claimed. Rather, they were given these names by others, principally the news media, and just accepted it as from the Lord, that God had ordained it to be so. As David said, “We have never before heard of any religious group outside of the Bible being called by the name ‘Children of God’ as a distinct religious body or denomination, so God must have been saving the name for us, as it was so fitting, since we are nearly all children, and certainly of God.”
Meanwhile, they were finding those north winds of that winter of 1969 a little cold for camping out in tents, trailers, campers, vans and buses, or sleeping on the frozen ground in sleeping bags in the rain, so they travelled southward, camping for a while at one of the campsites of the famous explorers Lewis and Clark, near Alton, Illinois, on the recently flooded banks of the Mississippi River, which was threatening to flood yet again!
Here, as always, they drew quite a bit of attention from passing sight-seers, and even from riverboats, whose passengers gazed with astonishment at the huge Gospel signs and scriptures on the sides of their trucks and vans, still fulfilling Grandmother’s prophecy, “Write the vision upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.”
While camped near Alton, they also enjoyed a very good response from the press, having several articles in local newspapers. It brought a flood of friendly visitors, some bringing food and donations and warmer winter clothing, and the authorities even offered them a better campsite on higher ground at Pere Marquette Park on the Illinois side of the river, where they still continued witnessing to and winning many young people to the Lord.
Nearly two years later, the Children of God chanced upon and united with a Jesus commune of 33 young people whom they found practicing and believing almost the exact things as they were, right down to the Gospel signs, sackcloth vigils and the “Revolutionary Rules”. They learned that the commune’s leaders and other members had been won to the Lord and taught revolutionary discipleship by the Children of God when camped near Alton, and these people hadn’t been able to join them when they pulled out of their campsite. These were only a few of the countless people influenced by the Children of God’s radical, revolutionary ways.
Despite the warm reception the COG had received in Illinois, it didn’t do much to warm their freezing bodies, so they travelled on, coming into the somewhat warmer climate, but cold-hearted, rural, and fearful South, where they parked over a hundred strong in a public campground just 20 miles north of New Orleans, Louisiana. They were first received hospitably by the manager to whom they paid their rent. But after a day or two of quiet, orderly Bible studies under the trees, minding their own business and never leaving the camp, they were suddenly surrounded one evening by about 50 local police and vigilantes who accused them of rioting and disturbing the peace!
As the lawyer in the famous movie “Easy Rider” said to his free-wheeling hippie friends about the bigoted, gun-slinging conservatives of Louisiana, “They have to kill you ‘cause you’re free and it proves they’re not, and they can’t stand being reminded that they’re slaves of the chains of conformity forged by their own hands!”
About 20 Children of God members were hauled off to jail, but finally were released, thanks to the Lord and the efforts of a good, friendly lawyer of the American Civil Liberties Union. However, they were ordered out of the state by the authorities, even though they had committed no offense whatsoever—and they promptly obeyed without stopping, until finally coming to rest in a campground near Houston, Texas, which proved somewhat more tolerant toward young people.
There in Texas, they spent the winter of early 1970 at a series of campgrounds, having to move every two weeks, according to their regulations, but steadily growing in numbers just from converts from the crowds who came out to see these strange new Gospel Gypsies.
10 Houston Youth Join Revolutionary Christians—Seek meaning, truth, despite parents’ objections
Houston Chronicle, 28/12/69
David had been down the Hallelujah Trail before. About three weeks ago, he’d gone to the camp of a wandering band of self-styled revolutionary Christians at Bear Creek Park in West Harris County to “see what I could find.”
Now he was back, reaching the group at their new campsite in Duessen Park in the Lake Houston woodlands of northeast Harris County.
He stood at the edge of the pine grove and toyed with the strap of his motorcycle helmet as the smoke from the fires for the noon meal drifted over his head.
A youth named [Apollos] greeted him with a smile and a nod. Instead of “Hello”, [Apollos] said, “Praise the Lord”.
Soon David, an 18-year-old machinist, was accepting Jesus Christ, kneeling among the pine cones and needles with [Apollos].
David is one of the 10 Houston youths who have joined the revolutionary Christians since they first parked their buses and vans and set up their tents on Dec. 2.
Most have come to Jesus for the same reasons they have turned off their folks, played with drugs, and eventually dropped out. They say, as many other young Americans have said this decade, that what American society and the system offer them isn’t enough. They seek more meaning—or at least more truth.
Only those who were desperately looking for the truth joined during those rough days on the road. And only the hardiest and most utterly dedicated stuck it out, because the life itself nearly killed you. The camping gear wasn’t any of the sophisticated, expensive gear usually used by weekend campers. It was a ragtag mixture of old tents given to them by people who no longer wanted them, or picked up for pennies in secondhand stores. Except for the boys’ tent (an army field tent), most of them were not built for the rigors of day after day and month after month of continuous use. They looked it, too, with their rips, tears, and makeshift lines, stakes, and poles.
Since there were no cots or beds, most everybody slept on the ground—and it was cold! Too cold for people who didn’t have the warm clothes needed for living daily in the open in near freezing temperatures. Cephas still remembers the morning after his first night with the Children of God at one of those parks in Texas. During the night a freezing rain had fallen and had crept into the tent, so he awoke the next morning to find his leg frozen to the sleeping bag; It was a good test of his new-found faith, though, and he was determined to stick with it, no matter what!
The diet in those days was Spartan too. Breakfast was usually a bowl of milo, a grain used to feed chickens, and a dried doughnut, which they had been given cases of. Dinner was a milo-based stew with vegetables salvaged from shops ready to discard them. Meat was sparse—hamburger in the stew twice a week and liver once a week. But God always provided, and when bodies began to get weak from the constant cold, Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants often donated all their day-old but still good chicken that they usually threw away.
And when almost everyone came down with colds, fevers, and pneumonia in Duessen Park on Lake Houston, a truck carrying thousands of oranges broke an axle right in front of the camp. When the driver found out that in the nearby encampment were fellow Christians in need, he gave them the entire cargo. They nailed bags of oranges on all the trees to keep them off the wet ground—and thanked God for giving them all the vitamin C they needed to recover.
But why would anyone choose to live like this? They did it for the same reason the merchant man in the Bible sold everything he had for the one pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45, 46): It was worth it for these kids to give up everything else they had ever had in order to gain the truth!
Since the group was quite ugly looking by most standards, finding quarters for the camp was usually no easy task. They would send their nicest car with two of the cleanest-looking disciples in advance to book park reservations. They would tell the park reservation office it was for a church youth group—which it was. Then, after reservations were secured, the caravan would rumble in, usually under the cover of darkness. They would circle up wagon-train style to protect themselves (the Indians, in this case) against marauding cowboys, which there were plenty of there in cowboy-land.
Then they’d spring into action! Everyone had a job, divided into tribes according to their tasks. The tribe of Issachar would methodically begin unloading the tents, cooking gear, and other camp equipment, which was their responsibility, along with vehicle maintenance. The tribe of Dan would pitch the tents. Six of them would carry the army tent to its place, and with the help of half a dozen others holding poles and pounding stakes, would have the 40-foot-long tent completely up in 20 minutes flat, working in the dark. The other Dan members erected the big girls’ tent, cook tent, storage tent, and half a dozen married couples’ tents.
Meanwhile, the tribe of Zebulon would be out chopping wood for the fires while Asher prepared the food for cooking. Levi was responsible for spiritual oversight, classes, and inspirational music, which was the real life’s blood, giving everyone the vision and ideals to go on. These, along with the other tribes, twelve in all, working together, would construct an entire community of Children of God in only an hour or so.
By the time the Park Ranger would show up in the course of his daily round to check on the church youth group’s campsite, there they were—a tramp city of Gospel Gypsies. The Ranger usually wanted them out immediately, but they had their two-week camping permit and he had to let them stay. Of course, this maximum-stay rule was never enforced on other campers during the winter months when hardly anyone used the state parks.
So they managed to get quite a bit of experience in breaking camp and setting it up again. But it helped to unite them with a spirit of real camaraderie.
However, they soon began running out of campgrounds, as well as patience and endurance with the cold, wet, rainy winter weather and leaky tents. Their unusual lifestyle had meanwhile aroused the interest of all three local television stations in Houston, who put them on the air and explained how they were reformed drug users now witnessing for Jesus, and appealed for material help for them and a more permanent place to stay.
They received only one reply—probably because they didn’t look too reformed in the minds of the viewers. This one offer turned out to be the use of some property with an old, dilapidated, long-abandoned church building in Hockley, Texas. They gratefully accepted and stayed there for nearly two weeks, which was all the time it took for the denominational hierarchy that controlled the property to put the pressure on the preacher who was managing it. It turned out to belong to the Assembly of God, a denomination that had long ago blacklisted the Children of God from any of their churches—apparently even abandoned ones.
Since officials had finally closed the doors to them in the state parks, soon about 120 Children of God were on the road again–and what appeared to be the end of the road too! David had already begun to see the handwriting on the wall of how numbered their days were going to be if they didn’t soon find a more permanent place. So just prior to losing their last campsite, he was inspired to go to California to request the use of the old Texas Soul Clinic missionary ranch once again from Fred Jordan. It was a last-ditch attempt, and he didn’t know what they would do if Fred said no. Clearly, God was going to have to do another miracle!