Observations on Life, Faith, Media & Technology

Brother John

Bishop John Gimenez passed away last week and his funeral was today at 1:00 pm.  John was the co-founder of one of the East Coast’s first charismatic megachurches, Rock Church in Virginia Beach, and the overseer of their network of 500 affiliated churches worldwide.  His massive 1980 rally Washington For Jesus mobilized half a million believers from all corners of the Body of Christ and helped solidify Ronald Reagan’s ties with the church community.  He was a giant in the charismatic world.

Bisjohngimenez And he was one of the kindest, sweetest-spirited men I have ever known.

When I was in graduate school, I took a production job with The Rock Church Hour television program, and worked with John and his wife Anne for nine months.  It was my first experience with a charismatic church.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but I have to admit I was very skeptical.  John and Anne won me over from day one.  They were loving, gracious, sincere, and had a passion for Christ.  They were remarkably unassuming for people who were so well known.  John preferred to be called “Brother John” or simply “Pastor.”

My time at Rock Church was also the first time I was ever in a multicultural and multiracial church.  All of the SBC churches I attended growing up or served at early in my ministry were all-white.  John said that when he and Anne started Rock Church they earnestly prayed it would be multicultural.  “I prayed, ‘Lord, give us a church that looks like heaven, so when we get there, we won’t feel out of place’,” John said in a 2007 interview.

When our daughter Faith was born a month prematurely, John called me into his office and with tears in his eyes prayed with me for Faith and Fonda.  Then he told me to leave, go to the hospital and not to come back to the church until she was home… and that I was on the clock until then.  After Faith came home from the hospital, John shared with the Rock Church family on Sunday morning how well she was doing, and then he featured footage of her on the nationally-seen broadcast.  My family in Georgia and Florida thought that was really cool – getting to see their granddaughter on The Family Channel.

John had a remarkable testimony.  He was born in New York of Puerto Rican parents and raised in Spanish Harlem. At an early age he was a drug addict and frequently on the wrong side of the law.  He went to prison at age 16. When he came to Christ he literally became a new man. 

Once we were in Washington, D.C. for the NRB Convention.  I went to his hotel room to ask him something and he answered the door in a T-shirt.  I saw why he always wore long sleeves.  His arms were covered with prison tats.  He must have seen the surprise on my face, because he pointed to them and softly said, “These are a daily reminder of what God delivered me from.”

John never forgot where he came from and how far the Lord brought him.  The first time I ever heard the song “Give Thanks” John sang it while leading worship at Rock Church.  He cried as he sang it.  I cried while listening to it.  I told him later how much it touched my heart, and he said, “You know, when I got to the line that says, ‘Let the poor say I am rich because of what the Lord has done for us’ I realized that was my story, and I couldn’t help but cry.”

John loved to say when he introduced me to people that I was the “Southern Baptist missionary to the holy-rollers.” I was in grad school when I worked there, so he also loved to joke that I chose grad school over getting a “cemetery degree.” Through the good-natured ribbing, it was clear that he deeply respected my beliefs and accepted me unconditionally as his brother in Christ.  Knowing and working with John helped me to realize that it wasn’t necessary for me to agree completely with someone theologically to love and respect them.

God bless you, Brother John.  I’ll see you in the morning.

Watch the CBN tribute to Brother John on the “700 Club” here.

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