40 Years in America
The Heart of the Missionary
Sheri Reuter and Rebecca Sommer
Sheri Reuter, Ruth Finamore and Rebecca Sommer witnessing at Powell and Market, San Francisco, 1978.
This past summer (1999) we had a special opportunity to spend time together with our families. This led us to think about how to convey to our children our deepest experiences in the church. We both thought back to our days and nights on the streets witnessing in Oakland in the seventies.
Onni Durst was the consummate missionary. Our earliest memories in the church were of her telling us of the tremendous hope she had to save American young people. She moved us with her genuine love and commitment for a country that was not really her own. From her we learned that the heart of our True Parents was essentially a heart of salvation. Their never-ending sacrifice through blood, sweat and tears paid for our own personal salvation and would be the source of salvation for all the people of the world. Mrs. Durstís love for God and True Parents was so tangible that she was able to make it a reality in the lives of a bunch of motley hippies who had come from communes across the country and been led to her door. We felt this in her love for us and her belief that we could grow to do Godís will.
We caught that heart from her as she led us in a lifestyle in which every moment centered on witnessing. In the early years, we all worked at jobs outside the church to pay the bills, yet we witnessed every spare moment, whether on the bus, at lunchtime or in a parking lot. The main focus was always to witness, to talk to everyone to find the one who would respond. In those days we came home from work and didnít even sit down at dinner, just ate quick and went out to meet the people. We also learned Godís heart of loving whoever responds. Some of our early guests were a bit strange perhaps, but we learned how to treat them as kings and queens. This foundation enabled the Oakland family to provide a way to bring thousands of children to True Parents.
After days on the street we clearly came to realize and feel Godís love for His children. I felt God working through me, encouraging me to turn right at a specific corner in order to meet the person who had been praying for guidance in their life. Sometimes it was so clear as spirit world would guide me to exactly the right spot to meet someone. The conditions we set, the fasting, the praying, the chanting, and the hours on the street, enabled God to work through us to save His children.
Our days on the streets were long and the nights at the bus station and airport seemed even longer. The power we had to be out there came from a simple, fundamental faith that in order for God to give His love to His children, we needed to open our mouths. Through a simple, "Hi, where are you from?" whole lives could change. We knew it wasnít us.
Our clothes were rather strange and we always looked tired, and yet God needed us to be their link. If we were not there at the bus station to meet the 3 oíclock bus from Chicago, how could God have spoken to that person looking for a new direction in their life?
Although the two of us each witnessed quite a bit, we usually led different teams and didnít spend much time with each other. One of us might be at Fishermanís Wharf and the other pounding the pavement at Powell & Market. One day we had the opportunity to go together to buy a present for True Father in downtown San Francisco. After we made the purchase, we thought of stopping for a cup of coffee and a sisterly chat. On our way down the street we passed Powell & Market where a street performer had gathered a small crowd. As we glanced at the crowd, two backpacks beckoned to us and we had to stop. The coffee stop was forgotten as we struck up a conversation with the two guys. We invited them to the center for dinner, although one of them was definitely more interested in a place to shower. They agreed to come and we left them with hope in our hearts that they would be there that night. We had already picked the one we thought would be the more righteous of the two and respond to the lecture. They both came to dinner and boarded the bus for the workshop that night. However, our idea of who was prepared was not Godís plan.
The quieter friend responded. He was blessed with a wonderful wife and three lovely children, and they are currently living in New Hampshire. We felt that through our spiritual children we developed the heart to prepare for our physical children. To be there from the first hello on the street to the full conversion experience in their life takes quite an investment of heart and effort from the spiritual parent. The trials and tribulations of our spiritual children deepened and strengthened our ability to love with a parentís heart. We had many experiences of an urgent middle-of-the-night drive to the workshop at Camp K in order to prevent a spiritual child from hopping on the bus. As we prayed in tears for that special person for hours in the prayer room or fasted seven days for them, we began to feel just how desperate Heavenly Father was to love His children. We talked and pleaded for them to stay "just one more day," encouraged them to put aside their own plans to be part of building the ideal world, and in some cases even lay down on the road to prevent them from driving away. That intensity seems almost unreal now.
On one occasion I remember flying to Arizona to stake out a house where the deprogrammers were holding a sister against her will. We spent more than a week in the desert just waiting for an opportunity to speak to her. At one point we felt we had a chance and Mrs. Durst hopped on the plane from Oakland. When she arrived she walked right up to the door of the house and began calling and calling for our sister. She was so desperate to reach her. I said, "Donít do that, weíll get arrested!" Sure enough, the cops pulled up and we spent the night in the Tucson jail. Iíll never forget Onni witnessing to the various hookers in the cell as we waited to be bailed out.
Finally, Dr. Durst moved to New York to become the church president and some of us went with him. He brought some of us to help set up a witnessing effort there. I became the lecturer, along with Josh Cotter, Jonathan Gullery and Marjorie Buessing. We ran Camp New Hope. We worked together for a while, but at a certain point the members who had come from Oakland eventually were sent back to California. It was sort of a political move that went awry. Rev. Kwak wanted me in the education department. People were complaining about us to Father, so I think he said, if you donít want them, send them back. I always felt that uniting the east and the west in our movement was really important, and I felt really bad about it. So I talked to Dr. Durst and told him I wanted to go back to the east coast. Around then, Aiden Barry left and Dr. Durst called and asked if I would like to go there. So I went to Boston in 1980 or 1981 as State Leader and then later went to Chicago; now I live with my family in Los Angeles.
I did mountain climbing before the church and the pinnacle was the hardest part to climb. The worst part is the last part. It seems like a few yards but itís straight up. This is where people are falling off the cliff. I know that I have a lot of strength spiritually. I was given a lot of blessing initially. My spiritual childhood was very rich. I realized the reason weíre doing Hoon Dok Hae is a survival strategy. If I donít do it, I get lost. I think we thought this would be the easy part, but itís the most difficult time. A lot of the work has been condition making, not kingdom building, which is what we really all wanted to do. I would look out over the city on Sunday morning when weíd pray at the holy ground, and I would believe we would restore it. I could totally envision it. We kept getting bigger and bigger. I really believed we would do it.
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