Generations: Part One
Candace Johnson in conversation with Gene and Nell Nicolet, Bob and Dottie Stratton, Darliene Johnson, Harold and Lila Becker • Photos by Lucas Sankey
We love the multiple generations that exist inside of Bethel. We believe that the generations who are further along in the journey have tremendous wisdom to share. We didn’t feel that this edition would be complete without taking time to honor, celebrate, and glean wisdom from some of the most established members of our church. We took time to sit together around a table and asked timely questions to a generation of people who have weathered storms, prayed fervently, and navigated season after season with the Lord, and with one another. We invite you to savor their wisdom and step into the breakthrough that they carry in this brief snapshot of seven of our greatest champions.
It’s important to understand the way this room feels. The wisdom, and the kindness that these people carry is palpable. Their hearts towards one another are tender and encouraging, and they celebrate each other as they enter the room. They laugh together, and reminisce, and the history that they’ve built over these many years invites everyone into their conversation effortlessly. They begin and close our time together by giving God glory for everything that He’s done in and through them, and everything that He is doing now on the earth.
I speak for our entire environment when I say how much you mean to us. You’ve poured so much into my family, and into this church. You’ve created the setting for us in your investments, history, and your years. It’s special to us, and we know that we stand on your shoulders. Thank you for taking the time to be a part of this.
How long have you been at Bethel?
Gene and Nell (parents of Beni Johnson): 1957, 60 years. It was a small church at that time, on Magnolia Street in a little building.
Bob and Dottie: Since 1964, 53 years
Harold and Lila: Since 1970, 47 years
Darliene (Mother of Bill Johnson): 49 years, pastors from 1968-1982
How many pastors has Bethel had?
Gene: There were two before Darliene and Earl Johnson. After that there were several.
Harold: Earl was one of the best pastors you’d ever want to have. He was wonderful.
Looking back, what were some defining moments that set the course for what we are experiencing today?
Darliene: Iverna Tompkins came often, and she prophesied that “as the waters flow down the Sacramento river, so would the people of Bethel go all over the world, and their ministry found everywhere.” It felt significant.
Lila: When we first came in 1970, Earl was pastoring. And we prayed before we came from Washington, feeling the Lord’s leading. Bethel was in the middle of a church split at that time. We felt that we were to stay with the house, even during that.
Darliene: Even then, during that split, Earl created a place where forgiveness was maintained and given.
Harold: To explain a bit about the split…Earl was such a loving pastor, and he accepted everyone. the hippy movement was during that time, and he invited them to join us, and some didn’t like that.
Lila: The hippies had a look that was a problem for some of the older generations. But we took them in.
Dottie: We accepted them because they were hungry for the Lord. They were seeking the Lord, even late at night. We observed them a lot, because they were different, but we loved them and we invited them close.
So it was a pivotal time of change?
Darliene: At one point, the unconventionality of things led to Earl being asked for his resignation by the board. But after much prayer, he felt the Lord say, “I will build My church, if you let me.” He wasn’t sure, but finally said yes. And then, it was ten months before the first family moved from somewhere else to come to Bethel. It cost us to obey that, in many ways. But we had peace during that time, and we had tremendous joy in that hardship.
Harold: When God does something different, He doesn’t often consult us. But we don’t have to understand it. We may not have understood it then, but you know, you stay with it to see what God’s doing, and then you come to understand.
Nell: And you honor your pastor, who’s hearing from God.
Gene: When people ask me about Earl, I say, “He could just about walk on water.” He was a righteous man. And he never wanted to hear anything negative about anyone else. He wasn’t interested in the way that things looked – he was interested in the fruit.
Lila: When Bill came, some of our friends started leaving. We prayed and asked the Lord what to do. Then He asked me, “What about the fruit?” We saw salvations, and healings. And from then on, it didn’t matter if people waved flags, or came in barefoot… we celebrated the fruit.
The church split seems to have had a high cost, including good friends and leaders?
Nell: Yes, it was hard.
Bob: We waited on the Lord a lot in that season. We maintained tenderness by maintaining forgiveness and waiting on Him.
Darliene: Some of the greatest times of forgiveness in our lives were right there and then, and we forgave them long before they asked for it.
Harold: When Bill was a teenager, he started a ministry in town called “Salt House.” He’d see kids on the street get saved, and so of course, he’d invite them to church. And when you invite them, you get them just as they are, and if they’re going to change, God is the one who will do it. That was during the Jesus Movement, where we had huge events at the auditorium.
Darliene: We had so many events happening at the Civic (Redding Civic Auditorium), and Earl would have anyone from any denomination come to be a part.
It sounds like a lot of core values created the environment during that time. I’m hearing a value and love of diversity…what else?
Lila: We were able to accept people from all walks of life. And that has made way for BSSM (Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry).
Bob: They played loud music, and we had to adapt to that. The music was so loud that we lost people when Bill came. But we went ahead and accepted that loud music, because I knew that’s what the younger generations were connected to, and that was more important than my hearing. We used to sing out of hymnals. We were used to that, but we had to adapt.
Darliene: Both Earl and I knew it was all about Him, but we felt one night that we were supposed to stop the choir and all solos, and so we dismissed the choir and orchestra for a year. It was hard, but we wanted people to learn how to worship and not perform. So we taught on worship during that year. It needs to be all about Him.
Lila: Earl taught us the core value of worship.
When you prayed for revival to happen here, did you think it would look like this?
Bob: No. We couldn’t have guessed. It’s a shock.
Lila: God is so unique, we could’ve never predicted this.
Bob: When we come to board meetings, we ask, “What will He
do next?” We often sit there with our mouths open at all of the amazing things going on here.
Darliene: I wasn’t surprised, no, partially because of the prophecy, and partially because of Earl’s favorite Scripture in Habakkuk 1:8 “Look and be amazed. You will be astonished at what I am about to do. I am going to do something in your own lifetime that you’ll have to see to believe.” is verse has been on our heart for all of these years. God is so much bigger.
Harold: I have to confess…I was surprised at the prophecies, never having heard them before. It was the groundwork laid by Earl to prepare us for the very thing that God was doing, and putting in our heart as a church the ability to accept whatever it was by faith.
Darliene: We have all of these promises for generations, and now we’re seeing it come to pass.
Bob: We’d prayed about it, about building a bigger church, and God told Earl to “lengthen your tent pegs.”
Gene: When we were getting ready to build, we didn’t know what to do, so we took time and walked the field and prayed. We prayed over the ground we’re on now, long before we could have it. When Earl was wrestling with it, he went out one night and prayed over the Scripture about lengthening your tent pegs. With that, God confirmed it.
Harold: When we walked that land, we also made declarations about it being God’s property for us.
How do you define success? Is it different now?
Bob: I define success by contentment, and being happy, and having lots of friends. I don’t think I would’ve defined it that way when I was younger, because with time comes wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and growing in the Spirit, you become patient. I made a lot of mistakes when I was young, and as I grew older and wiser, I watched things more closely and weighed things more.
Gene: When you’re younger, you don’t have a legacy that you’re thinking of. We have 20 great grandchildren. And that’s so much different. I’d define success by peace, and by contentment, too.
Bob: We’ve all been friends for a long time. We’ve traveled around 12,000 miles together in the US, and we had fun. That’s a huge place of success to me.
How important has your community been at Bethel?
Lila: That’s one thing we love about Diamond Fellowship (our
55+ ministry here at Bethel). It’s so important to us all to have community. But without younger people in the church, it wouldn’t be whole or healthy either. We need the young people, and they need us, and if we work together, we can grow together and learn from the Lord.
Harold: If it wasn’t for my Christian brothers and sisters standing with me, I don’t know that I’d be in the church today. When you’re younger, you don’t have the guidance or relationship that you do when you’re older and have been building for a time. I thank God every day for the relationship that I have with the people around this table.
Lila: We value the community built here at Bethel. We value the community events, because fellowshipping together is building history. It’s important.
In your relationship with God over the years, what’s something that has remained a consistent practice?
Darliene: Love well. That’s what I know. Love your spouse, your family, your church, your ministry. Just love. I don’t know of anything more important.
Nell: When we have love, we have kindness. Speaking kindness to people, instead of cutting them down…giving your voice to say, “I understand right where you are. Can I pray for you?” Hold their hand. Love them. I learned to do that at a young age, and I’ve kept at it, because I do love people. Sometimes I don’t like what they do, but I still let love come out of me.
Harold: You have to set priorities. Make sure that the ones you set will lead you to a closer walk with the Lord. Start the day out reading the Word and praising. Then, the day goes better. Things work out better, it seems. God will honor these things. Start your day in the right way.
Bob: That works, yes. What happens is, the things that normally take longer take less time. I’ve seen it time and time again.
Darliene: I soak. I listen to the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness every day, and hold on to “Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.”
Harold: Read the Word and memorize it. You know what happens? The Holy Spirit brings it back to you. Prepare yourself for Him to bring those things to mind. You and who you are, as a joint heir, sharing equally with the Son, in the Word. When we recognize that, we know that whatever we say, when we believe and do not doubt, we can have it. When we come to difficulties, the Word is the thing that comes out of us because we’ve hidden it in our hearts.
Lila: That’s the main thing I want to encourage in the younger generation: reading the Word. Spend time getting to know the Lord not just in fellowship, but also in the Word.
Anything you’d like to say about creating healthy marriages?
Harold: We were born in an age and era where we didn’t throw away things when they got old, or were broken. We fixed them. All of these three couples have been married for 66 years. We all got married within two months of each other.
Lila: Take time for each other. It’s easy to get caught up, but it’s you two who will be together. Keep that strong and healthy. Go on dates once a week.
Bob: Don’t outrun your wife, let her catch you. Don’t overdo work – make time, make room for what’s important.
Harold: A man who needs a wife finds a good thing (Proverbs 18:22).
What would you like to say to the generations following you?
Darliene: Habakkuk 1:8. Read it over and over. He’s doing things in your lifetime. Things that you won’t even believe until you see it. Things may be bad, but God is so good.
Harold: Honor those in authority. Even the ones you don’t agree with. You may not agree with everything the person is doing, but you honor the position. We don’t always want to pray for people we don’t agree with, or don’t want in a particular position, but God placed them there. He puts people in authority.
Bob: there’s no need to be so pessimistic—it’s going to be okay. And there’s a lot of talking happening, and not a lot of listening. Listen well. There are people who have knowledge or experience that comes with years, and there are pitfalls you could avoid and have a smoother life by waiting and listening to those who have wisdom.
Dottie: Make time for your children—connect and let them know you love them.
Gene: There are a lot of young people now hooked on technology. But take some of that time to get into the Word. Don’t let technology take you over. Stay connected to your life.
What are you most proud of?
Darliene: Earl. My husband. I’m so glad he loved me.
Bob: My wife.
Lila: My husband. And the church, and what we’ve allowed to come into it, and how it’s grown, and what it’s become. It’s not the only thing God’s doing on the earth, or in the corporate body, but it’s what God’s doing in our specific body.
Gene: The church and taking over Diamond Fellowship. We’ve been there for over ten years now, and we’ve been so blessed to see what God has done. There’s so much life and fellowship.
Bob: One of the great things that I have seen is how Gene has grown in the last ten years. He invited Dottie and I, and Harold and Lila, to speak into how he was doing, and how he could continue to grow.
Nell: We’re proud of our family, and our grandchildren. We love when we’re given room to be grandma and grandpa. It makes us feel young. If my dad could see, if he knew that his grandkids and great grandkids were fulfilling the vision he had of a family serving the Lord, and in ministry, he would be thrilled. He’s in Heaven thrilled.
Harold: The thing I’m happiest for is the leading of the Lord in
my life. I look back, and I can see how, even while I was in sin, He didn’t leave me. He was faithful. I always knew in my heart what kind of wife I wanted, and the Lord honored that through His leading. Even when I came into troubles, He was always there to meet me in my moment.
Lila: I’m so proud of my family heritage, the Christians of my family, and our heritage in the church as a whole. Looking at God’s generals who’ve laid our groundwork, I am so proud of that.
Dottie: You know, when you’re raising kids, and you have a job, and a spouse, and you’re running, running…it’s hectic. And we’ve done so much, and traveled so much, and grown so much…I’m so content. I don’t envy. I don’t desire to go and do anything beyond what I’m doing now. And I’m enjoying this season of my life. So I think I’m most pleased with that.
Thank you for being the generation that has paved the way for us to follow. We appreciate the strength you bring to this house.