Here are a few excerpts from Chris Baumann’s book, “Listen to Me!”
Click each of the tabs below to read.
Though I was influenced by the constantly changing social winds, there were a few things I knew I didn’t want: I had no desire to have a career, and I definitely didn’t want to become an old maid. The words from one particular song, I Am a Rock, haunted me. As I listened to the lyrics, “I am a rock, I am an island, and a rock feels no pain and an island never cries,” I took the words to heart thinking, “Is that really the way I am supposed to feel?” Yet as hard as I tried, I felt the pain of loneliness, and I had to cry once in a while.
Late one night while driving home from another miserable night out, through blinding tears, I remember angrily crying out to God, “I know life has hard times so let me have them while I am still young because I won’t be able to go through all of this when I get old!” I could only remember one word from a Bible verse, it was “Ask,” and that is the exact word I shouted out to God that night. At this point in my life, I couldn’t even imagine why people were ever born.
Sometime during 1966, my mother was forced to sell our home. The house was in her name and the sale made it possible for us to get out of debt and have a little money leftover to fall back on. We were moving to the next block and renting an old two-bedroom furnished bungalow. This was good news for Ralphie because he was able to attend the same school and keep his friends.
My mother had to have everything out of our house by the closing date, so we ended up leaving a lot of personal things for the professional cleaners to either throw out or take with them. I remember going upstairs to check the unfinished part of the attic to see if there was anything we really needed. Right away I noticed the black paperback Bible I used during Confirmation classes laying on the floor; I picked it up, and simply thought, “I guess I won’t need this anymore.” So I placed it in a pile with some other things that were going to be taken away.
In the far corner stood my grandmother’s SINGER sewing machine which I hadn’t used since graduation. I stared at it for a little while and then concluded, “It’s too heavy for Ralphie and me to carry,” and left it there. My brother and I slowly piled everything we were taking in my car. After thirteen years of disappointments, we moved out of the house that we first thought was going to bring us happiness in just a few hours. I locked the door for the last time and never went back inside.
The bungalow we rented was very small, and soon none of us could stand to be there. My mother could no longer work and spent most of her time visiting with my aunt or her best friend. Ralphie usually hung out with his friends and was rarely home. Our missing dad was a subject that none of us ever discussed. I couldn’t fully understand what was going on inside my brother’s heart because he had been much closer to my father. Deep down, I was very angry and wanted to lash out at someone over what had happened to our family, but I didn’t know who was to blame.
Practically overnight, the offices of the BBB and The PTL Partner Association moved alongside each other. On the afternoon Jim and Tammy were scheduled to arrive, Christine and I drove over to the Carousel Center. As we pulled into the parking lot, we were engulfed in an atmosphere charged with expectancy. TV trucks were positioned around the small shopping strip, while several reporters were setting up their microphones so that Jim Bakker could make a statement. A small crowd was gathering outside the offices, and it actually looked like a scene from a movie. I drove around the building and Christine and I slipped in through the back door where we found several more people anticipating their arrival.
All of us heard the commotion outside the offices when Jim and Tammy finally drove up. When they walked through the door, their faces lit up as we warmly welcomed them with loud cheers and applause. Their return brought Inez to tears, and their radiant presence was a gratifying sight for each of us to see. Cameras clicked away as they made their way around the office cordially greeting and thanking everyone. Afterwards, Jim Bakker sat down, opened his Bible, and began encouraging everyone who worked so hard to help him and Tammy return to the Carolinas.
When he finished speaking, he prayed with us before going outside to talk to the waiting reporters. Being forthright, Jim Bakker aggressively set the stage for his plans to return to Heritage USA. As he was explaining his intentions to the press, a few of us believed it would be just a matter of weeks before he would be back at the helm of the PTL Ministry. Overall, it definitely was a huge day for everyone concerned about Heritage USA’s future, especially for those who were ecstatic over their return, and for those who were not so thrilled.
The very next day, the BBB’s skeleton crew grew considerably. Many new volunteers came into the office wanting to help in some way. Additionally, the news of the Bakkers’ return to the Carolinas caused a big stir of excitement around the country. The incoming mail increased greatly, and it quickly became a full-time job keeping up with the volume of letters that poured in. A week or so later, Inez Brown and some of the BBB’s volunteers were featured on the cover of People Magazine.
In thinking things through, I realized it had been exactly one year since the visions. I wondered why I went through such a powerful experience since it had not taken that long for the Bakkers to return…I did not know how wrong I was.
The following days proved to be both extremely exciting and extremely sobering for me. I was shocked into the reality that there was fierce opposition over Jim Bakker’s intentions. One morning at the office, I answered the phone to an angry man’s cold-blooded voice, “There’s a bomb in your office, and it’s going off in fifteen minutes.” Then he hung up! I immediately told Inez who calmly said that we shouldn’t worry about it, and then gathered everyone together to pray. I was too startled to think, but Inez was more experienced with this sort of thing. So after we prayed, she continued to work while I watched every minute go by until enough time had passed where I could breathe a little easier. Bomb threats and death threats were some of the unsettling things I had to quickly learn about.
The day Jim and Tammy’s moving van arrived from California, Inez asked Rick and Charlie Battaglia if they could help move them into a house they rented in the gated community of River Hills. After the guys got off work, they went over to the Bakkers’ new home. In the wee hours of the morning, Rick gently woke me up wanting to tell me, as he held out his hand, “This is the hand that shook the hand of Jim Bakker.” At that moment we both had to laugh because we were so overwhelmed from living out some unbelievable moments in time, moments we never dreamed of.
Over the summer, while Jim Bakker was working on his plans to purchase Heritage USA, the Lord prompted me to give him and Tammy a drawing of the flags. I wanted it to look beautiful, so I asked around the office for someone who knew how to draw. Jean Pence volunteered to create a picture from the rough sketch I drew and a photograph I took of the flag stand at the entrance to Heritage USA. After explaining the concept, she diligently worked on the drawing for the next few weeks.
It turned out to be an awe-inspiring picture that truly brought out the impact of the rearranged flags. The Christian flag looked so victorious because she skillfully drew it flying higher than the PTL and American flags. The three plaques displayed the names and dates under each respective flagpole, making a profound statement. The only date missing was the day marking Jim Bakker’s official return to Heritage USA, which only the Lord knew. Just seeing the articulate drawing made it much easier for me to realize the certainty of that date.
As soon as I brought it home, I carefully framed it and placed it out for Rick and the children, including Steve, to see before it was wrapped. Next, I wrote a letter explaining the visions and included Harry Homes’ name because of my promise to Tia. Then, I asked the Lord to give me enough courage to give it to them. I actually had the perfect opportunity as we were invited to Inez’s birthday party at Kevin’s House.
A few dozen people were at her party that July night and everyone enjoyed the “not your typical” church spaghetti supper. After a full night of food, good company, and present opening, the party started to wind down. Throughout the evening I silently pondered, “When should I give the picture to them?” As everyone was getting ready to leave, I quietly sat on the large open staircase in the foyer with Doc and MaryAnn Phillips. They were the only persons, other than Celeste, who was working at the BBB that I confided in.
Rick was working that night, so they stayed with me while most of the guests were saying good night. Fearful of making a huge mistake, I asked the Lord to reassure me that this was exactly what He wanted me to do. Wrestling through my fears and doubts, Doc and MaryAnn prayed that God would empty the foyer of everyone except for Jim Bakker if this was the time He wanted me to say something.
Needless to say, we were surprised when, within a few minutes, the only one left standing in the foyer was Jim Bakker! With that, I slowly walked down the stairs, clutching onto the present. Then I politely stammered, “Excuse me, pastor, can I see you for a minute?” When he simply smiled and said, “Sure,” I realized the magnitude of what I was doing.
All at once, I found myself slowly explaining that I received a vision from the Lord, and then I handed him the beautifully wrapped package. It was one of the most challenging moments I experienced since the conception of the vision itself. He enthusiastically responded, “Why…Thank you very much!” And that was all there was to it! I walked back to Doc and MaryAnn feeling a little overwhelmed, and then Jim and Tammy immediately left.
Looking back, all God wanted me to do was encourage him with the vision. Yet, because of the seriousness of telling an accomplished man of God that I had a vision was much easier said than done. On the other hand, there was now no doubt that the Lord had made a way, where there was no way, for me to tell him myself, and it happened on the grounds of Heritage USA.
After a few days of vacation, I came into the office one morning without expecting anything more than a normal day at work. As I walked by the front desk, I stopped and gasped because the picture of the flags was hanging on the wall! I had a difficult time managing my emotions demanding,
“Who put that there?”
“Jim Bakker did,” someone quickly called back.
“He did? Jim Bakker did that?”, I asked a little nicer.
“Yes. He came in here with a hammer in his hand and hung it up! What’s the matter with that?”
“Nothing…Nothing at all,” I quietly replied.
At that moment I was so thrilled that I didn’t know what to do, but I had to tell someone! I didn’t know whether to call Rick or Jean Pence first. By the end of the day, I had told everyone, including Mary Ann Muller. There it hung, for everyone to see, and it looked great. I was even more taken back over the positive reaction from people who acknowledged its meaning.
Maybe it was because the summer was over or maybe it was just fate, but there were only about thirty people who came out to the conference that particular weekend. Despite this modest turnout, we met supporters and partners from as far away as Alaska.
It was during the early part of the afternoon when Jim Bakker received a telephone call from one of his friends at PTL that completely changed his plans. Right after he hung up, he asked everyone to gather around the dining room table. He humbly announced that he had just received permission from the Malaysians for all of us to tour some of the closed areas of Heritage USA. Needless to say, everyone there was very much surprised.
Since we had to wait until 4:00 P.M., Lee Ann decided to make sandwiches so we could all eat supper at the picnic area in front of the Amphitheatre. I can still remember being in a state of disbelief as Rick and I helped her make dozens of chicken salad sandwiches. When it came time to leave, the guests who didn’t have a car rode with those of us who did. In a caravan, which reminded me of the times we drove down to Heritage USA from New York, we lined up behind Jim Bakker’s lead car and headed to PTL. It was an emotionally charged ten-minute ride as Rick and I talked about the timing of that moment.
I literally choked back tears as heart-wrenching memories from the past several years flashed through my mind like a familiar old movie. When our motorcade reached the new entrance to Heritage USA, the realization that we were going on a guided tour of the embattled ministry with the man who envisioned it all was almost beyond belief.
After turning into Heritage at the Regent Park sign, we passed the well kept Regent Park Golf Course and the new subdivisions affording many gracious homes. A little further down the road the beautiful scenery suddenly changed when we crossed over the railroad tracks that separated the residential section from most of PTL’s ministry buildings.
One of the first places Jim Bakker wanted us to see was the Heritage Grand Hotel. Approaching the parameters of the spacious building revealed the tremendous toll the years of neglect had taken. The paint was peeling off all the outside woodwork of the former four-star hotel, making it look more like a building scheduled for demolition!
The ornate iron railings enclosing the outside balcony of each suite were being eaten away by rust, while tangled weeds and unkempt flower beds surrounded the entire area. It was so hurtful to see the awful condition the hotel was in as it stood deserted in the center of the huge retreat. Glancing across the roadway at the drained and weather-beaten Heritage Island Water Park only displayed more signs of ruin. The all too surreal scene looming off in the distance of the desolate sun-bleached gazebos and largely emptied out pools resembled a gigantic concrete dust bowl.
Heritage USA had been shut down for almost two years, and no one was allowed over the railroad tracks unless they had permission to drive around. Seeing it close up, it was hard to imagine that this was where millions of people once enjoyed visiting. All of it was slowly turning into a monument to failure; it was more heartbreaking than I could possibly describe.
Right before we actually went inside the hotel, I took a closer look at the adjacent twenty-one story Towers. The unfinished five-hundred room hotel, which was only a few months away from completion in 1987, was just another sad reminder of the tragedy. A few of us silently shook our heads noticing large chunks of the brick facade pulling away from the tall concrete walls. We watched several birds unassumingly fly in and out of the openings on the top floors; they were the only guests enjoying the view.
It was a tension-filled moment as we headed into the hotel. We all quietly followed behind two armed security officers who escorted us inside through a side entrance. The second we entered the building, the atmosphere became austerely quiet. Our voices echoed through the silenced hotel where the stagnate air was fouled by so much dust that it was difficult for me to breathe. Jim Bakker led us into one of the larger kitchens where all the pots and pans had been haphazardly piled into big heaps. Glancing around the messy area, I recalled that on July 4th in the mid-eighties this kitchen prepared so many meals that the Heritage Grand Hotel was actually recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records for preparing the most number of meals in a single day. Now, only God knew who wandered in and out of there looking for food.
After walking through the conference/ballroom, we left the area making our way down the long Hall of Agreement where the large windows and glass-domed skylights helped us to see better. The heartache Jim Bakker felt was evident to everyone as we stopped by a huge gilded frame that contained a different Bible verse than the original one PTL had in place there for many years. Jim explained to those who had never visited Heritage USA how it once displayed the Scripture that the whole PTL Ministry was founded on which said:
Again I say Unto
you, that if two
of you shall agree
on earth as touching
anything that they
shall ask, it shall be
done for them of
my Father which
is in heaven Matthew 18:19
In an almost reverent quietness, we began walking toward the enclosed area of the Main Street Shops, which now looked more like a modern-day ghost town. It was unsettling to stand there in the faint light streaming in from a few windows that opened to the outside and hear the strain in Jim Bakker’s voice trying to describe how Main Street used to always be filled with visitors.
Peering into the vacant shops, vivid memories haunted those of us who knew all too well how fantastic this place once was. The beautiful cobblestone street was filthy. I asked Rick, “Why don’t the Malaysians at least keep this place clean?” By the time we got to the end of the small shopping mall, many of us deeply felt Jim Bakker’s pain. He poured his life into giving God’s people the best, and now it was seemingly all done in vain.
Finally, we came into the hotel’s huge four-story lobby. The imposing motionless elevators situated on the parameters of the immense area spoke volumes of more gloom. Visitors very much enjoyed watching those ever-moving glass-paneled elevators while they sat on the exquisite couches and chairs placed in the sitting areas. They also enjoyed riding on them while watching all the activity in the lobby.
The beautiful Victorian furniture, rare antiques, and fine oil paintings were all long gone. Many things were either missing, auctioned off, or just taken away. The beautiful brass words, Jesus Christ is Lord, that once hung over the registration desk were nowhere to be seen. The lobby itself was more than empty because the presence of God was also gone. Just looking at the barrenness of the whole place was another sign of the death of the ministry. The lifeless sight affected all of us in some way; it was as though we were standing inside an elaborate mausoleum suspended in time. It turned out to be more like a Tour from Hell. I think we were all wondering why it had to be like this.
Getting back outside into the fresh air, the mood of the guests had become noticeably somber. The once-bustling ministry that so many Christians sacrificed to build was now just a graveyard of memories. I could not help thinking back to the time when Jim Bakker walked around the foundation of the Heritage Grand Hotel while it was being constructed. He would balance himself on the footings while carefully dropping hundreds of tiny metal plaques into the foundation inscribed with the words, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” Isaiah 54:17 (KJV) Acutely aware of how much Satan wanted to destroy PTL, Jim Bakker personally placed this Scripture in the foundation of other buildings on the grounds as well.
I momentarily drifted off in thought wondering why the world owns millions of hotels and resorts, and this mega, first-class Christian retreat was wasting away. My thought quickly shifted when Jim wanted us to go to the Upper Room. We got back into our cars and slowly drove down the winding roadway observing more destruction on the way. We passed by the Heritage Village Church (Big Barn Auditorium) that was rotting away while ugly weeds and overgrown shrubbery were taking over the land surrounding it. The locked front doors of the sanctuary defiantly made a loud statement that the gates of Hell were prevailing, and no one was ever going to use it again.
We pulled into the Upper Room’s parking lot, which was right across the road from the front entrance of the church. All of us quietly made our way down the curved stone pathway that wound its way through dense woods leading to the Upper Room. Sadly, the Malaysians chained off all sixteen Bible verses that had been etched in polished granite blocks on the walkway. Millions had stood on these Scriptures to build up their faith before entering the Upper Room. It was evident that chains, locks, and religious bondage were now in control of PTL.