As soon as I opened the front door, something felt different. The date was June 19, my first day of a week-long course at Flight Safety International in Long Beach, California. Through nearly 40 hours of lectures and drills, I became certified as a cabin attendant for the Philadelphia Church of God’s new Gulfstream 450 aircraft.
Ever since finding out about the training course a few days before it started, I had been bracing myself for the worst but still hoping for the best. It brought to mind an uncomfortable encounter as a 15-year-old high school baseball player back in 2008 when I was relentlessly ridiculed and harassed by my freshman teammates, and even the older players, for being the only kid who couldn’t participate in games on Friday nights or Saturdays, who disappeared for a week in October to attend the Feast of Tabernacles (or to sacrifice animals at the temple, as they jokingly claimed), who chose not to attend parties, and who refused to experiment with alcohol and drugs.
Of course, this was nine years ago in the absurdly popularity-obsessed environment of public school, in which teenagers probe for any peculiarity in their peers and then attack it relentlessly, just to avoid being picked on themselves for their own insecurities. Realistically, I understood that my time at Flight Safety International, surrounded mostly by adults twice my age and older, wouldn’t be quite as laden with persecution.
Still, I knew that God’s way of life always attracts curiosity, whether good or bad. When I entered the training center, I could only pray that the curiosity of my fellow students and my instructors would be of the more pleasant variety.
For the first two full days, no one had a clue that I would be serving my own grandfather, pcg Pastor General Gerald Flurry, on the G450. However, they did notice that I was different in a few ways, such as being married with a child on the way (Loma Amy, born a week later) at the age of 24 when the societal trend is to deliberately delay such responsibilities until the mid-30s or early 40s. They did notice that my job combination of teacher, radio co-host, writer, and editor (and now, cabin attendant) is virtually unheard of, outside of a few personalities who appear as guests on nightly cable news programs and are far more famous than I. And, most simply, they noticed that I actually smiled and said “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am” when appropriate. Thus, their curiosity was piqued.
On the third day of training, one of the instructors asked my three female classmates and me how well we knew the principal passenger on the private planes where we would be working. After some hesitation, I explained that I would be flying with my grandfather.
This was shocking, apparently. My answer invited an onslaught of incredulous yet positive comments and questions, since working for a relative in the flight business is practically unheard of. Would my grandfather even make me wear a uniform? What meals does he prefer? How easy is he to get along with? Where will we be traveling?
During a mid-morning break a couple hours later, one of my classmates asked me several questions about my grandfather. I told her his name and pointed out that he is the presenter of the Key of David television program, one of the three or four largest religious telecasts in the United States. She asked to see what he looks like, so I pulled out my phone and showed her the introduction to one of the programs on YouTube.
Her excited reaction revealed that she had seen Mr. Flurry before. She quickly called across the lounge to her boyfriend, a pilot who was taking a different training course that same week. He was happy to meet the grandson of a man whom he frequently watches on tv. According to this pilot, Mr. Flurry is “smart” and “really knows his stuff.” I agreed.
Following a morning of practicing in-flight food preparation, teachers and students gathered beneath a flight simulator in the warehouse for the only group lunch of the week. The timing was impeccable, just a few hours after the whole crew had discovered my family relation to the big boss.
Questions came my way, so I answered. Do I plan to enter the ministry like Mr. Flurry? “No; no one in this Church plans to.” Why would some pcg members travel several hours to attend Church services each week? “Because they are deeply committed to their beliefs.” With every answer I gave, the people around me realized more and more how vastly different this way of life is.
“Why did your grandfather choose to become a minister?” one middle-aged female instructor asked as the other teachers and students got up to wash their dishes. I replied that it was the last career he would have chosen; as a young man, he used to criticize his mother for listening to the radio program of Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong, the predecessor to Mr. Flurry and the pcg. But as his life spiraled out of control, he couldn’t help but notice how happy and stable his mother was. Since his father wasn’t the best role model, he came to see Mr. Armstrong as his spiritual father.
Later on, I continued, Mr. Flurry attended the wcg’s educational institution, Ambassador College, which was located in Pasadena—just a short drive from Flight Safety International. After three years as an older, married student, he was hired to write for the Church’s world news publication, The Plain Truth, only to be fired about a year later.
At this point, a field minister asked Mr. Flurry to be a ministerial trainee under him. Finally, I told my instructor, he became a minister and has remained in that capacity for nearly 50 years. Because the wcg changed its mission under new leadership following Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986, Mr. Flurry started the pcg in 1989 and has worked to uphold Mr. Armstrong’s legacy ever since.
In practical terms, I explained, this means starting colleges in Oklahoma and England, hosting renowned musical geniuses in an annual concert series at Armstrong Auditorium, excavating biblical remains in Jerusalem, delivering a hope-filled message through every possible digital and print medium, and even acquiring a private aircraft for the purpose of traveling the world and encouraging thousands of dedicated pcg members.
“You should go to the classroom upstairs,” another instructor politely interrupted. Because of this impromptu interview, I was 10 minutes late for the first afternoon class!
Flight safety training ended two days later. In five short days, my teachers and classmates transformed into a sort of family. We exchanged contact information, which was certainly not the case with any of my baseball teammates all those years ago.
From this uplifting experience, I learned more about the importance of setting a godly example. Jesus Christ told the disciples, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
This passage really has a lot of meaning for God’s youth. When I was a shy 15-year-old in the baseball locker room back in 2008, the last thing I ever wanted to do was stand out. I was terrified of being challenged on my religious beliefs. So, to blend in, I lowered my standard of conduct and conversation around my teammates. No, I did not become a wild, partying hooligan, but I certainly would not have been mistaken for a cadet at a military academy.
Instead of striving to be a powerful witness to my teammates, I tried to be invisible. I “[lit] a candle, and put it under a bushel.” Many young people in God’s Church can relate to this feeling. Clothing brands tell you to buy their products and be “cool”—whatever that means. The entertainment industry glorifies all kinds of teenage immorality. In sports, music, business, or any field that requires tons of sacrifice to become successful, armchair pundits scorn those who dare to be amazing, who have the audacity to shine in a world of mediocrity.
It is far easier to recede into the background than it is to be as bold as a lion for God (Proverbs 28:1).
Here is Christ’s challenge to you young people: Buck the societal trend toward darkness, and be a brilliant, radiant, shining light! The world has no truth. They are jealous of what you have. In your interactions with the world, think, say, and do whatever Christ would in an identical situation (1 Corinthians 11:1). There is nothing to be ashamed of.
During my week in California, I also learned the true meaning of the Apostle Peter’s admonition: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
In other words, God’s people, including the youth, must have the humility and the understanding to give honest answers about our way of life, which fills us with a living hope. Sometimes, this goes beyond explaining why we keep the Sabbath and the holy days, or why we don’t eat pork. At Flight Safety International, I was hardly asked a single doctrinal question. Instead, I had to know some of the fruits of God’s Work, as well as some of the history of the Church. The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong and Raising the Ruins are outstanding resources for building this knowledge.
Notice: We are encouraged to “give an answer.” This implies that someone asked a question first. One thing that makes God’s Church vastly different from any other church is that we do not initiate religious discussions. We do not go door to door with the gospel. We do not argue for hours with unconverted family members, trying to convince or force them to come into the Church. We do not embark on missionary journeys to baptize pagans in Africa and South America.
But, if asked, we should have been paying enough attention during Church services, and exerting enough effort in personal Bible study, to give a satisfactory answer.
God’s way of life works. People are naturally intrigued by it. It is up to us to set a right example and to give an answer that would make God proud.