We will get to my conversation with God later, but first a short history of my involvement in San Francisco preceding it. Walter Hoadley was the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia when he was recruited to join the Bank of America as Executive Vice President and Chief Economist. At that time, its headquarters was in San Francisco and after he moved to the city, he initiated a small fellowship group that met in the Board Room of the bank. It was a closed group that included Dick Burress, the Director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, Judge Henry Rolph, Lee Soule, President of a steel company and Frank Haas, Developer of Retirement Communities in Florida. Shortly after the group started, I was invited to join them. I drove from Grass Valley to the city one day a month for that breakfast. The rest of the day was spent in one on one meetings with these men. They all became very close friends, and I was honored to be a Pallbearer at Walters’s funeral. We eventually opened that group, and it continues to average thirty to forty businessmen. It also spun off dozens of small groups that meet weekly in someone’s office.
After I had attended for about a year Frank Haas and Walter challenged me to invest more of my time with the business leaders of San Francisco. They asked me to move to the city, and said several of the men would cover the cost of our housing, an office, a car, an assistant, plus a generous salary, etc. After much prayer and discussion with my wife and the guys in my small group, I had no peace about moving to San Francisco. However, God had given me a love for the city and put an idea in my head about how to proceed. I told Frank and Walter that I would come to the city for three days every other week and maybe I would find the person who could be on site twenty-four seven. That decision led to 36 years of ministry in the city, and after several false starts, just the right man was found. My time in the city also changed the direction of my life forever.
On my first visit to the city after this decision, I was trying to discern what God would have me do for those three days every other week. Since I only had a relationship with five men, I walked the streets praying, and one thought kept coming back again and again. It was that I should pray for the city on Twin Peaks, which has a 360-degree view of the city. So I responded to that, and for several weeks, I would drive into the city and go immediately up to Twin Peaks to just look at the city and talk to God about it. The wonderful thing about that lookout area was that you can see the entire city very clearly laid out below you. It was prayer of course, but it seemed more like I was simply chatting with the Lord because I was talking out loud with my eyes open. I would pray for specific buildings by mentioning them as the gray one to the left of the Transamerica Building or that very tall one close to the bridge. I came to believe later that many of the relationships and events that took place over the next thirty years had their beginning on that mountain.
This was such a special experience that it motivated me to repeat it as I traveled the world. In over seventy-five nations, I always found a mountain or the highest building and prayed for that city. In Seoul it was Bugak mountain where God gave me a heart for Korea. This led me to visit Seoul fifty-five times with the result being a very substantial ministry with the leaders of that nation.
As I prayed for San Francisco, I began to love the city of St. Francis, but still didn’t have any direction about how God wanted me to interact with its leadership. However, as I continued to pray for the city numerous ideas came and went, but one stood out above all the others. It was that I should walk around every large office building and ask God for a relationship with a person of responsibility in each one. I knew that the idea was only a first step, but I became very excited about taking that step and trusting God for what to do after that.
So I bought a small notebook and walked the streets writing down the address and name of every large building, and a few smaller buildings because they seemed important. Then for several months, I spent an hour or so in front of or walking around every one of those buildings, talking to the Lord about people inside. Sometimes I would recognize people because I had seen them entering or leaving several times. I assumed they were from that building so I prayed for them specifically and wondered if I would ever meet them. I kept track for several years and am thrilled to report that God gave me one or more friends in every one of those buildings. Each of those relationships has a story to tell, but I will share just one.
I remember well my very first encounter with someone in one of those buildings. It happened because Walter introduced me to the President of a major corporation. The first meeting started awkwardly, but within a few minutes he became incredibly vulnerable and shared many things about his personal life. We started to meet every time I was in town and became very good friends. Within three months, he surrendered his life to Jesus, and we started a fellowship group in his office with him and four of his peers.
After that, it seemed like every corporate exec I met wanted to introduce me to one of his friends. Within months, my calendar was full of men who were not believers, but since a trusted friend, had introduced me, often at lunch, they were very open to meet. Leadership is a lonely and stressful position, and a small percentage of them have anyone to process it with. So often on the first appointment, I ask; “Can I quote you an ancient proverb and see if you identify with it. It goes like this”;
“Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts or measure words, just pour them all out, grain and chaff together, sure that a faithful hand will sift them, keep what is worth keeping and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
I then asked, “Do you have anyone in your life like that?” It doesn’t matter whether I ask a Legislator, CEO, or a Pastor, I always hear; “Are you kidding me or I would give anything for a friend like that.” I offer them that kind of confidential friendship and state categorically that I do not have a hidden agenda. Sometimes I add, “But if I were you, I wouldn’t believe me until a large amount of trust has developed.” Over the many years, I have only had one man that didn’t accept that offer. My desire in every meeting was to arrive full of the Holy Spirit and serve the agenda that develops between us.
Years before I came to San Francisco, my mentor Dick Halverson had a huge influence on me. He encouraged me to stop pursuing traditional evangelical methods and to think and act like Jesus who had only one thought; “Responding to the will of the Father with every person He encountered.” That meant I needed to learn to live by the prompt and check of the Spirit and without condemnation, let others pursue the traditional ways of thinking about ministry. The ministry I was called to was the “Ministry of Presence.” However, as I look back over the years, a multitude of people met Jesus personally, and countless others were encouraged to become His disciples.
I could give hundreds of stories about the wonderful things that resulted from those prayers on the mountain, but my intent was just to give praise and glory to God for allowing me to be His junior partner in a small part of what He wanted to accomplish in San Francisco