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    Texas | Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories

    From Potential Lyrics for a Johnny Cash Loser Tune to A Turned Around Life

    by Bill Cherry
    Bill Cherry

    It was an odd experience, really. A few years back, one day I walked into the vestibule of Alvin’s enormous Living Stones Church, and there in the church’s gift shop, straightening out the inventory, was a fellow I recognized as the former manager of the Galveston Kroger store.

    He was in Galveston when Kroger had its brand new building that now, many years later, is the home of the Goodwill store.

    I wasn’t sure that I had ever known the fellow’s name, but I was sure it was he because even the passing of more than twenty years hadn’t done much to change his appearance.

    We nodded to each other. He kept straightening inventory, and I went to the church office to meet the pastor. And when the pastor came in, it was the same fellow who had been straightening the greeting cards just moments before.

    He’s now the Rev. Al Jandl.

    With a biography at 73-years that could easily become the lyrics of any Johnny Cash song, but at least in his case with a very happy ending, Jandl and his followers have built a non-denominational Christian church where more than 1,500 show up for services on Sunday mornings, and their church complex sits on 166 acres, and is on the Brazoria County tax rolls for multi-millions.

    Rev. Al Jandl
    Rev. Al Jandl
    Photo courtesy Living Stone Church

    I would have given anything to have asked Jandl if the complex was debt free, but my Southern gentleman upbringing got in the way of that.

    Living Stones gets its name from the first book of Paul, Chapter 4, vs. 4-5. And on that campus is the church itself which seats 3,000; a kindergarten through 12th grade school that works on educating more than 200 children year after year; a big day care facility; huge amounts of green space shaded by trees galore; and a series of parking lots that are so large they will probably comfortably park every car of ever person who’ll ever have a reason to be there.

    While Jandll Jandll is pastoring his flock, his wife, Judy, is overseeing the school. And then scheduling and double checking to make certain all of the daily activities of the entire complex get done as planned -- an enormous job -- is a former Baptist, now a follower of Jandl’s, Sandy Grant, a young-looking grandmother.

    Living Stones has a full-time staff of about 75, and when you add in the part-timers, they’re approaching a payroll of about 100.

    Jandl told me that he’s never taken one course at a bible college. He’s almost totally self-taught. But I can tell you that I noted as he flipped through his copy of the King James, that there were marks and more marks that had been made with a yellow high-lighter like every good student does with his text books.

    Irrespective of his lack of formal training, he got ordained, and he got ordained not once but twice. The first ordination certificate was from John Osteen, the founding pastor of Houston’s prominent Lakewood Church.

    Lakewood Church is the one that has become the largest nondenominational church in the U.S., since John Osteen’s son Joel took over the reins after John died.

    The second ordination was signed by Oral Roberts, who was probably one of the grand daddy’s of huge nondenominational Christian churches.

    I asked Jandl what his church building-from-scratch formula is. “First God has to talk to you and tell you he wants you to minister His word, and then you follow His instructions on that to the tee. And that’s exactly what I did when I left my high-paying job with Kroger. I was following God’s message to me.

    “When it comes time for you to build your own church, you build the largest parking lot you think you’ll ever need, then you put your first meager sanctuary way back on the back of it. I learned this parking lot lessons from shopping malls.

    Ever notice they build the parking lot first, and it’s always bigger than you’d ever think they’ll ever need?

    “And then when we built our first church building, on the very first day I had a sign painter paint in great big letters on one wall, “Jericho.” For like Jericho, our aspiration was for the congregation to grow so big that the walls would bulge, and come tumbling down, giving us the message that it was time to build a much bigger church.”

    He said that the rest of his contribution to the success of Living Stones is the marketing skills and people management skills that he learned from his many years as a grocery store employee. As it was in the beginning the rest was and remains up to God.

    As I toured the complex by myself, it didn’t take long to note how clean, neat, straight and orderly every inch was, from the restrooms to the sanctuary, to Sandy Grant’s office to the huge yard itself.

    And over everything, I could hear the voice of a telephone prayer counselor praying with one caller after another. That voice in the background brought me peace as well.

    So a part of the autobiographical Johnny Cash-style song that Jandl would sing would have to include his former lifestyle: drinking, smoking, denouncing God, getting shot twice, once in the lower back and once in the nape of the neck, and some early bad choices in mates.

    The happy ending seems to be a man who’s now at peace, has an honorable life’s mission, and whose past and present offer encouragement to those who are following the word of God as Pastor Jandl interprets it. All of that has happened over the past 35 years or so.


    Copyright 2013 – William S. Cherry
    "Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories" May 3, 2013 column
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    Bill Cherry, a Dallas Realtor and free lance writer was a longtime columnist for "The Galveston County Daily News." His book, Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories, has sold thousands, and is still available at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com and other bookstores.
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