Two decades ago, veteran news photographer Tom Price had a burning desire to highlight the mission work of the Calvary Chapel family. Through a series of miracles, he became convinced that this vision was indeed from the Lord Jesus Christ. In this first-person account, Tom reflects on God’s faithfulness and purpose in this unique ministry.
Story and Photos by Tom Price
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9b
On a sunny June afternoon in 1999, I waited to speak with Calvary Chapel founder, Pastor Chuck Smith. Many others pressed in at the East Coast Pastors Conference, to thank him for his impact on their lives. I handed Pastor Chuck a small ink-jet booklet of my vision for a magazine. After skimming through it briefly, Pastor Chuck thanked me graciously and tucked it under his arm and moved on. That must be the dumbest idea I ever had, I thought to myself. That man must have hundreds of ideas thrown his way every day.
The next morning, a sea of men in the breakfast line parted as Pastor Chuck walked directly up to me. “You’re the one who gave me the magazine yesterday, right?” The buzz of conversation around us quieted, “Yes, sir,” I stammered. “What did you think about it?”
Pastor Chuck said, “Well, I took the magazine to my room last night and read it. I love it, and think it’s a great idea. People need to see and read about all the amazing things the Lord is doing around the world through His people. Let’s plan on four editions a year. Costa Mesa will take 6,000 of each issue. Let’s get this going.” He paused and waited for a response. Realizing that I was speechless, Chuck declared, his blue eyes piercing mine, “You’ll be the editor.” Then he gently asked, “What was your name again?” I mumbled my name, and Chuck started to walk away but suddenly turned around once more. “One more thing—I am going to ask Joe Focht [pastor of CC Philadelphia] if he would consider helping you raise seed money for the first issue. He will keep me advised on your progress.”
“People need to see and read about all the amazing things the Lord is doing around the world through His people.”—Pastor Chuck Smith
As Chuck disappeared into the crowd, my surprise turned into concern as I considered the daunting task of turning an ink-jet booklet into an actual magazine. The pastor standing in front of me asked if I understood what had happened. “You have just been commissioned into ministry!” he exclaimed. “Do you know what to do next?”
“No,” I replied honestly, still bewildered. He introduced me to his assistant pastor, the vice president of a magazine printing company in Rochester, NY. We exchanged phone numbers and then prayed for the Lord’s guidance. His company printed the first issue later that summer, paid for by the support that Pastor Joe had raised from pastor friends from other Calvary Chapels. My 25-year newspaper career was over, and a new chapter had just begun.
Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
As I remember that first day when the magazine ministry was born, I am grateful again for the fearless, pioneering vision of Pastor Chuck. He was so open to the Lord, so willing to see if a new work was part of God’s plan. Over the years I have seen or heard of Pastor Chuck taking a chance on a new venture of faith to spread the Gospel: reaching out to hippies, bringing Bible teaching to the airwaves, starting Christian schools and Bible colleges, or ordaining young men with no seminary degrees as they planted churches.
The Vision Begins
Several years before, I had returned from Bosnia, covering U.S. Army troops from Virginia stationed in the war-torn country. On my first Sunday home, Pastor Jack Hibbs of CC Chino Hills, CA, was the guest speaker at our small church, CC Fredericksburg, VA. He related how Calvary Chapel teams had been sharing the Gospel in the former Soviet Union. I thought, Isn’t there something that ties all this together to let everyone in the Calvary family understand? How can people pray for missionaries if they don’t know about them? I spoke with Jack after the service. He invited me to travel with a team going to St. Petersburg, Russia, around the same time another Calvary Chapel ministry was going to Moscow. If I found a way to get there, I could document both outreaches for a major news story on the spread of Christianity in Russia after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
I discovered that a local Fredericksburg business would be in Moscow at that same time and pitched the story to the newspaper I worked for; they accepted. Upon arriving in Russia, I was amazed at the number of Calvary Chapel ministries already there. Communism had stripped people of their dignity and hope—telling them there was no God and that they were an insignificant part of the masses. Now that the Iron Curtain had fallen, people were starving to learn about the Savior who offered love and eternal life. CC missionaries told them how they could surrender their lives to Jesus. The need to document this missionary work burned in my heart. I knew many small churches were unaware of the amazing things God was doing around the world. I prayed to know if this idea was from the Lord.
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Rescued in Russia
I saw God’s hand with me in far-flung places. Once I was lost in the labyrinth of the Moscow Metro—16 different lines running over 200 miles of track and 223 stations. I was on my way to photograph the first night of a church plant. My plan was to ride the subway and catch up with the team. I had elaborate subway instructions from the believers. I bravely told the team back at the dorm that I would be able to find my way there, boasting of other countries I had navigated; from famine-ravaged Sudan to war-torn Bosnia. But after four hours on the Metro, I realized that I was in trouble. I was so disoriented that I couldn’t even find my way back to the dorm. The 30 pounds of camera gear in my backpack was getting heavier. I asked several travelers if they spoke English, but their response was hostile. Many older Russians were still suspicious of Americans, their former long-time enemies.
Just then I noticed a Russian soldier across the aisle. We looked at each other briefly, and then he looked away. He seemed vaguely familiar. But how could that be? I didn’t know any Russian soldiers. Then I remembered that a female translator named Nadia had introduced me to her father, a Russian soldier, on the streets the day before. Shaking hands, I could tell when I met him that he wasn’t thrilled that his daughter was with Americans. In a city of more than 12 million, could this soldier be that same man? I waved to him across the aisle. He pretended not to see me. I pointed to him and said his daughter’s name over the roar of the ancient subway car. I moved over to his side of the train and sensed his growing apprehension. As I continued to say his daughter’s name, recognition flickered across his face.
He laughed and put his hand on his heart, making a motion like it was pounding. I put my hand on his shoulder as if I had just been reunited with a long-lost brother. I pointed to the address of the location I was seeking. He indicated that he was going to take care of it. I knew that the Lord of heaven and earth had just allowed me to experience a miracle. I said out loud, “Thank you, Jesus!”
Once he took over, I realized how lost I was. We had to make two train transfers, cross the Volga River, and then ride another 20 minutes. To my relief, he walked me all the way to the outreach. Thank You, Lord, again, for another miracle. After hiking through the snow and ice-packed sidewalks, I heard the faint sounds of beautiful worship songs. I tried to persuade the soldier to enter by saying his daughter’s name, pointing inside. He held out his hand, and I gave him a hearty “Thank you” in Russian. I pointed to the sky and remembered the Russian words for “Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.” He nodded and backed away into the cold night.
I walked into the building and was immediately embraced by missionaries. As I pulled camera gear out of my backpack, I shared my rescue from God. These “little miracles” gave me the confidence later to consider the impossible—launching a publication about those sharing Jesus Christ in faraway lands.
He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.
Evading Guerilla Soldiers in Colombia
After the first issue published, Pastor Raul Ries of CC Golden Springs, CA, invited me to accompany him and a dozen pastors to Colombia, where a guerilla war was still raging. Traveling with Raul was an adventure in itself—a lot of heartfelt ministry, laughs, and tears. We rejoiced to see so many national leaders from around the country attend the pastors’ conference, knowing that they faced daily persecution for sharing the Gospel in a hostile country. They expressed their deep gratitude for the Americans traveling to teach them despite the danger. Later the group flew in a DC-3 to a property in the jungle. Before takeoff, the owner of the plane asked the pastors to pray for his remaining fleet, since several had been shot out of the sky.
He [Jesus] said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.”
Days later at a nearby village, Raul entertained the children, who ran to him as if a celebrity had arrived. Town elders warned that a dozen Americans could bring a hefty ransom for kidnappers, and someone had probably already made a call. Going straight to the airstrip, the pastors chased off cattle to clear the runway. The DC-3’s arrival was delayed for hours because a major firefight between guerilla forces and the paramilitary grounded air traffic. Finally flying in to pick us up, the pilot reported seeing guerilla forces heading toward the airstrip. In a rolling landing, he frantically waved for us to run for the plane. The last person was just aboard, with the door still open, as the pilot gunned the engines and took off, barely cresting a group of palm trees. Several pastors crowded into the cockpit, watching the pilot guide the plane through mountainous ravines as we learned how close guerilla forces had been. We praised God for His protection.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
God used these early trips to help pastors realize they could trust me. One of the cautions Pastor Chuck gave me was to let senior pastors correct stories before going to press—sage advice we have always followed. Unlike secular publications, the CC magazine is a partnership. As God works through the CC family, we share the stories, and the body of Christ is strengthened. We ask churches and individuals to support our printing costs and provide spiritual input. We are all part of the work.
Pastor Chuck was keenly interested in the different ministries we featured: how missionaries were coping with language and customs, how the people were responding to the Gospel. Were the countrymen being raised up as leaders? I traveled with him as the future Bible college in Vajta, Hungary, was refit for ministry. One early morning we gathered for Bible study and prayer—Pastor Chuck, five Hungarians who spoke English, and me. One of the young men mentioned he had never been baptized. Pastor Chuck said, “There’s no better time than now to get baptized, so let’s do it.” The barefoot Chuck didn’t flinch as we marched along the rough gravel road to a nearby pool. His selfless, servant heart was a continual encouragement to me and the magazine ministry; he often expressed amazement over all that God was doing in the Calvary family and always directed the credit to Christ.
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
Broken Equipment and God’s Provision
Lord, this is not supposed to happen! I cried out to God. How am I going to capture the images of the missionaries bringing joy to these orphans without my gear? My very crucial telephoto lens had stopped working the morning we were going to document the ministry to the orphans. The missionaries had purchased material to build a slip and slide, a ride ending into a pond that was next to the facility. Calvary Chapel Pryluky, Ukraine, had wanted to gain approval from the orphanage directors to share with the orphans. As we prayed over the photo equipment, I knew that there were no other options. Either the Lord would miraculously restore my lens or I would miss documenting this sweet outreach. A friend was bringing a backup lens to my next destination in Eastern Europe. But that was tomorrow, and it wouldn’t help today. Dejected, I felt hopeless as we all drove together in the church van.
One of the young missionaries asked the pastor if he would mind stopping by the post office on the way out of town. When he got back in, he opened a box his father had sent him. He pulled out the exact low-light and very expensive Nikon lens that I needed. I grabbed his lens and cried out in joy, “Praise the God of heaven and earth. I claim this lens, just for today, in the name of Jesus!” The young missionary was stunned but didn’t have a camera body with him anyway and I promised to show him how to use it once the outreach concluded. The missionaries brought joy and laughter to all the children. Even the stern, matronly orphanage leaders were coaxed into the action. They screamed with delight as they slid with the children down the hill and splashed into the pond below. Full interaction with the orphans was afforded the team after that special day, and the photos appeared in the magazine. The Lord didn’t “heal” the lens I had; He just sent me exactly what I needed to cover the event. My amazement of His blessings continued to grow.
The Lord’s Chastisement
That’s it! I have had enough! I thought angrily to myself. Traveling through Eastern Europe for two months with various CC mission groups as each team came from the States, I was exhausted from the previous evening’s sleepless night in a hot dorm room with snorers and Gypsy neighbors partying outside our window. We had rushed out early in the morning and traveled for several hours over bumpy roads, crammed into a van, to be there on time. The Romanian translator informed us, “All of the Gypsy people whom you have come to baptize won’t be here for several hours.”
Feeling sorry for myself, I skulked away. I found a clear spot under a bridge, put my camera bag down, and laid my head on it. Wow! This was just what I needed, I thought to myself. A little shade, away from all the people, and no more conversation. As I fell asleep, the others’ laughter echoed off the nearby river. I heard the far away clip-clop of a horse-drawn carriage as it slowly made its way, closer and closer. The sound of the horseshoes stopped directly above me. Suddenly a whirling sound got my full attention—I looked up to see a wall of yellowish-brown liquid dropping directly towards me. The horse had relieved itself, and I was directly underneath the drainage spout. I hurled my camera bag out of the way.
The missionaries’ daughter walked up, her mouth gaping at the sight. “I found Tom,” the young girl yelled. “He just got covered in some awful mess.” Humiliated, I jumped in the river to wash off. But I knew that the Lord had rightfully chastened me. I returned to the missionaries and began interacting with the new Christians. I quickly learned that the ministry is no place to feel sorry for yourself.
“Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.”
Invisible in Italy
Departing from Treviso, Italy, missionary pastor Craig Quam helped secure my baggage and get me into the correct seat on the train. After a week of sharing Christ together and documenting the work, we hugged one last time. Just then, the train lurched forward, and Craig was now inadvertently a passenger without a ticket. “Uh-Oh!” he exclaimed. “This is going to be a hefty fine.”
I sensed the Lord lead me to exclaim, “We just need to pray that God would make Craig invisible!” My traveling companions looked at me and laughed. “No, I’m serious,” I added. “We tell others of the many miracles Jesus did; why don’t we ask the Lord for a miracle now?” Everyone shrugged and we began to take turns praying out loud. Minutes later we saw the conductor making his way down the aisle. Punching each ticket, he walked right past Craig, as if he wasn’t there. When the conductor finally exited our car, we let out a collective sigh and praised the Lord. Other passengers, fluent in English and aware of what had happened, were just as incredulous. “You all must have a direct line to God,” a young man joked, sitting two seats behind us. “As a matter of fact, we do,” I responded. “Let me tell you about Jesus.” That miracle allowed us to share the love of Christ with them.
Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Learning to Trust
Weeks after being arrested in Red Square (for failure to carry my passport) and then breaking my ankle in Smolensk, Russia, I limped through soggy and slippery jungle trails in the Philippines. On a remote island, CC missionary Dave Matthews endured difficult circumstances—constant heat and overwhelming humidity. There was no electricity except what could be generated occasionally through solar collectors. The water was undrinkable for me; I started to dehydrate. One young believer offered to go to a nearby village to purchase bottled soft drinks. The night ran late, and I asked Pastor Dave if he thought that the young man might have run off with the money. Saddened by my accusation, Dave shook his head. The young man walked in a few minutes later, dripping wet, with as many bottled drinks as he could fit in his drenched backpack. He had swum across a dangerous river in the dark just to relieve this American’s great thirst. The Lord was teaching me the power of His love through those with whom we had shared Jesus.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Tracing God’s Hand
As the years wore on, I grew emboldened by God’s hand upon the ministry He clearly had given me. I witnessed the power of prayer when I was imprisoned in Cuba with three Calvary Chapel pastors for sharing Christ in the communist country. We earnestly prayed for the Lord’s deliverance and were unexpectedly freed. Our Cuban hosts, one of whom had been imprisoned for years for his faith, were amazed we were allowed to leave.
I saw God’s providence on 9/11. I was returning from Brazil on the morning the World Trade Towers were struck; mine was one of the last planes to land at its designation before all flights were grounded. A Calvary Chapel pastor, Mike MacIntosh, was designated by the government to serve as an overseeing chaplain at Ground Zero and was flown in on a military aircraft. Mike’s presence enabled Calvary Chapel pastors to qualify immediately for chaplaincy credentials. Hundreds of Calvary Chapel volunteers streamed into New York City. I watched God’s Spirit move among the traumatized first responders, police, and firemen as they dealt with the surreal aftermath. No one turned down prayer during those emotional weeks as we listened to people’s stories and shared the hope we have in Christ.
I witnessed God reach the unreachable. In Salt Lake City, I documented Calvary Chapels reaching out to Mormons with the grace of God. In Romania, I watched CC missionaries reaching young children who had run away from abusive orphanages only to endure abuse on the streets. They had become addicted to drugs and been used for prostitution, snorting paint to escape their pain. Some lived in the underground heating ducts. But they were not beyond the reach of our God.
The years of ministry coverage have allowed us to see the long-term fruit that God clearly had in mind. In the Philippines, Calvary Chapel missionaries brought abused kids to Christ-led orphanages. Through the decades, many of the children have returned to the facility as grown adults—now nurses, doctors, and teachers who also serve there. I observed firsthand as Hungarian and German CCs boldly reached out to refugees from Muslim countries, some accepting Jesus and being baptized. In Hungary, I photographed pastors and Bible college students ministering to special needs children. The Christians’ unconditional love was a powerful witness to the caretakers, which led several of them to Christ.
In God’s hands, disaster can be an opportunity for new life. From Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, to the devastations in Houston, Baton Rouge, North Carolina, and Florida, each opened the door for Calvary Chapel teams to share the love of Jesus. On each trip, God strengthened my faith in His plan. As I was photographing Calvary Chapel teams helping after Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, a Catholic priest approached me. “I don’t understand,” the priest said. “Everywhere I look I see Calvary Chapel vans full of volunteers. One van was from Florida and another from Maine. What is Calvary Chapel and how are there so many helpers?” he asked, mystified.
I explained, “Calvary Chapel is a Bible-believing evangelical group of churches who love God and believe His Word. In John’s Gospel, Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us. He also tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. All of these volunteers from different Calvary Chapels are simply obeying our Savior’s command and coming to be His hands and feet.” As the priest listened, a van from Calvary Chapel Central Maine drove by, its passengers leaning out of their windows, yelling a joyful greeting to me. “I’m amazed!” the priest conceded as he walked away. “I’ve hardly been able to get anyone from my parish to help at all.”
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
Falling in Love
The Lord brought my greatest blessing to me in Hungary. At a Calvary Chapel conference outside of Budapest, I saw the woman who would later become my Hungarian bride. I first talked to Olgi a few days later when she led an outreach to a girls’ orphanage in her hometown of Esztergom, Hungary. I saw her again the following year when Pastor Chuck dedicated the new Calvary Chapel facility in Budapest and visited the upcoming Bible college in Vajta. Several months later, Pastor Rob Salvato of CC Vista, CA, asked me to join a mission team. They were planting a church in Hungary and she came to translate, which allowed me another opportunity. I asked Csizmadia Olgi to marry me four days after arriving in Budapest. Two weeks later, she agreed. She is one of my greatest gifts from the Lord. Her prayers and encouragement have been vital to me personally, and her skills are an important part of the magazine ministry.
Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD.
Helping Hands for the Work
The magazine ministry has truly been fortunate to have a small but dedicated group of staff and volunteers through the 20 years: some serving for a brief time, some lending their expertise and energy for 20 years. They have poured their lives into bringing these amazing testimonies of God’s faithfulness to the Calvary family. Calvary Chapel Fredericksburg, VA, led by Pastor Mark Ramirez, has always been our home base, where we have been encouraged and assisted. Volunteers from our church come out each quarter to help ship well over 30,000 magazines around the world and across the U.S.
We have gotten glimpses of the eternal impact. We constantly receive letters from prisoners who have been touched through the testimonies and surrendered their lives to Jesus. Pastors and missionaries share how a story encouraged them to keep going despite hardships. Some readers entered the mission field after God used a story to touch their hearts. Along the way, several seasoned news photographers and writers offered to help. Some have become dear friends and left well-paying careers to join in the Lord’s work. Their lives have also been enriched in serving Him.
Looking back through all the travels, adventures, and occasional hardships, I must say I have been granted one of the greatest honors a man could experience. So many Calvary Chapel pastors, ministry leaders, and missionaries are dear friends, not just acquaintances. For the past two decades, I have witnessed the Lord Jesus’ love and grace poured out around the world. From Russia and Hungary to the Philippines; from Maine to the tip of Chile; from California to India, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and Africa, I stand in awe of how God has worked through our Calvary Chapel family. Our goal is to continue sharing the stories of lives transformed through a personal relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Reflecting on God’s amazing work, my encouragement, for all of us, is to continue pressing on and sharing the Gospel until the last one hears. We pray for Jesus’ continued blessing as we share stories of His faithfulness.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.