It was the 24th Conference for the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, Atlanta, GA– July 11-15th. As far as my career goes, the respect of the people at this conference would mean the success of any Computer Science PhD. The demographics of such an event is what you’d imagine, a lot of older caucasian men. I know I must’ve shared that week with the smartest in the world, or, at the very least, a lot of people who talk like they are the smartest people in the world. My brain was constantly trying to keep up with this and that.
While at the Westin Hotel in the heart of Atlanta, I also knew I had to visit Atlanta’s International House of Prayer. While at the House of Prayer, I was told of a Bethel event at what would be the biggest church I’d ever been in. By the end of the week, I left with a greater understanding of my research area, a couple adventures, and the gift of tongues.
I was sitting in the hotel lobby with my (Atheist/Agnostic) labmates, Mark and Adam, asking their opinion on faith healings. At some point, you could potentially find so much evidence, that it’d be irrational to not consider the possibility. That was why I wanted to visit the House of Prayer in Atlanta that I’d just learned about when I was in Fremont, less than a week earlier. I’d heard that this was the only other 24 hr, everyday house of prayer, perhaps the second biggest one next to the HQ in Kansas City. Surely, they’d have their share of faith healing stories. Adam says that if such things happen, he’d want someone to show him how it’s done, such that he could repeat the experience for himself.
Atlanta’s IHOP is actually not in Atlanta. It feels like it was in the middle of nowhere, and with no car, I had to find some way to get there. It took a couple encounters with ZipCar advertisements, so much that I even thought, “man, Atlanta sure likes ZipCars,” before I realized that I had access to these cars all over the city.
After telling Mark and Adam about my plans to visit this magical place, I give IHOP a call, to find out when exactly I should pop in, and whether I was even allowed to just stop by. The woman says, you should come during one of the weekend Encounter Services, because there’s been an outpouring of the Spirit for weeks. Visiting for the weekend wasn’t going to happen, so I look at their schedule and decide to pop in when they’re having their staff intercession meeting. Maybe there’d be some staff person there I could speak with.
Now there are some pretty uncanny things that happen during my Atlanta trip, but the milestone, I’d have to say, is my experience with what people call tongues. Here’s my pre-experience opinion on tongues, with my friend Sam Yoon:
me: how was prayer last night?
me: any revelation?
Sam: Not rlly… I want to gift of tongues tho
me: haha.. yea, i dont know if i want it…
Sam: Rlly? Y not
me: it doesnt seem important to me… id rather see miracles or know things that i couldn’t have known
I had this conversation right before I visited the House of Prayer, and to be honest, I never really gave the gift of tongues much through prior to this conversation. All I want to say about tongues is the experience I had with it. Whatever it means theologically or anything that was going on spiritually, I’m probably at no authority to comment on (at this point).
I just remember in high school when my friend’s mom took me on this retreat to see some woman who had gold dust fall out of her hair. I remember some older women praying over me to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and then said that I was too worried about what people thought when I didn’t break out in tongues. I know I didn’t leave that weekend thinking that I saw or experienced anything supernatural, but I’m curious to find out whatever happened to that Brazilian woman and her golden flakes. Here she is.
There I was, 10 years later, asking these IHOP staff members about healings. “So, do people actually get healed here?” I briefly explain to them my story. Earlier that year, I started really hearing God, thought I was losing my mind, then found out about the prophetic, met Joaquin Evans from Bethel, then went to my first IHOP conference in Fremont to find out about Atlanta’s IHOP. Joaquin Evans totally blew what I knew about God’s work out of this world. I mean, I’ll have to explain in another post dedicated to faith healings. This post isn’t about faith healings, but I was seeking more about them at the time I was in Atlanta. It would take a big miracle or many normal miracles to inspire my generation. I was looking for a miracle for my friends.
“For your friends?…but what about you?,” one staff member asks me. He encourages me to do one of their internships. “Me?… no,” that’s what I thought at the time, but maybe spending some time in a hipster monastery would do me some good. Maybe I’ll do one in Atlanta and one in Kansas City (after I get my PhD). I point at my blue “onething” bracelet from the conference where I was at less than a week ago and tell them that for whatever reason, I always keep these on. Before that conference, I didn’t even know there was a house of prayer in Atlanta. Within a week, I was in Atlanta, and I figured, God must want me to visit.
Somewhere in the mix, I meet Hazen, who is apparently heading up the healing room. He explains to me that they have a huge binder of healing testimonies, and, again, I am blown away. After hearing my story, he tells me that Jesus Culture, a Bethel conference, was in town tomorrow, suggesting that I might want to check it out. That is, if it wasn’t sold out, which it was. “Hmm, sounds like another quest,” I think to myself. As the conversation wrapped up, he asks if I wanted tongues. “Um, what?”… “Uh, sure,” I hesitantly agree. I mean, who wants to inhibit their own walk with God? You know, he offered, why not?
He’s apparently a pro, and has been doing teachings on it. What a privilege to receive tongues with someone who really knows what they’re doing, right? That’s what I was really thinking– surely, this will be a story worth retelling. So, He gets another staff member, Monica, and we head off into a room adjacent to the main prayer room (with a little window showing into the prayer room, see photo below).
Do I want to explain what happens next? Well, I don’t know if he could sense my hesitance, but he kept assuring me that the worst that could happen would be that I’d feel a little silly. He was certain that I was there to receive tongues, and Monica agreed. Chills, she said she was feeling. I came into that place like this huge skeptic or investigative journalist, and there I was, hoping that I don’t make them feel bad for trying to do something that I wasn’t ready to do.
me: tongues…i did it….lol
Sam: WHAT… Howww?
me: i dont know… i randomly went to the atlanta ihop and the took me into this room..
Sam: Did u desire to hav it?
me: not at first…. remember… i even said i didnt want it.. like a day ago… but they explained it to me, and then i just did it.. it was weird. sometimes it was me, but then i started making sounds i didnt know how to make… and then i’d twitch…
Sam: Whoa… Yeahh, I’ve seen people twitch. How do u feeel about it?
me: i wasnt sure what happened… i was convicted… i felt like i have a lot to learn, and sometimes i act like i know everything… i didn’t want to leave… but i had to b/c i rented a zipcar… haha… its so weird
Sam: Pray moreee… Develop it! Do u think I can receive that gift too, I’ve been wanting it for awhile
me: yes… haha… did u have someone pray for you… u almost need someone to walk you through it
Sam: Hmmm.. Maybe I’ll ask someone
me: i’m convinced tongues is real… i can tell that i was doing it before… i didnt know what it was…
Sam: That sounds amazing, do u feel more intimate with God
me: i feel like… what the heck?… i cant believe i just said i didn’t want the gift of tongues a day ago…. its not that serious, i realized… and it develops, so at first, it feels subtle.. but i actually, when i’d pray… sometimes i’d want to make sounds, but i’d ignore it… i think, for me, i already had it, but i just kept ignoring it… it usually happens when i’m super sad about something… and i dont know what to say…
They asked if I knew what the presence of God felt like. I said yes without even thinking about what that meant. After inviting the Holy Spirit to the party, they asked if I could feel warmth. Actually, my hands were getting warm, so that’s what I indicated. Hazen told me to put my hands over my heart and continue to pray. Then he told me to stop thinking about it and just let it go. “Relax my mind,” they said. Haha, relax my mind? Do they know where I just came from? The Advancement of the research of AI scientists that think they know everything conference.
In a small step of faith, I uttered a few syllables of nonsense, which became more pronounced. “That’s it, you’re doing it!,” Hazen says, reminding me of when Robin Williams learned how to fly in Hook. I don’t really feel like writing about what happened next. I’ll save that for a post on physical manifestations. As the followup conversation with Sam (above) indicates, the experience left me a believer that there was something that poured out the moment I let go.
Basically, I asked the Holy Spirit to fill me up, they prayed in tongues over me, then invited me to join in. I did, and, at first, it wasn’t anything special. Then Hazen instructed that I just do whatever it is that I had just done for a minute straight. He said that, for a lot of people, tongues starts out pretty subtly, which would not be what I’d consider of my first experience. He and Monica suggest that I keep going at it, so I take it into the prayer room. Wanting to get back in time to eat with Mark and Adam (which didn’t happen), I leave the IHOP, and practice on the drive home in what was torrential rain.
So, when I get back, I rent a ZipCar for the following evening, because why would God let me know about Jesus Culture from Bethel, if I wasn’t to accept that quest. The next day, I ask Hazen (via txt) if I’d be able to get in. He said I could try if I believe I’ll find “favor,” but there’s nothing he could do, since it was sold out. I already put in the reservation, so I was intent on going. Then I realized that I’d be missing dessert at the conference reception, and the whole drive to the Jesus conference I was bitterly complaining that I better get into this other conference, because I’m missing out on free AI tiramisu. (Yea, as it was time for me to go, I asked the caterers what was for desert, hoping that if I waited another minute, that they’d bring it out).
I don’t know why these photos are jacked up, but they’re good enough. As I drive to Jesus Culture, I think to myself, “wouldn’t it be funny if the wristbands for this conference is the same baby blue as the bands for the conference that I’d left my wristband on from?” As I walk into the main entrance, no one stops me, and wouldn’t you know it… the wristbands are baby blue.
This was the biggest church I’d ever been in. Some band was recording an album. Turns out it was Jake Hamilton, who I got to eat dinner and breakfast with a couple months later. At the time, I had no idea who they were. When I told the story to a pastor and his wife back in Santa Cruz, they were like, “That was Jake Hamilton.. That’s our favorite band… You got to go to their album recording?!”
The talk from that night was a kick off for the rest of the event. Apparently, they take the youth into the streets to heal the sick in the city of Atlanta. Yep, more faith healings. More impressionable than the spectacle I pictured that being was the message about Cain and Abel. Albeit, the audience seemed mostly high school and college aged, but I was so amused by the fact that I was even there that it didn’t matter. Abel gave the best of his harvest as an offerring, and that night I rededicated the best of my life to God.
As I left, I decided to take a spin around the lobby area to say goodbye to my new friend. I run into Hazen, and he laughs, saying, God’s hand is surely on my life. Oh Atlanta, where I received the gift of tongues a couple days after saying that I didn’t really want it.