In this special interview, the founders of one of the largest Christian television networks in the USA share their experiences, both in ministry and their personal lives, proving that indeed, all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.
Last November, City Harvest Church welcomed Daystar Television Network founders and evangelists Marcus and Joni Lamb. On Nov 22, 2014 Marcus preached a message on overcoming trouble.
Listening to the Lambs, it is clear why they make one of the most influential pairs of television-evangelists in USA. With a spark in their eyes and passion in their voices, the Lambs began to narrate to City News their journey in building the second largest Christian TV network in US.
Marcus’ preaching ministry had humble beginnings—his first sermon was to his horse, Sugarfoot. The founder of the Word of God Fellowship in Dallas said that he grew up in a Christian family; when he was 15, he heard God asked him to become a preacher.
“But my pastor told me that he would invite me to preach when I gained a little experience,” Marcus recalled. “But how was I to get experience unless you do invite me to preach? So I thought I’m going to practise on Sugarfoot. I had a three-piece suit on and a big Bible in hand. My little brother saw me and wondered what was I doing and he sneaked into the stable without me knowing. I started preaching and halfway through I heard someone laughing. I thought: oh man! My preaching is so bad that Sugarfoot is laughing at me. Of course it wasn’t Sugarfoot, it was my brother laughing.”
Today, Marcus has come a long way since that stable experience. He went on to preach at a Bible Study group in a home and eventually graduated from Lee College (formerly the Bible Training School of the Church of God Cleveland) magna cum laude. He married Joni Trammell and the couple spent their early marriage years as traveling evangelists. Marcus later received a word from God in Israel to start a Christian TV network.
“It was amazing that I received my call in Israel, and many years after that, Daystar was the first and only full-time Christian TV station to be on TV in Israel. The Israelis came to us unsolicited and today Daystar has a TV studio at Mount Zion overlooking Jerusalem.”
The Lambs set up WMCF-TV in 1984 in Montgomery, Alabama. “We were there for seven years and the days were so difficult that we called it the Tribulation Period,” said the Lambs in unison. “Montgomery is a very small city that is bounded by religious traditions,” Joni recalled. “We didn’t have any money and we started with nothing. But the Bible says do not despise the days of small beginnings; Montgomery was our training ground and it was important that we lived there. We learned a lot of important lessons about trusting God and having faith. It was a faith walk and in the early days we had volunteers and old cameras, old equipment–today we have state-of-art equipment and we appreciate it even more because we know what it was like in the start.”
The Lambs then sold WMCF-TV to Trinity Broadcasting Network in 1990. Because the Lord had told them to sell the TV station to another Christian organization, they did not profit from the sales. When they moved to Dallas, Texas, they found themselves starting from scratch all over again. They started up Daystar TV in 1997,
“As an evangelist, my heart was to reach as many people as possible; and in Dallas, we could reach ten times more people than in Montgomery,” said Marcus.
Just when the couple thought that they were done with the work of the Lord by setting up Daystar, more doors started to open and they acquired many other TV stations. Today, Daystar TV network has 90 TV stations, satellite and cable coverage that reaches over 700 million households in more than 200 countries.
Some of these countries are hostile to preachers and evangelists, yet these places are where people who have a great need to hear the good news of the Gospel, say the Lambs. A lady from Iran once wrote to Daystar saying that she was watching Joni’s show about ladies who had come out of the sex industry. This young Muslim girl then voiced her intention of buying the DVD to show her fellow university students, and urged the Lambs to continue doing what they were doing.
“Only eternity can tell us how many souls the cables reached out to around the world,” said Joni.
The ministry, however, met with challenges when a Daystar employee, Jeannette Hawkins filed a lawsuit against Marcus on the basis that she was not given accurate representations of the moral climate of Daystar. Marcus had been involved in an extra-marital affair in 2007, at the time he interviewed Hawkins for the job, but he had repented and gone on a journey of restoration with Joni.
Every marriage faces its own issues, so can you share with us your journey of overcoming the stigma of it?
Marcus: I will let Joni tell her side of the story since she is the innocent party, but I will get the timeline straight. It happened in 2007 but it was not until 2010 that it went public. In 2007, we went through restoration and counseling, we had accountability, people and situations put in place. It has now been over seven years. The Lord has helped us and healed us.
Joni: It is a blessing to be able to share what God has done in our marriage, because we have been able to help others. I think the fact that we were transparent with what we went through to our audience, it opened up doors for people who feel like they could talk to us, even people in high positions in ministry all over the world.
In 2007, we did go through a tremendous challenge where a lot of marriages would have ended in divorce but the Lord specifically said to me that he is worth fighting for! We’ve always had a good and strong marriage, and I think this helped me realize more than anything that all marriages are vulnerable, even the very best of marriages, and you have to keep working 100 per cent on your marriage, because I don’t think either of us would ever thought that we would go through something like this. You can’t, because you have 25 years under your belt, think that everything is okay. You have to love one another and put one another first.
(After what happened) my husband was humble, he repented and submitted himself to God, to our pastor and to a group of individuals we had accountability to. We walked through the process of restoration. We did not talk about it to the whole world because our counselor said it was important that we get the help we needed privately. It was almost like we were in a hospital on life support, intensive care. We had three and a half years of just having God do an amazing work (in our marriage). Then in 2010, there were some former employees that became disgruntled; one of them had known of this process we went through and that we had chosen the path of restoration, but because they were disgruntled, they went to an attorney and tried to blackmail us. Instead of allowing that, we decided we were not going to pay them off using God’s money. If we are going to tell the story, so be it—if the whole world hears it, God can still use it to help people. The lawsuits have all been dismissed with prejudice.
Marcus: The greatest thing is that Joni and I are stronger and closer today than ever. Someday, I’m going to preach a message on how to turn your weaknesses into strengths. What may have been a weakness is now a strength in our lives and marriages. The greatest thing is that we have been able to help a bunch of marriages, people that were either divorce or on the verge of divorce. Many of them are even in ministry. Today, because of (us sharing) what we have gone through, they now are married and happy, doing great with one another and with God. It gives us great joy to know that.
Joni: What I love about my husband is, he takes full responsibility. As Christians, we understand that because of what Daystar is doing, that we are reaching millions of people with the Gospel, the enemy will try to attack us. So I think it’s important for people in the body of Christ to pray for their leaders. When they come under attack and when they are in the midst of the fire, pray for them. We had many people who prayed with us, loved us and walked with us through it. Today, we are just so honored to be able to help others. What came out of this ordeal is the message that your marriage is worth fighting for. I was able to minister to one of my friends, who was separated from her husband, and really encouraged her in a way that I probably would not have had I not walked through what I went through. So there are some thing that happens when you go through a trial personally.
Marcus: I think it gives you greater compassion and understanding.
Joni: I kind of made a pact. I said that the enemy may have tried to take us out but now I’m going to take everything that he turned on us and turned it back on him. I’ll try to win and save marriages for the Kingdom.
What is one word of advice you would give to people in similar situations?
Joni: Don’t give up; put one another before yourself. Marriage is a very unselfish act and if people go into it selfish, you are not going to succeed. So you have to understand that there are three people in a marriage, you, your spouse and God. if God is not in the center of your marriage, it’s not going to work.
Communication is also very important; you need to listen to one another, and one of the things I say is that especially in ministry, you can get so busy working for God that you don’t put one another first. God doesn’t want you to put your ministry before your spouse—if you put your child, work, or other things before your spouse, it’s just not going to work. You need to put one another first, right after your relationship with the Lord.
Pastor Joni, is there a verse that carried you through the difficult times? Do you have a word of encouragement for women going through the similarly challenging situations?
Joni: My favorite verse is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
That is my favorite Scripture verse because I want to say to everyone that you are just not here by accident, God has a specific plan and purpose for you and it is a good plan, a plan to bless you.
There was also a lawsuit going on at that time, how did that episode affect your ministry?
Marcus: I think the fact that we were honest and open and transparent with people, people respected that so amazingly. I don’t think we were really affected. This is what happened, first there is just a little pause and when people saw the repentance and humility, and they saw the true love between Joni and me, it boomerang’d on the devil, and over the next year, Daystar grew by 11 percent!
City Harvest Church is also going through a lawsuit, can you give the church a word of encouragement?
Marcus: Remember where God brought you from and the things it took to make City Harvest a great church–that is where City Harvest has to return to. You got to return to that passion, that worship, that evangelism, that fasting, that seeking God, that studying of the Scripture, being in the house of God, fellowship with believers, all these things that it took in the early days for the church to grow and for the members individually to grow in their Christian walk. We cannot abandon those things during tough times, those things worked then will work again now.
Joni: What I would say is that it is always the darkest right before the dawn. There are so many people that, in the darkest moment, give up, but you cannot give up. If there is anything you want, persevere. You have to understand that people make mistakes but Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” God takes everything, even bad circumstances, and turns it for good. You have to believe that once you come through the darkest moment of night, the dawn will come, the sun will rise and joy will come in the morning.
Marcus: I absolutely love, support and believe in Pastor Kong Hee; I believe he is a great man of God. We have lots of mutual friends, great men and women of God, and I have never heard another minister say anything negative about him; it has always been good. So, to the people that are reading this—just because you read something in the newspaper or see something in the news, don’t believe everything that you see in the newspaper, because it’s from a worldly standpoint. What is the biggest thing Satan does? He tries to lie and bring fear; 2 Timothy 1:7 says God has not given us a spirit of fear. People need to know that their pastor has not changed, he is the great man of God that he was when they first started the church; he has not changed. They just need to hang in there.
In the Bible, we know about Moses, the great spiritual leader of Israel. There came a time when Israel got into a battle–that is what CHC is going through right now, a war, a battle–and Moses was a man, men are human. The Bible says as long as his hands were reached up towards God, the children of Israel prevailed in that war, but as he got weary, his hands and his arms started falling and the people of Israel started losing the battle. So what did God do? God sent Aaron and Hur to stand by Moses’ side and held up his arms and while they held his hands up, Israel started winning the battle again. The point is, Aaron and Hur benefitted. Because they were Israelis and so were their family members, when they stood by the man of God, their families were saved, protected, and not killed in the war. So that is what CHC members have got to do, they’ve got to stand by the man of God and uphold his arms, and when they do, they and their families are going to be blessed as well.