John Bradshaw - Conversation with Bill Warcholik
He is a veteran of the Vietnam War era. He is a jet pilot and a trainer of jet pilots, and a minister of the gospel. He is Pastor Bill Warcholik and this is our conversation.
— Pastor Bill, thank you very much for joining me on "Conversations", I appreciate it.
— It's my pleasure.
— So let's begin at the beginning. I'll cover a couple of facts, if you like, and then we'll go back and cover the story. So, you served your nation during the Vietnam War era.
— In Vietnam?
— No, not in Vietnam.
— Where were you?
— I was in Arizona most of my time as an instructor pilot.
— Okay, as an instructor pilot, you were instructing pilots to fly, one would expect, to fly what?
— Well, the goal is to finish at the top of your class when you're going through UPT, undergraduate pilot training. And the last aircraft is the supersonic aircraft. Quite a story, because they found out that they needed to manufacture a plane that could be used for training pilots. Because you start off in a basic plane like, I don't wanna give a brand name, but just a single propeller plane, and you learn how to do the discipline that's needed to follow the instructions and the protocols and the procedures. Well, after that you go up to a subsonic jet plane. It was the T37 back then, they have new planes now that they're using. The beauty of that is you find out how to fly a jet. But they fly differently, depending on what kind of plane you have, subsonic, supersonic. So you have to learn how to fly the difference, make a difference between those two kind of planes, because they lost a lot of pilots early on when they started supersonic flying, because, first of all, they didn't have tandem seats, so you only had one person in the plane. You need to have an instructor who could be in the plane with you to teach you how to use it, how to fly it. And the performance is so different. I could explain that sometime if you wanted it, aerodynamically it's fascinating difference. The reactions you need to be safe when you're flying the supersonic are the opposite of what you need in the subsonic plane.
— How fast do these supersonic things go?
— Ours went about Mach 1.2 or 1.3, that's 1,100, 1,200 miles an hour roughly speaking.
— And you flew those?
— So there you were up in the sky, hurtling across the continent at 1,200 miles an hour.
— You could say that, yeah, yeah.
— Yes, yeah. I was in the training version, so we went across country on flights, that was good. But it was an exciting plane to fly. Actually, it held the world rate-of-climb record in the 1960s. You can go from parked on the runway to 30,000 feet in 89 seconds.
— I can only imagine what that feels like.
— It feels good.
— Yeah, it does, yeah? Hey, Bill, we've got a lot to talk about. We've got to back to flying planes and we'll talk about planes and pilots and the military and all that. But let's go back. Where are you from, where did you begin? Because, we know where you ended up, at least most recently, right here sitting with me at It Is Written and you've been part of our It Is Written ministry team, now as a volunteer, not long ago as a team member on the frontlines. So, you wound up in ministry, but you started, I say this, I think fairly accurately, quite a long way from ministry. So let's go back to where you began and what was your childhood like, what was your family life like?
— Seymour, Connecticut was the place where I grew up. We didn't practice religion in our family. No morning worship or Bible reading or anything like that. My family, however, my father was Russian Orthodox, but he didn't attend regularly, maybe for special events. My uncle actually was the leader of the local Orthodox, Russian Orthodox congregation there in Ansonia, Connecticut.
— So, Warcholik, that's a Russian name?
— Yeah, actually, the story is that it's a Polish word. They tell me that it means brawler, a fighter.
— Oh, really?
— Yeah, maybe you'd understand if I tell you that part of the story, because when my relatives came from Russia from the Carpathian Mountains area, over to the United States, the first thing they would do, this is 1900 we're talking about, they would go to the coal mines in Pennsylvania to earn enough money to come back where there was a Russian Orthodox group of people and you'd get a job there. Well, the job of choice for my great-grandfather was to open a saloon during the 1920s when it was illegal.
— Yeah, you've got some characters in your family tree.
— For sure. So, it was fascinating to see how in our little town, my father being Russian Orthodox, my mother was raised a Methodist. My sister converted to Judaism when she was in college. And I went to the local Episcopal Church because I had friends that went there and so we'd hang out there and by the way, you know I ended up as a pastor, of course, as you mentioned. But the pastor there, I respected, he used to hang out with the kids, we had a basketball court inside the church building in the basement and bowling alley.
— Oh really?
— Yeah. And he would come down and he'd bowl and he'd shoot baskets and everything, really nice guy. And I became an acolyte when I got to be about 12 years old, was confirmed there. And the fascinating thing about that experience was I saw this man who was so caring and kind, I thought, "Well, you know, I'd like to be kind of like him". So it was a good experience growing up at a diversity of religion.
— It's fascinating, isn't it? How as a child, you were impressed by a religious leader, a clergy man, a minister. It's really interesting. We must never forget that in our interactions with people, some of them, clearly very important. Others may be sort of a passing nature. Those interactions can really impress particularly young minds.
— Really, I remember very clearly how we would be, I'd be serving at the altar with the pastor there during church services. And I had my responsibilities like count the people so we know how much communion stuff to prepare for. Anyway, little details like that. But the amazing thing is I would kneel there and we would have like a Christmas or Easter program or other programs. And I felt something there, there's something about this, about this religion that brings peace and brings a quiet joy. And so I had that sense in my life and it dawned on me that I might consider being a pastor someday.
— It did.
— I told my girlfriend when I was a teenager, told my girlfriend that I thought I might be a pastor someday. 'Cause we were kind of seriously involved. And she said, "A pastor, you"?
— So you weren't one of those likely candidates for ministry?
— If I pulled three or four of your close friends aside and I said, "Bill over there is thinking of being a pastor". What would they have said?
— They would have said, "I don't think so". But why?
— My lifestyle was not ideal for a pastor. I was kind of like the adventurous side of life, which is okay. But one of the reasons I became the president of our senior class in high school was because I enjoyed people and I hung out with all the different groups in the school. So by that experience just taught me how to relate to people and I enjoyed being with people, but that meant I hung out with some people who weren't the highest moral standard. And I was involved in some of those lower moral standard things. So that's what they would have said, I'm not sure about that.
— So you were, for the want of a better expression, you were a well-rounded individual.
— That's a kind way to put it.
— There you go. High school went well for you?
— Yes, an interesting experience. This has a real good spiritual sense for me. And that is on my first day of school. We had a brand new high school, senior high school, sophomore, junior, senior, first day of school. We're all gathering out there, outside on the front walk. There's hundreds of kids there and I'm just minding my own business. I'm a smaller, shorter person. And I'm trying to stay out of trouble here on my first day in this new school. And as I'm standing there with my books, the elementary school bully, who I knew very well, walked over to me and knocked my books down. And he said, "Pick them up". And I looked around and everybody's now watching me and hundreds of students, first day of school. So I bend down, I pick them up, he knocks them down again. He says, "Pick them up". And I thought, "Oh God, who I don't really know, but oh God, can I get out of this school and go to some other school after this? This is a disaster. First day of school, I'm now gonna be picked on by the whole school. This is terrible, this is a nightmare". So I picked up my books again, and as I was getting to my feet, all of a sudden, I hear this commotion and I look up. The senior class, this was a junior class bully. The senior class bully leader picks up the junior class leader, puts him against the brick wall and says, "Don't ever touch my friend again".
— Oh, really?
— I'm golden. My whole high school career is perfect. I'm protected by the biggest kid in the whole class. I just couldn't believe it. So this is divine intervention from early on in life. I'll tell you.
— Did you recognize it as such at the time?
— Sort of, I mean, it was more survival mode I was thinking. But now looking back on it, I see, you know, this imprinted me that when you're in big trouble, there's some bigger solution.
— I believe God does that. He'll speak to you as a kid, he might say to you, "I have a future for you in ministry". He might say to you, "Did you see what happened there"? These sorts of things were happening to you as you were growing up.
— Yeah, that's possible, sure.
— So you ended up flying jet planes, so you must have done okay in school academically. Tell me about your academic leanings back then. 'Cause I'm fascinated in this long journey or this journey to pastoral ministry frontline, soul-winning, growing the church. So this individual was being shaped back then. How did things look for you academically when you're in high school?
— I was pretty much a B+ student. My cousin, interesting, they was an A minus student or an A student. So we had a little friendly competition. In fact, he and I were running for class president, senior class at the same time. And it was okay. You're just doing your best to reach a goal. And I think that's a key point. You're looking for a commitment that can allow you to reach goals. So that requires dedication. That's what you're asking about academics, the thing is because of the well-rounded personality, I wanted to be talking to people and doing things and not just studying. So that was part of my focus. When I wanted to focus on something, can I share this thought too? So when I was confirmed at 12 years old in the Episcopal church, they hadn't studied the Bible, but they gave me one when we graduated. I took that Bible that day and went back to my house and I thought "I'd never had a Bible. I'd never read the Bible". Although pastor read it in church. And interestingly, when this went off, when I had this Bible, I laid down on my bed that afternoon, beautiful day in Connecticut. And I looked at the Bible, I thought it has two parts. And the short part is the New Testament. So I'll start reading there. 'Cause I can't read the whole big book. I got as far as Matthew 5:5, it said, "Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the Earth". I closed the book, I said, "This is a good book, but it doesn't work because I'm in junior high school. And if you're meek, you get beat up". So I closed it. I didn't open it again until I was a senior in high school. And that time, my girlfriend, at that time was Roman Catholic on Christmas Eve, she said, "We all have to go to church now". And I said, "I'm watching television, leave me alone". It's midnight mass. And fascinatingly, they insist that I go, but to be kind, I said, "Well, look, I'll read the Bible. So I'll show you on being religious. But while you go to church". And they didn't like that, but I did. So they left to church. I opened the Bible and I got to Matthew again, Christmas story, very nice, Christmas Eve. I got as far as chapter six, verse 33. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his rights to this and all these things will be added unto you". I close it again, I said "I don't know anybody who does that except the minister in our church who lives by the word of God". And I thought, "Well, I'm not a minister. And I don't know if I'll ever be a minister. So I'm not gonna pay attention to the book".
— And you put the book down.
— I put the book down. I went away to college and drifted away from religious things.
— That's so interesting. You read the Bible and what you found in the Bible encouraged you to put the Bible down and not read any further, which I'm sure is not a unique experience, but it's not the story you expect someone to hear. I'm expecting, I read the Bible and I read this verse seek ye first and I heard angel choirs and that was it. At that moment, everything changed. Well, it kind of did change. What did you study in college?
— I started off with a major in physics, big mistake because I volunteered for the advanced division of physics. And I had a poor training in high school for that. So I flunked physics, but I got an A in math, the math class, because I had studied calculus on my own, the summer before. I went to a local college and took calculus. And when I got there, I knew the calculus with no problems. So I got an A in that, F in physics. So I thought I'd have to find a better career path. So my career path became, I looked up different career paths and I thought, "Okay, I want to be a park ranger". So the first thing I'll do is I'll work as a park ranger this coming summer. And then when I finish that I'll join the air force because that way I'll get higher ratings and I can be a national park ranger because as a veteran you'd have an advanced opportunity for it. It was a fascinating story because I called the park ranger to offer to work that summer. And I told him what I wanted to do. I have a career path, I'm gonna be a geologist. I took geology majors, so I'd be out in nature. And I said, "So that's what I want to do". And I said, "So I'd like your job". He said, "Yup". I said, "So is there an application"? He said, "Nope". I said, "Well, when should I show up for work"? And he said, "May". And the conversation went just like that. And finally hung up and I said, "Do I have a job or don't I"?
— That's amazing, isn't it?
— So, anyway, I worked as a park ranger because now I had my career path marked out. I was gonna work outside, I liked geology, which I changed my major to.
— You were studying geology?
— Yes, in college. All about evolutionary geology, of course. I didn't know the difference at that point. Didn't know about creationism, but fascinating when my career path was marked out, I joined the ROTC so I can be in the air force.
— So why the air force? What drew you to the air force?
— Speed, I always drove cars too fast. Don't tell the kids about that. But I always drove too fast. I always push things to the limit. And how close to the edge could I get, going around corners, doing racing things. I did a lot of stupid things and it's only by the grace of God that I lived through those years.
— Having said that though, you were a B plus student in high school. One wouldn't expect. I mean, if I was a B plus student, I might not. I might be thinking about maybe not being a pilot, but maybe, I dunno, maybe putting the gas in the gas tank. I mean, that was a pretty big ambition to think "I'm gonna become a pilot, I'm gonna ace this thing". What in the world made you think that you're gonna get behind the wheel of your own plane when you're merely a B plus student in high school?
— I envisioned myself as being able to get whatever I focus my attention on, that I could achieve this, I can gain that. Just like winning the election to be president of the senior class. I was also in the Explorer Scouts, in the Drum and Bugle Corps. And I was one of the leaders of that and became the president of the local council of Explorer Scouts. So I had a lot of leadership things and that fit in well with a pastor, looking down what was in my future, but it was really an exciting time for me to set goals. And I thought, I'm gonna kill myself if I keep driving cars fast and it's illegal, I'll get arrested or something. So I need to go someplace where I can go fast, have the adrenaline rush and it be legal.
— Did you enjoy working in the national parks or as a park ranger?
— I loved it, I loved it.
— So you got in there, you spent your summer with that taciturn man, or maybe you didn't.
— He was, yeah.
— And so you thought "This is me, this is the rest of my life". You did the air force, why? Just as a means to an end?
— Yeah, it helped. Well, it filled that need for the adrenaline rush, the excitement of it all. I guess it was some of the glory of being a fighter pilot and that was my goal really. I was gonna fly, like the RF-4 was the premier plane at that time in Vietnam war. So I wanted to fly the RF-4, fly treetop level, 600 miles an hour and it takes pictures. And hopefully you don't get shot down. The neat thing is at that speed, over the tree tops over there, by the time somebody points a gun, you're over there.
— You know, I have a niece who's not a fighter pilot but she's an air force pilot.
— She trains pilots and now she's flew KC-135s, I think.
— Nice, refuelers.
— Into the Middle East, into Afghanistan and Iraq and she thrived on adrenaline, too, evidently. There was plenty of that flowing when she was flying in and out of the Middle East. It's a wonderful thing. She's still training pilots and doing just a great, great job, not in this country, but in another part of the world. So you got into the air force, where did you go? Was this Arizona?
— Texas was my base, was Laughlin Air Force Base. And there, I enjoyed it, but I was really motivated. And this is an interesting part of the story. I studied on the weekends, it's a year long program. And I studied on the weekends when the rest of the student pilots were out partying because I had my goal. The goal was I'm gonna finish at the top of the class so I can pick the RF-4 that I want.
— Yeah, fantastic. And so with that focus, I found out something very important. And that is that when I knew the answers in the classes and things, the other students who were struggling would ask me questions to help them. And I would say, "Okay, we're gonna go down to the flight line. I'm gonna drill you on these procedures". And I found out a couple of things. Number one, I enjoyed teaching. I enjoyed helping people and I did better because I was teaching somebody else. And that helped propel me to the top of the class.
— Along the way, you became a Christian, you became a minister. Lots of other things happened in your life. I'm keen to hear about it all. He is Pastor Bill Warcholik, I'm John Bradshaw. This is our conversation, back with more in just a moment.
— Welcome back to conversations. My guest is Pastor Bill Warcholik, a veteran of the Vietnam War era, a jet pilot. A moment ago, you had joined the air force. This was at least in part to minister to your need for speed. Your plan was to become a park ranger, even though as a kid, you thought "Maybe I'll be a pastor one day". That wasn't in your plan right now. Tell me about your air force experience briefly. What was that like?
— I enjoyed it very much. It gave me an outlet for leadership and the idea of being an instructor pilot. And by the way, the reason that happened is because God changed the plan. I was expecting to get the RF-4.
— And you would have had to be in the top of your class for you to have chosen that.
— Didn't work out?
— It didn't work out. I finished second in the class and this was the real odd thing because we always had in previous assignment blocks, we always had three or four F4s and one or two RF-4s. Our block came down, there was one F4, no RF-4s. And the top guy of course took the F4. If I'd finished at the top, I would have taken it. I would have been to Vietnam. I might not be here right now for sure.
— So that would have changed your life, whether you'd survive Vietnam or not, that would have really changed your life or potentially. Okay so you didn't get the F4, what did you do?
— The only other fast plane was the T38 as an instructor pilot. And I said, "Well, I'll take that".
— They're still flying those things, aren't they?
— The astronauts still use that for their training.
— Hey, speaking of astronauts. So you're flying, this is the 60s. 'Cause it's Vietnam era, who were your heroes then? Was it Chuck Yeager, John Glenn? Were you talking about their exploits? Were there any pilots that sort of fired you up or that wasn't really a factor?
— I enjoyed reading about those stories, but my focus was on what my career path was going to be.
— And what did you think your career path was going to be, where was this leading you?
— I was wondering whether I would stay in for the 20 years in the air force. It was interesting that just backing up a little bit. In college, I was the commander of the Arnold Air Society, which is the elite group of people in the air force ROTC program. And I was a commander of that. So interestingly, I also was able to stay in the ROTC building. And one night, because part of my responsibility is to stay there for free, was to clean the building. One night I went past the commander's desk and it had a file on it. And I glanced at it, had my name on it. So I thought, should I look at this? Well, it's my name, I'll look at it. So I opened it up and the TO, the training officer for summer camp, bootcamp that I went through had written up, this guy will never make it as an officer, will never make it as a pilot. And I thought this guy who was pretty much an alcoholic is doing that to my character. Well, that gave me a little more inspiration that I'm gonna finish at the top of my class. Interestingly, I finished, I got the top officer award in our graduating class from pilot training. So you set goals, you have to work toward them. And that was a goal that I had that was very clear. And so I was blessed by God intervening, even though I didn't know him personally.
— You trained pilots for some time?
— Yes, yes. It was a five-year program that I was in.
— And was that as satisfying as you had hoped it would be?
— Yes, yes. And that begins us to transition really to how the change came to a total commitment to Christianity.
— I'm interested in this. You were raised in what sounds like a pretty good family and you had cousins nearby so you had extended family. You mentioned your cousin and you were in high school together and you did well in school and God kind of prodded you a couple of times, that you were aware of, many more times that you might not have been aware of. And then you're on this path. I mean, this is big stuff. You're a high achiever, flying a supersonic jet aircraft for the US government. I mean, that's big stuff, by the way, thank you for your service to this country. Thank you very much. Every time I come across a veteran, I want to thank them for serving and for volunteering and for urging this nation and this world forward, I'm very grateful for that. Now there's a transition. You're a minister of the gospel today. So something happened, how did you come to faith in Jesus?
— Great question which I love to tell the story about that. My first son was on the way to being born. And as that happened, I realized I'm training students how to fly planes, but I have a child now, how am I gonna educate him? How am I gonna raise him? My wife at that time was Roman Catholic. And I had a casual Episcopal background. I have to know what to teach this child about God, because I was scarred somewhat as an eight year old. When one of my neighbors, older neighbors said, "You don't believe in Santa Claus, do you"? I was shocked, I went up to the house, told my mother, "Mom, our neighbor just told me there's no Santa Claus. That's not right, is it, mom"? She was silent. I went to my bedroom and cried. How could they lie to me about that? And I had this sense that someday when I became 21 and could be a voter, I would get a letter from the governor saying, "By the way, there is no God, but we want you to teach that to your children, it's good for them". Of course, that didn't happen. So I was teaching students how to fly planes. I have to teach my son about everything he needs to know. And I have to decide, if there's no God I don't want to waste my time teaching him about that. I went into my bedroom and I knelt down and I said, "God, I don't know if you're real or not, I want to know. And I don't know about all these different religions that are out there. Is one of them true, they're all true? What's the deal with all these religions? And I also wondered, I love my career path. I'm enjoying my career. Maybe I'll become an astronaut, end up as a park ranger someday, but maybe you have a different career path for me if you're a real God".
— That's an interesting thing.
— So I said, "God, if I'm gonna ask you these three questions, I probably should do something. So I will read the Bible and I'll pray everyday for a year. At the end of the year, I'll do whatever is clear, amen". The next morning I started reading the Bible.
— How far did you get this time?
— Good question. I started in the Old Testament because I was committed. I'm gonna go through the whole Bible now. Three months later, reading the Bible every day, and some days when I was off from work, I would sit out on my patio. I had a sports, no, power muscle car.
— What was it?
— It was a custom S350 Pontiac, stick on the floor. I put pipes on it, straight pipes.
— I think you like speed.
— A nice house, wife, child coming, all the good things. And I said, "I'm enjoying my career". But you know, I asked these questions and I started reading through. Three months into reading the Bible, I believed in God. I didn't know the passage. Romans 10:17. "Faith comes by hearing, hearing the word of God". I didn't know that passage, I just wasn't there. I was still in the Kings, starting through the Bible. And I thought, this is beautiful. Here we have all these heroes of faith that I've been reading, the patriarchs and prophets. And now the warriors, king David. I said, "I'm a warrior in the military". They had amazing things happen to them when they chose to follow God, I could have these things happen to me if I follow God. And the other alternative is you get old and you die or you crash and burn. That's a no brainer, I choose God. I had faith in God.
— So what did you do about that? You're reading into the Kings, you say, "I believe in the God who evidently inspired who this book is about". What next, did you start going to church?
— I did go to church with my wife. I actually studied the Catholic religion and several other religions in that search at that year. But then I got to the point, very important point where I didn't understand. I'd gotten to the book of Isaiah. I didn't understand Isaiah. I hadn't gotten to the New Testament, the book of Acts, Acts chapter eight talks about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. So I thought, "How am I gonna get help understanding Isaiah"? So I turn on the television on Sunday morning, hoping I get help from a religious program. And who came on?
— Who came on?
— This is George Vandeman at It Is Written. I watched the program, called in for the book they offered, which was "Planet in Rebellion". They sent it to me, the day I got home I read the book. I thought "This answers all the questions". Why there's so much sin and suffering in the world. It's because it's a planet in rebellion. That's the title of the book. And I'm fighting things with bombs and bullets, I didn't ever did have bombs and bullets because I was a trainer, but we're fighting evil with violence. Jesus fought it with love. This explains what's going on on the planet. So I had now this confirmation that I was on the right path here.
— So you're diving deeper and deeper into the Bible. Your wife was a Roman Catholic. I was raised Roman Catholic so I understand that dynamic. I understand what it is to be a Roman Catholic who believes in the Bible, as long as it doesn't contravene tradition, understand what it's like to be in that situation and to be confronted with the Bible. What happened?
— Well, the beautiful thing about it was, and this is overall evangelism, right? I didn't know the background, but here's what happened. In our conference, in the Arizona conference at that time, they had formulated a plan. They were gonna broadcast It Is Written over the state and the churches are gonna buy in and they're gonna follow up the leads. So once people call in and I called in after the book. I called in for the Bible studies and somebody knocked on my door, right? Personal ministries, leader for the church, knocks at my door. And I say, he says, "Hi, I have your Bible studies". And naturally the answer I gave was "I didn't order any Bible studies". He said, "Yes, you did, you called in". I said, "Oh, those Bible studies". And he said, "Yeah, here they are. I'll be back next week to get the lessons that you filled out". So he drives away. And I thought, "Well, I guess I'll do the lessons". And so I went through the lessons and he brought the next week. This is the church plan, right? He brought the next week, he brought a college student and he said, "He's gonna pick up the lessons and correct them every week from now on". And so the college student came every week. He drove up on his motorcycle, dropped off the lessons. We never talked except to say, "Hi, here's the lessons". And at the end of the months of this, he showed up with a flyer, inviting people to the evangelistic series at the time.
— You've been learning. If you went through a series of Bible studies like that, you got some surprises, you learn some things you weren't maybe expecting to learn. Do you remember what that experience was like, studying this and say, "Well, I didn't know that or this is a surprise or whoa what about that".
— Yeah, it was really great because my wife started studying them with me. This crazy guy is looking into this stuff. She's looking at me and she's, I have to help keep you on the right path. So I'm gonna study the lessons too. We got to lesson seven, which is about the Sabbath. And she said, "I'm not studying these lessons anymore. These people don't even know that they are supposed to go to church". And I said, "It's in the Bible. That's what I'm studying, this is what the Bible says". So I continued the lessons. Anyway, then when he showed up with the evangelistic meeting brochure, it was in this church, some kind of strange named church I'd never heard of before. And so I went into the church building for that meeting and there, the evangelist preached and I thought, "Wow, this is really interesting". All this stuff that I'd been studying from the lessons, I'd finished the lessons, which was part of the overall plan, evangelism after the lesson. And it was so exciting to hear him affirm from the Bible, these things. And that's when it came to the crunch time.
— What was the crunch time?
— The crunch time was after about three or four meetings. I was sitting in the church. It had about 125 people more or less who were there in the church. It looked like all adults. I didn't see any kids in the congregation. And they were all distinguished looking, nice people. The evangelist made an altar call. I'd never heard of an altar call, never experienced an altar call. He wanted people to come forward and he said, "Close your eyes and pray". Well, I was in the military, I know how to follow orders. I closed my eyes and I bowed my head. So he's going on with the altar call for some time. And after that, I started to hear some voices in my head. One voice said, "It's the end of the year, you said you'd follow what is truth. You know this is truth. You need to go forward". The other voice said, "No, don't rush into this. You've got to have time to think about it. Don't make rash decisions, go home, think about it. Don't worry". And after those voices repeated three times, I opened my eyes and I saw up-front at the altar at the pulpit were three children, maybe ages seven, eight, and nine. And I closed my eyes. And then the voices continued. The one said the same thing. "It's the end of the year. You promised that you would do this. You'd follow truth, you know this is truth". The other voice said, "You're a United States Air Force, supersonic jet instructor pilot. You have a great career ahead of you in the air force. You know you shouldn't go forward. You can see for yourself religion is for little children". Those voices repeated three times and then I had a vision. It's the only vision I've ever had in my life. It was a theater marquee, eyes closed, theater marquee, clearly written, "Except you be converted and become as little children. You shall have no part in the kingdom of heaven". I got up out of my seat. I stepped on the feet of the people next to me to get out to the aisle. And I walked down the aisle up front to be with the little children. And I kind of thought, "I don't know where the rest of these adults are going that they're not moving, but I'm going to heaven with the little kids". God knew that this proud Air Force adrenaline pilot needed to become as a child. And I would be in heaven with the kids. And that's where I wanted to be.
— What was the immediate impact of this decision upon your life?
— It was a three week series. This was at the halfway point through the series. The pastor came and visited, cleared me for baptism you could say, and my wife, I didn't really tell her, but I was planning to be baptized. She, for some reason, on the Sabbath morning my second Sabbath in the church. And I was in the bedroom and I came out and walked through the kitchen, I didn't expect anything. She had laid out the fine china, a magnificent breakfast. And I said, "I'm so sorry. I can't eat now because I'm going to be baptized today at the church". And I walked out. When I came home, I found out later she called her mother and said, "I'm leaving. I'm gonna fly home because he's becoming this strange religion and I'm gonna get a divorce". Her Catholic mother said, "You're a Catholic, Roman Catholic, you cannot get a divorce. You must stay there". For the next month, I walked on eggshells trying to keep peace while being faithful to God and amazingly, she, just one day when I came home from church one day, she wasn't doing anything. Said what you're doing, she said nothing. Would you like to go to church with me next week since you're not doing anything? She said, okay. We went to another evangelistic meeting, it was being held and she was baptized.
— It's quite a story. We haven't got all the way through it yet. We'll get through it a little further in just a moment with pastor Bill Warcholik. I'm John Bradshaw. This is our conversation, back with more in just a moment.
— Welcome back, my guest is pastor Bill Warcholik. Bill, I'm really enjoying having you walking me through the way God led in your life. We're not quite up yet to where you became a pastor, but we're getting there. So you've been baptized, your wife is baptized and now what?
— Well, they offered training programs. The conference offered training programs for doing Bible studies and doing gospel work of various kinds. I went to any training program I could get, meanwhile God was preparing me for my next test because, the day after I was baptized, the Monday after I was baptized on that Sabbath, I went into my commander, my flight commander. And I said, "Sir, by the way, I am not going to fly anymore, Friday sundown until Saturday sundown". He said, "What"? And I said, "Well, sir, I was baptized last week, seventh day Adventist, so I keep the Sabbath". He said, "Listen, come into my office". So I came into his office, he told me to sit down. So I sat down and he took out his Bible from the desk that he had. He was a Mormon and he started flipping through the pages. He said, "You don't have to keep the Sabbath, It's okay, it doesn't matter. You're a Christian now, Christians don't have to do that. They do Sunday". And he went on chattering while he was turning through the pages of the Bible, finally closed the Bible. He couldn't find anything about it. And he said, "Well, I don't care what you do as long as you get your job done". I said, "Yes, sir, that'll be fine". For the next year, while I was attending training classes or doing evangelist, gospel kind of work at the conference, I was also reading through the books. I was reading through the great controversy, desire of ages, Daniel and Revelation and other books like that. So I was being filled full until the crisis hit. The crisis hit a year later. And that crisis came about because my flight commander told me one day on a Friday afternoon, I was getting ready to go home for the weekend. And he came up to me, he said, "Warcholik, you have to fly this weekend because the other people can't fly for this thing and somebody got sick. So you've got to go and fly". I said, "Sir, I don't think I can find a replacement that quickly". 'Cause I was swapping with people. I'd fly on Sundays for them, they'd fly in Saturdays for me. And I said, "Sir, I don't think I can find a replacement that fast". And he said, "Come into my office". He said, "Listen now, we're not gonna put up with this anymore. We're not gonna have this anymore of you, avoiding, you need to fly like everybody else, no exceptions. That's an order". I said, "Well, sir, my religious beliefs do not allow me to do that". And he said, "I'm gonna go check with the squadron commander". So he went down the hall, talked to the squadron commander, came back and said, "The squadron commander agrees with me, that's it. We're not putting up with this anymore, you will fly like everybody else. You'll fly on Friday, you'll fly on Saturday, you'll fly on Sunday, whatever we tell you to do". I said, "Sir, my religious beliefs do not allow me to do that". He said, "I'm going back to the squadron commander". He went back to the squadron commander and he came back and he said, "You realize this is wartime? We're giving you a direct order. You realize consequences of that? Court martial and other things"? And I said, "Sir, my religious beliefs do not allow me to do that". He said, "Okay, you're dismissed. We'll deal with you on Monday". As I left the office, he picked up his phone and he said, he called, he said, "Honey, we have to cancel our plans to Las Vegas for vacation this weekend 'cause I have to fly". I knew I was in big trouble so I went back to church that Sabbath and had everybody pray for me. And I went back on Monday morning and he said, when I walked into the flight, he said, "I'm not talking to you, go down and see the squadron commander". I talked to the squadron commander. And he said, "Are you sure about your decision you're making about this? You know it's gonna have serious consequences"? And I said, "Sir, I'll do whatever you tell me, but I will not violate the commandments of God". "Go see the chaplain," he said. So I went to the chaplain, told my whole story as I'm telling to you and the chaplain called back, after we were done, called back to squadron CEO and said, "Well, sir, he's sincere in his beliefs. It's not just trying to get out of work". So the squadron CEO said to me, "Well, we don't know what we're gonna do with you, but I'll let you know in a week or so". So I went back to work. I had committed to doing an evangelistic series. My first evangelistic series starting in a couple of weeks, but that's at night and I had to fly, every other week I had to fly at night. Days one week, nights the next. And I would have interrupted my part in the evangelistic series that I was preaching for the first time. So amazingly, I got my new assignment, report to the base operations officer. So I did, he said, "Okay, would it be all right with you if you work like from 8:30, till 4:30 on Monday through Friday? And you can keep your flight pay, just whenever you want to fly just get a student and go fly to keep up your flight pay. Would that be okay with you"? I said, "Of course, yes sir". So it was such a blessing I couldn't believe it
— What in the world had happened to make that possible?
— God, there's no question about it, God did that. Really such an amazing thing. But Daniel 3, Daniel 1, Daniel 2, Daniel 3, your faithful God rewards you. And I have to finish the rest of the story if I can do it quickly.
— Oh yeah, you have to.
— So a few months go by and I get orders to report to the wing commander, the person in charge of the entire base. And I go, "Oh, they finally found out about me". So I report to the wing commander, he says, and I'm standing at attention at the wing commander's office. He says, "Warcholik, we have a problem on this base". I thought, "Oh, he caught up with me". He said, "Operations, the pilots, are blaming maintenance for the problem. Maintenance is blaming the pilots for the problem. And this has to be fixed because if it isn't fixed, I'm not gonna make general". He didn't actually say that. But that was what was underlining the point 'cause we had an inspector general coming soon. He said, "So from now on you are my assistant to solve this problem. You have my full authority, go to anybody in the base as my authoritative representative and fix this problem, whatever it takes". I said, "Yes, sir". He said, "Because I know that you'll tell the truth no matter who it irritates".
— That's what he said? That's fantastic, isn't it?
— Yeah, so now I had the full authority of the wing commander to run that aspect of the base. And by the grace of God was able to use the skills I had cultivated over the years that a pastor needs to find out how to get people to work together and to solve the problem.
— Yeah, that's astonishing. I wonder what would've happened if you'd said "I'll work this once". It seems to me and you hear this with certain stories. When you step out in faith, you give God permission to work. And when you don't, he doesn't. You don't see miracles until you need them. Very often. And it's when you put yourself in that situation and say, like king Jehoshaphat said, "There's no hope for us here, but our eyes are on you". That's when God can work.
— Fantastic. How did you become a pastor? Well, no, first question. Why did you become a pastor?
— I was committed to the gospel preaching from my studying the Bible and that if God could use me as a pastor, I would do it. But even if I weren't a pastor, I kept taking the study classes. I mentioned, well, maybe I didn't mention, in that evangelistic series, another lay-person who was committed to it and I joined together, we went to this small mining town in Arizona. There was an abandoned Adventist church. So we contacted all the Adventists that were in community, maybe a handful of people. And I said, "We're gonna clean up this church and have an evangelistic series, would you work with us"? And they said, "Sure". We all got working on it, we cleaned up the church, handed out flyers and held the evangelistic series.
— How did it go?
— It went wonderful. The church was opened up, everything was beautiful. And then we started, we went back to, after that was over, we got a new pastor and he said, "I see this church is full and growing, this is wonderful. We're gonna plant some churches". And he looked at me and said, "You're gonna plant a church over in Mesa. And you're gonna plant a church over in Apache, somebody else". And so I didn't know that you could do that. So I went over and we planted a church in Mesa.
— And I've been to that church.
— It's a fabulous congregation today. I believe I've preached and it wouldn't be the same church, but the same congregation in Mesa, Arizona. We held meetings in Mesa, just not very long ago. Fantastic, God. So you were right there. You were part of the Genesis of all of that. Magnificent, so you were ministering. Why did you swing over into full-time ministry?
— The conference in Arizona asked me to transition to become a pastor.
— They asked you?
— They asked me. And I said, "Well, I will do that. I believe God wants me to become a pastor now". But I said, "I have to do one thing first. I have to write back to the conference where I grew up because my family doesn't know about Seventh Day Adventist and my friends there don't know about it. So I feel an obligation". So if they want me to come there, I'll go there. Otherwise I'll work here.
— And I sent them a letter and they said, "Yeah, come over here and help us".
— Is that right? So you went over to Southern New England?
— What do you enjoy about full-time ministry?
— I love the people, I love working with the people. I like to see people working together and getting something done for the glory of God. I like going out and giving Bible studies because you see the light go on people's lives, just like it went on in my eyes, so I love that experience.
— Yeah, what do you find challenging?
— Dealing with people .
— Same thing that made it great made it challenging too.
— Exactly. But it's really good. You form such good relationships with people. Even when you have rough times getting people to work together, you still stay by biblical principles, but you try to be understanding.
— Where did you spend physically, geographically, where did you spend most of your pastoral ministry?
— It was in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
— Challenging places. You don't hear stories of thousands being baptized in a day in Rhode Island or Connecticut. So what was it like working there at the difficult end of the quarry as it were? I think every place is challenging. I don't mean to intimate they're not, but I mean, the statistics will show you that it's a far less churched area of the country than many. So what was that like?
— It's definitely a challenge, but God doesn't tell us to worry about the challenges, just do the work. So I just stayed committed. So we're gonna do evangelism. We're gonna give Bible studies and if anybody will help me, that'd be great. If you don't, I'm gonna do it anyway, but we're gonna work together and we're gonna make things happen for the glory of God because Jesus is coming soon.
— I might know the answer to this question. And if I do, I might know why the answer is this way. People before they get into ministry might say, "Rose colored glasses," you get into ministry and you say, "Hey, some of these people are challenging and some of these challenges are challenging and not everybody acts like a Christian and I thought these were the best of the best". Did you ever have any moments of disillusionment when you got into full-time ministry and said, "This isn't exactly whatIt's not as perfect as I thought it would be"?
— There were major problems in churches that I pastored with personnel at times, people who would, who were church leaders, who were actually telling me, "Well, you can't do this because I don't believe this particular aspect of the church's teachings". And I would have to tell them, "I'm going to stay with the teachings that are from the Bible. And if you don't believe them, I'm not sure you're gonna make it as a leader here in this congregation". Because, I won't cite any illustrations, but you just have to have the internal fortitude and courage to say, "No, we're not gonna teach that here. We're not gonna allow that here in this church". And you have to work with a board and with church leaders, if they're not on board, then you might be looking for another place to pastor.
— My thinking too is that your time in the military, when you're in a large organization that's got plenty of wonderful things going on inside it. And probably room for improvement here and there. You learn, put a collection of people together and you're gonna find imperfections. Not everybody is all that they ought to be because people are people and you had a lifetime of learning that.
— It also have to have courage and I'll give maybe two quick illustrations. One is a park patrolmen 'cause I did maintenance, thing I like about being a park ranger is like a pastor, you work on the church projects physically, and then you preach and then you go out and visit people. So this is your whole ball of wax, so as a park ranger, when I worked in the summers as a park ranger, I would work maintenance during the week and on the weekend I was a patrolman. So I was in charge of supervising and everything. So it's a perfect fit for that training to be a pastor. I remember walking into a campsite where we had people who were illegally drinking alcohol, making a mess. And so I've come out of the woods in my uniform. And all the people are, you know, drinking and partying and everything. And I walk up to the fireplace there at the fire pit, which is illegal. And I just stand there and look around. Finally, somebody walks over toward me and I say, "This guy must be the leader". And I looked at him and I said, "You have to clean this place up and leave the park immediately after, right now". And there's like 30 half drunken teenagers around. And I turned around and walked away. Another time, okay, I was doing a religious program, a drug prevention program in a public, inner city high school, hundreds of kids there. The vice principal, the assistant principal escorts me to the edge of the stage where I'm gonna speak from in the auditorium. And he says, "By the way, I'm going back to my office. Don't be bothered by the fact that nobody's gonna listen to you and just don't worry about it. Just say what you have to say and then leave, because nobody's gonna pay any attention to you. This happens all the time". And he walks away. So I walk out on the stage to the microphone and I'm looking around at the congregation. People are standing up, walking around little groups, congregating here and there. And I just look around and I start talking very softly. I want to tell you about my friend, Joyce. And I just start telling this story of Joyce. And I'm looking out in the middle. I see in the middle of the auditorium, one guy sitting down and he has his lieutenants around him. I'm assuming that. And I start talking directly to him about this person with drug and alcohol problems and stuff, and the sadness of it all. I'm looking at him. And as I'm going on quietly, he stands up. "Everybody, sit down and shut up. I'm trying to hear what he's saying". Everybody sat down and shut up. You have to have courage to speak the truth, whether people will hear or not. So I have some good training in these different experiences.
— You've had some great experiences, some remarkable experiences. I wanted to talk about your time working with It Is Written, you spent some time on our plan-giving trust services team. We love it, love you, valued your time here. It was magnificent, but we didn't get a chance to get to that. But that's okay, last thought, you got about 30 seconds. If someone would ask you, what does Jesus mean to you? This wonderful life, full of magnificent life experiences where God has clearly guided your life. What does Jesus mean to Bill Warcholik?
— I look at God as my father, my loving heavenly father. So I'm his child, remember the vision he gave me. It's all about being a child of a loving heavenly father. And I'm thankful to be part of his family.
— Amen, I'm thankful you are too. Pastor, thank you for your time, I appreciate it very much. And thank you for joining us. He is pastor Bill Warcholik and I'm John Bradshaw, and this has been our conversation.