When Lori and Alan Harris moved to Texas in 2004, they were broken. Broken relationally. Broken financially. Broken, in some ways, spiritually.
Though they hadn’t lost their faith, they were going through a rough patch of life and they weren’t exactly sure the way out.
“It’s real easy to blame each (other) for problems when your business goes south and your lifestyle is not what it was and you have this whole house full of kids,” Mrs. Harris said.
Though divorce was not an option for them, unity was not a reality at the time either.
Still, that time of drought in the Harrises’ life gave birth to a new season that they never expected.
Mrs. Harris was raised in Mount Pleasant, the daughter of a holiness Pentecostal pastor. Though she heard about God’s love, she also heard a lot about do’s and don’ts. So, when she got the chance for freedom, she took it.
After graduating high school, she eventually became a grocery store manager in Mount Pleasant. She worked during the day and attended Paris Junior College at night. She had her own house, plenty of drugs and enjoyed life on the wild side.
“It was drugs, sex and rock and roll and the hippies and I loved it all,” Mrs. Harris said.
But one night, something happened to Mrs. Harris. She felt convicted about the way she was living. She had kicked out her live-in boyfriend for sleeping around with other women and was sitting at the table when a friend walked in.
“Look at you,” he said. “You have more friends, more money, more dope, more everything and you’re the most miserable woman I know.”
She threw the man out, but inside, she knew he was right.
“I really was convicted and then I went and knelt beside my bed and opened my Bible to Psalm 139,” she said.
That night, she dealt with God and talked with a local pastor.
“I fully acknowledged that I didn’t want to live right,” she said. “I wanted to live like I did. It was a conscious choice. I wasn’t trying to fool anybody. I knew what I was doing the same way I knew I was convicted and that if I didn’t change my ways, I would die and go to hell and I didn’t think I wouldn’t.”
After that night, she changed her course. She poured her booze down the sink, burned up her dope and threw away her pills.
She went to Discipleship Training School at Youth With A Mission, a Christian ministry with a campus near Lindale.
She asked herself: How did she, a preacher’s kid get so far into a life of sin, as she knew it, and enjoy it?
“Hell’s fun,” she said. “There’s pleasure in sin for a season and after that you’re (going), ‘What am I doing here? How did I get this way?’”
At YWAM, she was instantly confronted with her relationship to God and others and the things that turn her away from God. There’s a fine line between religion and relationship, she said.
“How do you get that relationship so that you work with God to fulfill … God’s plan …” she said. “I wasn’t satisfied with (the) status quo because I was raised in church all my life. You just go, ‘I don’t want normal.’”
Upon completing that training, Mrs. Harris attended Stephen F. Austin State University, where she joined a street preaching team.
This group would pray with people, speak to people about God and, in general, do whatever they believed God was telling them to do.
It was while working with this group that she met Alan Harris, the young man who would become her husband.
Harris had already graduated from SFA. He was a drummer and booked bands that were a part of the growing Jesus Movement to come to campus and play.
“He’s as weird as you,” her friends told her at the time.
The couple’s friendship developed and after Mrs. Harris attended another short-term ministry training program in Hawaii, she and Harris got married.
A NEW FAITH
The next 20 years were filled with marriage, kids and ministry. The newlyweds had moved to southern California, where Harris was from and he joined a business Mrs. Harris’ family had started. Mrs. Harris home-schooled their children and the couple eventually worked in a book business and ministry.
They continued their involvement with missions, pro-life endeavors, their local church and Youth With A Mission. At the time, they also attended a nondenominational church.
But an experience after communion one day prompted Mrs. Harris to look deeper into the practice and the significance of Christ’s body and blood.
Through that, she began to look more closely into Roman Catholicism and particularly the teachings about marriage, because she said she hated her husband at the time.
Harris joined her in the study of the Catholic Church, even though he hadn’t necessarily initiated it. Harris said he always was looking for something different in a church and didn’t exactly know what he was looking for.
After a year of attending classes to convert, the couple converted to Catholicism.
“We didn’t see Catholic as (the) only thing, but for us personally, it kind of was the answer to some other things,” Harris said. “We retained all that we were before as a Christian. We just added being a Catholic.”
Some of their friends in ministry questioned their decision, but Harris didn’t mind.
“We knew it was what God called us to do,” he said.
A NEW OPPORTUNITY
Upon entering the Catholic Church though, the couple noticed a ministry opportunity of which they were previously unaware.
Youth With A Mission, more commonly known as YWAM, had a Catholic-oriented ministry called Kerygma. Kerygma is Greek for “proclamation” and, in this case, refers to the proclamation of the Gospel. It emphasizes building unity between Catholics and other Christians.
The Harrises sensed a calling to this ministry, so after an introduction to it and some additional training, they became the co-directors of Kerygma USA. Mrs. Harris had ties to YWAM from her previous training as a young adult so because the ministry new them already, it was a natural fit.
Though Kerygma existed internationally, it had not flourished nationally and the Harrises wanted to change that.
They became full-time staff members, and serve as directors of the Texas and U.S. ministry, living on the financial support of people who believe in their work.
Kerygma’s focus has been to work in evangelization and discipleship of young Catholics so they don’t leave the church. In addition, they focus on learning to walk hand-in-hand with the Protestant community.
It isn’t about being Protestant or Catholic, Mrs. Harris said. It’s about being believers and living in harmony.
While the ministry is not formally associated with the Diocese of Tyler or the Catholic Church, it is in good standing with both, Mrs. Harris said.
Kerygma accomplishes its work through weekend retreats, evangelization training and outreach and, as of next year, a discipleship training school in the U.S. Ministry participants come from around the country.
The emphasis is on discipleship, this idea of knowing God and making Him known, Mrs. Harris said.
She encourages people to consider what a Godly relationship looks like, to not simply focus on serving people’s needs, but also treating them with respect, in a manner consistent with what Jesus would do.
“We do the teachings that will teach them how to love people where they’re at and not pass judgment,” she said, adding that they want people’s hearts to break for the things that break God’s heart.
Mary Alice Tijerina, 49, of Tyler has had three of her children involved in Kerygma programs over the years. The lifelong Catholic said her teenage boys have attended several of the retreats.
“I had to drag them there,” she said, “(but) when I picked them up they were … glad that they went. They would tell me about their experience. It was exciting for me as a mom to know that they had that experience of the Holy Spirit.”
A COMMON CALLING
There are several ways people can interact with Kerygma USA. Kerygma leads many outreach efforts to other parts of the country and world. Mrs. Harris said they spend two weeks every year in northern California, where they meet and interact with locals, many of whom are Muslims.
They do what Mrs. Harris calls “coffee-shop evangelism,” meeting people and sharing the Gospel with those they meet.
They partner with other YWAM bases and send teams to those areas where they might serve people who are homeless or refugees. They are always looking to partner with organizations and/or ministries that work ecumenically.
In all of the ministry opportunities, the Harrises encourage participants to fully exercise their Catholic faith.
Harris said he wants the people who participate in their ministry to find the fullness of a relationship with Jesus that he and his wife have found.
He also wants them to know God as the ever present being that He is and be able to communicate His truth with others.
“I want them to go back to their parish and say, ‘Father, how can I help you in the church?’” he said of the youth.
Harris said he and his wife still retain the “fire of youth” in their heart and soul and want to share that with the people they work with. To Mrs. Harris, the work is fulfilling.
“The joy is watching God’s heart be blessed and having satisfaction knowing when God said (in) John 17:21, that they be one, that he didn’t mean that we all have to look alike and believe the same thing,” she said. “He meant that we have to love one another and they will know we are Christians by our love.”
A CLOSER LOOK
Kerygma USA has an outreach trip planned for this Christmas in Greece with Syrian refugees, a Muslim outreach in northern California in summer 2017 and a YWAM MegaCities outreach to Manila, also in 2017. Visit www.kerygmausa.com for more information about the ministry and opportunities to get involved.