Bible study in a garage: At 83, he fills a niche
DOWNEY, Calif. (BP) -- Harold Neal, 83, a retired airplane builder and bivocational pastor, as well as the caregiver for his wife of 66 years, has found "what the Lord wants me to do" in leading a Bible study in his garage for 15 years.
Through the years, the class, attended by 8 to 12 people each week, has studied much of the Bible verse by verse. Neal produces all the teaching materials himself, from detailed outlines of each passage to large charts, maps and timelines. Some students in the class have amassed literally years' worth of Bible outlines at their fingertips.
"This class remains because a group of Christians wants to search God's Word," Neal said in his booming voice -- an asset, he said, when senior citizens with hearing issues comprise most of the attendees.
"Some folks have a limited knowledge of Scripture, but some are dedicated Bible students. If they keep the detailed outlines, they can go back any time they need to and have basically a commentary on that passage."
Not all who attend are believers, however. Neal tells of a neighbor in his Downey, Calif., neighborhood who started attending because "he thought one of the ladies in the class was his girlfriend." He came for about six months and heard the clear plan of salvation many times.
"I talked to him, but he said he didn't like my God," Neal said. "I said, 'Well, one day you'll be standing at the gate and will face Him.'
"[He] didn't like that and he stopped coming, but then, a few months later, when my wife had another stroke, he called out to me from across the street and said, 'I'm praying for Martha!'
"I'm not sure where he was spiritually, but about three weeks ago he died. I just pray that he had come to know the Lord Jesus as his Savior first."
Another participant was a wary visitor at First Southern Baptist Church in Downey, where the Neals were members at the time.
"This man -- who was from a Catholic background -- had sworn not to go back to church ever again," Neal recounted, "but after a couple of weeks his wife talked him into coming to our home study. I encouraged him to ask the church about becoming a member, and he did, and he made a profession of faith, and he got baptized."
About two years after beginning the study in 2003, having relocated from their living room to an adapted space in their garage, Neal and his wife moved their membership and involvement to First Baptist Church in Santa Fe Springs and decided to discontinue the class. But within a week, Neal said, they'd gotten calls from every person in the class who said they didn't care where he and Martha went to church. So the Bible study continued and now includes people from four area churches.
"The most exciting part of the week is Thursday morning -- getting up, making coffee, cleaning the floor, getting the room ready for our class," Neal said. "We start with a few minutes of prayer requests, have coffee, sing a song or two, and then I offer a 45-minute lecture that I've typed up word-for-word. Of course they can ask questions, but mostly I lecture because that's what they want."
Neal said that despite a degree from Liberty University and "Bible courses from one end to the other under my belt," he couldn't find curriculum or material that really suited him. So he began drafting his own verse-by-verse outlines. Those, and the selection of topics and Scriptures to study, are born primarily out of his personal daily time with God.
"I take care of Martha, of course, since she's bedridden after eight strokes," Neal said. "So when she goes to bed each night about 6, I go with her, get to sleep about 7, take care of her during the night every couple or three hours, and then almost every morning the Lord wakes me up around 4, and I spend a good solid three hours alone with the Lord. It's just wonderful, that time.
"When I was a bivocational pastor I couldn't study with the Lord like that, but now I can. And the Lord always makes it clear what we're to do next.
"I'll just keep teaching as long as I can," Neal said. "Some people want to live to be 100, but I say, what can you do at 101 that you couldn't do at 99? I've found what the Lord wants me to do, and I don't want to do anything else.
"I wish everybody could do the same."