Like Forrest Gump I’ve serendipitously crossed paths with and shared life and ministry with some of the most interesting and gifted people to come along in the Vineyard movement over the years. Although I stand on the shoulders of so many wonderful men and women who took time for me pouring their love and wisdom into my life, nothing has been more impactful than my friendship with Lonnie Frisbee. While John Wimber taught me how to swim it was Lonnie who threw me into the deep end of the pool of the Spirit’s power where I’ve been trying to live a naturally supernatural life ever since.
Lonnie and I were two most unlikely friends. But although we grew up in different worlds – Lonnie was a hippy flower child from Southern California and I was a guy from the streets of the Bronx – it was like we were “brothers from another mother…” We actually shared many of the same life experiences growing up so we had an understanding.
I was introduced to Lonnie through a mutual friend, Jack Simms, who was visiting Brooklyn Teen Challenge on business. Jack walked into my office with this guy who looked just like Jesus and said, “Hey, this is Lonnie. You guys should go out to lunch. I think you’ll get along real good with each other!” He was right! Over lunch Lonnie shared the most incredible stories of what the Holy Spirit was doing. I was mesmerized. Lonnie had the bluest, penetrating eyes. His stare seemed to go right through my skull. As he talked about healings and miracles, my mind was saying, “Know way!”, but in my heart I was saying, “Yes! This is what I want!” Lonnie invited me to come visit Calvary Chapel in Anaheim Hills where he was on staff with Wimber so I could see for myself. I did and returned to Brooklyn a different person. The rest is history…
Lonnie’s meetings could be very intense but outside of ministry he was fun to be around! Now I know what some of you are thinking. “Wait a minute Mike. I heard he was trouble. Didn’t he live a double life? Didn’t he struggle with homosexuality? Didn’t he die of AIDS? What’s up with that?” Yes, true, but although he never hid from us the fact that he was a hurting pup this was a side of Lonnie we never saw.
He was an iconoclast and this made some people uncomfortable. But the Lonnie I got to know was kind and generous and crazy in a good way. He loved spending time with my family, playing with my boys because he was a kid at heart himself. He loved my mother’s Italian cooking. He loved hanging out listening to music. He was a free spirit, an artist who loved painting outside the lines. I found him a refreshing.
I’m left with some wonderful memories of Lonnie. Like the time Teen Challenge hosted the Vineyard team when they stopped off in Brooklyn on their way home from South Africa. Lonnie and a couple of team members were staying in our apartment. One morning my wife and I were awakened at 4 am by Willie Nelson blasting on my stereo singing “You were always on my mind”. We walked into our living room with Lonnie sitting in the middle of our sofa bed in his PJ’s, smoking a pipe, singing along with Willie. He looks up at us and says, “Doesn’t this just tug on your heart!” It did.
Lonnie took Char and I to Disneyland for the first time. In an amusement park he was in his element. He was made for Disneyland. The day we went it had rained earlier and there were hardly any lines. I remember running through the puddles from ride to ride with Lonnie as our personal escort through the magic kingdom. Thinking back there was something very apropos about that.
Lonnie was my friend. Deep down we shared two things in common: Our scars from the past and a deep appreciation for God’s grace in our lives. We had both survived because of Jesus. We were fellow beggars pointing each other to the bread. When I heard Lonnie had died I cried. I think of him often and despite his sad ending he brings a smile to my face. I’m proud to have called him a friend.