Friday, April 06, 2007
Sweet Old Ladies And Pat Robertson
Something I've never talked about on here before.
When I lived in the Dallas area in the late 1980s, I was a part-time "phone counselor" for Pat Robertson's 700 Club organization.
I haven't watched the show in years, but back then you could call anytime for someone to pray with. For those of you who aren't religious, it probably sounds bizarre, but it was a great time in my life.
The 700 Club Phone Counseling Center in Dallas handled calls from Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and parts of Kansas and New Mexico.
Before you were allowed to answer the phones and pray with people, you would have to go through an informal, but fairly thorough series of classes. They would tell us how to handle certain calls, go over the most common type of things we would have people calling about, how to decide if a person needed special help, etc.
For example, in my time there, twice I had calls from people threatening to commit suicide. One, I was able to get the person talking, pray with them, get their name, address and phone number and an agreement to let a local pastor call and set up a time to come by. These would be followed up on by more senior counsellors who would make sure the pastor spoke with the person and so forth to make sure the situation was defused. The other call, the woman ended up giving me her name and number but then started freaking out and hung up. I called the New Orleans police and they said they would send someone out. I found out later, by the folks who worked days, that everything was OK there.
So the calls could be anything from serious stuff like that, calls to pray for sick loved ones, pray for God's blessing on an upcoming job interview; you name it.
The 700 Club aired live at 8am on the East coast, and in different markets and stations around the country, it would air delayed, various times during the day and evening.
We had a TV set in the phone room, and when the show would be on in any of the markets in the states I mentioned above, we would play a taped version of the show at the same time, so we would know what they were seeing, and be able to handle calls accordingly.
Another example. Pat Robertson, Ben Kinchlow, or Danuta Soderman might talk for a segment of the show about prayer. At then end of the segment, they would say that we could send a free pamphlet on prayer, or a free Gospel of John, or whatever, just call. We would see that and know that during the next commercial break, we would be getting lots of calls from people wanting to have whatever pamphlet they were offering sent to them.
I cannot tell you how much I grew as a Christian while working there. Pat Robertson seems to put his foot in his mouth fairly often these days, but every person that I personally knew with that organization was completely above board, loved God, and took very seriously our praying with people.
In addition to the general classes used to train folks to work on the phones, they offered evening classes of more in-depth Bible study. There was always something going on; I learned SO much. Kind of a trial by fire of handling personal contact with people, even if it was by phone.
Remember how I told you that we would watch the show several times per shift so that we would know somewhat what to expect the calls to be about? It was taped early in the morning in Virginia Beach, VA, and we would see it delayed, but many people thought that they were seeing it live at, say, 7-9pm.
Many times in the time I was a phone counsellor there, when the show would break for commercial, we would get calls from little old ladies that assumed we were the phone counsellors they showed at the 700 Club facility in Virginia Beach.
As soon as the commercials started, "700 Club, what can I pray with you about?"
"Hello? Could I please speak with Pat?"
"Could I please speak with Pat during the commercials? I'd like to talk to him while he has a couple of free minutes."
"I'm sorry ma'am, the show is shown live at 8am Eastern time each weekday morning. What you are seeing is a taped, delayed showing of this morning's program."
"You mean I can't talk to Pat?"
"No ma'am, I'm sorry but you're speaking to a phone counsellor located in Dallas, Texas. There are several phone counselling centers around the country, each one handling calls from several states."
".....Pat's not there?"
"No ma'am. Is there something I can talk or pray with you about?"
"No. I just wanted to talk to Pat during the commercials. Bye."
They were unfailingly fully expecting Pat Robertson to step from the set and talk with them for one and a half minutes. They were always sweet and confused and ultimately disappointed. You could hear it in their voices.
They were no problem, just locked into the show, not even understanding the concept of a taped delay, or that the counsellors could be somewhere other than 15 feet from Pat Robertson in Virginia Beach.
It was way better than the dozens calls each counsellor would get in late January, asking us to pray with them to win the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes. Remember how they used to give it away during the Superbowl?