That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13: 1-9)
Improbable People Ministries was born quite unexpectedly on July 15, 1990, Michael’s 35th birthday. It was a sunny day and we planned to go to Raging Waters in San Dimas and spend the day celebrating on slides and floats.
But first we stopped by the Rock of Israel Ministries office, Sally’s place of employment, to pick up discount coupons promised by her boss and our good friend, Robert Specter. While we were there the phone rang in the office, interrupting our exchange.
The lady on the other end of the line asked where she could get a copy of our first album, Hey God, Are You Talkin’ To Me? This was highly unusual. The cassette was barely released, with no plan, no airplay, and no distribution. Only the Rock of Israel was selling it on their table at the end of services.
A year or so earlier Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus, had sown seed money for this first album after hearing just one song at their annual retreat for staff and supporters. The song was Improbable People for Impossible Tasks.
Not only had he invested in our album, but then he encouraged us to begin our own music ministry, offering to help set us up with a used van for travel, a computer for organization and “getting the message out”, and access to their ministry’s mailing list for contacts and referrals. No small deal.
But just like a plate of confectionary treats at International House of Pancakes, we waffled. How could anyone follow such a crazy notion? Who were we to quit our jobs and follow someone else’s vision? Ministers? Us? Recording an album was one thing—hitting the road to Who-Knows-Where was an entirely different proposition. The thought was too improbable for words.
We had no money saved, and neither of us was making enough to quit our job or forfeit the health plan that accompanied Michael’s position. And then there was Dusty Rose to consider. She was just over a year old. We had a responsibility to keep her Gerbered and Pampered several times a day for at least a year or two.
But after Sally hung up the phone from this woman who didn’t even know she was talking to the album’s artist, who had no idea she, at that moment, was being used as a cog in the wheel of God’s Divine Plan for our lives . . . after Sally hung up the phone the conversation between Robert and us took an unexpected turn.
Somewhere in the extended discussion that followed, Sally gave her two-weeks-notice to the Rock of Israel, and we committed to giving this music ministry thing a try. “Two weeks or two years!” was our battle cry. We couldn’t imagine anything longer. Now here we are thirty-three years later. Go figure.
We never made it to Raging Waters, but that was the moment everything changed. From that day until now, God has continually opened doors and made a way in the wilderness, sometimes through deep valleys and high mountains, but we, with our girls, have walked this strange and amazing adventure out for well over 30 years. Improbable? Yes! Impossible? No!
We traveled nearly everywhere a door opened and anywhere a metaphorical and sometimes literal hat could be passed. No minimum fee has ever stood in the way of accepting an invitation to minister.
We slept on pews, hard beds, lumpy couches—and even, on occasion, in some lovely hotel rooms. One of our Board members promised, “You will stay in the homes of people from the congregation whose gift is the blessing of hospitality which they will lavish upon you.” And they did. This opened our eyes to the power and reach of the family of God.
We ministered in churches of many denominations, messianic congregations, prisons, rehab centers, retreats, on the street, in the park, a few saloons, a heavy metal bar in Warsaw, a couple palaces, conference centers, and former Nazi concentration camps. When called upon, Sally ministered in movie theaters and even a second-grade classroom. Wherever two or more were gathered—and there were often not a whole lot more in attendance—Sally would open a phone book, point to a random church number, and give “cold calling” a try until some pastor—ANY pastor—eventually warmed to her.
We have been greatly blessed over the years to see fruit in many places where we shared the seed God gave us. Many of you, through your prayers and support, made it possible for us to go out and sow in very unexpected places.
Quite honestly, we could not have accomplished most of the things we have, especially as a small ministry, if many of you had not prayed or given from your bounty, for which we are very grateful.
For the last year Sally has been on sabbatical, mainly because she felt the Lord strongly impress on her the need to stop, rest, and regroup. After all, moving from Los Angeles to the Houston area was no small endeavor, especially for native Californians. So, the adjustment is still ongoing. On May 18th it will be a year to the day Sally felt the Lord call her to sabbatical. Our hope is to reboot and start again; to see what further adventures the Lord has in store for Improbable People. Like a racehorse at the gate, we feel the call is as strong as ever, the need for His Word to be shared never clearer.
When a corporation or existing business opens a branch or office in a new place there are generally provisions made ahead of time. Office equipment is purchased, new stationary is designed etc. all in the name of furthering the organization’s mission statement in the new location.
It’s no different with a small nonprofit like ours—except for the fact that we do not possess the big corporate backing of a Coca-Cola or Burger King to open a new branch in Anywhere, USA.
So, as we re-establish the ministry here in Spring, Texas, we would ask you to pray about helping us to begin again. After more than three decades, “a fresh start” seems an odd paradox.
Is this an existential crisis in the life of Improbable People? Probably not. IPM will likely continue in some form or other for the simple reason that God has not given us our marching orders to stand down in that “well-done-good-and-faithful-servant” kind of way we all hope to hear someday.
The question is how quickly we will be able to ramp up to getting back on the road, back ministering in concert, back leading teams of fellow believers in foreign settings and—not for nothing—making new ministry friends in the South where we have very few contacts.
The Lord has supplied a home and a reasonable level of security in our personal lives. But there are infrastructure issues to address and supplies needed to establish Improbable People in this community, to help cement an strong foundation from which to begin anew.
Still, the need for these structural issues will almost certainly slow the pace of re-forming Improbable People in Texas as a viable nonprofit entity. As you are probably aware, government bureaucracies have not always been friendly in recent years to the Gospel of Jesus. And we just want to set this up correctly, rendering what is Caesar’s to Caesar and what belongs to God to His eternal glory.
And here’s the rub. After a year’s pause, in which we find both ourselves charter members of Club Medicare, we are keenly aware that our particular message of healing and salvation through music and story has entered the fourth quarter, the third period, or the bottom of the seventh inning depending on your personal favorite sports metaphor.
Put simply, we are no longer spring chickens. But we still desire to serve Him as long as we are able to effectively minister through the gifts He has bestowed.
There have been many expenses in this last year—some anticipated, others not. Of course, since there have been no concerts or tours there has been very little coming in to refresh the ministry finances and we have depleted most of what we had when we left Los Angeles.
If you have been blessed or possibly inspired by Improbable People Ministries, we are asking you to prayerfully consider sowing into IPM the start-up seed money to help us move forward in this new season. All gifts are 100% tax-deductible. Just click the picture above or below which will bring you to the secure IPM Giving Page for several options including mail-in and one-time or recurring gifts. We believe the Lord has more ahead for Improbable People, and we hope you will join with us in prayer as we prepare to gather the good seed to scatter once again in preparation for the Kingdom Harvest. May God bless you, each and every one, until we can be together again.
—Michael & Sally O’Connor
May 2023, Spring, Texas
Seeds Songwriters: Adrian Gardner / Malcolm John Pinkerton / Nicholas Paul Murphy / Stephen James Pinkerton
Seeds lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc