Anyone who has ever been in the presence of Bishop Clinton Foster
could recount stories about him with a genuine smile. “Pops,” as he is affectionately called by those close to him, is probably the most generous man I had ever met in all my 30 years. His smile, his aura, and his strength are parts of him that he graciously gives to anyone who is willing to receive it; and so many people have received them. Having preached many a Sundays across the nation and being Lead Pastor of City Refuge International Church in San Diego, CA, Pops has transformed many lives for the better. One of those lives feels forever indebted to Pops, not only for what he had given him, but for why Pops gave it. This story is of Pops and that particular man.
On a crisp Sunday afternoon in Sunny San Diego, a young man was walking up the sidewalk to a church that sat on the hill. Invited by a friend of his who attended the City of Refuge of International Church, he remembered days when he told himself he would never step foot inside another church again. Being the son of a pastor and knowing the word wasn’t enough to keep him in a church pew, but the conversation he had with his friend compelled him to walk up the steps in the direction towards the Gospel music blaring through the custom carved wooden doors. When he stepped inside, his sneakers sank into plush red carpet as he nervously made hi way down the aisle to rows of chairs on either side. He could feel the unfamiliar eyes darting in his direction. The bass from the music echoed in his chest somewhat easing the pounding in his heart. He located his friend who gave him a comforting smile, then he began to scan the sanctuary that encompassed him. His eyes fell upon the glass pulpit on the stage in front of him, and then he saw them….
The congregation rejoiced as the most beautiful people the young man had ever seen walked down the aisle of the church. They were holding hands and smiling so bright the young man thought he could count a thousand teeth. He could tell by their aura that they were the Pastor and First Lady of the church. They were both elegantly dressed, the man having on a sharply tailored suit and his wife seemed to float in a dazzling suit jacket and skirt. They’re demeanor was graceful, and as they praised God in a world made just for them two, they seemed to be genuinely having the time of their lives.
The young man couldn’t break his eyes from the couple’s grasp. He was thoroughly captivated. As the service went on, he immediately noticed that the Pastor’s melodic message was inviting and didn’t carry the forceful overtones he was so used to. The Pastor seemed so excited to preach his sermon, almost like he had been holding in breaking news all week and had finally been given the chance to spill the beans. While he preached he barely looked at any notes and amazingly, he was able to breathe fresh revelation into the people who were seated in front of him.
Towards the end of service, the Pastor began to provide individual prayers to the congregation. One by one, the willing men, women, and even children received a prophetic word of loving truths from the Pastor that brought nurturing and healing to their conditions. The young man was waiting for the false prosperity message or promise of miracles the people will never attain but surprisingly, they never came.
The Pastor scanned the room, found the young man’s eyes. extended a warm grin and said, “You don’t know what you’ve walked into do you?” The young man could do nothing but shake his head no. The Pastor flashed another one of his bright smiles and said, “I’ve been picking you up in the Spirit. You’ve been searching a long time son. I don’t know you. I’ve never met you a day in my life, but I’ve been waiting for you. I knew it was you as soon as I walked through the door.” The young man was stunned. “Who is this guy and why is he talking to me like this,” he thought, but his lips never moved. Entranced, his eyes remained upon the pulpit. “Son, don’t leave out of here without speaking to me.” The young man sat speechless until the benediction.
When service ended the young man went directly to the preacher and shook his hand. “Did you enjoy the service?” the Preacher asked. “I did.” replied the young man. “Is there anyway I can set up a meeting with you? I have a few questions about the Bible and things you said in your sermon.” The pastor grinned graciously, “Of course. How about Wednesday before Bible Study. My office is just back here. You can ask any question you like” “That will work, sir I appreciate it.” And with that, the young man walked away, slightly changed, slightly skeptical, but very much so intrigued.
That was my first ever interaction with Bishop Clinton Foster and little did I know at that time, this man would play a key role in my transition from a young man into the man I am today.
Only a few men that I’ve personally met could give nuggets of wisdom every time they decided to speak, and Clinton Foster is one of those men. Pops is a poetic storyteller, and could mesmerize audiences of few or many with stories of his own life experiences, stories he’s read or heard, or even stories that he painted from his imagination to illustrate a point he was attempting to make clear. I’ll never forget the time I asked Pops about Jesus feeding the 5000 with 4 loaves of bread and 5 fish. He explained to me that this was possible, and began to tell the story of his mother inviting a large amount of people from his church to come to their home for Sunday dinner. Pops being a young boy then, said he was angry because he knew there wasn’t enough food to go around and he was going to have to sacrifice his portion of his mother’s chicken to the guests. He said they all gathered around the table, blessed the food, and when it was all said and done, everyone’s belly was full including his, and he remembered seeing his mother in the kitchen packing up the leftovers in Tupperware! He told me “Had I not been there I wouldn’t have believed it myself.” Pops had so many stories of his mother who passed away a little over 20 years ago. I never had the honor of meeting her, but you can see the beauty that this woman carried anytime Pops spoke of her.
As a devoted father and grandfather, Pops has raised many children into adults, not differentiating whether they were biologically his or not. Because of this, he can proudly say he has over 10 grandchildren, many godchildren, and many more people that just see him as the father they wish they could’ve had. He’s the type of man that would hold your hand long enough for you to get up after a fall, help you wipe the dirt off of your knees and encourage you to walk on your own towards your destiny. He assures you that he’s right there in case you fall again, and he’s waiting to celebrate when you accomplish even the little steps in life’s journey. There were times when I took off running towards life at full sprint, and I would look back and Pops would be there guiding and watching. Ever present and always there when I needed him.
Pops has a peacefully powerful voice that was strong enough to tear down the mental walls set up by anyone he came across. His dictation is precise enough to slice through false bravado, and like a surgeon he slowly takes away the diseases of the heart for those that would allow it; and I’ve seen this first hand. Often times I would bring friends to him, and without ever knowing Pops they would open up and him and he could speak to their issues and give common sense remedies. And Pops always seemed to have a remedy, even when he admitted he didn’t have one. There was an overwhelming comfort in him that he would seek it out or give you the tools to find the answer yourself.
Pops is most importantly a humble and honorable man, even as people have tried to place him on a pedestal as a Pastor. He encouraged people to be themselves 100% and accept their mistakes so that they can move from them. He would always tell me “Son, don’t let people hold you to your mistakes. God ain’t trippin off that. He judges the purity of your heart.”
Pops would quickly admit over the pulpit that he has shortcomings just like any other human being, letting the congregation know that as much as they’re trying to make it into heaven, he too is on a daily mission of learning and getting things right in his own life. Most people have never encountered a pastor that genuinely cared more about the personal growth of the congregation than the accolades he could receive from them.
Having served as an armor bearer under Pops, I personally saw the mental and physical toll he took every Sunday walking in the capacity of a Shepard. There were moments when he was literally soaked from head to toe in exhaustion, passing out in his office and needing assistance to get on his feet, but he willingly sacrificed his body every Sunday to give a message of truth so that the people could break from mental and spiritual bondage. “If you’re in ministry for glamour,” he would say breathing heavily on his office couch, “It wasn’t God that called you to it.”
Being this close to Pops also afforded me the opportunity to see parts of the process he took in walking in his gifting. One Sunday morning I came into his office to prep for morning service and he was sitting at his desk with a slightly confused look. He glanced up at me and said “Son, I have no idea what I’m about to preach this morning.” He held up a piece paper with just a scripture and a few words on it. I said, “Really Pops? What are you going to do?” He then began to tell me the story of a time when he had written what he thought at the time was his best sermon for a church he was visiting. He said he had his scriptures marked in his Bible, had all of his notes organized and key points highlighted, and when he got to the church he heard a voice tell him, “Don’t you preach this sermon.” Pops said he wrestled with the voice all the way to the pulpit, got on stage and laid his papers on the podium, and a wind came and blew all of his papers on to the floor. He said “Mind you, there was no windows or doors open. No A/C blowing. Nothing.” Someone helped him pick up the papers, and when he got them back all of his pages were mangled and disorganized. He said “I panicked.” He then said a prayer right there on the pulpit, and God gave him the topic of suicide. So he began to preach on the subject, and he said “… the scriptures flowed to my memory and the words began to pour from my lips, and before you know it the whole room was on fire.” Pops said towards the end of his sermon, a man in the last pew of the church jumped up and came running down the aisle saying “Its me, Its me! I was on my way to the Coronado Bridge when something told me to stop my car and come inside this church. I was on my way to take my own life.”
After that amazing story, Pops went out that Sunday morning, still having not written anything more on this paper, and preached the most profound sermon I had ever heard up until that point. I remember standing at my post in disbelief of the man I was serving under. The power in his gifting was such that it overtook the congregation and I believe a few people joined the church and one gave their life to Christ that service. I’ll never forget that moment because of the effect it had on my life. I had never before had the urge to speak to people so strongly until that day, and to be honest I didn’t believe it was possible for me, being so reserved, but I prayed that I could walk in that type of anointing one day. Needless to say I had no idea what I was asking for or the price I had to pay.
There were many times in my life that I needed Pops, but one in particular will stay with me forever. I remember wanting to bless him and his wife financially, not because they needed or wanted it but because my Spirit Man was urging me to. So after a few months of saving I called Pops and told him I had something to give him. I took him to a restaurant and handed him an envelope with a substantial amount of money. He refused. “Son,” he said to me, “I can’t accept this.” After insisting for close to 10 minutes I said to him “Pops, wasn’t it you who told me if someone is blessing you and you don’t take it, you may be blocking the blessing that God has in store for them?” I grinned since I knew that had got him, “So you have to take it.” Convinced, he finally took the envelope, graciously thanked me and commended me for being faithful to what I had heard the Lord say, and then he blessed the gift right there in the restaurant.
Later that week I was arrested for domestic violence.
Ashamed, and at one of the worst moments in my life, the only number I could vaguely remember sitting in the small jail cell with 17 other men was Pops’. As I dialed the number I felt dirty and defeated. The smell of urine, disappointment, and misfortune was heavy laden. The phone rang once and Pops picked up the phone. “Son, I’ve been waiting for you to call where are you?”
Pops used the money I’d given him a few days earlier to bail me out of jail.
When he picked me up from the bail office I was broken into pieces. Shattered in the passenger’s seat of his car, I was lost. I wanting to run and hide, but instead Pops captured me. I smelled from not having showered and I hadn’t eaten, but instead of letting me go naked and hungry Pops and his wife clothed and fed me. I was sick and weak, but Pops looked after me. So it was only right that when I had the pleasure of graduating from Mental Health America’s Father2Child Mentorship Program a year later that I dedicated that milestone in my life to him and the God that resides in him and his wife. Had it not been for what they did for me, I would not be writing this to honor Pops today. The wisdom, passed down to me through his transparency about his own life, shaped my development. His love was a firsthand example of how Jesus loved people unconditionally, and it molded how I viewed my relationships to other people, the world, and even my conception of who Jesus was. His kindness and generosity is a testament to all the blessings, the values, and the wisdom that he himself has received. And the reason Pops gave this to me, as he would tell me, is because the gift that was given to him was a discernment to read the hearts of people, and never respond to them any differently to what God shows him.
Reflecting on this gives me hope. Not only because of who Pops was to me, but because what he saw in me through his gifting. While man defines me by my mistakes and judges me in my fallen state, God is looking at the pureness of my heart and positions me to land on my feet. So in essence I never really fall, it just appears that way to those who are watching my every move. But if they watch long enough, just when they count me out and leave me for dead, I’m filled with a rush of new life, and I’m up and running at full speed time and time again.
Bishop Clinton Foster and his beautiful and equally spirit-filled wife Pastor Cassandra Foster have been there for me through every tear, every mistake and hurdle, every pitfall or stumble, but also every moment of celebration. Through the years I’ve seen first firsthand how the power in their love for one another and for people has impacted the community.
Pastor Cassandra is the Executive
Director of Extended Hands Worldwide Ministries, a non-profit organization that actively serves the homeless and aids other organizations in San Diego, CA. Thousands can attest to her comforting presence in the forgotten streets of downtown San Diego. And Bishop Clinton Foster is the active pastor of City of Refuge International Church as well as a nationally recognized motivational and spiritual speaker.
Thank you for the presence of God that resides in you. You’ve given me more than words can say.
I love you.