Monday, February 7, 2011

Linda Larson Schlitz

... of Linda Larson & Friend

I don’t think anyone has any idea how far reaching the impact of Hand in Hand has had on the Kingdom of God because of the way those of us who attended and ministered were transformed. I was a brand new Christian when I moved to Phoenix in 1976 and just a bit confused. I had grown up a Lutheran, was engaged to a Catholic, was living with two 7th Day Adventists and was attending a Bible Church on the end of the block. I don’t remember who told me about Hand in Hand but what I know is that it was THERE that the Word of God came alive to me and music became my means of worship, solitude and serenity. It was those of you who sang and played there and those of you who started those discipleship classes that have forever changed me and consequently North Central Wisconsin and soon the world. Let me explain.

By the time I came back to Wisconsin I was well grounded in Christ and ready to do whatever he was calling me to. Clearly, to me at least, once I played the song I wrote for my brother in law’s wedding , “In Love” to the other Linda Larson, and she immediately came up with a beautiful harmony, I knew where we were heading. With me being the Mary Magdalene of the community, my conservative BFF Linda who had been walking with Christ since she accepted Christ at 16 while watching Billy Graham on TV, had every intention of teaching me a thing or two about being a “good Christian”, but little did she know the Holy Spirit revival I had been involved with already in Phoenix, was going to, as she puts it, “Rock her world!”

Lots of miracles happened along the way and funny things to reminisce about like opening for the Barry McGuire concert. We were warming up and he came and asked if he could tune to us. I said “sure” and as soon as he plucked the first string he asked if I was tuned to an E and I said “Huh?” And he asked if we tuned to the piano and I said “not really, we just kinda turn the knobs till they sound right” and he asked where us girls were from and we said “we were farmers from Wisconsin” and we all laughed as he asked where he could find a piano to tune to. So that was that.

As exciting as it was to open for Barry McGuire, it was just as exciting to open for Randy Thompson at that very first Hand in Hand concert. When Randy called after that concert and asked for Linda, she hung up the phone and said that she was quite sure he was mixed up and he really must have thought he was talking to me. It took me awhile to convince her that she was the one he was really interested in.

In 1981 I faced some real trials in my marriage and with much sadness I moved back to Wisconsin with my husband. I soon found out I was pregnant so I was glad to be home nearer to family but I was still quite alone in Wausau. I poured myself into ministry in Wausau with ACTS “Active Christians Together in Service” an ecumenical organization that did outreach and Bible Study to young people. Within the first few months ACTS had decided to hire me part time to start a new ministry to the community. Wausau’s Hand in Hand opened in September of 1982 with Randy Thompson sharing the night with Linda Larson and Friend! We started with having concerts on Saturday nights and within months we were so packed and the demand so high we had to move to a bigger building and increased to having concerts on Friday and Saturday nights. We had bands traveling from all over the state and the new Hand in Hand was located above the only gay bar in town so we would get people wandering in by accident and getting saved on purpose. Over 250 people came to Jesus through Hand in Hand before I was asked to step down because I was going through a divorce. Many of those saved are in full time mission work today and it’s incredible to see the ripple effects of Hand in Hand. The last church I was at, I found out that the Church Moderator and Worship leader were saved at Wausau’s Hand in Hand. I still have people coming up to tell me and saying what an impact that ministry had on them and their loved ones.

In 1998 I remarried and in 2001 my husband Ralph, my daughter Heather and a co worker and I started a new ministry in Wausau to reach out to homeless veterans and others who had chronic mental health and chemical dependency issues. Because it was Randy Thompson’s music that had the greatest impact on Ralph’s Christian walk and our marriage and Randy and Linda have been the kind of faithful examples that we would like to follow after, we named our new organization “Randlin Homes”. In the last year we were nominated Red Cross Heroes of the Year and I got the Athena Award for our work with Randlin Homes ONLY because we are doing what those of you who started Hand in Hand and what the Thompson’s have done in just doing what God called us to do. My plans to come to Phoenix were originally to start my inspirational/training/speaking tour where I will share with others what we have done in Wausau to help the chronically homeless transform the world around them. The reunion gave me a target date to get going and hopefully somebody out there can hook me up with an opportunity.

Thanks for letting me rattle on and on… clearly this is a book for Linda and I to write that is just waiting to happen. I will be looking forward to seeing you all again and having you meet my daughter Heather. And I, like Linda, will shamelessly invite you to our website, which will invite you to my blog that she encouraged me to start. I work full time for the state of WI as a Career Counselor and I oversee our 43 beds in 5 houses at Randlin Homes so I don't have as much time to blog as I’d like.
Check out and my blog Hope for the Hopeless.

1 comment:

  1. Linda, It's so wonderful to hear some of your story. Since we didn't have a chance to get to know you as well as "the other Linda" it will be fun to see you at the reunion!

    Thanks for sharing and thanks for continuing the ministry of Hand in Hand in the north country.