PTL was my father's dream, one he worked hard for. My mother and father's ministry had come a long way from hand-made puppet performances on Pat Robertson's fledgling Christian Broadcasting Network, their life a long way from hanging their own wall paper in a one-bedroom third-floor walk-up rental.
My parents weren't born into the abundance I was. My mom grew up poor in rural International Falls, Minnesota, with a mother who was ostracized because she had divorced, a loving stepfather who worked in the local paper mill, and seven younger brothers and sisters she had to help care for. They kept their clothes clean with a wringer washing machine, depended on an icebox instead of a refrigerator, and, despite twenty or thirty below zero winter temperatures, had to use an outhouse instead of an indoor bathroom.
My dad's family had a little more money, but not much.
My parents met in North Central Bible College in Minnesota, where they were both studying for the ministry. They married soon after, on April 1, 1961, left school, and became itinerant evangelists. Mom played the accordion and sang, and Dad preached. During Sunday school, they would perform a puppet show for children: Mom provided the voices and action for Suzy Moppett and Allie the Alligator, while Dad stood out front and talked to the puppets.
In 1966, that show landed them on Pat Robertson's new TV network. The audience loved them, and what was supposed to be a one-time appearance became a regular feature. The puppet show's success also led to Dad's hosting a Christian TV show called the 700 Club, which he had modeled after Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. The talk show proved an instant hit, and the station's viewership and donations soared. Since the new television ministry didn't sell advertising, its existence was completely dependent on donations. And with this new format, TV religion began to sweep across the nation and eventually around the world.
After eight years, Mom and Dad moved away from Pat Robertson. After helping found TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network), they launched PTL. Their show was so popular in Charlotte, North Carolina, where they'd moved that Dad decided to buy time on some fifty stations — one station at a time — across the country to see how it would do nationally. The overwhelming success that washed over them seemed heaven-sent.
Indeed, throughout their careers God had provided for them whenever they were in need. This was no different. PTL grew 7,000 percent in its first year and a half. Th e rise was so swift that there was not way to accurately chart the TV ministry's growth projections.
The money that followed this growth allowed my parents to build Heritage Village, a miniature reproduction of Colonial Williamsburg, complete with red brick buildings, a steepled church, and landscaped grounds. By 1978, Dad had his own satellite network (one of only four in the world), with over twelve hundred cable systems carrying his show into 13 million households across the country. (At its peak, nine thousand cable systems and two hundred broadcast stations would be connected to that network.) It seemed obvious-God wanted them to thrive.