The night still haunts me somewhat in my memory. It was January 27 of 1976. My then garage was set up primarily for woodworking. My wife’s younger brother, Jack, was working with me that night on some baby furniture for his soon to be born first child.
As we worked, Jack was very talkative, which was normal for him, but the subject matter was not his in usual character. Jack was a wild and carefree 24 year old; not mean-spirited at all, but adventuresome, and risk taking, along with other things he might take.
That night Jack seemed to treat me like a confessional priest, as he was unburdening his mind and soul of many wrong doings. He sort of had a hobby of cruising through apartment complexes which had open carports, to see what was laying around which would be easy to quickly grab and run with, in his truck. On this night he said, “Jerry, I have been driving through this one complex nightly. There is a Craftsman upright tool chest filled with tools. All I would have to do is back up to it, tip it over into the back of my truck and drive away, but I can’t make myself do it!” Many things shared with me I have never shared with another person; neither will I be doing so here. At one point, he told me that he had been thinking about his need for God in his life, and wondered what I thought about that.
The strange part in this was that I was as far from God as a person could be, and Jack seemed to value my opinion in all he had been sharing. To my best recollection, I told him if he thought he wanted to try God, go for it, it could not hurt to try.
Even as a lost person, I felt the weight of all his confessions; even more so as time went on, for you see, the very next morning Jack was killed in an accident on an Orange County freeway in So. California. I can still hear the screams of my precious wife as she received the news in a call from Jack’s expectant wife.
As you might be able to imagine, the trauma of this event brought on her labor a little early and she was delivering their little girl as the rest of us laid her beloved husband to rest.
It seemed to me Jack was trying to change his life, even to the point of seeking to get right with God. Perhaps that was the reasoning behind all his confessing, the clearing of his heart. However, this was the beginning of a journey of a different sort for me. You see, it angered me that Jack died in such a way, just days before his only child was to be born. It angered me that he died as he attempted to improve his life. However, to whom would I be angry? It must be God’s fault!
A child was born, a beautiful little girl. Mommy came through the delivery well, but her heart was broken because daddy was no longer. Jack never saw his precious child. Jack would not know how well things turned out with the birth. Someone needed to tell him somehow. I must get a message beyond the grave! I will get a message to Jack! How does one accomplish this?
Nearly every day for the next two years I would visit Jack’s unmarked grave, most of the time in a company truck. I would plan my work schedule around my need and desire to be at his grave at some point in the day. My purpose was to communicate with my dead friend. I had to tell him about his baby. I would speak to Jack as though he were there with me. The problem was that I never heard from Jack. Was I getting through? Had he heard? Moreover, why can I not hear him?
Since I was angry with God, He was not a solution. After all, He was the cause of all this. Therefore, I turned to things I believed would help me to communicate with the dead. I turned to Satanism and Witchcraft. In my quest, I found that Satan has much power, and much of his power is within the minds of people. He imitates; he lies; he leads you down a destructive path that leads far away from truth. He gives away just enough to keep you in his prison.
It is not my intention to glorify Satan, nor his abilities, in this testimony. I will not share any details of my journey along his path; simply say it was a dangerous road. Two long years of grief, anger, resentment; plus a grave that had become my shrine of ungodly worship of the dead and a piece of dirt. Was there any hope of relief for me?
January 1, 1978 – Months of daily coming to the grave had taken its toll on my mind and emotions—each day, in deep grief, hoping that the one I spoke to would finally hear my sobbing words. This day, however, my grief was more intense than at other times. This day I was not alone. For the first time in nearly two years of coming, others were with me.
We had come to this place together for viewing the newly installed Military grave marker we had fought so hard to acquire. Now, it was no longer just a plot of unmarked grass. Now, his name was on the earth before us. Somehow, this named monument made the whole experience of losing him more real, final. It became obvious this was the case for all who gathered over what had become sacred ground in our lives.
Almost as quickly as we had arrived, my young niece, who was just learning to read pretty well, broke into uncontrollable wailing. She, too, had seen his name. Her crying, of course, had a profound effect on the rest of us. The rest of us—presumably mature adults, began to cry nearly as hard as she was.
It was at a point where it seemed the pain would never end, at least for me, that my long-time friend and brother-in-law, fell hard to his knees and began to speak aloud, through his own tears, to someone he called, “Father”.
I had known that he and his wife had become “church-people”, and though I had known him for years, I had never heard him pray. Something strange, yet wonderful, happened as he prayed; an unusual peace came over me as I listened to him pour out his heart to . . . God. —No, as I looked around at the others who were with me, this same peace seemed to rest upon each one. I could not explain the feeling I was having, but it overwhelmed me. It was not just a peace; it was a Presence, and at that moment, I would have given anything to live in that Presence forever. This is what I had been missing and searching for these nearly two years. I did not understand it; could not explain it, but I knew this was what I was seeking for my life. This was my first real experience with prayer; anybody’s prayer.
I kept my feelings to myself, yet pondered all these things for a few days. Finally, I mustered up the courage to write a letter to my brother-in-law who had prayed in the cemetery. I admitted I was shocked, surprised, and amazed by what I had experienced with him at the graveside. I expressed to him that I did not know what it was that he had, but that I too, wanted it. This was very humbling for me to admit, but that did not matter. Rick, being a new Christian himself, tried writing and calling me, then sought wisdom from his pastor as to how best to help me.
February 1, 1978 — Earlier that day I had received another letter from Rick. In it, he had included a little pamphlet I had not seen before. It was entitled: “The Four Spiritual Laws.”
Ruthi was at work in the evening, and our two preschoolers were playing in their bedroom; finally, I sat down on the side of my bed to open the letter and to read its contents.
The pamphlet fell out, and I set it aside for a moment to see what Rick had to say. All I really remember of that letter was Rick telling me his pastor had looked in a church directory for my area and called a local pastor explaining that I was seeking God, and asked if that pastor could make a contact with me.
I then began to read the little pamphlet. I was more than a little curious in what it had to say. That curiosity was heightened to excitement when I read the words; “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20), and someone began knocking loudly at my door. It was very unusual, even unsafe, for anyone to be out in our neighborhood after dark. It was also unwise to answer a knock at your door after dark in Santa Ana. However, this was different. I had just read the words of God telling me He was knocking at my door! In that moment, I was convinced, and expecting to see God on my porch! I ran to answer the door!
Imagine my surprise when I opened the door and the most pleasant, best-dressed couple I had personally been near in a long while was standing where God was supposed to be. In my confusion, I barely comprehended what they said at the door. However, later I put together that they had introduced themselves as Bill and Jan Hart, from Bristol Street Baptist Church.
I had invited them in, and as Bill was taking a seat, he asked if I knew something about four spiritual laws. At that moment it did not mean anything to me, so I said I did not understand what that was. It was then that I had noticed he had taken a little pamphlet from his pocket. Things clicked together faster than anything in my life before did. Somehow, I knew that this pamphlet held a secret to what I had longed for, and I could not wait for Bill to share the end of the story with me. That night, I experienced a new birth and given a new purpose!
That was a Wednesday evening and by Friday, my wife had given her heart to Jesus, too. On Sunday, we attended Bristol Street Baptist Church, where immediately, God began giving direction to my new life in Him. I did not understand it, but while there, He began to express His call on my life’s work.
We were only able to be in that wonderful church a little over a year, as God then moved us to the city of Hemet, California, but O what a year that was! We immediately joined the First Southern Baptist Church. This was where my understanding that God was calling me to a preaching ministry began to shake me to the core. I resisted with all the resolve I had. I made bargains with God. I would do anything in the church; teach any class, if He would just take back that call to ministry! And, I did!
However, no matter what I attempted to do in exchange, He never took the burden off my heart. My struggle with it, and against it, was making my life a type of living hell inside. The weight of conviction was heavy, and I carried it all alone, as I never spoke to anyone about this, not even Ruthi, my precious wife.
My church family was important to me, but I had another family of importance to me. In those days, I worked for GTE, now known as Verizon. I had been with them for 12 years, and offered several possible management positions. In my mind, GTE was as close a family as God’s Church. I mean after all, they had plans for my career. This was one of my major holdouts from God’s call.
One day, while on the job, I broke my back. I spent weeks in the hospital, testing, months in bed rest; all this time, flat on my back alone looking up.
It was during this time, my wife was in her last few months of pregnancy with our third child. Though this was our third, she appeared to be unusually large and growing. She was extremely miserable that Christmas Day, and spent the entire holiday in bed. We had thought she was also coming down with a cold. The evening after Christmas Ruthi had a bad coughing spell, which caused her water to break. I took her to the hospital.
During routine examination in the labor room, I was very concerned with my wife and our baby’s safety. They had determined Ruthi had double pneumonia, and there was a concern that the baby might be in the breech position. It was then that I prayed, “LORD, spare Ruthi and give us a healthy baby, and I will commit to Your call!” The doctor, not yet at the hospital, ordered an x-ray to see the position of the baby.
I waited in the hallway between labor rooms and x-ray facilities. When the nurse wheeled Ruthi past me returning to labor, she cried out in musical tones, “Surprise! . . . Two for the price of one!”
The doctor was surprised; I was surprised; Ruthi was surprised and excited!
God blessed us with a little girl and a little boy. For several weeks, after Ruthi recovered from all things, life was going well. In all the excitement, and perhaps my stubbornness, I had put off my deal with God. Then, while on a weekend to visit grandma and grandpa a few hours’ drive away, Ryan, the little boy, quickly became ill. We took him to emergency. At this time, Ryan was seven weeks old. They determined he had double pneumonia, and that it was very critical.
Ruthi and I spent the whole week with Ryan in the hospital. We prayed fervently for God to heal him. We had every church we knew praying for him. On Saturday afternoon, Pastor Larry Weatherly, mentioned earlier, just happened to be walking down the hall past Ryan’s room, where he is in an oxygen tent and stuff sticking in his little body. As he walked past our door, he peered in not knowing we were there, and came in. Larry prayed the most beautiful prayer for Ryan.
Later that night, the doctor came in to examine Ryan. His face was telling tales his mouth was not sharing. He whispered some things to the attending nurse as he left the room. They shared nothing with Ruthi and me.
Then came Sunday! We knew that as several churches were gathering for Sunday School and Worship, they would be praying for our Ryan.
It was after the noon hour that the doctor made his rounds and came into see Ryan. He seemed to be checking with more determination, and even rechecking. After what seemed an eternity, he turned to us and said, “Last evening after examining your baby, I told the nurse that this child would not live through the night. I don’t know why, but he is so much improved that I can tell you he will be all right and you can go home soon!”
Later while still in that room in a quiet moment I clearly heard the voice of the LORD saying, “Jerry, you had asked Me in the labor room to give you a healthy child then you would answer My call on your life. Even if Ryan had died, you would still have that healthy child you asked for in Rebecca, and you have not yet committed to Me!”
The next Sunday morning in our home church in Hemet, I publically gave my life in surrender to God’s call, and what a life it has been! Praise His Holy Name!