During my fourth-grade year I was invited to go with my friend Martin and his family to a small Baptist church. We were both about nine years old and attended the same class at school and at Sunday School. One Sunday during the worship time the congregation was singing "Trust and Obey", and the pastor issued an invitation for those who didn't yet know Christ as their personal Savior to come forward and pray. I was sitting next to the aisle near the back of the chapel so it was easy for me to step out into the aisle and out the chapel door behind me -- or down the aisle to kneel and pray, which is what I did this time.
One of the men in the congregation knelt to pray with me, and Martin joined me there too. It was a simple sinner's prayer while I listened to the chorus: "Trust and obey, For there's no other way To be happy in Jesus". After the prayer I was counseled briefly about the significance of the new life I had just begun. I continued to attend that church with Martin whenever his family went; which wasn't every Sunday.
A few months later my family moved to a different house across town and I went to a different school. My contact with the church and with church life had been dependent upon Martin, and I didn't get to see him or go to church with him. A year later we moved back to the old neighborhood, but by then Martin had moved away and we never had any further contact.
My father was assigned to a post in Germany, so away we went. A few years passed; we were back in the States and I had just begun high school. I'm not at all certain how (my family had a background with The Salvation Army, but I don't remember anyone in the family suggesting it) but I started attending The Salvation Army. I had met a new friend at school, Steve, and soon he was going to the Corps with me. We spent as much time as we could at the Corps -- hey, it was much more interesting than hanging around at home. I had spiritually been "on vacation" for more than four years. I began to better understand what it meant to be a Christian, and to be a Soldier of The Salvation Army.
On December 25, 1966, I stood next to my (first) girlfriend in a very solemn ceremony at the Corps, raised my right hand, and proclaimed loud and proud: "I do!" Oh yeah, my friend Steve stood next to me on the other side, as the three of us were sworn in as Soldiers.
A couple of years passed, and we continued to be active in every program and activity at the Corps that we were eligible for. The ladies' Home League had a habit of meeting during school hours or we would probably have tried to get involved there too.
Rock and roll was the rage everywhere, even in churches with active youth groups. At the Corps we formed a group of about 20 singers and musicians (guitar, bass, and drums) and got good enough to be invited to perform at other Corps and churches in northern California. On one of these outings we had the afternoon free between performances in the Sunday morning Holiness Meeting and the Salvation Meeting scheduled for that evening. Most of the group visited parks or businesses nearby, but I had chosen to wait at the Corps building. I sat in the chapel, reading my Bible, singing occasionally, and thinking a lot about my relationship with God.
Eventually I knelt there at the altar, all alone, singing; and not a snappy new rock-and-roll number but an old hymn right out of the songbook: "Here at the cross in this sacred hour, Here at the source of reviving power; Helpless indeed I come with my need. Lord, for thy service fit me I plead!" I had realized that my life wasn't fully devoted to God's plan and purposes; in that quiet solitary time I asked God to fill me with the Holy Spirit, take complete control of my life, and make of me what He would.
Not all has been light and easy since. I moved half-way across the country and became involved in a different Corps, where I met the girl who became my wife. We worked together to become Officers of The Salvation Army, and struggled together through the time of crushing disappointment when that plan failed. Children were born; there were some pretty lean times, and some very good times. And through it all God has been faithful in loving us and encouraging us through times of doubt and of turmoil. His loving-kindness endures forever!
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