More than any other book I’ve read the Bible stands alone in its ability to move me from sadness to gladness, from confusion to certainty and from arrogance to humility. I love the Bible, but I might never have read its pages if not for a book about the things God is doing, not thousands of years ago but within my generation. I found that book in a public school library.
We were living in Germany when the Army sent my father orders that relocated us to Fort Knox, Kentucky where he retired from the military to open his own business. I was accustomed to the modern, clean schools maintained by the military. In my new school, I attended one class in a building with a condemned sign hanging on the door. I wasn’t happy! Being an awkward, socially handicapped child in a dysfunctional family compounded my misery.
I sought refuge from the harsh reality of my life in the school library. My only friends were my books. I spent hours in the barnyard with Wilbur the talking pig, and marveled at the stamina of a great racehorse named Man of War. A book about the beauty and grace of Irish Setters birthed a desire to own one. And I did for six miserable months that taught me reality is not as appealing as fantasy. That dog turned my back yard into the Grand Canyon.
After I exhausted the supply of animal books, I decided to read every book in the library. One day, I came to a row of paperback books nestled under a window framed with a dingy, yellow curtain. I pulled out a book titled The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. It wasn’t the kind of book I normally read, but I had a goal to fulfill and it was next in line. Of all the books that I read, this book made me pause and wonder what was different. I read the book a second time and then reluctantly returned it to the library thinking I had read fiction.
The Cross and the Switchblade, is a factual account of Rev. David Wilkerson’s ministry to gangs and drug addicts in New York City. After he won one of the most notorious gang members in the city to the Lord, Rev. Wilkerson established Teen Challenge, which eventually spread throughout the world offering multitudes of young men and women a new way of life. The cure rate for drug addicts that went through the Teen Challenge program was documented at 80%, most other drug programs at that time had a 10 to 15% cure rate. The success of the Teen Challenge program was attributed to the Jesus factor.
About a year after I read The Cross and the Switchblade, my Dad’s business failed. He accepted a job in New Orleans, and we moved to a trailer park on the westbank of the Mississippi River. My mother enrolled me in the 9th grade at the local high school. On the way to my school locker, I saw a poster on the wall announcing David Wilkerson would be speaking at the New Orleans Rivergate. I couldn’t get home fast enough to ask my mother if she would bring me.
My mother asked me why I wanted to go. I didn’t have a reason. I didn’t know why I wanted to go. ”Who is David Wilkerson?” she asked. I didn’t know. I thought the book was fiction, so I told her that he was an author, and I wanted to hear him speak. She informed me that I would be bored and refused to take me.
My mother would have saved herself a lot of heartache if she had heeded my plea. Not long after that incident my life became entangled in the local drug culture. I quickly grew weary of the drug addicts’ way of life but didn’t know how to stop. It’s not as easy as “just say no.” One night at a Rock Concert, I stood in front of a huge speaker booming the Doobie Brothers song, “Jesus Is Just Alright” and asked God to help me. Several months after that prayer, a friend invited me to a Jesus Rally at The House of Living Water. She enticed me to attend with the assurance a lot of good-looking guys would be at the meeting. Her mother dropped us off and left.
There were four people at the rally that night: myself, my friend, and two young girls who had wandered in off the street. At the end of a message proclaiming Jesus is returning and we need to be ready, the preacher invited us to receive Jesus as savior. My friend immediately whispered in my ear that she had received Jesus and that I should receive him too. When I prayed the sinner’s prayer, I felt an unexplainable joy explode within me. I left the Jesus Rally with the knowledge that I had been “born again” but ignorant of what that meant and did not associate what happened to me with church.
For months after that experience, I was aware of a comforting presence, at times so strong I felt my body would burst. I poured out my frustrations to God. His presence dried my tears. I walked up and down the street in front of a church behind my home praying to find other people who knew God as I did. The following year, a friend invited me to attend the church I often stood in front of praying. The moment I walked in the door, I knew that I belonged there. Within a year I was free from drugs.
In God’s providence a testimony of his power to deliver drug addicts was planted in my heart before I developed a drug problem. Even though my twelve-year-old mind did not comprehend The Cross and the Switchblade was a true account about the ministry of a pastor, the power and presence of God was inherent in its pages. I could not tell you what it was, but I knew there was something different about that book. If I had not read The Cross and the Switchblade it is questionable that it would have been in my consciousness to ask God for help. David Wilkerson will never know how his obedience to God touched my life. His book went places he could not go and turned the course of my life down a path leading me to the House of Living Water where a young preacher’s message dramatically changed my life.
Twenty years after my salvation and deliverance from drugs, God placed me in a teaching ministry. At first, I taught from an outline. One day, a woman tried to record my class with a cheap tape recorder. She planned to translate the lessons into Spanish and put them on the radio in her home country of Honduras. I was flattered that she thought Honduras needed me, but her ambition was grander than her finances. When her plan failed, I attempted to console her by giving her my notes. When others in the class requested a copy of the notes, I wrote more and more of what I said until I was writing the entire lesson. During this time, several people told me that I should be published. I dismissed their comments as kindness. My grammar was atrocious, and I had no interest in publishing.
Five years later, the door suddenly shut on teaching. Discouraged by the unexpected turn of events, I fell into a deep depression. Concerned I would end up in a mental ward banging my head on a padded wall, I looked for something else to do. While I was teaching, I had written eight series of lessons, so I chose one of the series and attempted to assemble the lessons into a manuscript.
After I completed the manuscript, I sought a professional opinion before I pursued the project any further. An internet search led me to Tony Marco, founder and President of Word Wright Consulting Services. His credentials looked impressive, so I hired him to give me an honest evaluation. He loved the manuscript and thanked me for letting him read it. My only problem was grammar. I didn’t have to pay someone to tell me that and found his assessment suspicious. My first manuscript couldn’t have been that good. If I had not read several of his evaluations before I hired him, I would have written off his comments as flattery designed to extract more money.
Even though I didn’t believe Tony’s evaluation, I knew he was right about the grammar. He quoted me a discounted rock bottom price of 1.5 cents per word. I had already researched what it would cost to fix the grammar and found an average of 5 to 7 cents a word. His offer was very generous, but even the discounted price came to several thousand dollars and more than I could afford. My project had cured my depression, and I wasn’t interested in being a writer, so I declined his offer. He told me if I ever changed my mind, he would correct one chapter at a time, as I was able to pay. I thanked Tony for his generosity and put the manuscript on a shelf to collect dust.
Several months later, I was sitting in church when a friend stuck some money into my hand and said, “This is for your ministry.” I shoved the money back into her hand and whispered, “Put it in the offering bag. I don’t have a ministry.” She shoved the money back into my hand. I shoved it back in hers. She shoved the money back into my hand and threatened a physical altercation if I gave the money back to her. I relented and put the money in my Bible. I didn’t know what to do with the money, so I put it in an envelope and put the envelope in my file cabinet. A few weeks later, she shoved some more money into my hand. I added it to the money in the envelope. She continued to make donations to my non-existent ministry for several months.
One day, she dropped money into my hand and said, ”So, what are you doing with the money?” I wasn’t doing anything with the money and didn’t know what to tell her. Then I remembered Tony’s offer and said, ”I’m using the money to get my book edited.” Lest I burn in Hell for being a liar, I contacted Tony and began sending him chapters to edit. When the manuscript was finished, Tony suggested Publish America, a print on demand publisher, who did not charge for their services. I sent the information Publish America required and researched a number of Christian publishers. All of them had the same message hanging on the door. ”Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” This wasn’t going to be easy. I quickly lost interest and tossed the manuscript on a shelf to collect dust.
Once again, God resurrected the project. Publish America sent me an email of acceptance and the manuscript that I never thought would become a book became A Reason to Believe. Unfortunately, the editor at Publish America had a one size fits all mentality and formatted the book like a novel. She was not familiar with the Bible and failed to separate scriptures from my writing. I sent Publish America fifteen pages of corrections, which they did not apply. The editor also thought I should have capitalized pronouns that referred to God but couldn’t discern which pronouns referenced God and which pronouns didn’t. She made a huge mess impossible to fix within their two-week time frame for making corrections. If I had paid for their services, I would have asked for a refund. Ultimately, I ended up with an overpriced book I had no interest in marketing.
I felt like Peter must have felt when Jesus said to him, “…when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18). I missed teaching and had no desire to be an author. The manuscript I kept trying to bury that God kept resurrecting until it became a book made it clear that he wanted me to write.
I needed something else to do, so I found the only writers group available in the area. Realms-of-Fiction was intended to be a critique group for Sci-Fi writers but the leader of the group ended up with something different. His group consisted of a humor writer, historical fiction writer and two Sci-Fi writers. I didn’t write fiction, but I was published, so they accepted me as a member.
At the first meeting, I sat next to a woman dressed in black. She introduced herself as Susan and immediately informed me that she is a Pagan. I was fascinated to learn there are still people who worship the Egyptian Gods. Susan returned my submissions for critique riddled with machine gun blasts of profanity. As I read her notes, it was clear Susan wasn’t angry with me. I was the recipient of her pain and anger toward Christians who tried to force her into their ideas of the model Christian.
I invited Susan to dinner. She told me about Isis, and how she came to love her pagan gods. She was an awkward, socially handicapped child of a dysfunctional family who escaped the harsh reality of her life in the library. Her friends were her books, but she didn’t find a testimony of God’s love and power. Susan found a book about witchcraft and that book set the course of her life. I was looking in a mirror. The only difference between me and Susan is where a book led us.
Books guided me and writing pursued me until I accepted writing is my lot in life. I can only hope that my written words will move its readers to encounter a loving God as I did.