©2015 by Bob Wingate
THE OBVIOUS VS THE OBSCURE
So it is with God and his presence in my life. I've never doubted his existence. But I've often doubted or ignored his presence. His footprints and handiwork are all around us- his beautiful creation that we all seem to take for granted, and more importantly, his work in the deepest recesses of our hearts.
I believe God seeks us out, and reveals himself to us. And rather than being busy about figuring God out, we do best just to be ready whenever he begins speaking to our hearts.
There is a Divine Line that demarcates the believer from the unbelievers. We must step across that real but surreal boundary to enjoy and experience GOD in a real way, and then he opens up a line of communication with us that we were never able to tap into before.
And so-- when my days are dull and uneventful, or seem to blend and blur together, I go back to that day when I first heard him speak to me, and ask him to renew that relationship in my life once again..
MOVING SOUTH & VISITING RUSSIA
|Rewind : Going Back to 1971|
Our move to SC turned out to be a short-lived one. My dad's excitement for a new opportunity turned into sour disillusionment as he slowly discovered that the store manager had hired my dad primarily to train his young nephew for a future management position. My dad, who never went to college but was once his chain's youngest manager ever at 21 years old, remarked to me that this boss's nephew had spent four years in earning his Business degree, but needed my dad's help to fill out a simple order form.
I enjoyed being in our new town, but it never quite felt like home. My dad eventually got an offer from his prior employer to return, and about 15 months later, my family and I moved back to Salisbury, finishing my senior year and graduating from Salisbury High in 1973, even though I owned a class ring from Camden High School.
While this year in my life doesn't seem too important at first glance, its events coincided to change my life forever. Prior to 1971, I would've probably ascented to a belief in the existence of God, but there was no valid reason to claim his presence or interaction in my life. I had been baptized at age 12, but unfortunately, it didn't include a faith decision on my part. But what happened next, coupled with my own soul searching and openness, allowed God to do a marvelous miracle in my heart.
There was this guy in my homeroom that was different from everyone else. Most kids were involved in noisy chatter about TV shows or what they'd done over the past weekend. He came into the room, quietly sat down, opened up a book and began to read. I noticed him over a few weeks, and saw that all of his books had a similar theme-- God. Then one day, I got up the nerve to ask him, "When you're done reading that book, would you let me borrow it?". He was surprised, but agreed to my request. The book was GOD'S SMUGGLER by Brother Andrew. It told the story of a Christian missionary who risked his life and freedom, smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain.
I'll never forget that book, its message, and the reaction that I had while I read it over
One passage especially spoke to my heart. It told of an episode when the KGB stopped Brother Andrew and ordered him to let them search the trunk of his car. He opened it, knowing full well that it contained dozens of copies of God's Word inside. The officers looked, but did not see anything, and left him, still a free man and his faith charged from the miracle he had just witnessed.
LIFE IS A BEACH ?
While I was going about my daily routine in SC, a young man named Dale Parker completed his studies at Bible College, and moved back to his home in NC to start up a new youth ministry. Called the Christian Youth Ranch, it was one of many like it all over the country. It began meeting in the Parkers' house and their backyard. Scores of teenagers started going to this group, and among them were several of my old friends. Post cards began showing up in my mailbox, saying, "You gotta come back to visit & go to this fantastic youth group with me." Not too long afterward, my dad's decision came to move back, and when that news reached my friends, even more cards, letters, and phone calls started pouring in, all with this same invitation.
My first visit to the Youth Ranch came in the late spring of 1972, when I accompanied my dad back to Salisbury. He'd returned to his old job, but had not found a home yet. We stayed together at Harold's Motel on the edge of town, and on Thursday night, one of my friends gladly picked me up. I'd never experienced anything like this up to that point. Electric and acoustic guitars, bass, makeshift drums and tubs used for percussion all contributed an exciting backdrop to the songs we were singing. Then the Youth leader got up and delivered a very direct, but informal, message to all of the teens sitting crosslegged in front of him on the floor or grass.
There was something captivating about this group and its message. Some might call it a cult, or a club, but in reality, it was the same simple message that's been shared for hundreds, even thousands of years-- that God loved us so much that he sent his Son to save us and bring us back to him. There were many prodigals there that night, and I was still one of them.
|Going to Florida!|
I left that night despondent over losing out on the trip of a lifetime, but a few short days later, I was told of three girls who had cancelled their reservations, and I was one of the three who benefited with a seat on the bus!
We were going to Florida! Looking back, it would be nice to say that at least one of my motivations for going to "Hollywood '72", which was a teen Bible camp, was a spiritual one. Most of my thoughts were on sun, fun, and girls. But I cannot blame myself-- and God had his own plans for me, in spite of my own ideas.
|Florida Bible College in Hollywood, FL|
|Aerial Ocean View|
It took me about two minutes, if that, to assess the situation, and run for cover. I headed back down to the registration desk, with key in hand, protesting and demanding a new room. They politely informed me that the overflow crowd of 1,500 teenagers had filled up every available room. There was just no other place for me.
My heart in hand, I turned and, to my surprise, was face-to-face with our group's youth leader, Dale Parker. I had met Dale and talked to him before, but was not at all acquainted with him. He seemed to immediately understand my situation, and said, "Maybe I can help you.". He went on to explain that, normally he and his wife Sharon would be sharing a room, but for this week, they had volunteered to be floor leaders, who would have devotional meetings each night. Then he said, "So I have a room all to myself. You can stay with me, if you'd like.". At the time, this was great news, but not because I was getting to share a "Room with the Reverend" --my mind was on escaping the can of Texan sardines upstairs for a more peaceful and comfortable environment.
HIS STORY & I'M STICKING TO HIM
Let's summarize the story: A move to South Carolina to borrow a book that's probably available in most public libraries. Three girls unwittingly giving up their seats and trip to Florida so I could have that privilege. An impossible rooming situation, and a youth worker who gave up the comfort of staying together with his wife for a week, so that I could enjoy the fellowship of his company, and hear the gospel from his lips.All coincedences? You can think that if you wish. I find it hard to believe any single one of these events to be a solitary serendipitous happenstance. But for all of them to fall into a congruent flow, it required God's orchestration behind the scenes.
What is the conclusion? On Tuesday night, August 1, 1972, which was the third night as Dale's roommate, he shared the good news that Jesus Christ took my place on the cross, paying a debt that I actually owed. We were disconnected from God, but the death of his Son, and his rising from the dead, was enough to bridge the gap and allow us to be restored and 'born again' into God's family.
I had probably heard various forms of that same message before, but that night, it finally clicked and made sense to me. Not only that, but my heart was so fertile and ready to receive the gift of God, his Son Jesus. Recently, I came across a notebook from that week in which were inscribed these words : "Tonight, I trusted in Christ as MY Saviour." These words penned back then weren't needed to make my decision any more real, but it did reinforce the reality of it for me. This Story is a Divine Line, a thread weaving its way through years of his preparation, intersecting with my Life in a moment of time, and now it's a never-ending Love Story. His Story.