“Let the redeemed of the Lord say so…!” – Psalm 107:2
I grew up on a small farm in east-central Pennsylvania in a blue-collar family with four boys and a girl. We were all members of a local Methodist church, which Mom took us to every Sunday. I paid particular interest to the stained-glass windows and tried to understand the meaning of the pictures they portrayed. All these windows were dedicated in memory of people I had never met.
Reverend Nottingham preached from the Bible, preaching repentance and salvation by faith alone. It was here that I came to believe that the Holy Bible was the only Book that we could rely upon for God’s message to man. Despite this, I never really saw myself as a lost sinner needing repentance and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
At the age of thirteen, Dad and Mom gave me my own Bible at Christmas with my name stamped on it. Even though I was in my middle teens, because Dad did not go to church I stopped going to services with Mom.
After graduating from Danville Senior High School in 1971, I attended Shippensburg State College from September 1971 to December 1972. In the summer of 1972, Hurricane Agnes flooded the Susquehanna Valley affecting all the river towns. That summer Dad got me a state job at the Sunbury Fabridam, cleaning up upstream debris left by the flood. It was there that I met Melvin “Buzz” Forry. He was 58 years old while I was in my 19th year. Buzz was different from the other men. He displayed his faith in Jesus Christ in his work and words. On several occasions, he spoke about God’s love and the judgment to come for anyone who did not have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He quoted verses and sang Christian hymns such as “How Great Thou Art”, “Amazing Grace”, and “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
By late August and because of the faithful testimony of Buzz, I could not think of anything else but God casting me into the Lake of Fire. I realized I was a lost sinner in need of a Savior. Buzz clearly communicated to me that only Jesus Christ could save my never-dying soul. Soon after returning to college on September 7, 1972, I fell on my knees at my bedside and repented of my sins, asking Jesus to come into my heart. I told God I did not understand everything but I knew I needed to be forgiven.
The next day I tried to find out where other Christians met. Up to my spiritual rebirth, I did not want to be around any Jesus fanatics. But on September 8th those were the people I wanted to be around. That’s one of the clues that convinced me that something really happened to me spiritually. It was not long after my inquiries that I discovered there were Christians meeting in the Union Building on Thursday evenings. The group sang songs with guitars and studied the Bible. I really enjoyed it.
In November of 1972, I became concerned with my student loans debt. That year the Selective Service had their last lottery. They selected my birth date first which meant I would be drafted first. I took this from the Lord, signing up for the draft to the chagrin of my friends. I finished the semester and went home for Christmas break.
During Christmas break I went to Harrisburg, Pa. for some pre-entry testing. While walking together with three recruits, I said something about the Lord and one of the other guys said “Amen brother.” I asked him if he knew the Lord as his Savior to which he promptly replied, “I sure do.” His name was Bob Gebhart.
From that moment onward, I befriended him and his family. Eventually I met each family member except for his sister LuAnn who was in Switzerland. He showed me her picture sitting on the family piano. In the coming months and years, I would meet and eventually marry her. We will celebrate our 41st Wedding Anniversary in December 2017. As I look back, going into the army was how the Lord led me to my life long companion and best friend.
I wanted God to be real in my life and decided to get into the Word. My future father-in-law Carl Gebhart told me not to accept what men taught in the Bible until I checked it out in the Scriptures. That piece of advice has always stayed with me.
In July of 1973, while stationed at Ft. Hood, TX, I signed up for a two-week leave. I bought a motorcycle on the base to ride home during that time. (When starting leave, a soldier has to sign out at 12 midnight on the day the leave begins.) Often the soldier gets his buddies to sign him or her out hours before midnight. But I didn’t want to do that. I got an ear full from my buddies on why I was nuts starting my leave at midnight on a motorcycle with about 1500 miles ahead of me to get to Pennsylvania. But I “stuck to my guns”.
Then a very unusual thing happened to me. A day or two before my leave started, I got a Western Union telegram from Pastor McQuillen who I met at college two years earlier. He and I had written each other once or twice and I made arrangements to visit him while on leave. I had never received a Western Union telegram before. The message read “Praying for your motorcycle ride to Pa. as your leave starts on July.” That confirmed to me that signing myself out at midnight was the right thing to do. This is an example of how I knew God was very concerned about my life. My motorcycle trip from central Texas to central Pennsylvania was safe and fun. I remember giving God the praise and glory for looking out for me.
Another time while Bob Gebhart and I were on a weekend pass, he took me to my first assembly meeting. Their building had no steeple, no stained-glass windows, and no clergyman. Bob told me there was a guest speaker that night named Grant Steidl. He and his family had lived in Sunbury, PA for several years. They called Grant a full-time laborer. That was all new terminology for me but I enjoyed his message. We eventually became friends as he and his wife Barbara were regular visitors in the Gebhart home. Grant and Barbara had a very good influence on my in-laws and on me too.
I entered college again after the army using money from the GI Bill. I enrolled at Messiah College and took classes at the Philadelphia Campus across the street from Temple University. While there, I attended a good solid Baptist Church, but I really wanted to meet with an assembly, remembering the Lord and studying the Word with them.
Eventually found an assembly in Broomall, Pa., which was about 45 minutes from my dormitory on N. Broad St., in Philly. There I met new Christian families and enjoyed fellowship with them for over a year. Then I got married to LuAnn and finished college. I now attend Front Street Christian Assembly in Sunbury, Pa. and enjoy meeting with a New Testament patterned group of believers who love each other.