Streaking, Throwing Eggs, and Destroying an Airplane

RMlogo Streaking, Throwing Eggs, Destorying an Airplane

I wrote the purpose of these blogs in my “Apology” for this website. I need to say this to you because of the next batch of family stories. I write these posts for my children. I want them to know what it was like for the “Thomas boys.” One of the biggest problems we have in our country today is that there are several generations who have no clue what it is like to suffer. They have only known a flourishing America. To forget where you came from is to slip into things you’ll regret.

Our three children have lived a blessed life, and they will tell you that if you ask. They do not have my categories, experiences, or darkness. I’m not writing to glorify an evil past (or brag or “one-up” you, or any other misguided interpretation). I want our children to know that God’s grace works and the gospel transforms. I don’t want them to assume they can deviate from God’s path, and it will go well for them.

I began my life by walking down an evil path, and then I found the gospel (Christ). Our children have never known anything but a gospel environment. I want them to see how things could be if they choose to walk from the blessedness of all that they have known.

They Call Him the Streak

We five brothers were notorious for doing pranks. Some of them were fun and funny, while others were mean and regretful. In the mid-seventies, streaking was a big rage. Remember Ray Stevens? To streak, you have to get bum-naked and run through a crowd of people.

One day, I was perusing the Monroe Enquirer and saw a picture of my brother (Gary) on the front page. Yes, the big picture that they put at the top. He was sitting on the back of a rag-top, naked, riding down the main drag of Wingate College (now Wingate University). The front page! Literally. I was so impressed at his boldness and thankful it was not me.

The Egg Caper

My grandfather had chicken eggs. Lots of them. Papa Grant had an entrepreneurial spirit, though he was more like Fred G. Sanford than anyone else. He had scores of washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators in his yard.

Mama Grant accepted it.

One evening Robby and Joey stole some eggs from our grandfather and took them to Wingate College and began throwing them into the windows of the dorms. In those days, there was no air conditioning; they used window fans. When those eggs “hit the fan,” gooey slime splattered all over the dorm rooms. I have always imagined a college student finishing up his term paper on a manual typewriter, and he could not make any mistakes. Remember “whiteout.” This prank made a colossal mess and incited several students.

The chase was on.

Robby, being the athlete, jumped a nearby ravine and kept going. Joey, who was following close behind, tried to leap the large ditch but came up a yard short. He landed on the dark side of the bank. The first thing to make contact was his knee, which caught the corner of a concrete block. It knocked his knee to the backside of his leg. Joey was in screaming pain. The ambulance and police showed up at the same time.

I believe he went to the hospital first.

Is That Your Plane?

Dwayne, the youngest, demolished an airplane that belonged to the neighbors of one of his friends. Dwayne’s friend said the plane was his, as I understand the story, and Dwayne did not believe him and told him so.

The young boy “proved it” was his plane by attacking it with a club. I’m not sure what that proved, other than they were dumb. Dwayne joined in with his buddy. They threw rocks through the windows and beat the body up with sticks. They totaled the airplane.

Dwayne and his friend were about 12 years old. They were too young to prosecute.

Eight Illustrations From an Evil Brother’s Diary

RMlogo Eight Illustrations From an Evil Brother's Diary

Robby was a mean brother. There is no pleasant way of saying it. He was incorrigible. I have no idea why he was so angry or why he had a perverse pleasure in hurting people. If I had to guess, I would say he was reacting to dad while imitating his evilness. I do not recall one good thing that he ever did for anyone. I have illustrations.

One time he took a bedsheet from our beds and tied strings to each corner. He was rigging a makeshift parachute. He forced two of us (me) to climb a tree and jump into a pile of sticks that he had pointing in our direction. The protruding limbs were a nice touch; that’s my brother.

If you’re wondering, the chute did not open during the 12-foot drop. Fortunately, we were not hurt, as I remember it—other than our feelings. Perhaps you’re thinking, why did you do it? A good question. Robby always gave us two options: do what he said or he would beat us, and it was not a friendly beating. Typically, wisdom said it was better to follow along with his plans.

Another time he urinated in the lawnmower because he did not want to cut the grass. I can still see my dad yanking the cord, trying to start the mower while cursing a blue streak. It was humorous to us twisted, angry kids. Of course, Robby miscalculated. By the time dad got the mower repaired, the grass was more than a foot high. It was a beast to cut.

On another occasion, he took a rope and made a “squared circle” (wrestling term) around a few trees and bushes to form a wrestling ring. He got hyped-up from watching the Saturday wrestling show, so he and the next older brother, Joey, put on ski masks and pretended to be the “Masked Bolos,” a wrestling team back in the day.

They beat up two of the three young siblings (me). We oscillated between continual fear of getting beat up by Robby and enduring the wrath a drunk dad who verbally taunted and hit us. It was a sad childhood.

One time Robby strung up a cat inside an open soda machine. (I’m not sure why the soda machine was open, though I have an idea.) Then he beat the animal to death. Robby topped this event by hanging a boy from the second story of our old school building by his ankles just for kicks.

Childhood Karma

The funniest time was when he strung a thick string between two trees at the end of a path that led to our grandmother’s home. We lived about 50 yards from her. He was hoping that one of us would run down the lane to grandma’s house and get clipped at the neck. The funny part happened shortly after he strung up the string. Mother called him back to the house to do something. He forgot about his trap. Later, mom asked him to get something at grandma’s house.

Mother said she was washing the dishes, looking out the kitchen window that faced grandma’s house when she saw her oldest son run down the path. And all of a sudden, Robby was nearly decapitated as his legs shot out from under him. This “kid karma” was one of the more excellent moments from my weird childhood–from my perspective.

One evening Robby and Joey got into one of their “normal fights.” It escalated to the point where they broke a window in the living room. The glass cut a primary vein, and Robby began to spurt blood on the floor. They stopped fighting, as Robby was weakening and collapsing on the floor. It was a surreal moment. They called the ambulance, who arrived at the nick of time. He almost died. It was the oddest thing to sit there, not able to do anything other than watching your brother die.

And then there was the time when mother was so angry at him that she threw an ashtray and hit him on the side of his head. It was a heavy ashtray.

I was glad in the way of enjoying wrestling where you vicariously take pleasure in good beating up evil.

Mom had a mean fastball.

The Boy Who Could, But Chose Not To

The Boy That Could, But Chose Not To

Robby was one of those boys who had destiny written all over him. Specifically, in the area of athletics. I do not remember when he first took the field in the big three: baseball, football, and basketball—the main sports for kids in our day. He was best at baseball, probably because he enjoyed it more and had greater access through Little LeagueBabe Ruth, and high school.

A Star In Sports

To illustrate his destiny, I recall when he was playing on a Little League team, and they were behind. It was the last inning. Robby hit the ball, and it had just enough force to roll to the back fence and stop. Barely. The ball went under the glove of the third baseman and rolled unimpeded to the left-field fence. It was like the ball had eyes and the defense was playing in slow motion. Robby knocked in the winning run.

He was the hero. Again.

Another time on the high school football team, someone knocked him down on the 20-yard line of the opposing team. He got up and ran diagonally across the field to make the tackle on the player near the 10-yard line—70 yards away. It was a magic moment. Nobody could catch the opposing player. It was even more spectacular because when the guy knocked Robby down, his helmet came off. He got up, ran the guy down, and tackled him with no helmet.

A Star In Prison

When Robby was in Central Prison in Raleigh, NC, Clyde King of the New York Yankees came to interview him. He was that good. Unfortunately, only Robby could mess up his destiny. He was incarcerated and would never be able to fulfill his dreams on the field.

Robby was typically the first person to break a record, or he was the youngest to do “this or that.” I recall reading the papers many times where it said, “Robby Thomas was the first to (fill in the blank).” He was gifted. Even when he went to prison, he played on the prison teams, was a star, and got the MVP trophies.

An Angry Child

I do not know what went wrong with him. I’m not sure why he was angry all the time. Perhaps it was the same reason that I was an angry kid. All five boys were unhappy. We were pagans. Dad yelled and beat us every day, virtually. Dad was mostly verbal, which was typically the result of his drinking. I don’t recall him ever being sober, though I’m sure he was.

Robby was caught in the wake of awful parenting and continued to spin out of control. There was no spiritual intervention. His path was set. The boy who was destined to succeed rewrote his destiny and died a tragic death.

I never assumed Robby would be an old person, sitting in a rocking chair on a back porch somewhere with a wife and grandkids. He never gave that vibe. He was born to die young.

And he did.

The Brother With the Most Talent Was Murdered Young

The Brother With the Most Talent Was Murdered Young

My oldest brother, Robby, was born in July 1956. It feels weird to sound out his name in my mind. I only knew him during my pre-salvation years, and that was more than forty years ago. To think that he was my brother is surreal, as he seems to have belonged to another mother. But he was my oldest sibling, and then he wasn’t because a man murdered him.

And nobody cared.

Robby was a rare individual. He was more gifted than the rest of us, speaking of sports specifically. If someone would have voted “the most likely to succeed” from the bunch of us, Robby was the hands-down favorite. I was jealous because we all knew that he would make it out of our hell-hole with success.

I’m not sure where it went wrong, but it did in the worst kind of way.

The Dreaded Phone Call

In June 1987, I received the phone call that nobody wants. It was from mother. It was early. She told me that Robby had broken into a mobile home, and a man was sitting across the room with a double-barrel shotgun in hand. He unloaded both barrels toward Robby’s head. Robby put his hands in front of his face in an attempt to protect himself. It shredded his hands. He fell face down on the floor. It reminded me of Goliath when David sunk a rock into his forehead. The Bible says that Goliath fell forward, face down (1 Samuel 17:49).

The man took the shotgun, spun it around to where he was holding the barrels. He used it as a sledgehammer on the back of Robby’s skull. He broke the stock of the gun by crushing my brother’s head. It was the blows that killed him, though he could have died from the gunshot wounds if he had time to bleed out.

And then it was over. Robby was gone, a dash between two dates: 1957-1987.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14).

The authorities did not prosecute the killer. The police looked at it as one less criminal off the streets, and Robby broke into the mobile home anyhow—as the killer described what happened with no witnesses. Robby had just gotten out of prison in February (1987). He lived most of his adult life incarcerated.

He was an “institutionalized convict,” a person so acclimated to the inside that he could not live well on the outside. The rehabilitation programs didn’t work for him. Doing crime was his passion, which became the portal to prison, where he thrived. The three times they released him, he did things that led back to his “comfort zone.” His last release led to his murder.

A Girl With a Significant Other

Robby had a girlfriend on the outside while he was on the inside. They were pen-pals. The plot twist is that his girlfriend had a husband (or significant other). Robby decided he wanted the letters, which is why he showed up at the mobile home one dark evening. The one brother with the most potential was the first one to die. One more would follow a similar fate ten years later.

The brother, who never missed a day of school until his 10th-grade year, died 31 days before his 32 birthday. The person who was always one of the best at whatever sport’s league he participated threw his life away.

And there was no mercy.

When an Arrogant Christian Responds Angrily to the World

RMlogo Thank You For This Ministry02 (1).jpg

Circa 1990 – There are a few moments in our lives when we reflect with regret while wondering what life would be like if we had a do-over. The Peabody Hotel, in Memphis, TN, is one of those places where a mulligan would have been nice. Sigh!

The Peabody is a historic hotel, always in the top ten of someone’s best hotels to stay. In 2015, I took the family there because it’s cool. And, of course, I wanted to get a few ribs from Central BBQ. The customers snaked their way out the door and into the parking lot. I’m talking about Central BBQ, not the Peabody. So good. I can still smell them ribs.

Back to the Peabody

I was there for a manager’s meeting with Alcoa. Shortly after them buying out our little plant, they promoted me. I know you’re impressed, but I was the only employee; what could they do?

Hollywood was also there, filming The Firm, with Tom Cruise. I did not see him or the other stars. Of course, I was only “secretly” looking for them since I was a fundamentalist. We disdain movies. Ironically, we were in New Orleans this summer, and they were filming the third edition of Bill and Ted. I have not seen that series, but we did stand in the street for several hours, watching them shoot while trying to catch a glimpse of Keanu Reeves.

The niche of the Peabody is the duck walk that they have twice a day. The ducks stay in the “Penthouse,” which are cages on the roof. Every morning a guy in a tux comes down the elevator with the ducks, and they walk the red carpet to the pool in the middle of the hotel lobby. Onlookers gather on both sides of the carpet with cameras ready. In the afternoon, they do it all over again, as the ducks go back to their penthouse.

All the managers came for a national meeting, perhaps a couple hundred men and women. We toured the Memphis recycling facility and a processing plant. Those events were the okay parts of this three-day meeting. The rest of it, I would love to forget, but it’s etched, as they say.

In This Corner, the Self-Righteous

My agony had little to do with the trip, the people, or the work. It was all about me; it was my fault. As a fundamentalist with a pinch of self-righteousness, mixed with a splash of anger, let’s just say it was a recipe for disaster. 

To put it plainly, I refused to fit in. I could not have been more self-righteous, arrogant, stubborn, or angry. I had standards that nobody in my company believed or practiced. My peers were living an expected debauchery.

Wives were flirting with men and husbands doing the same. The alcohol was flowing, and the jokes were perverse. In one of the plenary meetings, they showed an org chart that had “God” under the title, CEO. It was supposed to be a joke, as the room was bursting with laughter. I was burning inside and was at my self-righteous limit. 

At one point, I went to my room after dinner, took out my giant-sized KJV Bible, Authorized Version, laid it on the floor, and started praying. I was begging the Lord to convert my pagan friends and give me the grace to play nice. He did neither. Perhaps it was because God did not come for the righteous, but sinners. My self-righteousness was red-lining that week.

It’s Feedback Time

As I was waiting in the lobby for the ride to the airport, I listened to the player piano. I also started a “Luther-Esque” styled diatribe to zip off to headquarters upon arriving back in Greenville. Rather than mixing it up with the lower echelon, I sent this letter to the President of Alcoa in Pittsburg. This President later had a cabinet position with one of our US Presidents. Boom!

It was a mean-spirited, scathing, angry, self-righteous indictment of the company, the people in the company, and my utter disgust with their attitudes and behavior. I said something about lewd women and shameless men. It was the low-point of my career. 

This “low point” was not because of their sin but because of mine. I was totally out of step with reality, my culture, expectations of pagans, and a sound methodology on reaching my culture. I couldn’t have been more arrogant. (Okay, maybe I could be more arrogant, but my soul can’t bear to think about it.) But they were wrong, and I was right; it was so clear to me.

Of course, they were behaving according to their worldview. My mistake was expecting my colleagues to be as “holy” as I was, which is quite the feat without regeneration. Yep, I was winning friends and influencing people. 

The President called my boss, a super-nice guy. He was a black fellow, and though he was perplexed, he did say I had a rhythmic, colorful, and compelling writing style. It reminded him of Jesse Jackson, and I kid you not. He was prophetic. Who knew that I would make a living as a writer. It just would not be with Alcoa Corporation.

The upper-brass began to strategize how to fire me. In January 1993, they shut down the plant. I was a stellar employee, with the second-highest-ranking plant in the system. After the Peabody debacle, the black marks started piling up on my record.

When the ignorant pokes the bear, there’s nothing left to do but ask how the bear wants his meal. 

From Part-Time Pop-Top Job to a Piano

RMlogo From Part-Time Pop-Top Job to a Piano

Summer 1986 – Our first recycling machine compressed the cans into 24-inch long, rectangular blocks (or something like that). We raked the cans from the caged wagon into a large pit. Then we ran them up a conveyor to drop into our compacting machine. The last step was a little door opening, and a block would come out. We stacked a hundred or so of these blocks into a large bale. We banded them together and used a forklift to place the bundles on a tractor-trailer. From there, we shipped them to Tennessee.

Now For the Good Part

Before making the cans into blocks, we ran them across a big magnet that would pull out all the steel and other items our customers tried to sneak into their bags to get more weight. They were sneaky. I used to say that they brought in everything but the kitchen sink. Then one customer tried to sneak kitchen faucet parts into his bag. Wet jeans and books were popular.

Then they went through a “pre-crusher.” This process caused many of the pop-tops to snap off and fall into a 55-gallon drum underneath. The steel and other debris, i.e., paper, cigarettes, and dirt, were also collected in the barrels. Once the barrel was full, I would haul it to the back and dump the debris on the floor. This process happened every day or two, depending on the traffic.

James, my non-smiling predecessor, taught me how to sift the pop-tops to make a profit. It was one of the ways we stayed awake. After he went back to Louisiana, I spent my first summer salvaging pop-tops. It worked like this.

Profiting from Pop-Tops

I had a frame, like a tabletop, which was on four wooden legs. But instead of a solid table, there was a steel mesh that sifted the cigarettes, dirt, paper, and other debris. I shoveled all the debris out of the barrel, and onto my makeshift mesh table. After filtering the junk through the mesh and onto the floor, the only things that did not fall through were the pop-tops and cigarette butts.

I scooped the butts and tops into another drum that was full of water. The butts would float, and the pop-tops would sink. I hand-scooped the butts from the top of the water and threw them on the ground with the other debris. I used the forklift to pick up the barrel of water with clean pop-tops and poured them back onto the wire mess table. I then sifted out any remaining debris.

Yes, it was a huge mess.

And it smelled to high heaven.

I then put the clean pop-tops in large, plastic bags, and stacked them in a corner. Each bag was five feet tall, which was significantly heavy when filled with metal pop-tops. I have no idea how many zillions of pop-tops I sifted and cleaned that summer. I do remember it being more than 600 pounds when we loaded them into the van to take to the recycler.

It took all summer but well worth it. We made over $300 cash from my part-time pop-top job, which we used to buy a piano.

My Affair with the Aluminum Can Begins

RMlogo My Affair with the Aluminum Can Begins

February 1986 – Dr. Clark, the dean of the Bible college, was a huge help. He gave me a recommendation for a job opportunity with a “mom-n-pop” recycling organization. I visited one of the two employees that worked there. Thankfully, it was only a couple of miles from the school, at the White Horse Road Fairgrounds.

The guy working there was a graduating senior who was going back to Louisiana in a few months. He was not an outgoing dude. I remember him telling me that Jesus never smiled, and we shouldn’t either. Boom! There you have it. Let’s just say that he was not a lot of fun to work with for the few weeks that we were together.

Jesus wept!

You’re Hired

The interview process was extensive and comprehensive: he said that I could have the job if I wanted it, but I needed to come down in May because he was leaving after graduation. All righty, then. His name was James.

The upside is that he worked there the four years of school. And, it gets better: he did all of his homework while at work. James said that they had two or three customers a day. It seemed like a remarkable opportunity. I took the job and planned to move to Greenville in May.

The Transition

My wife could not quit her job until the summer, or that is what she told me. I found out afterward she had a relationship with a guy—possibly from Ohio, whom she met while he visited our plant in Monroe. I will never know for sure the real reason she had to stay, but that’s okay; it’s murky water under an old bridge.

Both of us worked for TransAmerica Delaval. I’m not sure if that company still exists today or if it continues to be part of the TransAmerica Corporation subsidiaries, headquartered in San Francisco. She did quit her job in mid-summer and moved down with our two children.

I lived in a small apartment during this transition time, which was across the street from the church and school. I walked to our church meetings, which was nice. We did find a house a few miles away, but it was not going to be ready until later in the summer. The gentleman who rented it was named, Mr. Pepper. We called him Dr. Pepper. I liked him.

I did feel the pressure of finding a home quickly because our life was changing so rapidly. I thought it would soften the “transitional blows” if we had a nice place to live. The house we found was much more than we needed or could afford. It was huge. At the time, it felt right, and I prayed that we could swing it. (I made it right in my head, which is what a person does when ignoring the Spirit of God.)

We moved officially in mid-summer. I had been there already for two months, working, attending church, and settling into the new situation. We were making $20 per hour combined at our jobs with Delaval. After we quit and moved to Greenville, I was the only one working at $5 per hour. That can’t go wrong, right?

The Aluminum Can and Me

As far as the job, James was right; it was ideal that first summer. I had tons of time and only had to fight to stay awake during the day. But it got better. Within two weeks of starting, the owners sold the business to the Alcoa Corporation. We became a subsidiary, officially dubbed the Alcoa Recycling Company.

Benefits!

Alcoa bought the company during the ’80s because they were trying to raise the recyclability of the aluminum can. This small plant became a marketing tool. The recycling rate was under 50% in those days, and only a few folks were on board with recycling in our country. By 1993, when they closed the plant, the recycling rate was over 70%. We had worked ourselves out of a job. Regardless, it was a fun job. I worked there through college and into 1993 until they closed the plant due to downsizing.

My job was to receive aluminum cans from the public and to raise awareness about recycling. It takes 24 of them to make a pound, and the going rate was between .25 and .65 cents per pound. The price per pound varied due to market trends, as well as competitive pricing with other recyclers in the area.

Alcoa began to promote more, and I became busier, but never so busy to where I couldn’t do my homework at work. And they were okay with it as long as I did my job. It was low-key and low expectations.

Jesus smiled.

Feeding the Goats

In addition to our little plant, we also owned eleven Golden Goats and Can Banks. Think ATMs. These machines were set up around the upstate where folks could bring their cans, place them in a Golden Goat, and receive money in return. Think soda machine, but backward. You put your money in a soda machine, and it gives you a soda. People would put their cans in a “goat,” and it would spit out coins.

Two or three times per week, a big, caged wagon about the size of a tractor-trailer would come with several thousand pounds of cans, which we unloaded by shovel, crushed, and blew into an actual tractor-trailer that we shipped to Maryville, TN.

I had no idea that in seven years, I would lose a home, job, wife, and children, and be picking up aluminum cans on the side of roads so I could collect a few coins to buy a burger. The times were changing.

Moving Deeper Into Fundamentalism

RMlogo Moving Deeper Into Fundamentalism

In February 1986, my pastor, wife, and I took a road trip to Greenville, South Carolina. It was a cloudy day. And, no, I don’t believe in signs, though that could have been one. I hardly spoke during the 2.5-hour trip. My soul was unsettled about uprooting my family and moving away from all we had known.

As we made our way to Greenville, I said something about the sunlight piercing through the clouds. It rendered what many artists and anyone with a camera want to capture. There were several “fingers” of light breaking through, reminding me of my favorite Artist. Gotta give it up for the Lord; His handiwork is phenomenal. Gerald saw it too.

And that pretty much sums up the conversation. Though I could not articulate what was going on in my soul back then, I now know. I was struggling with faith in the process of what we were about to do. I’m a small-town boy with a redneck’s heart. Moving to the “big city” was not my dream. As I was learning, the Lord was deconstructing and rearranging my dreams.

Tabernacle Baptist College

We had an appointment at Tabernacle Baptist Bible College (TBBC) on White Horse Road. Dr. Jerry Clark was the Dean of the college. They were going to provide us with an overview of the program and a tour of the campus.

We took exit 44 (White Horse Road) and drove the five miles to TBC and TBBC. The church and school were on the same property. The church building stood prominently alongside the road. When Dr. Harold B. Sightler and others bought the church property in the 50s, White Horse Road was a narrow street making its way toward the mountains of North Carolina. In ’88, it was a six-lane highway. The only thing that separated the church building from the highway was the sidewalk. Literally. You could stand on the road and reach over the sidewalk to touch the building.

That day, we saw the church building, the college campus, the children’s home, and the widow’s apartments. You could be part of that ministry from cradle to grave. The radio station was still in Pickens County. We also saw a few church-owned homes where some of the students stayed.

Dr. Clark was in his forties. He was wearing a suit, of course, and every hair on his head was in place, held neatly with hairspray. I’ve never seen him in any other clothes, and his hair was always the same. We used to joke that he slept that way. (That might not be a joke.) I suppose there is something to say for consistency, though I’m more into comfort these days than maintaining a self-imposed or anticipated image.

The Fundamentalist Way

Independent Baptists are fundamentalists. Think conservative regarding their social practices. They model a lifestyle that mirrors how most people lived in our country during the 40s and 50s. They are always consistently 30 to 50 years behind the current times and trends.

Their music had a Lawrence Welk vibe. (You can Google L.W.) They mostly wear long or short sleeve dress shirts to their church meetings, and nearly anywhere else. Lots of suits. The ladies do not wear pants in public, though some will wear them in the home. The closest they come to “pants on women” would be culottes, which I call Baptist britches for women.

Their conservatism is mostly preferential rather than biblical. The fundamentalists have a skewed view of worldliness, believing it to be “in the world” rather than in the heart. (See James 1:14-15). Thus, they react to what they see in the culture by doing the opposite. Ironically, if you played their music from the 1980s in the 1880s, it would be scandalous. If you remove the words, it’s barroom music, which I always found humorous (and instructive).

They have a “chronological conservatism” that adjusts according to the times. It keeps them distant from and out-of-step with their culture. Biblical conservatism, however, transcends cultures and eras; you can dress with the times and engage the people but continue to be different from them.

By having a chronological conservatism, you can show your differences by what you wear, which is similar to the Amish culture. It’s an external display of what they represent. The worse case of this is the Pharisees, who wear their religion on their sleeves. I was a fundamentalist from the point of regeneration until my life fell apart. More on that later.

I trusted and practiced all of their ascetic beliefs. The truth is that I did not know any different. When God regenerated me, I did not know any Scripture, including John 3:16. One of their core tenents is strict adherence to the 1611 King James Bible (KJV), which is a translation from the original KJV. Yes, it’s ironic, but there are a lot of ironies within this movement.

Though I don’t hold to most of their religious practices any longer, I do love these people and fondly look back on those days with appreciation. It is my heritage. I learned about God within that movement. The things we did were some of the happiest of my religious experience. I was appropriately dumb, innocent, hungry, and teachable.

We chose to move and set-up camp in Greenville, South Carolina.

I Surrendered to the Call and Became a Preacher

I went down front convicted and crying—slobbering all over the altar, which was the steps that led to the platform. I do not remember everything I said to the Lord, but there was a sense of anti-climax. I had already prayed all I knew to pray days and weeks before.

I got up from the altar, in tears, and approached “Brother Gerald” and told him that I believe God was “calling me into the ministry.” This way of becoming a preacher is the fundamentalist formula to go into full-time vocational ministry.

Gerald was standing on the platform since he was giving the “altar call.” I was facing him, with my back to the congregation. He smiled big and said, “Tell them,” as he pointed to the people. I turned around, and through blubbering words, I told them that God had called me into the ministry. This announcement was the first time that my wife had heard about our new future life. Whoa!! What could possibly go wrong that? If there were idiot pills, I would have overdosed.

The place erupted as everyone was grinning from ear to ear, shouting the praises of the Lord. I don’t remember what happened for the rest of that church meeting, other than pumping a bunch of hands and relishing in the aftermath of released angst. After most of the people left, I was sitting on the altar (steps) with (brother) Gerald. I asked him what I was supposed to do now. I never considered the next phase.

A Call to Prepare

I had focused my energies on surrendering. It never occurred to me that there were things to do afterward. Gerald told me, “A call to preach is a call to prepare, son.” Well, amen! I needed to go to college for training. There were two preacher boys from our church that had surrendered years earlier. I was the third one in ten years. One was in the pastorate already. The other one would be graduating that year. They went to a fundamentalist Bible College in Greenville, South Carolina. I had never heard of Greenville, South Carolina, even though it was only 135 miles away.

On the way home that night, I asked my wife what she thought about what I did. She said she was glad that I “surrendered” because I was making things unbearable at home. I did not know how the pressure of “the call” was hurting her or our home life. She was excited, though both of us were clueless.

My First Evangelistic Stop

Before arriving home, I decided to stop by my mother’s home, which was across the field from our double-wide mobile home. I wanted to witness to her, which meant to tell her about Jesus, hoping God would save her. She was not “living for the Lord,” and I was concerned for my family. Mother told me she had an experience with God a few years earlier.

She said she was standing at the front door of her home, looking toward the front yard when she saw the ground rise and the sky come down. Then something happened, the details of which I don’t remember. Because of that experience, she knew she was a Christian. I did not respond to what she said. Maybe I should have.

I went home and pondered all the events of the day in my heart. My life had just changed, and I had no idea what God had in store for us or the costs involved.

The Subjective and Ignorant Call of God Into the Ministry

I continued to work in the church through the summer and fall of 1985. I couldn’t get enough of it. The more I did, the more I wanted to do. The church was the world’s greatest playland. My career at Delaval—the machine shop—was going well too. God was showing favor there as I was becoming more involved in committees and training. It was an excellent job for me.

I told Cal Pearson, one of my bosses, that I couldn’t foresee me doing anything else in my life. But I did add that if I do grow weary of the job, I will leave. Of course, I could not possibly imagine that happening. My comment to Call was instructive because it was less than a month later when I noticed there was a drawing of my heart from Delaval. It was out of the blue; I was growing weary of my job. It was amazing.

There was no script for what I was going through, and I was unprepared for the unexpected. The work that I loved doing was becoming taxing and frustrating. Shortly after talking to Cal, I wanted to be somewhere else though I didn’t know where that would be. The only clue I had was that my heart yearned to do more work for the Lord in the context of a local church. These thoughts brought fear and angst.

The Call of God?

Simultaneous to my soul troubles, some of the good church folks hinted that God was calling me into the ministry. “Going into the ministry” is a term from the Independent Baptist movement of churches that meant if a male, Christian had zeal and a desire (burden), God was calling him to full-time work. The three options are pastor, missionary, and evangelist. Yeah, weird, right? But it wasn’t then.

Their approach to pursuing the ministry is not wise even though men do it all the time in religious cultures. Some of the things missing in this equation are a lack of assessment of the person’s gift mix, character, and a season for the outworking of his gifting. And, of course, how he loves and leads his family are critical data points. Discerning these things did not happen. I received no counsel. The irony is that I was merely acting out the gospel in my life as I was learning from Bible reading, preaching, and modeling what I saw other Christians doing.

In retrospect, God was not calling me. Living out the teaching of the Bible should be typical for all believers. If you grow in your understanding of the Bible and live it out, you’re transforming into an expected Christian life. Reflectively, I see how my life was counter to the nominalism in the church. I was the new, shiny thing, and the people were ignorantly excited about the zealous Christian in their midst.

This kind of ignorance is the false continuum that says if you have zeal, God is calling you into the ministry. And the good Christian folks were not shy about stating their opinions regarding my vocational future. Their “encouragement” became a sinful temptation to me. I did not want to “go into the ministry.” I was terrified of this notion.

But their not-so-veiled-comments continued while nobody came alongside me to talk about these matters. They were observing me and giving opinions on how they thought about my future or what God was doing in my heart. It became a waiting game for them. I did not know how it worked, but they knew the day was coming when I would “surrender” to the “call to go into the ministry.”

I just needed to work it out so the inevitable would happen. I think about how insane this is today. How devastating to a person and his family when you “expect” him into the ministry without careful evaluation and soul care.