"And they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death" -Revelation 12:11

"Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord of my life." I don't think that there's anyone more surprised by that revelation than I am. I made this profession of faith in August of 1987. Up until that time, I was an atheist. That's right, a card-carrying, member-of-the-club, Madalyn Murray O'Hair loving atheist. And I don't mean one of those 'Well, I guess God don't exist because He ain't never done nothing for me, so I won't believe in Him' type atheists, either. I believed I had a purpose to my atheism. I believed my job was to find people with weak and struggling beliefs and help tear down those beliefs. To help free them from that "religious slavery" that they were fixing to get themselves into. I even went so far as to study the Bible, not that I might get some good out of it, but that I might find mistakes, errors, contra- dictions, and any paradox or difficult-to-understand section that I could use to help break down someone's struggling faith. Now that I look back on it, I realize that I was empty and miserable all through this time of my life and all I was doing was trying to make others as miserable as I was. That was the sole purpose of my life, to make people as unhappy as me. I guess it's true what they say, "Misery loves company", and, since the Devil was the architect of my misery, no one could have been more miserable than I was. I had nothing and no one, and was jealous of those who did.

The one thing I did have, though, was my family. My misery was an orchestration of Satan, making me feel alone and bereft, brought about by my childhood "playing" with things satanic (you know, Ouija boards, tarot cards, etc. I even once read the Satanic bible and tried a 'spell' I found in there to relieve pain). Childish playing, but it opened the door for Satan to access my soul for his purposes. During this time, my parents were trying their best to raise me and my three brothers in a good, solid home. Mom took us to church every Sunday. Dad even went, on special occasions. But a problem arose. God was not often a subject of discussion in our house, as all our religious training was left up to the church. The church we attended, a large Methodist church in Detroit, was unfortunately so large that I got lost in the crowd. I went to worship services, sang in the choir, spent time as an altarboy, went to special events, took the required confirmation classes, joined the youth group, etc, etc, but nobody ever sat me down and tried to make sure that all this 'Jesus stuff' meant anything to me. This was supposed to be "The Answer", but all it was to me was a confused, unholy waste of time, and I soon began to regret every minute I had to spend involved in it. And Satan, always in the background, made sure it stayed that way for me. By the time I reached 16, I'd had all I could stand. I told my parents that I wanted nothing more to do with "God and all that junk" and my parents, being the good, liberal parents of the late 60's and early 70's (as they were told by society that they were supposed to be back in those days) told me, "Well, if you really don't believe then I guess you don't have to go." Before they even got the words out of their mouths, I was already out of the picture. And for the next 17 years, Satan kept me under his thumb, working for him and squirming the whole time. During this period of my life, I suffered in everything. My personal life was made up of broken, unsatisfactory relationships. My financial life was made up of one problem after another, until finally a bankruptcy forced me to move to another state. My professional life was made up of job after job, none lasting more than a year or so, until, finally, my last job collapsed under me, causing me to lose everything. And my mental life was made up of pain, anguish and loneliness, growing worse daily, until thoughts of suicide filled my head regularly. Because of my bankruptcy and the lack of a job market in Detroit, I decided to move to Houston, where I could (maybe, hopefully) make a new start. I didn't realize that Satan works just as well in Houston as he does 1500 miles away in Detroit. I also didn't realize that God, too, works just as well in Houston as He does anywhere else. So, in 1980, my brother Scott (who was also out of work at this time) and I moved to Houston for a "new start".

My brother Scott and I were always the closest of any of my brothers. He was two years younger than I, while the two older boys were 10 years older than we were - more like uncles than brothers, really. Scott and I had hung around together most of our lives; did the same things, had the same friends, went the same places. The only big difference between us was that Scott had gotten into drugs early (at age 14) and, by this time in our lives, he was a full-blown drug addict and alcoholic (this aspect of Scott's life showed up later as one of God's miracle prayer answers). I never did get into drugs (although Scott talked me into smoking pot once. I got something in my eye, thought I was going blind and, after I got down off the high, never touched the stuff again). I was, however, into drinking. I wasn't a drink-up-the-rent-money, sloppy, fall-down drunk (that was Scott's area of expertise). I was what is sometimes called a "social alcoholic". I didn't drink regularly but when we would go someplace for drinks, I wouldn't have 3 or 4 in a night, I'd have 20 or 30. Hard drinks, not just beer. I would guzzle them down until the bartender threatened to stop serving me. And I would smoke 3 packs of cigarettes a day. I was well into a cycle of self-destruction that, not only couldn't I break, I couldn't even see because Satan kept my eyes closed to it. When we arrived in Houston, this is the 'baggage' we brought with us.

Things worked out well upon our arrival. We both got jobs the day we arrived (the unemployment rate in Houston was 2% at that time) and found a place to stay in a hotel downtown that rented rooms by the month. The room only had two beds, a phone and a t.v. in it, but we were two single guys on our own in the big city. That was all we needed. I had gotten a job at a company downtown, three blocks from the hotel, so this was perfect for me. Scott also got a job nearby, which was good as we didn't own a car. With all this taken care of, we settled in and started our new lives. In November of that year, I first laid eyes on my future wife. She had moved to Houston from Chicago with her husband. They, too, were looking for a new start, not only for their lives but also for their marriage, which after 5 years was on the rocks. They, too, got a room at the same hotel and I began to see a lot of Cindy. Not dating but business. She took a job as a waitress in the hotel's restaurant in the mornings (which is when I was getting off my shift at work) and she also got a job on the switchboard at the hotel in the evenings (which is when I needed a wake-up call to go to work). In an ironic turn of events, my future bride was waking me up each evening and serving me breakfast each morning. Something clicked between us and we became friends. She and her soon-to-be ex-husband filed for divorce soon afterwards, and I began to spend more and more time with her. I must admit that I am a bit naive and didn't realize that she was interested in me in "that way" until one day I arrived at the restaurant with another young lady (a mutual friend of ours), with whom I had spent the night before. My future wife calmly took our orders, returned with them from the kitchen and proceeded to throw mine (eggs, bacon, hash-browns, biscuits, coffee, juice, and all) into my lap. She then stormed off in a huff. Naive or not, I got the message. And from then on, we spent a lot of time together.

A year later I asked her to marry me and in May, 1982, we became husband and wife. In another ironic turn of events, we were married in a church. As an atheist, I didn't care where we got married but she insisted on a church wedding. She hadn't gotten to have one with her first husband and really wanted one this time, so I agreed. Her mother paid for us to fly to Chicago to be married where they could attend. After the wedding and a short honeymoon, we returned to settle in to our new lives. In June we found out she was pregnant with our first son (yes, she was three months pregnant when we were married, o.k.? Atheists don't have moral codes to live by.) This was a real thrill for her, as she had always wanted children and had been unable to have any with her first husband. She had almost lost her mind over this because she believed her inability to conceive was a punishment from God for her having had an abortion at age 16. She was riddled with guilt over this issue and would be tormented all her life by nightmares about the baby that was aborted. Now that she had a child on the way, she called upon some old religious training from somewhere and dedicated him to God from the time before he was born. When he was born (of course, we named him Robert, Jr., thank you very much), he was the light of our lives. Of course, we had no way of knowing the parts that he, and his little brother, Randy, would play in what God had in mind for us.

After the kids were born, we settled down to housekeeping. This was difficult, however, because we kept having troubles. Financial troubles, personal troubles, marital troubles, and so on. It seemed that the more troubles we had, the farther apart they drove us. As in all marriages, things between us began to cool off and, because we didn't have a firm, solid basis to found our relationship on, it really became shaky. We had no "solid rock" upon which to stand and, worse yet, didn't even realize that we needed one. It was not a good situation and over the next five years grew steadily worse.

1987 arrived with a thump and a whimper. The kids were now 3 & 5 and I had withdrawn from our marriage almost completely. Cindy was addicted to cocaine, an addiction which she managed to keep entirely hidden from me, due in large part to the fact that I was just about oblivious to what went on around me. The worse things got for us, the guiltier I felt and the more I withdrew. I spent every waking moment either at work or watching tv. We had given up our apartment and moved into a house we shared with a friend and her kids. When she lost the house, we had to move again, this time into another apartment complex. It was small and had lots of kids living there. This turned out to be very beneficial to our spiritual lives. Because of the large number of children that lived in these apartments, they attracted the attention of a pastor and his wife who had a bus ministry, which involved picking up children in their van and taking them to church each Sunday. They came knocking on our door one Saturday, asking if they could take our kids to church the next day. While I didn't believe in God, I wasn't about to pass up a couple of hours of free baby-sitting on Sunday mornings, so I told them that, of course, you can pick up our kids. True to their word, they turned up the next day at 8:30 am and took our kids away for the next few hours. When the kids were returned, they excitedly told us about the people they'd met and the songs they'd sung and the things they did and what they'd learned. They also asked a bunch of questions that I couldn't answer. A parent never feels dumber than when his child asks a question about which he has no under- standing. The only 'religious instruction' I'd ever had was what I had received as a young child, most of which I had forgotten due to disuse, and in an attempt to answer these questions I began to dredge up some of this past experience. It was woefully inadequate but, as the kids kept going to church Sunday after Sunday, it was all I had to fall back on. And every week they came home with a new story or a new question or a new song, until, after several months of this, the unthinkable happened. My wife announced one day that she wanted to go to church with the kids!

This was a miracle. My wife, while not an atheist as I was, had renounced the church and had practiced everything in her life except what it said in the Bible. She had been raised up as a child in a very strict, very legalistic denominational church, one that taught that you could not own a television or attend movies or read other than "approved" books or listen to popular music or dance. Women were not allowed to wear make-up or pants or braid their hair. She didn't talk about it much, except to say that, while all these things were preached from the pulpit, the pastor had a tv in his basement and his two daughters wore too much make-up and pants and were known to go out with anybody who was looking for a good time. I don't know for sure what she was taught in that church but, suffice it to say, whatever they taught her had made her afraid of the Bible. She would not even touch one, to say nothing of actually open one or read what it said. And if you so much as mentioned the end of the world or the Book of Revelation, she would get physically sick to her stomach and have to leave the room. And now, all of a sudden, this same woman wants to go to church! This caught my attention more than anything had in quite some time but I wasn't about to stop her. If she wanted to go waste her time on Sundays, well, she could just go ahead. So she did. And pretty soon, she's going on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights and to parties and special events, and each time she comes home she's telling me all about it. It was about this time that the pastor who had been picking them up regularly left the church he had be with and was called to a small church with a dwindling congregation in an old part of the city. My wife, kids and several other members of the first church left with him and joined with this smaller church. Now she's coming home telling me all about this new church, how it looked just like the one on the "Little House on the Prairie" tv show and how the people there really loved and cared about her and the kids (and me too) and how when you walked in the door you could feel the Spirit of God moving in there. And she started spending even more time with the church. They were always doing something; fixing, painting, rebuilding or whatever. She was never home. She was always with "those people". And she enjoyed it. It took a while to sink in but finally it hit home. They were having a good time! And I wasn't. The more she and the kids got into the church, the more often I ended up sitting at home, BORED STIFF AND ALL ALONE! Naturally, it didn't take long for me to start grumbling about it. In fact, I got to be quite vocal about it until one Sunday morning my wife asked me why I was being so grouchy, and I told her it was because I was tired of spending all my time alone while she and the kids spent all their time with the church. This would turn out to be the most important next few seconds in my whole life. When I complained about being alone too much, her response was to ask me, "Well, why don't you come with us?". God pulled out all the stops and my whole world changed because of my answer to that question (of course, I couldn't see all that happening right then). I told her, "O.K. I will."

What did I say? Am I nuts? Go to CHURCH? I don't have anything to wear (and I really didn't at the time. All I owned in clothes was one pair of blue jeans and three T-shirts). Sorry, I was told, this is not an acceptable excuse. So when the van came, true to my word, regretting it the whole way, I got on board and went to church. When we arrived I had to admit, it really did look like the churchhouse on that tv show. The people seemed friendly enough. I didn't feel no Spirit moving, but then, I was a long way from home. I'd never in my life been to a Southern Baptist worship service so I had no idea of what to expect. All I knew (or thought I knew) about the Baptist church was that they were somehow responsible for the "Blue Laws" in the southern United States. But here I was. I didn't participate during the service. I didn't sing or close my eyes or bow my head when they prayed. I was there to kill time, not to worship some 'non-existant' God. When the preacher said "stand up" I stood up and when he said "sit down" I sat down. That was my whole 'participation' in that service. I couldn't tell you what hymns were sung or what the preacher preached on, but then he came to the invitation. I'd never seen an invitation before or had anyone ask me to accept Jesus as my Savior. Before the invitation hymn was over, something strange was happening. I had to get up and leave the sanctuary and went and hid in the men's room because I was crying! What's going on here!?! I'm CRYING in response to an invitation from Jesus, who I don't believe in? I was beyond confused, almost in a state of panic. This can't be anything except silly emotionalism on my part because what they told about in there is a lie! It must be a lie because if it's not then MY WHOLE BELIEF SYSTEM IS A LIE! What do I do??

It took all I had in me to pull myself together and walk out of that bathroom. I walked to the front door of the church (thank God everybody else was around the side talking in the parking lot or they might have seen the tear streaks on my face) and stepped outside just in time to see my youngest son toddle across the grass and sit down on top of the biggest fire ant mound I have ever seen. Randy is highly allergic to fire ant bites. He was bitten by three ants once as an infant and the whole lower half of his body had swollen up to three times it's normal size. If he gets bitten enough times, he'll die. And here he is, sitting on top of a mound of his worst enemies. No one else saw this, since they were all around the side, so I ran for him as quick as I could. By the time I got to him, he was covered with ants. They were in his shirt, in his diaper, in his hair, in his ears, everywhere. I grabbed him up and threw him on the trunk of somebody's car. And I started swatting and slapping and tearing clothes off. The job was hopeless because he was just "black" with these ants. The more I slapped and swatted and pulled, the more ants I found. I was desperate. Then the thought hit me. I'd just been to church. If there was a God and He was going to ever help me, now would be the time. So I prayed my first prayer. I mumbled under my breath, "Lord, please don't let them bite this baby." By this time I had help from my wife and a few others, so we finally managed to get all the ants off of him. Then came the task of checking him over to see what damage had been done. We checked him from head to toe and couldn't believe our eyes. He had been bitten one time on his hand between his thumb and index finger! I couldn't believe it. Had my prayer been answered? So it appeared and so said all the "churchfolks" standing around us. Maybe this church stuff bore a little closer look.

That next week I spent in a lot of deep thought. I was stuck in a quandary like I'd never seen before. Was there really a God? If there was, was He what they said He was? Had my son been saved by God answering my prayer, or just by coincidence? Was this right for me? It was a week of tough introspection and soul searching. One day I sat down to read my Bible (the same one I'd used before to look up things I could use to tear down others beliefs) and started reading in the Book of Daniel. I must tell the story of this Bible. It was given to me on August 12, 1965, at a confirmation class graduation at the Methodist church my Mom had taken us to. I have lost all the other 'trappings' of my childhood. My high-school diploma, my yearbooks, my army discharge, etc. have all been lost over the years, but this Bible has stayed with me all that time. It is still with me to this day, held together with duct tape on my bookshelves at home. This day in July, 1987, it would turn out to be much more than just a seldom used companion. I started reading in Daniel because that was the one book I remembered something out of (Daniel in the lion's den). I read all of Daniel but didn't stop there. I read straight through the prophets until I got to the Book of Haggai. I had never heard of the Book of Haggai before but what I found there I was never to forget. Before I had finished the first chapter, God spoke to me in a powerful way. I read Haggai 1:9 and had to stop.

"Why did he write this book about me?" I asked myself. The verse says: "You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. 'Why?' says the Lord of hosts. 'Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house.'"

I couldn't believe it! Here in this one verse was my whole life! Everything I had ever done had come to nothing. Could it be because I had let God's house in me fall to ruins? I just had to know! So come the next Sunday, the biggest miracle of them all took place. The 'atheist' went back to church!

Sunday morning when the van arrived, I was ready to go. No hesitation this time. I had questions I had to get answered. So off we went. This time during the service I sang the hymns, I bowed my head when they prayed, and, all the while, I was silently voicing my questions to God. I was waiting for some spectacular answer, during the sermon perhaps or some special revelation during the prayer time but nothing happened. Soon the service was over and it was time for the invitation again and I still didn't have any answers. But then, once again, I was invited to accept Jesus as my Savior and ask Him into my life. Something began to happen again and, just like last week, I had to get up and leave because I was crying. I went and hid in the men's room again only this time I didn't just cry, I bawled like a baby. I cried like I'd never cried before in my life. I cried like a man who's heart has been broken and, of course, that's just what was happening. My heart was being broken. My questions were being answered and my life melted down and transformed into a new creation. I tried my best to act normal as we left church that day but it was all I could do to climb up into that van for the ride home. (Even though it was years ago, my eyes still tear up as I write about that day). My wife noticed right off that something wasn't right and asked me what was wrong, but I put her off until we got home. When we arrived back at the house, she put the kids out to play, sat me down and demanded an explanation of what was the matter with me. And I couldn't tell her. I wanted to but something would not let me. I ripped the arm rests off my favorite chair, then kicked it over. I screamed, over and over again. I threw a lamp across the living room, then slammed all the doors in the house. I threw things, I kicked over furniture, I punched walls until I cracked the dry wall, but I could not say the words I wanted to say. Satan had had a hold on me for too long and wasn't going to let go with out a fight. Finally, after about an hour of this, something welled up inside me that I couldn't resist and I screamed at the top of lungs, " I WANT WHAT YOU PEOPLE HAVE! I WANT JESUS!" And the minute I said it, all the commotion stopped. It all just stopped. And immediately I knew what I had to do. I asked Jesus to save me right then and there. My wife joined me and together we gave our lives to Christ. The next Sunday morning my wife and I had a race down the aisle, elbowing each other aside trying to be first to the altar. We made our professions of faith together that day and, by the time we were through, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. But that wasn't the end of the adventure. It turned out to be only the beginning.

My feet were floating a foot off the floor, not an uncommon feeling for a newly born-again Christian. But underneath all the new feelings and emotions, something more was tugging at me, pulling on me, calling me. For three weeks or so I tried my best to ignore it but it got stronger and stronger. Finally I could no longer stand it so I fell on my knees, threw up my hands and said, "All right, Lord. What do You want?" And the minute I asked, I knew. I went straight to my pastor, Bro. Larry, and told him I had to talk to him about something. His response left me dumbfounded. He told me, "I know what it is, but don't make up your mind right now. Take a week, think about it, pray about it, and when you're sure, come and tell me." I couldn't believe it. He KNEW! I hadn't told him but HE KNEW! I went home to follow his advise but it was impossible. That night I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat, I tossed and turned all night. The next day I went back to Larry and told him, "I don't need a week. I've made my decision." He asked me now to tell him what it was. I told him that God had called to to the ministry of His Gospel and I had decided to accept the calling. "I knew it", He cried. Tears lit up his eyes and together we fell on our knees and worshipped God. That next Sunday morning, I went before the church and told them of my decision. Again tears of joy fell like rain, especially when I found out that all our congregation had been praying for me to change and work for the Lord since the first time my wife had gone to church with them. That same night, my wife and I and several other church members went to hear a revival service at another church. After the service, we stayed a while and talked with the evangelist. My wife mentioned that I had surrendered to the ministry just that morning and the evangelist told me to come and see him when my feet got back down on the ground. He had over one hundred spots where he could use a minister right then. I was really flying. I had been born-again, called to be a minister and offered a new job all in the space of three weeks. No drug could have gotten me higher than I felt right then. I was never able to take him up on that job offer, though, because things began to happen awfully fast after that.

My wife and I went to work at a food pantry that was run by our pastor out of another church. Picking up groceries in the van, hauling boxes, bags and cartons, and sorting through produce became one of our usual occupations. I had begun reading and studying the Bible intently and it had become my whole life. The way the pantry was run was like nothing I had ever seen before. The people standing in line outside waiting for groceries would be brought (about 80 at a time) into a room we used in the Sunday School building and we would have a worship service for with them for about 20 to 30 minutes. It was a regular service, just like you'd find in any church, except this was a food pantry on Saturday mornings. There would be a time of announcements (usually we went around the area and posted jobs we found for people to check into), a prayer time, and a message. Those folks would then go get their groceries and we'd bring in the next 80. One day, the pastor asked me if I would like to share the preaching duties with him. He would do one service and I would do the next (due to the number of people who came there for groceries, we would sometimes do three, four or even five services each Saturday). I was ecstatic! What a privilege! I'd been a Christian only about six weeks and already had a preaching assignment. I couldn't believe my luck. "Of course I'll do it", I told him. And right from the start, I could tell that this was where I belonged, preaching the Gospel. This went on from Sept. 1987 until March of 1988, when I got the surprise of my life.

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