Probably the most influential people in my life have been my parents. I have told you how they brought us children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and how they taught us the way to serve Him. They always saw to it we were in church almost every time it opened, as they were also.
Others taught us to serve God as well. One was a very old man with the whitest of hair named Mr. Miller. I was just five years old when he influenced me the most. Brother Miller was an evangelist, and my oldest brother, Philip, was an assistant to him in his evangelistic work. They went around the town holding evangelistic meetings using a huge tent which they set up on an empty lot. There were a lot of empty lots in Los Angeles in those days. It was the year 1930.
One night my mother and father went to one of Mr. Miller’s evangelistic meetings. He held meetings for two weeks at each location, and my parents must have gone to every one at this particular location, and they took me along with them. I don’t remember how many other of my siblings went along, but I loved to go. Philip was the song leader, and he was a very handsome and enthusiastic one, just 17 years old. He had a wonderful voice, so he got everyone to singing lustily the great old songs of the faith. They used a little red song book for their meetings, and at the fold, it said “Don’t Break My Back!” The song service got everyone inspired, and when the old man got up to preach, they were ready to listen intently to his message. He would preach an evangelistic message, for the service was geared to win people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, after that, he would show some slides in beautiful color of Pilgrim’s Progress. Each night built on the previous one, and none were ever the same. I was very much taken up with the story, and I realized eventually that I was in the place of Pilgrim. He was a regular guy, but he had a big load on his back and had such experiences that I figured that I could probably put myself into his shoes even though I was only five years old.
One night at the end of the service, Mr. Miller gave an invitation for people to come and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They were singing an invitation song, and as they sang, I began to feel that I should respond and go forward. I also wanted to know Jesus as my Lord and my Savior. I already loved the Lord very much, but yet I had never made it known to anyone else, and if going forward would help me to come to Jesus, then I wanted to go forward and do that. Since I was so young, I didn’t know whether my mother would let me go or not, so I asked her first if it would be all right. She answered if I wanted to go forward, that would be fine. So I went forward. That very night, I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ to be His child. No matter what happened to me in the future, now I would be sure that He was with me, and He would help me to go through my life, no matter what. He had been such a help to Pilgrim, and I knew He would help me, too. I didn’t want to get too old before I made this decision. Now was the best time so He could be with me throughout my whole life. So I went forward. I don’t know how many others went forward that night, and I’m not sure just what all happened, but I know that Mr. Miller took me by the hand and asked me the big question, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?”
“Yes, I do,” I replied.
Then he asked, “Do you take Him as your Lord and Savior?”
Again I replied, “Yes, I do.”
I knew then that Jesus came into my heart, and He would never leave me. I knew that whatever He wanted me to do, I would do, and wherever He wanted me to go, I would go. That was a given for me because I had already been in church most every Sunday of my life, and I had heard the gospel message before. I pretty well knew what was expected, and I was willing to go that way.
When I was just a baby, my mother and father had me presented to the Lord in what is known as a christening. They took me before the preacher, and he went through a short ceremony in front of the church, and I was dedicated to the Lord. This, then, was my own affirmation of what had happened at that time. They had promised to bring me up in the fear and admonition of the Lord so that I would eventually make this decision on my own.
When I was twelve years old, my brother, Bob, came home from college on a vacation. He talked to my mother and father about his wanting to be baptized into Christ. They told him he didn’t need to do that, but he insisted that it was necessary for him to have salvation, to have his sins washed away, and for him to be able to have the gift of the Holy Spirit. He showed them different scriptures, among which I’m sure was Acts 2:36-39, the story of Peter on the Day of Pentecost. He was full of the Holy Spirit, and he preached the very first sermon that day. When he reached the end of the message, he told the people that they had caused the death of Jesus on the cross. They were cut to their hearts and they cried and said, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:36-37 New International Version). The people realized for the first time it was they who had sinned, and because of it, Jesus was crucified on the cross. They wanted to know what they should do to be saved — to have that sin washed away. So, in Acts 2:38 and 39, after they asked that question, Peter answered it this way, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Even though my mother did not actually believe being baptized would save her from her sins, she loved the Lord with all her heart, and she knew He wanted her to be baptized, so she wanted to be baptized. She talked to each of us in the family. I know she talked with me, and she said, “Jesus wants you to be baptized, and because He does, then it is only just and right we should be baptized.” Therefore, if He wanted it, I wanted it, too, and I also wanted to be baptized with the rest of the family when they went to be baptized the very next Sunday at the little Trinity Congregational Church.
Before that, however, all of us went to the Figueroa Boulevard Christian Church where Bob wanted to be baptized that Friday night. I don’t know if I had seen anyone be baptized before then. It was a beautiful service, and the minister said, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, He cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over Him. The death He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life He lives, He lives to God.” This was found in the book of Romans, chapter six, verses three to ten. Then he immersed Bob into what he said was the “watery grave,” and when he came up, he had become a “new creature in Christ.”
Brother Lester Wendt was the minister at the little Trinity Congregational Church who baptized all in our family that next Sunday except for Bob and my youngest sister, Edith. She was only six years old, and so wasn’t immersed. I’m not sure which of us went first, but we went in order of our age, and it was very beautiful. This was the fulfillment of that step I had taken at the age of five years when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior. He knew I should be baptized, but I had to wait until I knew that it needed to be done myself. Just as in other things that came later in my life, I had to come “of age” in my own understanding before I could go ahead, and this is what I think was happening at this time in my salvation. The Lord had used my parents, old Mr. Miller and my oldest brother, and then He also used my brother, Bob, to help us understand our need to be baptized.
My brother, Bob, was also used in other ways to teach me other spiritual things. He was involved in the Figueroa Blvd. Christian Church, right near our house. It was the church where we children went during summer time when they had a three week long Daily Vacation Bible School. The main lady who influenced us in DVBS was Miss Katie Vee Clarkson, and she was instrumental in preparing all the lessons as well as the handcraft that we did at DVBS. We were encouraged to invite all our friends in the neighborhood, so Bob and the rest of us went around inviting all the kids that were there. We had little badges to wear that let everyone know about the DVBS, and we had invitations that we handed out to each one.
When we got to the church, we had to sign up and get a little songbook which was ours for the duration of the DVBS. We signed up to attend a particular class, depending on our age and grade at school. At first every day, we all met together and sang songs and heard a simple story. Then we were sent to our own classes, and mainly we stayed with our own class after that during the day.
One of the big things was our handcraft time, and I remember getting a jar on which I pasted pretty colors of paper, and then shellacked it so it could become a flower vase for my parents. There was a handyman who helped us make wooden things. He would teach us how to cut wood into the size of a plaque, paste a picture on it, sand it and maybe put putty around the edges and then paint it with gold paint in order to finish it. They had a special place just for doing this kind of thing. There were other things we could have done, too. All were exciting to us, as by this time it was the middle of summer, and we were ready to do something different. The next class was gymnasium. There was a huge gym, and we played different kinds of games. Finally, we went back to our classes, and then we reassembled with all the other kids for an adjournment prayer and snack.
Later on, when I was home from Bible College in the summers, I became one of the teachers for the junior high age kids, and it was a great experience. Miss Katie taught us well, and much of what I did on the mission field when it had to do with Bible School or VBS, came from either my own mother or Miss Katie Vee Clarkson.
When we had DVBS one summer, the youth minister, Dean, taught me how to play the guitar. I bought my own Martin guitar at Schirmer’s Music Company in downtown Los Angeles, and years later, I gave it to Ron LeRoy, my son, when he needed one to play the guitar in the 1960s. I played it to accompany singing for the junior high students in DVBS, and Dean and I were the main leaders of that group.
As part of our DVBS program with Dean, we set up our own little town, and the students elected a town mayor and various members of the town council. I can’t remember all the ins and outs of this town, but it was very unusual to have such a town at a VBS, and we all learned a whole lot about town management and getting involved in good activities. It was our students who patrolled the crossing of Figueroa Boulevard before and after DVBS to make sure the children were safe when they crossed the street. We had a post office to which the children could bring their letters to mail, and we had the town council meet every so often. We made our own laws and regulations, and even had a judge so if someone broke the law, they had to go to court.
Another influence in my life was the summer camps experience. When I was around 12 years old and was just going into my second year of junior high school, I went to Bill Graves’ Girls’ Camp in Malibu. It was held up in the mountains near the beach. I don’t remember much about this camp, but one thing I do recall is the song they played over the loud speaker system every morning to wake us up. It was “Goodnight and Good Morning.” The last line of the verse is “We’ll say ‘Good night’ here but ‘Good morning’ up there.” The chorus goes like this:
Good morning up there where Christ is the Light,
Good morning up there where cometh no night;
When we step from this earth to God’s heaven so fair,
We’ll say “Good night” here, but “Good morning” up there.
by Homer A. Rodeheaver
That made an impression on me that I have never forgotten, and it is a beautiful thought.
Tahquitz Pines Christian Endeavor Camp was another that I went to for several years. It was in the town of Idyllwild. The Figueroa Christian Church sponsored students at this camp, so quite a few young people from our church went. It was a week of real delight, and we loved to go. In the mornings, we had classes, and in the afternoons, we had a rest period and then play time. They had different sports activities lined up each afternoon, and afterwards, we could go swimming in the swimming pool. After supper, we had a meeting in the main hall. It was like a regular church service because we sang Christian songs and had a sharing time plus a main speaker. Then later on, we had a Vesper Service held at an outside circle which centered around a huge fireplace. This was more of a devotional type service, and at the end, there was usually an invitation to come forward to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. We made other kinds of decisions, too, at that time.
When we got back from camp, on the following Sunday night, we each had to tell something about the camp that had made an impression on us. We worked out a little program on our own as to who would go first and what part of the program they would describe so the congregation would know what happened up at camp. Also, if anyone had made a decision, he would share that with the congregation at that time. The church was paying for us to go to camp, at least part of the cost, so they had a right to know how things went up there.
I remember one time I went to camp on a Labor Day weekend. I had already been two years to college—one year to L.A. City College in L.A. and the second year to Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma. I was engaged at the time to be married to a young man who was in the Air Force and belonged to our young people’s group at Figueroa Christian Church. He was on an Air Force base in Texas at the time, and he had just found out that he was going to get to stay there at that base for the duration of the war. I did not know that, although I had been praying that he would want me to come and be married to him as soon as possible. He, however, had not wanted to tie me down, especially if he was going to be sent overseas, because he thought he might be hit in battle and come back with only part of himself intact.
Well, it was at this camp that there was a missionary, Hubert Mitchell, who worked in Sumatra with the Kubu people, who came and told his story. It really got to me, and when we were given time to go out and have our own personal time with God alone under the pine trees, I made a decision to give my life to the Lord in full time service. I would go to Bible College and get ready to go wherever He wanted me to go. I was engaged to be married, but I knew this would be the end of that. Still, I knew that I wanted to give my life to Christ in this way, and I couldn’t hold back from doing what I thought was the Lord’s will in my life.
I really felt badly about having to give up my life with my fiancé because I had looked forward to marrying him for so long. However, that was the way it would have to be. So the next day, when I got home and got a letter from him telling me I could go now to marry him because he would be staying at that base for the duration of the war, I really broke down and cried and cried. That was what I had wanted, but now, it was not to be. The Lord had allowed him to write that letter just exactly at the time after I had made this decision to be a full time Christian servant, and I felt it was a test for me as to whether I really meant it or not. Would I put Christ first, or would I put my own desires first? Well, you know the answer to that, because I never married that man, and I did end up in full time Christian service for Him.
It was at camp where I made this decision, but it was the people the Lord placed there who influenced me to make this decision in my life. I couldn’t really point to one person in particular, although I often think of that missionary from Sumatra as the main one. But, the other people up there, even up to Brother Roy, the manager of the camp, were all people who influenced me little by little, so that every time I went to camp, I would get a bit closer to doing what the Lord wanted me to do. It had all started back at the Bill Graves’ Girls’ Camp several years before. The Lord knew what He had in mind all the time. During the three years I was at Northwest Christian College, where three of us girls from that camp had gone that year, we listened to our sponsors at the Figueroa Christian Church who were Gene and Ruth Westerland. Gene was an elder at the Figueroa Church. When we went home for vacation, we always went to see them and got together to talk about things that were happening up there. They informed us about things that were going on in the brotherhood of the Christian Churches they felt we needed to know, because at that time, there was sort of a split among the Christian Churches, and we needed to know where we stood about that. Our church was known as an Independent Church, and the other group was known as the Disciples of Christ. We didn’t want to make a choice, but I guess we had to do it. We were either going to stand on God’s Word as we understood it, or we would go a more modern or liberal way. Of course, we would take the stand on God’s Word literally, not in the liberal sense. This was an important influence on my life to have these dear Christian brethren sharing in such an in-depth way.
Again, the Lord had His people in just the right place at just the right time, and I praise God for them. It seemed like He had my brother, Bob, at just the right place to help us realize we needed to be baptized, and then later, He sent the man from Sumatra to get me into full time Christian service, and then He sent the Westerlands to help us know about these other things.
If anyone is wondering how to find the Lord’s will for his life, just let Him have control, and He will lead you as He sees fit. You do have to be open to see it, though, and if you are, you’ll know when He leads, and you’ll be able to make the decision as to whether or not you want to follow.