THE MAKING OF A BOOK
PART 1 The Making of a Book
Faith’s Mystery began the year my father retired from the Army to open an appliance repair business. We moved into a trailer and my siblings and I were enrolled in a public school. I was accustomed to the modern, clean schools maintained by the military. In my new school, I attended one class in a building with a condemned sign hanging on the door. I wasn’t happy, and being an awkward, socially handicapped child in a dysfunctional family compounded my misery.
I sought refuge from the harsh reality of my life in the school library. My only friends were my books. I spent hours in the barnyard with Wilbur the talking pig and marveled at the stamina of a great racehorse named Man of War. A book about the beauty and grace of Irish Setters birthed a desire to own one, and I did for six miserable months. My beautiful Irish Setter turned my backyard into the Grand Canyon. That experience taught me reality is not as appealing as fantasy.
After I exhausted the supply of animal books, I decided to read every book in the library. One day, I came to a row of paperback books nestled under a window framed with a dingy, yellow curtain. I pulled out a book titled The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. It wasn’t the kind of book I normally read, but I had a goal to fulfill and it was next in line. Of all the books that I read Wilkerson’s book made me pause and wonder what is different. I read his book a second time and then reluctantly returned it to the library, thinking I had read fiction.
The Cross and the Switchblade is a factual account of Rev. Wilkerson’s ministry to gangs and drug addicts in New York City. After he won one of the most notorious gang members in the city to the Lord, Rev. Wilkerson established Teen Challenge, which eventually spread throughout the world, offering multitudes of young men and women a new way of life. The cure rate for drug addicts that went through the Teen Challenge program was documented at 80%, most other drug programs had a 10 to 15% cure rate. The success of the Teen Challenge program was attributed to the Jesus factor.
About a year after I read The Cross and the Switchblade, my father’s business failed. He accepted a job in New Orleans, and we moved to a trailer park on the west bank of the Mississippi River. My mother enrolled me in the 9th grade at the local high school. On the way to my school locker, I saw a poster on the wall announcing David Wilkerson would be speaking at the New Orleans Rivergate. I couldn’t get home fast enough to ask my mother if she would bring me.
“Why do you want to go?” she said.
I didn’t know why I wanted to go.
”Who is David Wilkerson?”
“He is an author, and I want to hear him speak.”
“Teena, you will just be bored, I am not bringing you.”
My mother would have saved herself a lot of heartache if she had heeded my plea. Not long after that incident, my life became entangled in the local drug culture. I quickly grew weary of the drug addicts’ way of life but didn’t know how to stop. It’s not as easy as “just say no.”
I became desperate as smoking joints gave way to dropping acid, and my friend tried to talk me into shooting up. She introduced me to a drug dealer, who assured me he would do everything. All I had to do was hold out my arm. A loud banging at the door distracted us.
Someone peeked out the window. “Police!”
Drugs were stuffed in bras and underwear as the banging continued. The dealer opened the door a crack. They pushed the door open and walked in. They were looking for my friend. She had neglected to tell us that she had run away from home. Her mother told the police where she might be.
My friend and I were 15. Too young to be in a known drug house with adult men. The police delivered both of us to our parents. My exasperated parents sent me to live with my aunt and uncle thinking a change of place would change me. It didn’t.
When I returned home, I started hanging out at a warehouse where bands played rock music on Friday nights. One night, I stood in front of a huge speaker booming the Doobie Brothers song, “Jesus Is Just Alright” and prayed, “God, help me stop taking drugs.”
Several months after that prayer, a friend invited me to a Jesus Rally. She enticed me to attend with the assurance a lot of good-looking guys would be at the meeting.
Her mother dropped us off, and we entered a building that was a cross between an abandoned business and someone’s home. A room with a few rows of empty metal chairs greeted us. Too my left a bathroom and stairs. I could see a kitchen through an open door. My friend and I were the only ones present.
There were four people at the rally that night: myself, my friend, and two young girls who had wandered in off the street. The only guy in the room stood behind a music stand declaring Jesus is returning and we need to be ready.
At the end of his message, a young woman and another man entered the room. The preacher invited us to follow them upstairs if we wanted to receive Jesus as savior. My friend immediately whispered in my ear that she had received Jesus and that I should receive him, too. I followed the woman upstairs to the prayer room, where the man led me in a prayer.
As I prayed joy exploded within me. The experience shocked me into an emotionless silence. I left the Jesus Rally with the knowledge that I had been “born again” but ignorant of what that meant and did not associate what happened to me with church.
The following week, the woman picked me up to attend the rally again. This time, the preacher had a message about Stephen, one of the church’s first deacons with wisdom that could not be resisted. Jealous Jews accused him of blasphemy and spread lies about him. They brought him before the high council and stoned him for speaking the truth. The woman brought me home, and I never saw them again.
For months after that experience a comforting presence filled me with peace and turn my tears into laughter. At times, that presence was so strong I could not contain it.
I often walked up and down a street at the end of the trailer court talking to God. Most of the property was undeveloped except for an Assemblies of God church and a few houses. I often walked in front of that church praying to find other people who knew God as I did. About six months after my born-again experience, a friend invited me to attend that church. The moment I walked in the door, I knew I belonged there.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT TUESDAY…
FROM FAITH’S MYSTERY THE MAKING OF A BOOK BLOG SERIES