Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Big Bus Trip of '68, Part 9

Rev. Wright paused for a moment. The tabernacle was silent, except for the scattered sniffling of those who were powerfully affected by Rev. Wright’s story.

“I went to the hospital,” he said quietly. “When I got there the police chief led me in to see Bob. Bob’s mother was by his side, crying her heart out, the poor old thing. Bob was dying, but he was still conscious. He looked up at me and said, ‘It happened just like you said, Reverend. I was driving along and next thing I knew, there was a truck. I hit it, and Bill was killed. I killed my brother.’ A tear went down his cheek. ‘I killed my brother,’ he kept saying, ‘I killed Bill. And now he’s gone to Hell. Oh, how I wish I had listened to you, Reverend. But it’s too late now …’

“‘It’s too late for Bill,’ I told him, ‘but it’s not too late for you, son. There’s still time for you to make your peace with God. You can still go to Heaven.’

“‘But I don't want to go to Heaven if Bill’s in Hell,' he said. 'I’m the reason he went to Hell. I deserve to be there, not him. The least I can do is go to Hell to be with him.'

"I told him not to talk like that. I urged him to change his mind while he still could and accept salvation. But he just shook his head and said, 'No, I killed my brother and I caused him to go to Hell. I can’t forgive myself for that.’

“‘But the Lord forgives you,’ I said.

“‘I don’t want the Lord to forgive me,’ he said. ‘I don't want to go to Heaven. I couldn’t enjoy it knowing that Bill is in Hell. No, I'm going to Hell.’

“Then his mother spoke up. She said, ‘Don’t talk that way, son. It’s bad enough that Bill’s in Hell. I couldn’t stand it if both of you went there.’

“I said to Bob, I said, ‘Listen to her, Bob. Accept the love that Jesus is offering you. He’s holding it out to you right now. Can’t you see him? Can't you see him reaching out to you right now?’

“A smile came over Bob's face. He said, ‘Yes. Yes, I see Him. He’s holding out his hand.’

“I said, ‘Take his hand, son. Take hold of it. Accept Him as your savior.’

“‘I want to,’ said Bob, ‘but I can’t! I don’t deserve salvation!’

“And with that, he died.

“His mother bawled like a baby. And so did all the doctors and nurses in the room, and the police chief--everybody in the room was crying. It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen in all my years as a pastor.”

Rev. Wright paused again, to let his story sink in. The sniffles had spread, and a few of the girls were openly sobbing.

As for me, I felt bad for Bob and Bill, and for their mother. But did they really go to Hell? I could see how someone truly evil, such as Hitler, should go to Hell. But Bob and Bill, as bad they were, were nowhere near as bad as Hitler. Sure, they were wild and treated their mother badly, but they weren’t mass murderers. Couldn’t God see the difference? And if God was Love, why couldn’t He find it in His heart to give Bob and Bill another chance? Was God as cruel as Rev. Wright described?

I always had these kinds of questions after hearing a fire-and-brimstone sermon--and I had heard quite a few, mostly at my grandmothers’ churches. At my own church, a Lutheran church, Hell was not emphasized, and the sermons were not so emotional; in fact, they were rather dull. Whatever else might be said about Rev. Wright's sermons, at least they were not dull.

Rev. Wright began the altar call. “Boys and girls, don’t be like Bob and Bill. Don’t wait till it’s too late. Make your peace with God now while you still can. Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and do it now. It’s the most important decision you will ever make. Don’t put it off till some other time, because you may not have time. Your time could be running out quicker than you think. Come to Jesus now. Get up out of your seat right now and walk this aisle …”

The piano began playing “Just As I Am.” Rev. Wright kept talking, kept urging anyone who had not been saved yet to come forward. And they did. Many were crying. When they reached the end of the aisle, they were met by camp counselors who consoled them and prayed over them.

A few more hymns were sung, then at last the service ended. Richard, Paul, and I headed back to the boys’ side of the camp. We said goodnight to Paul, who went to his cabin, then Richard and I went to ours and collapsed in our bunk beds.

So ended Day One of Church Camp …

to be continued