It was Easter weekend, 1988. Several months had passed since I accepted Jesus as my Saviour and returned to the Mennonite culture. I was reasonably well-adjusted, and grounded in my faith. My short hair that had been carefully tucked into my bonnet at first, was now long enough that it no longer looked cut. I finally fit in, visually.
One thing troubled me. My ‘prodigal brother’. Wil and I had been best friends as far back as I could recall. Sure, we had normal sibling spats, and family dysfunction had left its scars, but he was still my best friend. Come hell or high water, he was there.
The irony was that he, not a believer himself, had called me, at the height of my rebellion just before I ran off to USA to join my ex-con boyfriend, to challenge my lifestyle choices. His evangelism was a bit unconventional, if only because he didn’t believe.
Wil ranted about the path I was on, the terrible choices I was making, then he cut to the chase. “Trudy, if you keep on this path, you’re going to go to hell,” he said with absolute sincerity.
“Whoa! Wait a second! Me? I’m going to hell? You’re one to talk! It’s not like you’re so righteous! You’re going to hell as much as I am!” I couldn’t believe he had played the ‘go to hell’ card!
“Trudy, I know that! I know I’m going to hell. I think about that! But I don’t want you to go there!” he spoke with sincerity. There was a short pause before we simultaneously erupted in laughter. Such absurdity! We were running parallel, headed for the same end, and he was preaching!
After I accepted Jesus, Wil was my mission field. I didn’t preach or scold or nag. I just tried be his friend. And, I might have dropped a hint or two… or three.
That Easter weekend we had a great time together as a family and I specially connected with Wil. In the evening we had church meetings to attend so I hinted for him to join me. He politely declined but offered to drive me to church, to give us a chance to connect away from family. Our family has one collective volume and it’s LOUD! Time together apart from the noise would be good.
As we drove to church I asked him some personal questions. About life. About faith. About future. As we neared the church I asked again, “Will you come to church with me tonight?”
“Nah. It’s not for me. I’m going to hang out with Ike and Isaac. ”
“What harm can it do? You can handle them! We can hang out after and you’ll get to see some of your friends from the past.”
“You’re right. I can handle it,” he said with a laugh and with that it was done. Wil joined me for church.
The speaker, Paul E. from Pennsylvania, was a dynamic ‘hell fire and brimstone’ evangelist-type speaker. When he spoke you could almost feel the flames licking at your feet, if you didn’t have your relationship with God in order. Or your relationship with the church, for that matter. Whether hell would have claimed you or not, his sermons had a way warming the toes and making you double-check.
That is not to criticize the man. Though I’m not a fan of preaching that gives hell fire the spotlight—since we are to share the Good News of the Gospel–he spoke biblical truth and didn’t come across as a manipulator or fear-mongerer. A bit more talking of Jesus as the answer, rather than hell as the outcome would have gone a long way. We need to know that Jesus is the answer, that He is more than enough to carry the weight of our sin, and that He has already taken on Himself that punishment.
I don’t remember all of Paul’s message, but whatever it was, he made heaven as real and beautiful as he had made hell real and terrifying in other sermons. The message was grace. It was hope. It was life. If hell even came into the equation, I was so confident in my salvation that it left no lasting impression.
At the end of the service, Paul gave the standard invitation. Wil walked out the back door. We didn’t speak to each other, but unbeknownst to me, someone pursued him asking him to come back, to repent and accept Jesus.
When I saw him walk back in, my heart did a somersault. One look in his eyes, and I knew, my brother was back. That night my brother washed the inside of his cup, figuratively speaking. He became a free man, sold out to Jesus Christ.
As a group of youth, we gathered in the church yard after service and sang into the night, hymns like, ‘When Peace Like a River’ and ‘When the Roll is Called up Yonder’ and ‘Til we Meet’. As we did, I felt a powerful presence. It would be years before I understood that presence.
If that focus had lasted, all would have been well. But some people were bound, bent and determined to scrub the outside of the cup clean, their way, their time. No taking time to disciple, no tending to the heart, or mentoring into relationship with Jesus. Through that religious control, my brother’s new commitment to Christ was tested later that evening.
(To be continued….)
Note: Shared with my brother’s permission.
© Trudy Metzger 2012
Go to First Post In This Series: http://trudymetzger.com/2012/05/22/spiritual-abuse-introduction/