It was almost 70 years ago that a young father tightly hugged his 3 year old daughter, walked away from a failed marriage, and never returned. Years later it would be discovered that he had moved to a far-away state for work and, although attempts were made to reconnect with his daughter, those attempts never came to fruition. Months would become years and years would become decades and eventually time would heal many of the wounds. Retirement would lead that man from Michigan to Los Angelos, California. As a result of her mother’s early death, that daughter of his would raise her own children without a dad or a mom in her life. No one seemed to know that he was alive and living alone in an apartment building in downtown Los Angelos. That man is my grandfather and fifteen years ago our paths would cross. He is now 92 and only recently turned to Jesus Christ to become his Lord and Savior.
The story is actually quite simple. Somewhere along the way, I began to wonder if he were alive, and if so, what he would be like. His brother was located who had an old phone number and one day – out of the blue – I gave my grandpa a call. It was a bit awkward and a bit joyous at the same time. He was thrilled to know his daughter was alive, and that she had incredibly brilliant and good-looking children. I especially thought he would want to know that last part! We met for a meal or two through the years and even once parked our RV close enough to pick him up and make him a home-cooked (or RV-cooked) meal. He asked for fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy. My Bethlie made it all from scratch and he not only enjoyed the meal, he loved seeing our children. There were only three of them at the time, and we have photos of him holding them.
One thing was immediately apparent. We wanted him to know the Savior that we know; he did not want to know the Savior we know. My entire life’s work has been preaching the gospel to as many people as possible. I spoke to him about Jesus over and over again. I had some friends visit him and invite him to their church. I called him periodically and talked with him about Jesus over the phone. Eventually, he told me he was not interested and subsequently, unplugged his phone. So we prayed. Over and over again our family mentioned his name in our family prayer time. I prayed for him every day in my own prayer time. I asked God to order the events of his life so that he would continually have opportunity to hear the gospel: give him Christian doctors; give him Christian nurses; help him to meet people all over Los Angeles who would point him to Jesus; help him to hear the gospel when he turns on the TV. And so forth. Then several things happened.
Friends of ours, Nicole, Natalie, and Nicolas Torberson, who are from South Dakota, attended and graduated from West Coast Baptist College in Lancaster, CA. They began visiting him, and he literally fell in love with them. It helped that two of them are beautiful young ladies with beautiful red hair. He loved it every time they visited. Still, he refused to hear the gospel, even with beautiful young ladies visiting him. Eventually, two of my own children moved to Lancaster to attend college and began visiting him from time to time as well. It isn’t that far from where they live, except that it is in downtown LA, and the traffic is legendary. And they don’t have a car. So we continued to pray!
Fast forward to last summer. Grandpa decided to move to Tucson because it is cheaper to live there. . .at least that is what he had heard. So he convinced a friend he met at a local shop to move him to Tucson. They only made it part way – because on the way, it was discovered that he had no contacts there and no place to stay either. This good Samaritan called a friend and asked for advice. And this friend invited him to come stay with him until they could decide what to do. So, my grandfather moved into a house with some really nice, loving, giving people who live . . . in the next town to the north of Lancaster. In one day of events, he moved just a few miles from our college kids and close to one of the greatest soul-winning churches in our country. Friends of mine began visiting him: my old pastor Jim Schettler from my alma-mater, Pensacola Christian College; my daughter’s special friend David Adams, who is a professor at West Coast Baptist College; my friends from South Dakota. And as soon as the semester started again, my own children. It seemed that God was answering our prayer. Still, grandpa adamantly refused to receive Jesus Christ!
That all changed just two weeks ago. Nicole and my children, Abigail and Joshua, along with Joshua’s special friend Bethany, all went to pick him up, took him out to eat, and brought him to campus so he could see the college. He stepped into the auditorium of the Lancaster Baptist Church and mentioned that it was the first time since the 1940s that he had been inside a church. And then . . . it happened. He began the conversation. He had been thinking about his need of Jesus, he said, and wanted Nicole to show him how to trust Christ to save him from his sins. He had been lying awake at night thinking about it and even dreaming about it. He wanted to be saved from his sins through Jesus Christ. So Nicole opened her Bible and lead him to Jesus! God answered our prayers!
I was in California earlier this week and spoke in chapel at West Coast Baptist College. I spent time with my Abigail and my Joshua. I met David. I took all of them, and Bethany, out to eat. And I visited my grandfather. The bitterness is gone. The cynicism is gone. The hardness of sin is gone. In its place is peace, joy, and love. He will be in church this Sunday. . . he wants to be! “I don’t know how long I have,” he told me, “but I am going to make the most of what is left.” At the rate he is going, it may be another 10 years. I hope to have such good health when I am his age.
And there you have it.
A story of an old man. (He is 92.)
A story of answered prayer. (God heard and God moved and God worked.)
A story of a soul-saved. (Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.)
And a story of a very happy evangelist whose faith was beginning to waver. Maybe yours is too. I hope my story will encourage you to press on: to pray fervently; to never stop talking to people about Jesus.
He is a wonderful God and Savior, and He loves you.
I do too.
Your sincere friend,