What’s it like growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist environment? Here’s a glimpse from my childhood that will answer that in part.
I am interested in your reactions to this story. Hope you enjoy it.
On Tuesday, July 16, 1968, I gave my heart to Jesus.
It was late in the afternoon on a gloriously hot, eastern-Ontario summer day.
Still too young for the summertime haying detail, I was playing hockey in the upper-floor of our early-twentieth-century shed.
The east side of the upper floor was our granary, where the oats harvested in late August were stored each year, waiting to be transported in burlap bags to the local feed store where they would be transformed into feed for our cattle. By July, most of the grain from last year’s harvest was gone. I had taken advantage of this fact by turning the rest of the granary floor into Maple Leaf Gardens.
Through the power of a boy’s imagination the wooden slats of the floor were transfigured into freshly Zambonied ice. A half-shredded hockey net – a Christmas present from two years past – became the cage, guarded relentlessly by Gump Worsley of the Montreal Canadiens. And I, a ten-year-old farm boy, had morphed into my boyhood hockey hero, Davey Keon of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Gumper was my nemesis.
The mid-afternoon sun blazed through the southern window, illuminating millions of dust particles. For an hour I was in my glory – feinting, deking, and slap-shotting the afternoon away.
Occasionally, the fuzzless tennis ball I was using for a puck bounced over the wall that separated the upper floor into two distinct spaces. Then I would have to cross over and search for it among the rusted milk cans, the ancient spinning wheel with a massive six-foot flywheel, a late-1800s cream separator, a mouse-eaten pump organ, and a long abandoned horse-drawn sleigh.
Around three p.m., I scored the Stanley Cup winning goal. I walked over to the stairs, dripping with sweat, planning to head into the house for a cold glass of whatever I could find in our fridge.
As I was about to climb down the stairs, a wave of panic spread through me. My stomach lurched and my heart started to pound. The thought flooded my consciousness, “If I were to die right now, I might go to hell!”
This wasn’t a new thought. Many times throughout my childhood, the prospect of everlasting torment in the flames of hell had been foremost in my mind. Particularly after a Sunday evening service. These were our regular gospel services (that’s “fundamentalist speak” for church services that focused on the need to repent and believe in Jesus). The service would always conclude with an altar call – a chance to come to the front of the church and publicly accept Jesus.
I had never made my way to the front of the church, but I did often lie in bed after these services, fretting about my eternal destiny. The invariable conclusion was a fear-based prayer:
“Lord Jesus, I know I asked you into my heart last week, but I’m not sure if I really, truly believed it. Jesus, I don’t want to go to hell. Please forgive my sins and come into my heart. I really mean it this time. Amen.”
On this Tuesday afternoon, unbidden, out of nowhere, God brought a deep sense of conviction to a young sinner’s soul. The dread of hell once more filled my heart.
Right there, on the upper floor of the dusty, dirty shed I loved so much, I dropped to my knees and asked Jesus to come into my heart.
And, just like Gump Worsley of the Montreal Canadiens, Jesus saved. Again.
The glass of Kool-Aid I downed moments later tasted extra sweet that day.