I watched the sweat dripping from my brow darken the carpet below my face, as I suspended myself, trembling, from the chairs beneath the banquet table. The tablecloth hid me from the men searching the building. I could see nothing but their feet and the shotguns some were carrying as they walked past the table. Dave, who had the idea to hide beneath the tables, made no sound beneath the adjoining table. The minutes seemed to stretch to hours, until someone noticed the chairs I rested on in tight alignment to the table, unlike the others. He pulled the chair out and I fell down clumsily onto the floor.
The police, wary from having an officer shot just a few days previously, trained their weapons on me as one dragged me from under the table. The restaurant owner, who had let the police into his restaurant after the silent alarm went off, ran up and kicked me before the officers could restrain him. The police discovered Dave and cuffed him a few seconds afterward.
Busted! And all because someone was praying for me…
All we wanted to do was break into the restaurant (Dave had cooked there before) and steal a few bottles of liquor and some steaks.
They hauled us off to the Marion County (Salem, Oregon) jail for booking and incarceration. I sat in there for quite a few days, since the authorities “misplaced” my bail money. Finally, they let me out. I realized much later, in retrospect, that the authorities were keeping me in jail as long as possible because they had been watching my other (much more seriously) illegal activities for quite some time. (My entrepreneurial efforts in reselling certain illegal herbal products hadn’t been that profitable but had obviously been noted by the authorities, and they were surely delighted to finally catch me doing something indictable.)
All because someone was praying for me – a former girlfriend, a new Christian, had been asking prayer for me in her youth group…
Though I’d had run-ins with the law before, I’d always avoided any serious charges or any jail time, and I found even my few days in jail terribly unsettling. I endured the next few weeks anticipating my sentencing, which should have resulted in mere probation. After all, I had no previous record. Dave, however, skipped bail and fled the state, leaving me to face the judge alone.
“One year in the county jail,” the judge decreed in a booming voice. I was devastated. This sentence put a serious crimp in my ill-formed short-term plans. They immediately took me to the Marion County jail.
And all because someone was praying for me, a young lady named Carole with whom I’d debated the merits of Hinduism (my worldview) and Christianity (her new guiding principle).
County jail? One year? With no priors? I freaked. After just a few days, I started to make every effort I could to convince my jailers that I was mentally unstable (a friend had told me that the mental hospital was much more luxurious than the county jail, and that they would give you drugs there.) No luck. And after a few days in the Marion County, Oregon jail (then on the top floor of the courthouse, with a 360 degree view of the city), they transferred me to the older, even more claustrophobic Polk County jail. (Unlike state prison, the county jails had nothing for recreation, just a common area with a TV in the corner.)
County jail. One year. A jailer at the Polk County jail, seeing my distraught and unbalanced condition, called a friend to come down and talk to me. Ida Nelson, then in her sixties, had been a Christian for many decades. She had ministered to inmates in the local jail before, and she was more than willing to come down as often as I would talk to her. Her quiet, confident, grace-filled demeanor spoke volumes to me, and when she asked me if I wanted to accept Christ, I was more than willing to pray with her.
An uncanny, inexplicable peace descended on me the minute I put my trust in Christ. My Bible began to start to make sense. I ended my self-imposed hunger strike and no longer spent the days in anguish over my anticipated months of imprisonment. And all because someone was praying for me, someone who was delighted to hear that I’d made a commitment to Christ.
After just a couple of weeks in jail, they decided to transport me back to the Marion County jail. In a straitjacket. My efforts to convince the authorities of my insanity resulted in a hearing with a board of psychiatrists, to whom I got to give my testimony in public for the first time. Surprisingly enough, they considered me sane and didn’t commit me to the local mental hospital (where they filmed One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest — really!).
Surprisingly soon after authorities determined that I was “rehabilitated,” and released me from jail. I moved back to my hometown in Montana, where I was baptized in water by a local Assembly of God pastor, baptized in the Holy Spirit, and I eventually married the former girlfriend who had been praying for me. We moved to Oregon, and met up with Ida again, who let us stay there and pointed us to a church. Space and time prohibit me from detailing much more, but my new wife and I joined that charismatic church in Salem, Oregon and were some of the first Bible college students in the school at New Covenant Chapel there, anticipating future ministry. We took classes in everything from Genesis to Revelation, and from Bible Research to Preaching (we have about the equivalent of three years of courses, before the small college folded when our church merged with another church in Salem).
We put our ministry aspirations on hold while raising our family of ten children, moving back to Montana, and hosting three foreign exchange students, a Russian immigrant family of eight, and many short- and long-term foster children, both through the state and through our local church.
And, for me, it started in a little jail in Oregon…