January 8, 1950
It was on that date—January 8, 1950—I first understood the invitation inherent in John 1: 12: “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
On that Sunday evening at the Reyburn Bible Protestant church, the pastor—Parker Gamwell—had given an invitation for those who wanted to “accept Christ” to come to the front of the church. Although it was a small church and not many people were there, it was one of the hardest things I ever did.
Why was it so difficult? Because I was admitting publically that I was a sinner and needed salvation. I went quietly and the pastor read to me from John and then asked me to read, as I recall, John 1:12. I didn’t understand the implications at first but the Holy Spirit opened my eyes and I got it: by believing on his name, I became a child of God.
Things were never the same after that: I had a new vision about what was expected of me and knew, almost immediately, that I would be a missionary. I don’t know of anything in my life that would have made me feel that way, so God was definitely in it.
As I recall, it was my buddy Gordon Trumbower who had taken me to church that evening. He had been a soldier in Korea and became a believer there. He came back to the States full of enthusiasm and inspired many of us young people to learn about Christ. Gordie (his nickname) had been a friend before he went to Korea and we had often done things together before he went in the army. His family had a summer home and farm in Muhlenburg, about 3 miles from my home.
That night when I went home and told my parents what had happened, my dad passed it off as something I would soon “get over.” My mom was more encouraging and became more public in her own faith. My dad remained a pagan for most of his life.
There were several of us young people who wanted to follow the Lord, or who were following him. One was Rachel Belles, who had been a pupil of my school-teacher mom, and who I took a liking to. We became quite serious in our relationship and everyone assumed we would eventually marry.
However, Rachel was several years younger than me, still in high school, and I was going off to college in Delaware. We continued our relationship during my first year of college and into the second year, but I then broke it off—not in a loving Christian way, but just suddenly.
Her brother and I had been friends, often playing baseball on opposing teams, but he was killed in Korea. I went back to the funeral from college but by then Rachel and I had parted ways.
My dad (and others) were dismayed at my severing the relationship because Rachel was a popular and well-liked girl. (She later became a missionary herself but, as far as I know, never married.)
Small country villages know everything about everyone, especially in terms of gossip. My name must have been “mud” in the small Christian community.
I tried to express my faith in my high school, but my conversion happened in the final part of my senior year, so I’m not sure how well I talked about it in high school. My best friend in H.S. joined the Coast Guard immediately after graduation, so I seldom saw him. Later one of his brothers became the pastor of the Bloomingdale Bible (Protestant) church that I attended and encouraged the church to support us. We even stayed with him and his wife on one furlough and spoke at the church whenever we visited Bloomingdale.
After he left a new pastor came who “knew not Karl” and he eventually withdrew any support from us and Wycliffe, deeming us “worldly” because we used versions of the Bible other than the KJV. He also attributed (incorrectly) the Wycliffe Commentaries to our organization—the commentaries were also “worldly.”
One loyal supporter and encourager from Bloomingdale was Carolyn Sutliff—a teacher like my mother and a friend. She had been saved from a somewhat reckless life and became a Sunday School teacher. She prayed for me and encouraged me when I became a Christian.
Joice accompanied me to Bloomingdale when we were seniors in college and going “steady.” She met Rachel’s brother Melville, but I don’t think she encountered any others of the family.
I was 16 going on 17 when I came to know Christ. I was baptized by Rev. Gamwell in the freezing waters of the stream in Koonsville in April, 1950. It must have been a cold dunking.
After my first summer of college, between my freshman and sophomore years, I went back home and lived and worked locally. The next summer I boarded in Elverson, Pennsylvania and worked for a tomato packing company. Then I returned to college and never again went back home to live.
There rest is history—ancient history.
January 8, 2018