An evening breeze was yet to cool the Southern sun. The air hung thick as London fog. For every soul present a dozen mosquitoes turned out. Bedecked in cotton print dresses, fan-waving ladies sat beside side sweaty tight-necked men. The fabric temple bustled with attentive saints inhaling the sweet resin of loblolly pine.
Brother Pete Steel had come to town for tent revival. Church folk all over Tibbee County had marked this fateful night on their 1954 Security Bank calendars. I watched the entire spectacle through amazed-if not fully accurate-eyes of a nine-year-old boy.
The crowd rose to their feet and drawled a hymnbook of four-stanza classics. A rotund man in full-suited preacher armor mounted the stage yelling some things from the Bible.
It was time for my friend and me to redeem the remainder of our long-suffering night. Stevie and I perched atop a crude splintery bench at the end of a long empty isle. Ignoring the drama surrounding us, we chattered away the hours.
Suddenly "Amazing Grace" was in full chorus. A giant burly man lumbered down the isle, not to the preacher but toward us.
Oh my, we were in trouble. What would he do? We were sure to be reported to our parents and receive the full wrath of the Lord. He stopped in front of us. He did not shout like the preacher. And he wasn’t even mad! We were receiving a scarce commodity called mercy. Even more of it was about to change our lives forever.
“You boys need to go down and accept Jesus into your hearts,” the tender Goliath instructed.
“Yes sir,” we agreed.
Taking us by the hand, he led us to a prayer tent just left of the stage. Inside another gentle soul told us how we could save our own.
“Jesus Christ died for your sins,” an altar worker carefully explained, “If you accept him into your hearts, you can receive eternal life.”
Though our young ears had shut out the din of the service, another sense now took full control. This was so logical it must true. Only a fool would refuse so gentle a reprieve. And grown church sinners were getting “saved” for all eternity.
Beaming from ear to ear, a lady walked over to share her good news. This moment was to sear a lasting memory deeply within my heart.
Bending over, she made certain I could hear, “I accepted Jesus as my Savior son.”
“Me too mama,” I said, “So did I, me too.”
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