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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Father (as in paternal parent, not God) (04/10/08)

TITLE: Long John, the Lord & Me
By Debi Derrick


They dubbed him “Long John” when in 1954 he brought his 6-foot plus frame and baritone voice to Southeast Texas to become the news director of a little AM radio station. There were a few others who came along -- his wife, Sylvia, who was seven months pregnant with me, my older sister, 10, and a brother, 3.

Working in the news business in those days wasn’t quite as serious in those days. At news time, Dad was just as likely to be introduced as Jack Daniels as he was by his real name. That suited him at that point in time because he was seriously alcoholic. The sone of a Presbyterian minister, he had, by all accounts, lived a wild and rebellious life. Started smoking cigarettes when he was 8 years old by picking up discarded butts between his bare toes and sneaking around behind buildings to coax a few more puffs from the spent tobacco. The drinking apparently started pretty early, too. Of course, being in the U.S. Navy during World War II helped that along considerably.

It was in the Navy that he stumbled across radio, putting together some programming in his spare time on a destroyer. When he returned to civilian life, he eventually settled for the airwaves in Southeast Texas.

By then, hard living and booze had taken a toll. Mother reached a breaking point the day after one of Long John’s country club parties went bust. She was ready to call it quits. But something happened that day that changed everything. A nearby church was in revival and the pastor and visiting evangelist were going door-to-door in our neighborhood. Mother had grown up in church, too, so she was no stranger to the gospel. The message they brought was what she was waiting for. After the preachers left, Mother went into the bedroom, knelt down and gave her heart to Jesus.

When Dad came home, she told him about it, stating that she was going to go to church Sunday. Dad said he would, too. Sunday came and Mom went on to Sunday School while Dad finished getting all us kids together. The women at church couldn’t believe that Mother was foolish enough to believe he would show up. But Long John came. And when the invitation was given, he and my sister were first to the altar.

The world was never the same. For one thing, Long John lost every desire for alcohol the instant he became a new creature in Christ. It was a little tougher with the cigarettes – he had to put a New Testament in his shirt pocket so when he would automatically reach for a smoke, he touched the Word of God instead. But he succeeded.

Soon, he felt called to preach. By then I was six years old. Little churches would invite him to preach and we’d all pile in the car and go – thrilled to be in church no matter the name across the door, the day of the week or the reason for the invitation. One of his very first sermons was preached in a little Church of God the night of Dec. 11, 1960. I was too little to pay attention, so I just played quietly on one of the white-painted, wood slat benches. I didn’t hear a word he said. But something funny happened at the end of the service. When Dad gave the invitation, I wanted very much to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.

I got up and walked to the front. Dad thought I was just being a little kid and he sent me back. I was heartbroken. I sat sideways with one leg folded under me, the other tip-toe touching the floor, my head down. The Holy Spirit must have done some hard talking to Long John. He came off the platform, sat down by me and asked me if there was something I wanted. “I’m a sinner and I want to be saved,” I said. My Dad led me back to the altar and into the arms of Jesus.

Long John went to be with the Lord just 12 years later, after a lengthy illness. But not before giving me the greatest gift any parent can give a child.

“…Allow the little ones to come to Me, and do not forbid or restrain or hinder them, for of such (as these) the kingdom of heaven is composed.” – Matthew 19:14.

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Sara Harricharan 04/17/08
Oh, how sweet! I felt so sad at the end, but then glad that she had the chance to go back to the alter, with Long John and ask Christ into her heart. Such a tender story! ^_^
Debbie Wistrom04/17/08
Loved Long John and the matter of fact way you described him. Loved the part about him carrying the NT in place of cigarettes. Great job!
Holly Westefeld04/18/08
A beautiful story of God's transforming power, for both of you.