Although these testimonies are nearly 17 years old, this is the first time I’m putting them into writing and making them public. These events took place during my senior year of high school in Alliance, Ohio (near Canton), and especially during a three-day period in November 1996. May God receive all the glory and the honor from these stories.
It was at the very end of my 8th grade year that God broke into my self-serving and miserable life, showed me how lost I was without Him, and moved upon my heart to surrender to Him. Changes came quickly. As much as I enjoyed playing baseball or kickball outside with my brothers, I became driven even more by a hunger to study the Scriptures and spend time in prayer.
During my middle school years and early in high school, I was basically terrified to speak in front of an audience. That also changed quickly about the time that my friend, Dave, who led the after-school Bible Club, suddenly decided halfway through my 10th grade year that he could no longer do it. No one else seemed prepared to lead the group, and I was somehow selected. A year before, my close friend’s older brother (a senior) had told me matter-of-factly that this would happen to me. His words literally sent shivers (of fear) down my spine. However, God poured out much grace, and my fears dissolved, just in time for the Bible Club to double in size.
The First Half of My Senior Year
Throughout my senior year I worked as a closer at McDonalds, coming home most nights around 11 pm. It was my habit at that time to spend 30 – 60 minutes in prayer before going to bed, pacing the floor or lying flat on my face on a carpeted section in the basement. Those were precious times, and God burdened my heart for the people around me who didn’t know Him.
God often placed one particular girl, “T.W.,” on my heart more heavily than anyone else. She was a sophomore. I didn’t know why, and it had nothing to do with being attracted to her. She was into the gothic culture. (These were the days when Marilyn Manson – who happens to be from Canton, Ohio – burst onto the scene.) Twice I was compelled to pray fervently against suicide, knowing that this was regarding T.W., and both times I was told a day or two later by one of her friends that she had attempted to kill herself.
We were both in the high school marching band. One Friday evening the band was on the sideline of our football field waiting to begin the halftime show. I received a sudden urge to pray for T.W. and I obeyed. She was roughly 30 people ahead of me, but in a flash she stepped out of line, spun around, and glared at me fiercely. I was startled, to say the least.
Our high school marching band was quite good. Each November we traveled to Indianapolis to participate in a national competition at the former RCA Dome. Several weeks prior to this trip in 1996 I felt that God was saying He wanted to do some great things there. Little did I know what was in store, but this became a main subject of my late-night prayers.
Three Days in November 1996
The day came for us to travel to Indianapolis, about 300 miles away. We boarded three different buses, and after a while we stopped and took a break at a rest stop. I was walking past a sophomore student, David, when I noticed that he was staring at me. He called me over and said (I’m paraphrasing), “I know that I’m not on my way to heaven, but I want to be. I’m a mess! How can I live forever in heaven? You have to tell me!” I was joyfully stunned, but I shared with him the good news of salvation in Jesus and we prayed together.
In Indianapolis we all stayed in a school gymnasium, the boys sleeping on one side and the girls on the other. During our first free time, David’s girlfriend suddenly ran up to me and threw her arms around me, sobbing and shaking. She told me she didn’t know “what I had done to David,” but whatever it was she needed it too. So I shared the gospel with her and we prayed together as well.
During another free time I happened to be near a guy named Jason, and he was listening to music on his CD Walkman. I asked him what he was listening to, and he showed me the CD cover to Marilyn Manson’s “Antichrist Superstar” album. I just looked at it, but didn’t say anything. Jason pulled off his headphones and said (I’m paraphrasing again), “I need to get right with God, and I need to get rid of this CD.” Without anyone being close enough to hear us, he suggested that we go to the far end of the school and smash the CD in the bathroom. So we did exactly that. When we were almost back to the gym, T.W. came around the corner with a couple of her friends and was chanting repeatedly that I needed to be sacrificed on the altar to Satan because we smashed that CD.
During yet another free time, five or six of us gathered for an impromptu Bible study. We couldn’t go as long as we wanted to, so we agreed to gather again during the next free time. When that time came, one of the participants approached me and said that “people were waiting” for me to lead them in a study. I followed that person, opened the door to the large room (off to the side of the gymnasium), and was shocked to see that about 40 people were sitting on the floor! They had been waiting expectantly, but we never really got started, because the band director came in almost right away and told us that he wouldn’t allow it. Still, it was clear that God was really doing something.
The band competition concluded on Saturday evening, and we were scheduled to depart mid-morning on Sunday. Every year, despite the fact that we were a public school, they held a ceremony that somewhat resembled a church service. For example, the previous year the Assistant Band Director had read the Parable of the Talents, and he applied it by telling us we shouldn’t sit on the talents given to us by “a higher power.” This was followed by the song, “Friends Are Friends Forever” by Michael W. Smith. This year (1996) I had asked the band director about two weeks in advance if anyone had already planned to lead this closing ceremony. He said there was no plan, and agreed to let me lead it as long as I didn’t mention Jesus. (I didn’t make any such promise, though.)
The day before the ceremony (Saturday) I had asked several people to be in a skit based (loosely) on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21-35, and I briefly described what each person would do. We planned to practice it, but never got a chance to do it even once. On Sunday morning, the ceremony was suddenly moved up earlier than scheduled. I asked the performers to go ahead and run the skit, trusting God that it would come together, and it did! It was flawless. There were about 120 band members. For the believers in the room, I followed up on the skit by sharing about the importance of forgiving and showing mercy, even as God has poured out so much mercy on us. For the unbelievers in the room, I shared passionately about what Jesus did on the cross, sacrificing Himself and taking on the debt of sin that He didn’t owe.
A short while later we loaded the buses. We hadn’t yet taken off when someone in the back of the bus called out for me to join them. I went to the back, and students sat on the laps of others as they begged to hear more about the gospel. Seven students prayed and offered up their lives in surrender to Jesus that morning.
The Second Half of My Senior Year
T.W. had a good friend, “P,” who was also in the band. “P” was often targeted for punishment by the band director because he saw her as loud, wild, and rebellious. Unlike T.W., “P” was willing to talk to me. I would even say we were friends. One Monday morning in early spring 2007, “P” ran up to me in the hallway as I was walking toward my homeroom. “I have to tell you what happened to me this weekend!” she said. “P” went on to tell me that she had somehow stumbled into a youth worship event. In the midst of seeing everyone worshipping God, His love was revealed to her and she poured out her eyes and her heart to God, committing to follow Him. As “P” was telling me these things, we happened to pass T.W. in the hallway. Whether naturally or supernaturally, T.W. apparently knew what had taken place, because she glared at both of us with the most intense, bone-chilling look of hatred I had ever seen.
“P” was noticeably different in the following weeks, and T.W. stopped talking to her. I spent some time discipling her in her new faith, and also looked for at least one female believer willing to come alongside her. (This was challenging, as several of them treated her the way the disciples reacted to Paul, not believing he was really a disciple – Acts 9:26-27). Eventually T.W. and “P” began to communicate again, and a month before the school year ended something happened which caused me to never see either one of them again. They were both expelled for the rest of the school year when they were caught possessing marijuana during a school field trip. This left me very disappointed.
Shortly before this happened, though, one more situation occurred between T.W. and I. For a long time I had desired to talk to her, but it never happened. Finally I decided to write her a one-page letter, expressing my heart and sharing God’s love, believing that the Lord was leading me this way. I almost always passed her in the hallway between my lunch period and my History class. So, with the letter in hand, I stepped in her path and, as quickly as possible, handed it to her and asked her to read it. She gave me another piercing glare, but didn’t say a word.
Less than five minutes later there was a fire drill, and everyone gathered outside in our designated areas. When school was out for the day, my cousin approached me and asked if I had given a letter to T.W. I admitted it, and she told me what had happened. T.W., in a loud and mocking voice that didn’t seem to be her own, read the entire letter for everyone around her to hear. According to my cousin, there were about 200 people on that side of the building, and they all grew silent and just stared at T.W. as she did this. It’s not the way I would have chosen for 200 young people to hear about God’s love, but only He knows how T.W.’s audience was impacted that day.
I hope these testimonies will be an encouragement to any of God’s people who read them. Have faith that God can do, and wants to do, remarkable things through you in different public arenas, whether that would be a school, a workplace, or a neighborhood.
In the next post, I plan to share another testimony from this same time period in my life, this time at a shopping mall.