How God Saved This Marine
I was not raised in a Christian home, but my loving parents provided for all my earthly needs and expected me to do my share of hard work on our small farm. I learned responsibilities and thought I could challenge anything. When I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the Marine Air Wing. I trained to be a specialist, responsible for all the maintenance on a particular aircraft. Later, I was stationed at Cherry Point, NC, and found myself at the height of my glory.
In mid-January of 1956 I was home for a two-week leave, out to have a good time. My type of fun was no different from that of any other young man of my age, drinking and doing things I certainly would not want published. Since our home was in the country, I hitched a ride into Steubenville and the driver left me off several blocks from a bus station. From there my plans would take me into the next city to meet a girl whom I liked. Instead, and not knowing it at the time, God had other plans for me. For some reason I walked several blocks out of the direct route to the bus station only to cross paths with a woman who had once been a neighbor. She was putting groceries in her car, and we talked for a few minutes. Then she invited me to special meetings at the Toronto Gospel Hall. Two of the Lord’s servants, Mr. Albert Klabunda and Mr. George Baldwin, were conducting gospel meetings. Even though I had the evening planned to have a good time, I promised her I would be there. My intention was not to go at all. In her persistence, she said, “Good!” and invited me to her house to have dinner prior to the evening meeting.
The first meeting was enlightening. I didn’t realize there was a God in heaven that loved me so much that He was willing to send His Son to the cross to die for my sins. I took for granted that everybody was out for himself and if you were good you would get to heaven and if you were sinful, like me, you would be punished. I never took hell seriously, even though I used it in my everyday language; yet I began to fear it and certainly didn’t want to go there. But what struck me most of all was that even though I was going to hell, I was loved by God. I continued to attend the meetings every night. “What was happening to me?” This certainly wasn’t the Bob Keller that my friends knew. I heard John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” quoted several times during that two-week leave, but it meant nothing to me. I just wanted to be saved and didn’t know how.
I shook hands with the two evangelists the last evening that I could attend and took a bus back to Cherry Point, NC, thinking I would never have another opportunity to listen to God’s Word as I had just experienced over the past several days.
When I arrived at the base I was told to pack up my other belongings. I was to take another two-week leave because I was being shipped to Korea for the rest of my enlistment. The first thing that I thought of was going back home and that possibly the two evangelists would still be there. As I walked into the meeting two nights later, I was right; they were there and preaching the gospel. More than ever I listened attentively. God had given me another chance to listen to the gospel and to trust His Son for my salvation.
The Christians at the Toronto Gospel Hall were amazed that I was back at the meetings and they began to pray more earnestly for my salvation. One evening before the meeting started I went to the lower level of the building to use the men’s room. I overheard brethren praying in a closed room and my name was mentioned before God’s throne.
During the preaching of the gospel, I heard several stories that related to God’s salvation. Trying to do something to earn my salvation, I did exactly those things related from the stories – like men who got down on their knees and asked God’s forgiveness and God saved them. In my desperation I did the same thing. That was the problem. I was trying to do something for my salvation. That night, I went to bed, troubled and weeping, longing to be saved. I had acknowledged my position before God, “and my sin was ever before me. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold of me: I found trouble and sorrow” (Psalm 51:3; 116:3).
Then on February 16, 1956, at approximately 8:45 p. m., at the close of the meeting, John 3:16 was quoted again. The preacher said “There’s nothing you can do to be saved, just trust Him, believe He died for you, and when you do that you will have confidence in Him.” The word “confidence” was a new word to me. At that moment we began to sing a closing hymn, “Answer Jesus, gladly saying, I’ll be saved, yes saved tonight.” With the words of this hymn in my mind, and pondering John 3:16, “…that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” combined with “having confidence in Him,” I realized at that moment that Jesus did die for me, that I did have confidence in Him. I told my sister, who also was going to the meetings with me, “Thelma, I’m saved!” Those that sat in the row behind me overheard my words. Soon all the saints at the meeting knew the good news of my salvation. In that small Gospel Hall that night, there was rejoicing, hugging, and tears. The saints had seen their prayers answered and a wayward Marine saved. There was rejoicing also in heaven over one sinner that had repented. I went overseas to Korea and was told later that eight were saved during those nine weeks of meetings. On March 17, 1957, I was received into fellowship with the saints at the Steubenville Gospel Hall and have been there ever since.