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Altar Call

Growing up in the literal middle of nowhere in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, there was precious little to do compared to all the activity we have in today’s world. Back in the early 1970’s we did not have smart phones, tablets, wifi, Alexa, or a view of the world outside of our farm. We had one land-line phone on the kitchen counter shared with 2 other families down the road, (it was called a ‘party line’ back then). We had spiral notebooks with pencils and pens to actually write with, AM radio and some scattered FM on a good day, and a mom and dad who told us what our jobs were for the day. Our world was our 120 acres of land, the cows and chickens, the local newspaper, school during the week, and church on Sunday morning. To this day, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.

Farming is a 24/7 chore. It was a rare to have a day off, and even when it did happen, it was more like a few hours out of the day. Typically, it was Sunday afternoons after church and Sunday dinner. Sunday really was the day of rest in our house with lazy afternoons that turned into much needed naps and a fend-for-yourself supper. Occasionally, Sunday afternoons would become movie time. Not downloading one and parking in front of the 60-inch flat screen…but piling in the car and heading to the Movie Theater in the big city (Houghton, Michigan…not really as big as it seemed to my young mind). With hot, buttery popcorn in one hand and a Coke in the other we would settle in to the old lumpy theater seats and watch in amazement as stories were told before our eyes.

I remember balling my eyes out in Where the Red Fern Grows in 1974 and being amazed by the adventure of The Wilderness Family in 1975. I also remember laughing at Tom and Huck, then being grossed out at Tom and Becky’s first kiss, and then scared out of my wits at them all being chased through the Missouri caves by Injun Joe. I could also probably sing all the songs from Tom Sawyer because Mom bought the soundtrack and played it all the time on our old record player. All of these were great, good fun, but there was one Sunday matinee that was particularly impactful to me. It was in 1973 and the movie was Time to Run.

Now, to be honest, I don’t really remember much about the story. There was a young man who was in trouble with his girlfriend, with his dad, with school…with life in general. I was 5 years old at the time and I can still remember vividly the closing scenes of this young man being invited to a Billy Graham crusade and changing his mind in a moment of teenage angst. He instead ended up sitting in his van in the parking lot listening to the preacher’s sermon on his AM radio because he was too ashamed to go inside. The amazing thing to me at that age was that God touched him even there, alone in his van, with no one else around, just as he was. That was his altar call. I remember crying when this young man opened his heart, dropped his chains, and accepted Christ as his Savior. Though I would not really know what all this was about for another 8 years, a seed was planted, and a 5-year-old heart began seeking.

This is my Billy Graham story, I know many of you would have your own to tell. I have seen many other such films that always end with an altar call and the song “Just As I Am”, and it gets me every time. I understand what it means to come to God with childlike faith – not knowing exactly what is going to happen but trusting that he has a plan and will complete it for my benefit and his glory. We all come to God just as we are and he meets us where we are…no frills, or ribbons, or fanfare. We are all children unaware watching a Sunday matinee one minute and meeting the Director the next. After nearly 50 years I can tell you…the journey never ends…

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