I was only seventeen that summer and surprised at the invitation. “Brother Harold” had invited Thelma Andrew and me to be counselors to Junior Highs at Mount Sequoyah Assembly in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Sure, I would be 18 in November, and Thelma already was, but it seemed a big step to actually lead, teach, and sleep with a bunch of kids that age. Also, lots would be strangers from the eight states and seventeen Annual Conferences of United Methodists who came to this Jurisdictional Center.
Rev Harold Eggensperger, pastor of our church at Bentonville, had already been stretching Thelma and me. In High School, he’d enlisted me to teach a Sunday School Class and to direct a Junior Choir. And last summer, he’d taken us to train in Youth Recreation Leadership and then he found small churches all over our end of the state in which we could lead Recreation Workshops. And, as high school graduates, he had us singing in the Chancel Choir.
Let’s face it: We liked all this involvement and, besides, we trusted our pastor. So, here we were, “getting to know” the campers. It was going well and Thelma and I were smiling a lot. But, after the third day, we were both exhausted. We woke up a little late and we rushed frantically to get everyone over to breakfast. Then, Thelma had to wait on me to put on some makeup and I could tell she was miffed. We took off running. She stumbled and scraped her knee and we had to go back to the room to wash and doctor it. We both were red faced and feeling guilty when we rushed in to the cafeteria and explained what happened. I took blame for makeup and Thelma apologized for being upset with me. But, Brother Harold just laughed his wonderful laugh and asked us to sit down. “Girls, beautiful young ladies, don’t be upset and so hard on yourselves. Your students are glad that you look good to them. And, your charges don’t expect you to watch over them every moment. There are lots of other adults here at breakfast, to monitor them for a few minutes while you clean up a bleeding knee. You are very valuable to this staff, didn’t you know that?”
His warm, understanding attitude and his affirmation was what taught Thelma and me, again, about Christian love. The rest of the week, we shared our warmth with those campers. We came closer to them and in our friendship with each other. The curriculum was easier to teach and we could hardly believe, when Friday came, that it was almost over.
Campfires had always been my love ever since I was a child growing up in Bella Vista, Arkansas. When Thelma and I planned the finale of the week, I suggested a campfire. Together, we decided we wanted to offer some kind of commitment opportunity. They had studied and discussed and done art projects all week about Jesus’ call to them in their lives. We’d had lots of fun and games, but we’d also given and received lots of examples about asking forgiveness for wrong decisions and praying for ways that they could live for others as well as themselves. So, we came up with the closing exercise of commitment. They were each to pick up a small stick, sit and think about their lives and ask God’s forgiveness for their ways that were less than loving.
We sang a lot of the camp songs they’d learned to love. Thelma and I shared our caring for them and our witness that we believed all that they had studied that week. Especially, our love and desire to follow Jesus’s teachings. And then they gathered their sticks. As we all sang, they circled the red and orange flames and when they were individually ready, threw the stick, symbol of their dead ways they’d asked God to be rid of, into the fire.
All went well. It was serious. None of the guys chose to say something cutesy and get attention. Inside myself, I was moved at their quietness and I could see one or two of the girls’ tears as they tossed in their sticks. We were almost through when it hit me with a pang. We hadn’t talked about it, but Thelma was up there marching around that fire, too. I fumbled behind me and, providentially, there was a stick right there. My heart beat wildly, I joined the circle and almost without knowing I was doing it, I promised God that I was committing my life to “Full Time Christian Service”. A glow spread over me that had nothing to do with the heat of the campfire. I felt cleansed, completely assured, committed, though I had never thought or considered it before. It seemed so right. And it does to this day when I’m 90 years old. God called me and as my husband Don says, God never sounds re-call!
I had not much of an idea about what it would mean in my life. I told no one. Not even Brother Harold. He had been reappointed to a church other than ours that June, so he went his way and we ours. Sunday morning, my heart was still filled with joy as we sang in the choir. I had had a “conversion” experience when I was thirteen. This was even more profound. On Sunday night, the hymns seemed like Heavenly words written just for my assurance.
One of my boyfriends sat with me. I don’t know how I got by with it, but anyone who dated me for a Sunday afternoon movie, knew that he was to go with me to church that night. I sang out on the choruses and I look back and wonder that I didn’t turn dates off with my piety and talk about God’s love. Well, I was as loving and open to a good time as others and can’t imagine it but I didn’t worry about their opinions- since they didn’t seem to either.
I didn’t worry– except that night. The new minister, Rev Alf Eason, was making an altar call. I thought: Perhaps he didn’t know that we didn’t do that on Sunday night, just Sunday mornings when there were new persons who might need to hear a call to become a Christian. And then, very unexpectedly, he said: “There may be one of you who is being called to Full Time Christian Service.” What a bombshell! How could he know? I’d told absolutely no one.
For a few minutes I wrestled with “what would my date think? Now all my friends would know. What did it mean, anyhow?” But, with no further hesitation I went forward and knelt at the altar. Tears this time! Joy again! God knew why God had called. Now, after 72 years, I could write a book about what it has meant. Shepherding this blog about numinous experiences is the latest intent I believe God has for my life.
Hopefully, I can see this “work in progress” become a book.
I invite you to become a part of it. Please share your numinous experiences. You can write them yourself or tell them to me to write. You can sign your name or remain anonymous. What an adventure it is to hear from you!