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    This story is the first of a series of three. It is the story of conversion — what it means to be saved from sinBorn again. “Jesus loves you Mike; and so do I.” Hateful words with cursing which responded to the above, brought forth a fresh volley of hot tears from the eyes of Little Joe who had just spoken.

    He gathered up the remains of his precious New Testament his mother had sent him from the humble, weather beaten cottage in the hills of Tennessee.

    Would he ever be able to read it again? Salty tears had stained its pages many times. The powerful hands of Big Mike had seized the precious volume and in a fit of rage, had wrenched it in pieces and hurled it at the head of Little Joe whose only provoking crime was that of kneeling by his bunk in prayer and weeping. Little Joe was a retiring person of twenty summers when the conscription caught him. Corporal Mike was a bold contrast in every way to Little Joe. Six foot, seven inches; two hundred and ninety pounds, not an ounce of pursy; solid brawn and muscle; hard as nails — that was Mike! His face was hardened by sin; his eyes as cold as steel. He could hate, and hate he did. More curses followed. Little Joe continued for some time kneeling by his bunk in prayer; the precious volume clutched tightly; his face buried.

    It had scarcely been a week since his mother’s picture had been torn to pieces and hurled at his feet in a fit of rage by Big Mike who went berserk again and again at the sound of Little Joe weeping on his knees in prayer.

    Oddly enough, his mother’s face was not damaged in the tantrum which destroyed the picture but was on a section by itself torn almost exactly in the shape of the State of Tennessee. Little Joe had a strange presentiment that he would never see his mother again or those green-carpeted hills on the old home place, but with his sins all under the “blood” and the Holy Spirit dwelling in his heart he would meet her on the other shore when the storms of war were spent — on that shore where all tears are wiped away.

    There was another tormenting emotion gnawing at the vitals of Big Mike:

    It was fear. He feared Little Joe more than all the shrapnel that flew over his head when he was flattened out on the muddy dugout of a foxhole.

    Three times he had tried to kill Little Joe and make it look accidental but the lad’s life seemed to be charmed by an unearthly power which Big Mike feared but could not understand. It did not bother him to see men die; especially men he hated. The first one he recalled was in a brawl over a poker game in the Bronx where Mike had lived since he was a lad of nine.

    Mike himself was merely an eyewitness to the brutal murder but in silence he had covered up for the guilty and no one was brought to justice.

    Another was a Sergeant who had been caught by an enemy sniper (so everybody thought; that is, everybody but Big Mike, who had for weeks determined to get revenge on his superior.) Sure enough, the wheels of chance finally rolled around and Mike, well concealed, drew the bead, squeezed the heartless trigger and the stern man of cold discipline never again gave him trouble. Such a little matter as eliminating a troublesome sergeant didn’t bother Big Mike, that is, it didn’t bother him until one day Little Joe was overheard to remark to one of his buddies “Sergeant Weatherly wasn’t cut down by enemy fire. He was murdered from within our own ranks.” The news spread like wild fire throughout the camp and Little Joe was summoned for questioning. All he seemed to know was that he had seen Sergeant Weatherly expose himself; he had heard the crack of a rifle and had seen Weatherly crumple to the ground; but the fire had not come from the enemy pillbox as everyone had supposed; it had come from their own ambushment.

    Big Mike was both infuriated and troubled. Just how much Little Joe actually knew, Mike was not sure. The uncertainty tormented him. He would be court-martialed if the facts ever came to light. It would scarcely be safe for Little Joe to live. Big Mike had this disturbing obsession on his troubled mind for many days. The wheels of fate, he thought, would be slowly turning and they would stop at the right spot one day and Little Joe’s number would be up. Mike was a firm believer in blind fate and he was certain of his conclusions. However, he did not know that the wheels of Divine Providence were turning also and that God would lay a hand on him one day. He did not know that Christ had His eye on the whole matter and that angels were standing guard. He did not know that Little Joe, like all of God’s dear Children, whether quietly at home or on the battlefield, would be immortal until his work was done.

    Time rocked on; Days turned into weeks. Mike often awakened in the night to hear the persistent sound that tormented him. Oh, no, the sound of the other men snoring didn’t bother him. It was that muffled sound of Little Joe on his knees in prayer! The break of a certain dawn finally brought on the scene which ended in the destruction of the picture Little Joe’s mother had given him, and a few days later the treasured little volume of the New Testament. Mike was sure the wheels of fate would put the little man he so much feared and hated, into his hand. He waited his chance and finally it came.

    Little Joe was the last one in the mess hall that morning. Duties had brought about the unusual arrangement. He sat eating alone. Big Mike watched his chances, slipped in undetected, planted a time bomb which he had smuggled, and eased out. Suddenly Little Joe was alerted by the pressure of a hand on his shoulder, yet nobody was there. A strange unexplainable feeling overwhelmed him. He knew it was God but did not understand its meaning. However, something induced him to rise in haste and leave the building through the nearest exit. Scarcely had he crossed the threshold when the bomb exploded and the building burst into flames. The fire squad fought desperately to extinguish the blaze and was able to rescue the workers in the kitchen who were trapped for a time in the far end of the building; but the building itself was destroyed.

    A point had now been reached when the war was not looking good at all.

    Arrangements for sleeping were moved from the bunk house to foxholes, and enemy fire swept the fields during timed-intervals night after night in dogged determination to wipe out the unit.

    Mike would have called it fate but Little Joe knew it to be the hand of Providence that put the two men together in the foxhole on that never-to-be-forgotten night. A lull had come in the crossfire as the enemy guns had been mowing down everything above ground. Little Joe was praying as usual — Mike burning with rage. The hour had come. Mike felt the friendly handle of the brass-trimmed Colt at his side. His thumb fumbled at the safety lock and his forefinger was on the trigger. He waited for another volley from the enemy so that the report from his own weapon would not be noticed. Just another unfortunate soldier would be found in the morning. Nobody would give it a second thought. Flares lighted the interior of the foxhole again and again. There would never be a better chance to balance the books with Little Joe, who had nettled him so long. Mike waited. The deafening noise of enemy fire was all he needed to make it seem that another soldier had fallen in battle.

    Suddenly it happened! A bomb fell nearby and rolled down the side of the foxhole and lay, fuse burning, between the two men. Seconds tripped off in rapid fire toward zero; eight, seven, six, five, four, three — Little Joe, gathering his composure, leaped to the bomb, flattened his body over it and cried out “Mike, you are not ready to die. You don’t know Jesus.

    Repent pray!” and a muffled sound as of an explosion that couldn’t get free silenced him forever. And the first rays of dawn found Mike spattered from head to foot with mud from the dugout and blood from little Joe’s mangled body.

    But long before dawn the guns had become still. The stillness added its lonely touch to the darkness and Big Mike for the first time in his unhappy life broke with conviction and began to pray. The sins of many year loomed before him. Godly sorrow gripped his heart. Not a soul — not even Little Joe — had dreamed that for weeks Big Mike had been breaking. The bold, daring and determined exterior was but the reaction to the unbearable conviction which he was fighting and which he had intended to fight to the bitter end and extinguish at any price. Blow after blow from the relentless hammer of God’s holy conviction had staggered him; but each time he had managed to emerge from the struggle more bitter than ever, until this never-to-be-forgotten night when the Sweet Holy breath of God broke through his case-hardened shell to uncover the long-hidden, big soul of Mike that had always slumbered there.

    Godly sorrow — repentance — torrents of hot tears — and Big Mike prayed through to forgiveness and mercy for all his sins. He had not cried since he was a little boy; and then only in anger; but all the time there was a soft, tender Mike hidden inside and God finally broke through and got to him. Mike had not dreamed that he would ever be sorry for the awful sins he had committed but suddenly he was sorry for them all. And there on his knees in the stillness of the pre-dawn darkness, Mike promised God he would make every wrong right insofar as he should be able. And before the light of the coming day had allowed Mike to steal out of the foxhole, he had passed from death unto life. Mike was a new creature in Christ Jesus.

    Old things had passed away and all things had become new.

    A few months passed and the awful war was over and Big Mike was back with his wife and two little girls in their modest apartment in Louisville.

    His wife, Alice, had been invited by a girl friend to a holiness revival meeting while Mike had been away and she had been soundly converted and had later been gloriously sanctified. Mike reached home to find the family altar already erected.

    Scarcely a week had passed when at family prayer Mike stopped abruptly at the end of this portion of Scripture: “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” Mike sat for a long pause, in silence. There was a strange faraway look on his face. Presently he broke the mysterious stillness: “Alice, dear,” he said slowly, “we must take a journey down to a lonely spot in Tennessee. There is a little mother in that community to whom I must make amend and I cannot delay the visit any longer,” and he told Alice the story. Soon they were ready and were on their way to Smithville.

    While on the journey, Big Mike rehearsed to Alice the memorable scene when he had confessed the slaying of Sergeant Weatherly. He had expected the worst but God melted the hearts of the hardened army officers as Big Mike gave his testimony and revealed the entire story, climaxing with Little Joe’s death, and his own conversion. Every man in the big office sat weeping when he had finished. Their decision: since Weatherly had no living kin, except for one very distant cousin, and since Big Mike was headed straight, the offense was forgiven and no record of the matter was made.

    The sky was autumn-red and the sun was settling into the smoggy haze when a strange car pulled up in front of a humble, unpainted farm house in Smithville. An unfamiliar step on the porch and a rap on the broken screen door brought a smiling lady of scarce fifty from the kitchen.

    Introductions and warm greetings were soon over and the group sat in the spotlessly clean front room which was personalized by poverty. Mike told of his associations with Little Joe, reaching backward and forward unchronologically through the war months as if reluctantly working his way to a point.

    When it seemed that everything that needed to be said was finished and forgiveness for all the ill-treatment of Little Joe was granted, Mike slowly, as though about to drive a dagger into the woman’s breast and yet a move which must only lead to another, drew from his pocket a ragged little New Testament, scarce recognizable from its last ordeal, drenched in blood from that awful explosion in the fox-hole. Both mother and soldier felt the piercing pain as he slowly opened the volume and displayed the only remaining piece of the picture that had happened, as if by stealth, to have been torn in the shape of the state of Tennessee.

    Tears were flowing from every eye in the room. “Mrs. Winters,” Mike finally managed to articulate when he had partially gained his composure, “I overheard Little Joe tell a buddy one day how his mother had dedicated him to God before he was born, and that he was going home when the war was over to prepare for the Christian ministry. It falls my lot to come here to your home and tell you that your prayers have been, in the most unexpected manner, answered, I am to answer that call. Little Joe preached by a radiant life and an unfailing testimony while he lived. He gained a convert in his death and will be preaching by the after-glow of his radiant life as long as I am in the world. I could not rest, Mrs. Winters, until I told you that I am picking up the mantle that Little Joe laid down I am answering the call.”

    The two children, weary from the long journey, lay on a braided rug, asleep in the center of the room. The three adults sat for a time weeping in silence.

    Presently Mike arose and stepping to the mantle, He took down a picture of a little snaggle-tooth boy of about eight summers and stared at it for a long time in silence. The picture had rested there for years beside that of Little Joe. “Memaw,” he said tenderly, and stopped. The woman turned ashen white. The word “Memaw” rang a bell. “She’s fainting,” Alice screamed as she rushed to the woman’s chair to keep her from falling. Mike stumbled to the little kitchen for a glass of cold water and the two revived her. “Michael!” she gasped, “Michael Ellsworth!” “Yes,” said Big Mike, “I’m Michael the little boy you and Papaw took from the orphanage when he was seven. I had hated my drunken father for bringing my mother to an untimely end by ill-treatment, until she died of a broken heart; I hated the orphanage and everyone who lived there; I hated you because Little Joe was your own and I was not; I hated Papaw because he tried to make me obey and whipped me when I was disobedient. I was born, it seemed, to hate; and I lived up to my birthmark until the moment that bomb rolled into the foxhole. Instantly I was frozen with terror. I saw hell open before me. I could neither scream nor move.

    Then Little Joe threw his body over the deadly hell, screamed a few words about Jesus and something snapped within me as the bomb exploded. All the sins of my childhood and youth came before me there in the semi-darkness. I remembered how much I had hated you and Papaw and Little Joe. I saw my hands kindle the fire which burned your barn to the ground with all the cattle and horses, reducing you to poverty, as you had no insurance. Then I ran away from home. That was twenty-two years ago. I knew the authorities would be looking for me. I stayed in hiding for weeks stealing food to keep body and soul together. I assumed the name of Mike Sams, a name which I falsely bear to this day with my wife and children.”

    The woman tried to rise but settled back in her chair, too weak from shock to stand. Finally, — “Did Little Joe know the secret?” she whispered feebly. “No, Memaw,” Mike answered slowly, “Little Joe never knew. All he knew about me was that I was a big, brutal sergeant who hated him, because of his religion.”

    The woman sat a long time in silence, too stunned to weep. “Michael.” she breathed finally, “I have prayed for you from the day we took you from the orphanage; prayed that you would be a real son to us, love us a our very own and finally answer the call to preach the gospel.” Then she hesitated for a moment, breathed heavily, and continued, “Since the day you ran away I have prayed that God would bring you back. My prayers of these many years have been answered. I’m satisfied with the way God has worked it out. ‘He doeth all things well.’ I feel very, very happy.

    Papaw has long since gone to be with Jesus. Little Joe too, has finished his course nobly and has kept the faith. My prayers that have tracked you down across the years shall always be with you. My reward is that you have found the Savior and are answering the call.” “Memaw,” and Big Mike swallowed, “I shall always be indebted. You shall never want again. As long as we both are in this world I shall do everything in my power to make all wrong right.”

    With that the three slipped onto their knees for a time of prayer and tears together. Angels filled the humble room and the Sweet Comforter reached down with His healing hand and touched every heart. Suddenly the evening bells from the great steeple yonder began softly to chime. The clear notes floated melodiously down the valley, invaded the cottage where the three were kneeling, and brought a fresh volley of warm tears. The bells all but voiced the words of the hymn: “Tell mother I’ll be there; in answer to her prayer — Yes, tell my darling mother I’ll be there.”


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