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Celebration Month

volume 21, number 31, August 4, 2022

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

By January, 1968 America was on fire. The Tet Offensive in South Viet Nam was proving the Viet Cong were not going away and that General Westmoreland had been lying to us for a long time. We were not winning the war. On April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King was assassinated and riots once again broke out almost spontaneously across our country as people’s hopelessness grew. Then two months later on June 5 Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles after winning the California Democratic primary. Meanwhile the anti war movement was gaining steam everywhere. In June, 1969 the Stonewall riots began in New York City which ushered in the modern homosexual rights revolution. On the same weekend in July, 1969 that we put men on the moon for the first time, Ted Kennedy was doing all he could to cover up his involvement in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick Island. On successive nights, August 9,10, 1969 the horrific Manson murders occurred in Los Angeles. A few weeks later (August 15-18, 1969) at Yasgur’s farm near Woodstock, New York nearly 500,000 people gathered for a long weekend of rock and roll music, free sex, and drugs. On August 17, 1969 Hurricane Camille with 175 mph winds hit the Mississippi coast killing 259 people. And in May, 1970 National Guardsmen at Kent State University opened fire on students protesting the Viet Nam War, killing four in cold blood. 

During this, however, there was something quite remarkable happening. It began in Southern California with a very unlikely source, a “small time” pastor who disdained the hippies he saw everywhere in his city. When vocalizing his disgust, Chuck Smith’s wife said, “Why don’t you do something about it? Why don’t you try to reach them with the gospel?” So he did. Consequently, thousands of hippies, over the next few years were converted. They were called “Jesus freaks.” Chuck Smith, pastor of the Calvary Chapel church in Costa Mesa, would spend the next several years baptizing in the Pacific Ocean thousands of formerly hopeless and lost drug dealers, runaways, homosexuals, drug addicts, and alcoholics. This was the Jesus movement which began around 1966 in Southern California and made its way across the United States and lasted until around 1975. The Jesus movement seemed to crest in 1972. The Southern Baptist Convention recorded 445,725 baptisms for new believers that year, by far the most in their history as a denomination. Between June 12 and 17 of that same year Explo 72 sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ welcomed some eighty thousand high school and college students to the Cotton Bowl who spent a week in Dallas, Texas hearing messages from Bill Bright and Billy Graham and learning how to share the gospel and disciple students. Friends who attended told me that Bill Bright asked the young people, as a witness to the city of Dallas, to leave no paper on the ground each night and they honored his request. Thousands of young people who attended the conference would later become pastors and missionaries across the world. 

It was also the year of new life for Wini and me. While Wini was a nice, moral Methodist girl who regularly went to church, I on the other hand rarely went. During the winter of my freshman year at the University of Alabama, Walter Wood and Randy Pope knocked on my dorm room door one night. I had known Walter from high school. We had played basketball against each other in high school. Walter lived down the hall from me in the athletic dorm. He was on a golf scholarship and I was on a baseball scholarship. I had never met Randy Pope but he was already, as a sophomore, a strong Christian leader on campus. They told me about Jesus but I pretty much blew them off. They did get me to agree to attend a Bible study taught by a former CPA in Birmingham named Howard Borland. Unbeknownst to me, Briarwood Presbyterian Church, where Howard and Walter attended, was seeing a mighty movement of the Spirit as were many other churches in Birmingham including Shades Mountain Independent through Dick Vignuelle’s ministry and Faith Chapel under Bill Prince’s strong preaching. So I attended several of Howard’s Bible studies in the spring of 1971 and I distinctly remember going up to him after the studies and saying, “You don’t really believe this foolishness, do you?” Howard was very patient and kind but he never backed down. 

Late in August, as I prepared to go back to Alabama for my sophomore year, Wini had been invited by Dale Wallace (we are now good friends) to an Evangelistic meeting to hear James Robison preach. She was intrigued by Robison’s message and asked if I would like to go the next night. God was already working on “self-righteous” Wini but she was still not there yet. I said, “Sure. Why not?” I remember Robison preaching on Jonah and the big fish and I was not moved at all. In fact I scoffed. On our way back to my car I remember “going off” on Robison with much foul language. Later that night Wini thought, “Al is pretty foul and rebellious. He sounds like an atheist.” So the next day before I left for college Wini asked her father if she could call me (girls did not call boys in that day) and asked me to come to her house and she kicked me to the curb. She would no longer see me. Over the next several months I really got into drinking, smoking weed, and much destructive behavior. Finally, in late February, 1972 Walter asked if he and Randy could come by again to talk. By that time I realized I was in trouble and could not escape my sin in my own efforts. They shared Jesus with me and I called on the name of the Lord and He saved me. Immediately I was transformed. I began to read my new Bible, memorize Scripture, and talk to anyone I could about Jesus and what he had done for my soul. 

About the same time Wini’s older brother and his wife began attending Faith Chapel Church where a very young pastor named Bill Prince was preaching. Bill came for a visit one night and led them both to Christ. 

About this time Wini made an appointment with her pastor. She said to him, “You are always telling us that we are to be good. When is good good enough? When does good overtake bad? And is there really a hell and should I be concerned about that?” To this her pastor came around from his desk and patted eighteen year old Wini on the shoulder and said, “You are just having an identity crisis. You will get over it.”

In May, 1972 Wini and I attended a Billy Graham Crusade meeting at Legion Field in Birmingham. I remember Graham announcing that Presidential candidate George Wallace had been shot earlier that day by Arthur Bremer on the campaign trail in Maryland. 

I was growing in my faith and Wini and I were seeing each other again. I found out later that she was somewhat afraid of my newfound faith, that I was a little too zealous for her. The first time she saw me as a new believer was at an Alabama baseball game. She was taken back by my countenance. I was smiling and not cynical. This all seemed weird to her. Even a teammate told her that I had become weird. Ha Ha. 

Just before Wini was to enroll at the University of Alabama for her freshman year, she showed up in August at Faith Chapel Church. Since Wini was planning to major in early childhood education she offered to work with the kids during Vacation Bible School. One of the workers wisely said, “We pretty much have this covered but our pastor is teaching a class for high school girls. Why don’t you go into the class?” Wini was leery of preachers after the encounter with her own pastor, but she did attend and much to her surprise she saw her cousin Nancy. Nancy had, like me, been recently transformed by Jesus. 

Much to her surprise Wini enjoyed the class. She realized she was the only girl there who did not have a Bible. She remembered that she had been given a Bible by her church for confirmation class. Where was it? She looked around in her closet and found it nicely sitting in the box. She had never opened it. So she took her Bible with her the next day, hoping the pastor would not ask her to look up a Bible verse because she had no idea where anything was in the Bible. By Wednesday of the four day class, “moral” Wini realized she was a sinner. On Thursday, August 17, 1972 as Bill Prince clearly gave the gospel, explaining who Jesus is and why He had to die for our sins, Wini knew she needed Jesus. She knew she had missed the mark. After everyone left the building she stayed in her seat and quietly prayed and surrendered to Jesus. She remembers touching the door knob as she left the church saying to herself, “I am a new person. Everything has changed.” She immediately, without any training, began telling everyone she could about Jesus. She remembered being deeply convicted about how she had horribly treated a fellow student back in sixth grade and wanted so badly to find that girl and ask for her forgiveness. When she walked in the door she told her mom she had just become a Christian to which her mom said, “No, Wini. You have always been a Christian.” Wini said, “Come on, Mom. How about all those temper tantrums I have been throwing for years when I don’t get my way?” Her mom said, “Okay. I see your point.”

A few weeks later Wini bought her mother a Living Bible and the two of them grew together in the word of God. Wini and I married a few years later on August 16, 1975. We are celebrating this month our fifty years as followers of Jesus. There have been hard and trying times in our lives, as every couple experiences, but God has marvelously and wondrously blessed us. Indeed, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. The old has passed away and the new has come. We never grew weary thinking on the glory of our salvation.  


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