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Though none go with me, p.3
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       Though None Go with Me, p.3

           Jerry B. Jenkins
 

  “I didn’t expect to be.”

  “So, where were you?”

  “Father knew where I was. Is it necessary for you to know?”

  “I’d have been whipped, talking to an elder with such insolence. I’m entitled to an answer because I’m one of your guardians.”

  “I was at Pastor Hill’s home,” Elisabeth said, dropping onto the couch. “I’d love to tell you about it. He believes it’s possible for a Christian to be called to a—”

  “I don’t need every detail!” Aunt Agatha said. “Your plate is on the stove, and don’t expect company. I’ve already eaten.”

  “I’ll manage,” Elisabeth said.

  “And don’t think I won’t be telling your father what time you waltzed in here. The street lamps are already lit, forevermore!”

  Elisabeth wouldn’t deny that her aunt could cook—in fact, she took pleasure in saying so. The old woman clearly didn’t know how to take compliments, but they certainly defused her. “Delicious as always, Aunt Agatha,” Elisabeth called from the kitchen.

  “It would have tasted even better fresh!”

  “That’s why I’m so sorry I was late!”

  “Let that be a lesson …”

  “Where is Daddy, anyway?”

  “You’re old enough to quit calling him Daddy. You sound like a baby.”

  “It’s a term of endearment,” Elisabeth said. “Like when I call you Auntie.”

  “You can lay that to rest anytime, too,” Agatha said. “Doctor Daddy is at the hospital in Schoolcraft, no surprise. Said you shouldn’t wait up.”

  “What’s he doing there? Does he have a patient there?”

  “I don’t manage his day, Elisabeth! It doesn’t strike me odd that a doctor is at a hospital!”

  Elisabeth was still wondering about her father later while reading her Bible. Being hungry for it, despite having read it daily as a duty for years, was new to her. She dressed for bed and sat reading and praying. She had come a long way in a few hours, from believing she had the Christian life figured out to fearfully considering some divine call. But to do what?

  No wonder her friends criticized her for acting older. She felt older. Elisabeth remembered fondly when Frances and her other friends were also interested in Bible stories and memorizing verses, Sunday school picnics, prayer meetings, camp, even protracted meetings.

  “Protracted meetings!” Aunt Agatha repeated at dinner when she’d heard the phrase one too many times that summer. “James, I swear, it sounds like a dental society meeting.”

  Her brother chuckled. “Agatha,” he said, “that would be an extracted meeting. Protracted merely means they are extended for as long as the guest speaker is drawing a good crowd and God seems to be working—”

  “I know what it means, James! I was raised in the same home as you.”

  “I wish you’d come,” he said, filling his plate again. “This year’s speaker knew Mr. Moody personally.”

  “You don’t say,” she said. “Get Dwight Moody here and I will join you.”

  “Moody’s been dead since ’99.”

  “As if I didn’t know that! Prop up his corpulent corpse, and I’ll be on the front row.”

  Dr. LeRoy stared at her. “That’s disrespectful, even for you.”

  “Even for me?” Aunt Agatha said. “What does that mean?”

  “Who speaks ill of the dead, let alone of the greatest evangelist who ever lived?”

  “You’re putting Moody ahead of the apostle Paul?” she said, ignoring her food.

  “How can you know so much of the Bible and turn your back on God?”

  “We’ve been down this road,” she said. “You know well that I didn’t turn my back on God. He turned his back on me.”

  “I’m about to do the same,” Dr. LeRoy said.

  “He did to you what he did to me!” she wailed. “How could you forgive him for taking your Vera? She was just a child!”

  “The Lord giveth and—”

  She slapped her fork on the table. “Stop with the platitudes! More power to you if you let God tear your life apart and come back for more. When he took both Kathleen and my Godfrey, he took all he’s going to get.”

  “I wish that were true.”

  “You two go to your protracted meetings and leave me in peace.”

  “You know what I’m going to do there, Aunt Agatha?” Elisabeth said brightly.

  “Besides roast in the August heat, pray tell.”

  “Pray for you.”

  “Just to agitate me?”

  “No. Because I care about you, that’s all.”

  “That’s all. That’s all. You got that empty expression from your father, and you’d do well to expunge it from your vocabulary.”

  “You’re changing the subject,” Elisabeth said, “that’s all.”

  Even her father had to laugh, but he wound up apologizing to his sister. “I’ll never really turn my back on you, Agatha,” he said. “I love you even when you’re ornery.”

  “That puts you one up on God.”

  Dr. LeRoy shook his head. “No one will ever love you like he does.”

  “He has a strange way of showing it.”

  “His ways are not our ways. God works in mysterious—”

  “I swear,” she said, standing and beginning to clear the table, “you have a platitude for every occasion.”

  The banner, hung between two trees in the yard of Christ Church, announced the annual protracted meetings in August of 1913. Handbills and the newspaper revealed the meetings would feature well-traveled speaker Dr. Kendall Hasper. He was reputed to have taught at Mr. Moody’s school in Chicago, at the famed Ravensway College in Great Britain, and at gatherings of missionaries on every inhabited continent.

  The Three Rivers Tribune carried a feature on him. His exposure to foreign lands should alone draw huge crowds, the paper said, but “the world traveler also brings a message of hope and revival that should be uplifting to the entire community.”

  Elisabeth always looked forward to the protracted meetings. A tent was erected but used only in the rain. A potluck picnic preceded each meeting, which began with the sun still high and hot and ended under a black sky. Rarely did sundown bring a chill in August.

  Over the years, Elisabeth had been held spellbound under thundering evangelists and had tried to stay awake while missionary executives told secondhand stories from the field. She enjoyed speakers with flair, as long as they didn’t strut. She had inherited that aversion from her father, who said, “The primary trait of a man of God ought to be humility.”

  Elisabeth’s friends had never before complained about having to wear their Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes to protracted meetings. But now that they were young men and women, dress became an issue, especially with her girlfriends. They wore what they were told, but they groused, especially Frances.

  Tradition allowed those Elisabeth’s age to sit with each other for the first time, rather than with their parents, provided they behaved. Elisabeth wasn’t sure she wanted to sit with Frances and her other friends. They were conspiring to pass notes. She didn’t want to feel like a schoolmarm, as they labeled her. But Elisabeth was disappointed that church had apparently come to mean something different to her friends than it did to her.

  Regardless, Elisabeth felt strangely warmed when Frances and Lucy, a younger girl, shyly approached a few minutes before the meeting. “May Elisabeth sit with us, Dr. LeRoy?” Frances asked in her most obsequious tone.

  “It’s all right with me, ladies. The choice is hers.”

  Elisabeth gathered her Bible and her notepad and followed the girls to the other side of the makeshift aisle. It touched her to feel wanted. She knew she was different, that her vaunted maturity had alienated many friends. Elisabeth wasn’t trying to act superior. She was serious, that was all.

  The young people knew the curmudgeons among the congregation, those who seemed to think being a Christian meant being miserable. Her fun-loving father had
disabused Elisabeth of that notion; she dreaded becoming one who wagged a finger at anybody having fun.

  As soon as she settled in on the aisle next to Frances, Art Childs—one of the older boys—spotted Elisabeth’s notebook. “Paper!” he whispered, grinning as he dug in his pocket for a handful of stubby pencils. Elisabeth pressed her lips together and shook her head, hugging her notebook to her chest. “Oh, pardon me, Miss Pastor!” Art said.

  Elisabeth glanced down the row, and even the girls were ridiculing her. At the far end Will Bishop sat taking it all in. He looked somber, staring at Elisabeth as if he understood, his father’s huge Bible in his lap.

  The piano had been rolled to the side of the platform inside the church so Elisabeth’s piano teacher, Mrs. Stonerock, could play with a clear view from the window to the song leader. They never risked carrying the piano into the weather.

  With the first strains of the music, a crowd twice the size of the Sunday congregation looked expectantly to the platform. After a brief welcome by Pastor Hill and congregational singing, he introduced the special music. A long-nosed woman from a church in White Pigeon held her music before her in both hands, and with heaving chest produced a contralto soprano that needed no amplification.

  Mortified, it was all Elisabeth could do to keep a straight face. She knew she should admire the woman’s willingness to serve God, but all was drowned out by the swelling vibrato. Elisabeth’s friends covered their mouths and turned colors.

  A chuckle tickled her throat, and Elisabeth prayed she would not humiliate herself or her father across the aisle. Appearing to corral a smile, he raised an eyebrow when the singer modulated. Elisabeth felt a guffaw coming, and when her father turned and winked at her, she lost control.

  Clenching her teeth left the rush of air nowhere to escape but through her nose. With her notebook and her Bible against her chest, she heard her own honking snort when everyone else did, and all she could do was drop her stuff, bury her face in her hands, and pretend to weep. Which made her friends laugh all the more.

  Miss Soprano was so enraptured that her eyes were closed, her face beatifically pointed heavenward. The young people collected themselves as the solo ended, and Elisabeth busied herself helping Frances and Lucy pick up her things. She feared her father’s scowl, but he pursed his lips and pantomimed a delicate applause that made her bury her face again.

  Finally, mercifully, it was time for the honored guest. Elisabeth was tormented by giggles that threatened to expose her every time her mind drifted to the soloist. She hoped with all her might that Dr. Hasper could somehow captivate her.

  Small and bespectacled, he was not what she had expected. He spoke directly, and she found him as articulate as a man of his experience should be. He was not a strutter. Dynamic and magnetic, he spoke with an urgency and authority that deflected attention from him to his message. He bounced on the balls of his feet and preached from a Bible limp from use.

  After his introductory remarks, he read from the Old Testament. “Listen,” he said, “to this proclamation from Joshua 24: ‘And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve…. but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.’”

  Hasper paused and looked from face to face. When his eyes met Elisabeth’s, she held her breath. “Beloved,” he said, “we are into the second decade of the last century of this millennium. The great swelling of commitment to Christ that characterized the Moody era, spawning evangelistic campaigns across this land and in Great Britain, should not have died when Mr. Moody died. Wherever I go I encounter Christians with one foot in the kingdom and the other in the world. Where are the Joshuas who will choose to unashamedly serve the Lord God and have the courage to so say?”

  Elisabeth felt the heat of his sermon as Hasper perspired through his suit jacket. He offered illustrations of men and women who had made their choices, some to live for Christ, others not. “As God told the church at Laodicea, ‘because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth…. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.’

  “I challenge you, make some decision. What will become of the kingdom if we do not continue bravely carrying the torch? My dread is for those who say they believe and know the truth and yet live as close to the world as they can. Are you in or out, enlisted or AWOL, on fire for God or only lukewarm?”

  Hasper rolled on, barely raising his voice but making every syllable heard. Elisabeth had taken not one note, yet she would not forget a thing. “Make a commitment tonight,” he said, and Elisabeth felt a tingle in her spine. She had already committed her heart. She was ready to commit her life. Would anyone take seriously a young woman making such a commitment? Elisabeth believed with everything in her that God knew her heart and would take her seriously.

  Kendall Hasper stepped from behind the lectern. “Man, woman, boy, girl,” he said, “do you remember Henry Varley’s pronouncement to D. L. Moody? ‘The world has yet to see what God can do through a man wholly consecrated to him.’” For the first time, Hasper raised his voice, and his words came with the resounding timbre of conviction. “Even more profound than Varley’s challenge was Moody’s reply. ‘By the grace of God, I’ll be that man!’ He took the challenge! The ripples from his leap into God’s ocean ebb and flow around the world to this day!

  “Will you stand for Christ by God’s grace even if you have to stand alone? Can you say with the hymnwriter, ‘I have decided to follow Jesus’? ‘Though none go with me, still I will follow’? Can you say with Joshua, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD’?”

  Elisabeth trembled. Her heart and soul screamed yes, and it was all she could do to keep it from her lips. She wanted to leap, to shout, to run down the aisle. When Hasper concluded, “Would you make the rest of your life an experiment in obedience?” she stood. It was as if God himself had spoken to her.

  He wanted her. And she wanted the deeper walk, the higher plane. She would go anywhere, do anything. Elisabeth wanted to stand for Christ, to follow Jesus, to serve the Lord, and above all, she wanted to make her life an experiment in obedience.

  She hurried up the aisle before Hasper had invited anyone. She fell prostrate, sobbing, pouring out her heart to God. She didn’t care what anyone else thought or said or did. She would obey God in every situation for the rest of her life. She would pray to know his will, and she would follow it, no matter what.

  Facedown in the grass, Elisabeth was only vaguely aware that others had joined her, that Hasper was still speaking, that the piano was playing and people were singing. She felt the presence of God, and that only.

  A woman knelt and put an arm around her. But from above Dr. Hasper said, “Allow me to speak to that young one.”

  Hasper helped her into a folding chair and got another for himself. He asked her name and her spiritual history. “I could tell God was dealing with you before you ever moved into the aisle,” he said. “I find that those who cannot wait for the invitation have made lifetime commitments.”

  “I want my life to be an experiment in obedience,” she said.

  “Praise God,” Dr. Hasper said. “You will need his power every step. You have not chosen the path of least resistance, but if you could be dissuaded by that, you would not have come forward.”

  Dr. Hasper prayed for her, concluding, “If Elisabeth is never known outside this little hamlet, I pray you would do a work in her and through her that would shake the world for your name and bring glory to you.”

  Hasper stood and shook her hand. “God go with you.”

  She could not speak. She looked past him to where Will Bishop had just finished praying with an elder. Will smiled and strode away with what appeared to Elisabeth as unbounded joy.

  CHAPTER FOUR

  Elisabeth felt warm all over as she and her father silently walked home. The sky was inky, the moon a sliver, yet the thermometer on their back porch read eighty degrees. Elisabeth was so full, fe
lt so clean and renewed and invigorated and resolute, that she wanted to tell the world—starting with her father and even Aunt Agatha. But her aunt was already snoring, and her father seemed distracted.

  They sat on the front steps and sipped water chilled with ice shavings. “You did some business with God tonight,” he said. “That’s good. Those are the kinds of decisions and commitments I can’t make for you, but which mean as much to me as any you could make.”

  Elisabeth pressed the glass against her cheek and glanced at her father. He seemed sad somehow, despite what he was saying.

  “Are you all right, Dad?”

  He shrugged. “A little tired.”

  “You’re working too hard. But can you be happy for me tonight?”

  He put his arm around her, something he hadn’t done for a long time. “I am,” he said. “I told you I was. At least I meant to.”

  Elisabeth was troubled. She wanted to talk about the meeting and her decision, but his mood threw her. Leaning into his great, warm mass made her feel safe and loved, like when she was a little girl.

  “Ah, I’m going to miss you,” he said.

  She cocked her head and pulled back so she could look him full in the face. He avoided her eyes. “Where am I going?” she asked with a laugh. “Did you think I signed up for missionary work tonight?”

  He shook his head. “We won’t always be together, that’s all. I miss you already.”

  Elisabeth sensed he was hedging. “I have five more years before college,” she said.

  “I know. I just hate to think of our ever being apart. But we have to be realistic. Someday you’ll be as eager to get away from me as I was to get away from my parents.”

  “Never,” she said, settling back into his embrace and gazing at the sky. “But if I become a brat, you’ll force me out, banishing me from your kingdom.”

  She felt his squeeze. “You’re already a brat,” he said. “I’m trying to be serious here.”

  “I’m listening,” she said. “You really want to talk about five years from now?”

  He shrugged and fell silent. Finally he said, “I’m already in my forties, and I regret not having taken better care of myself.”

 
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