I’m sharing part of a story about myself that 99.999% of you don’t know.
On June 11th, 1994, in the early afternoon hours, I was standing on some steps overlooking a large tub of filthy water. The slimy, murky water was in the baptistry of a little church building called Cohutta Road Church of Christ, in Ringgold, Georgia. How I came to be there is a story there’s not time to tell in its entirety in this writing. It’s a long story, but I hope to tell it one day, Lord willing.
This part of the story begins with me living in my 1976 Chevy van, in a field about 40 miles outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a typical hippie van, well suited for such an occasion. The paint job was entirely black primer. It had Cragar chrome mag wheels, of course. The inside was finished with house interior paneling. I furnished it with a twin-size foam mattress. I’m quite the decorator.
It was late May, In the early morning hours when I ran out of gas at the top of Lookout Mountain. From there, I could see Chattanooga below in the distance. I put the shifter in neutral and coasted down the mountain until friction impeded inertia. I came to a stop in the parking lot of an old, abandoned furniture factory that sat on the bank of the Tennessee River. There I was. My van was empty of fuel and I was penniless.
I opened the side door of the van and laid down on the mattress. I then heard a small engine fire up, so I got up to see what it was. Across the highway, a man had started pressure washing a sidewalk at a Goodyear tire store. I couldn’t believe it. Out of all the people I could hope to run into, this is the one. I had just spent the past few years building a pressure washing company called Enviro-Serv. Hopefully, this man needs help.
I locked up the van and walked over to introduce myself and see if I could earn a few bucks for gas.
I stood and watched him for a minute, then walked up to get his attention. When he noticed me watching him, he killed the motor and asked if I needed anything. I told him my story, and he seemed empathetic to my plight. The man pulled out his wallet and held it for a moment and then told me this story. He said, “You see that truck?” With a nod, I affirmed I did. He told me, “that’s not my truck. I was at church last night and after services, I was going to leave to get my trailer and go to work. But my truck wouldn’t start. I tried everything I knew, but couldn’t get it running. I needed to get to work to feed my family. A brother in Christ loaned me his truck so I could get out and do my jobs. So, I need to help you.” He lifted his wallet to open it, and when he did, all that was in it was a five-dollar bill. He took the five out, handed it to me, and said, “Go get you some food”.
Well, I was not getting food; I needed fuel more than food. There was a convenience store right next door to where he was working. I thank him profusely and walked next door where I borrowed a gas can. I put a dollar (that was almost a gallon in 1994) in the can, then went and put in it my van. I drove back across the road to the store and put four dollars more of gas in the tank.
After getting the fuel, I pulled through the parking lot and parked next to the man’s trailer. I went to talk with him about doing some work for very little pay. I told him about my experience with power washing, and he knew from talking with me, I knew what I was talking about. He became a bit more friendly and asked if I had gotten something to eat. I told him I put the five dollars in my tank, so I could get around later when things opened up. I was confident I could find some kind of work. Then, he told me that when he finished this job, I could follow him home. When he got done, I help him coil the hoses, then we left.
It seemed like we would never stop. I had failed to ask him how far away he lived. Turns out it was forty-two miles, and not near Chattanooga, rather, in Ringold, Georgia. I couldn’t believe that five dollars got me that far, and to this day, I don’t think it did.
Once we arrived, he pulled into the pasture and pointed out a place for me to park. He rolled down his window, and said, “I’ll come to talk to you in the morning, have a good night.”
As I laid in my van, peace came over me, and a confidence that all was going to be alright.
Early the next morning, the man of the house came knocking on the sliding door of my van. I opened it up, and immediately he slapped the sole of his right boot up on the floor of the van. He rested his elbow on his knee and proceeded to tell me how the cow ate the cabbage, regarding conduct around his family, and on his property. I would have done the same.
He told me he and his wife had been up late the night before talking about if, or how, they may help this stranger that followed him home like a lost dog the night before. He said they decided they would help me the best they could. He said I could work with him in his business and help around their property for food and laundry. The man had a requirement that was not open for negotiation. In an unwavering tone, he told me that as a condition for staying on his property, and for eating his food, It would be my obligation to attend church with them every week. That didn’t sound too bad until he got to the part about how many times a week he expected. He instructed me that the family attended services every time the doors were open, and that meant every Wednesday night, and twice on Sunday. Even on special occasions, like if an out-of-town preacher was holding a meeting. I’ll tell you, that did not pump me up. But I was fond of having a place to park my van, a way to earn money, and good food to eat.
In his business, he mostly cleaning parking lots, sidewalks, and restaurant vent hoods. They also had a widespread of land, which they kept well mowed. They also had a large sawmill where they had milled all the lumber for their beautiful country home. The house was right out of a magazine. It had a ten-foot-wide covered porch that wrapped around the entire home. It was most people’s dream house.
I worked off my food and laundry service by brush hogging all the land and helping him mill some lumber. Also, I worked with him in his business every day. It surprised him to learn how much I knew about the power washing business, especially in areas he was unfamiliar with. I won’t tell the whole of how what I knew changed his life. I will say, he went from earning a nickel per square foot to almost four dollars per square foot. It was not long before it thrilled him to have me around, and I was happy to be there.
My first visit to the assembly was on a Wednesday evening. When we arrived at the church building, I immediately knew this was going to differ from the church experience I had as a child. The building was tiny, comprising only of a small auditorium. They didn’t believe in classrooms, dining areas, or anything other than a large room where the members could meet. They were dogmatic in their doctrine and held no place for disagreement.
After a couple of weeks, and several visits to their place of worship, I had some questions and needed the answers. I borrowed a Bible from the man of the house. He was kind enough to run several extensions cords together that reached out to my van. I remembered a preacher saying if you want to see what people did to be saved, read the book of acts. So, I began in the book of Acts.
A side note. Do you know how hot and humid it is in Georgia in June? Well, the answer is very! Do you know how many species of moths call Georgia home? All of them! Guess how many moths get attracted to a shop light hanging inside an open van? Again, all of them!
Back to the book of Acts. I read and reread every chapter. After a while, I prayed to God to help me understand completely what I was reading. His answer was yes. I had a hunger and thirst for the word of God. I couldn’t stop reading scripture. I don’t know how many times I read the book of Acts in just a few nights, but it was many. I saw from the beginning the story of Christ unfolding. In chapter two, where Peter preached Jesus to the crowd and the people were convicted in their hearts. They asked Peter and the other apostles, What must we do? The next verse changed my life forever. In verse thirty-eight, Peter responded to their question. He said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
The next morning, the man came to my van early, telling me we were not working that day, and that I was free to do whatever I desired. I had seen a sign for a spring-fed concrete pond, and I wanted to check it out. Well, with some money in my pocket and a full tank of gas, I went in search of the pond. It was not too hard to find after getting some help from the locals. Sure enough, there was a beautiful, huge pond full of crystal clear spring-fed water. It’s called Red Clay Resort, and it’s in Cohutta, Georgia. After checking out the concrete pond, I wanted to go back to my place in the field and read the Bible.
All my life I’ve never wanted to go back to a place the way I first came. I prefer using a different path, that way the scenery is different. I ask the folks at the pool for directions, and I was on my way.
As I traveled on a narrow road, admiring the scenery, I noticed up ahead a line of tall pine trees. They seemed out of place because they were in an almost perfect line that started near the roadside and went for a few hundred yards out into a field. The closer I got, the more I realized how huge the trees were, and thought they must be sixty to seventy years old.
When I got next to the tree line, I saw an old church building and what appeared to be a parsonage on the other side of the trees. There was a small, worn-out sign, with faded words that read, Cohutta Road Church of Christ. The church building and parsonage looked like they had sat unused for ages. It surprised me to see an old car in the driveway near the parsonage. Those that know me well, could tell you what I did next. Yep, I turned up the drive.
I sat in my van, looking around to see if I could spot any sign of life. I did not. The car looked like it had a fifty-fifty chance of running, but hey, so did my van.
I grabbed my borrowed Bible and went and knocked on the door. I heard what sounded like a chair scoot across the floor, and could hear someone walking in my direction. The door flung open, and a short, gray-haired man with a huge grin on his face asked me if he could do anything to help. My answer was delayed, because of being distracted by him smacking his lips, and by what appeared to be honey and butter dripping down his chin. To me, it seemed like time was passing in slow motion as I searched for the words to respond. After getting my mind beyond the oddity of his appearance, demeanor, and thick Yankee accent, I asked him if he was the preacher. He said, yes. I asked if he had time for a few questions. Again, he responded with yes.
As I stepped through the front door, he told me he and the deacon were just having some lunch and I was welcome to join them. I graciously declined to eat. When we stepped into the tiny dining room, I met eyes with a large jolly fellow with a huge grin on his face. He said you want some lunch? I thank him and kindly declined.
It’s worth mentioning that the two men appeared to be filled with an unexplainable joy. It was very apparent they had few earthy possessions, but yet, were the kindest, happiest two men I’ve ever met, even to this day.
We sat at the small table while they continued to eat bread with honey and butter. The preacher asked if I would like some cold water, and that I graciously accepted. The heat and humidity were torturous. When he opened the refrigerator, I noticed the only things in it was more butter and a glass jug of water. It stunned me that these two men were so joyful and yet so poor. I admired that, and I felt a sense of comfort and peace.
As they were finishing their meager rations, I asked the preacher if I could ask him some questions. He seemed excited at the prospect of having a conversation. I’m sure he knew my questions were Biblical in nature since I was clutching a Bible in my hands. We talked for a while, and he and the deacon answered my questions using only scripture.
I knew what I needed to do and was ready to do it. I knew I was making a lifelong commitment and was excited to get started living a different life.
I told the preacher and deacon that I needed to be going, but I needed one last thing from them before I go. I requested they baptize me into Christ. If their joy was not off the charts already, it sure was after my request. They jumped from the table, and we started walking from the parsonage, over to the building. As we walked, the preacher said to the deacon, “surely the water is warm.” The deacon replied, “it should be”. We walked only a few more steps and the preacher ask the deacon “when was the baptistry last used”? The deacon could not recall. The preacher confessed they had not used it since he was there, but failed to say how long that was. A sense of urgency came over me, and hope that the baptistry was full of water.
We got to the back of the building; the preacher unlocked a door that led into a dimly lit hallway. He told me to go in the first door on my right and up the stairs, there I would find a gown. I was instructed to put it on and he would meet me in the middle after he put on his waders. I put on a gown and waited. After a couple of minutes, he hollered, asking, “are you ready.” I responded, yes I’m ready. Almost simultaneously, we opened our doors that led to the baptistry.
We both looked down at the water, then starred at each other for a second, and then again at the water. It looked like a set from the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It was slimy, dirty, green, yellow, brown, with some black and a hint of orange. Every species of moth and insect that lives in Georgia had found itself trapped by whatever creature it was living on top of the water. He said, “You still want to go down into the water?” I told him I was not leaving without being washed in the blood of the Lamb. So, down into the water, we went, and surprise, surprise, the water was chilly as well.
We stood in the water. He smiled at me. I don’t know if it was because he was happy for me, or because he thought we were both crazy for being in that water. It didn’t really matter; I was about to be made new. The preacher baptized me in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I came up out of the water with joy in my heart, and for the first time in my life, a sense of purpose. I was born again. I had obeyed the Gospel of Jesus and was ready to serve God in Christ. My penitent heart had met the word of God, and then I knew my sins had been washed away.
On that day, at that moment, I began a journey and walk with the Lord that, at certain times, has been like a rollercoaster ride. I’m thankful that today, I walk closer with Him than ever before and intend to for the rest of my life.
How I became homeless is a story that began in San Diego, CA. A story that led from having an abundance to having almost nothing, almost overnight.
The morning my journey started in California, I was not thinking about God, Jesus, eternity, or salvation. I didn’t know why I was feeling such tormenting unrest. All I knew, I needed to leave that place and I needed to do it as fast as possible. So I did. I never would have guessed my path in life would intersect with homelessness in Georgia. But it did, and I would have it no other way.