This story I am about to tell you is a real-life event, a true story about an old drunkard and eight little boys, that happened because of God’s mercy, grace, lovingkindness, tender pity and salvation. I know it’s true because I lived it; every word, every look, every step, every smell is the truth.
When God saved me through the blood of His Son Jesus there was a drastic, profound and wonderful change in my heart (soul). Through His kindness God somehow built a tenderness in me that had never been there before. What I’m so desperately trying to say is I deserve no credit for the results throughout the following story. God chose me to do something for Him and all I can say is I was willing and even that willingness was because of God’s love.
I am nothing except an unprofitable servant and I cannot comprehend the compassion, kindness and generosity the One (Matt. 14:24-27) who walked upon the water; (Luke 8:23-25) who calmed the slashing wind and stilled the raging sea; (Josh. 10:5-14 esp. V.12-13) the One who stopped the sun and held the moon while He fought for Israel; would let tiny, insignificant, useless me know a man like Old Walter and to see the great wonder of what Jesus did in the lives of that old drunkard and those eight little boys.
This happened a long time ago and dates mean very little so they are easily forgotten. Walter was probably fifteen years older than me. I had known him since I was a child. Walter had reddish blond hair he was proud of, an easy, affable manner, a keen wit and laughing, devil-may-care light brown eyes. I remember the big girls liked Walter and he was one of the best horseshoe pitchers around.
Like so many hill people of that era Walter went north to find work in the factories. He found work, came back to Lick Fork, married his sweetheart and moved her north. It was in the very early 1950’s, maybe even ’49 or ’50. Most of his huge number of siblings, twelve or fourteen the best I can remember, had followed, were following or did follow that tried and true route out of poverty. A lot, well, a whole bunch of people from Eastern Kentucky chose that life changing move.
Walter had a fine job; a good house, a new car, children; the American Dream. BUT: Walter was a drinker. It had started simple enough; a beer or two on the weekend to unwind; then twelve, then twenty-four. Then the unwinding needed to be done an evening or two during the work week; the beer wasn’t getting it done so Walter gradually went on the hard stuff.
Then the unwinding needed to be done every evening, then all-nighters and Walter lost his fine job, fired because of drunkenness. He lost his good house because he couldn’t make the payments anymore.
Walter followed the path to destruction alcohol and drugs so often bring; a lesser job, fired because of drunkenness; cheap neighborhood bars, an even lesser job, fired because of drunkenness. The rental apartments were more and more run down in ever sleazier neighborhoods, cheap rotgut booze.
Gradual alienation from his wife and children; a hundred times: “Honey, I’ll never touch another drop if you’ll just come back.” No more shiny new cars just old beat up clunkers. It went on, and on, and on until the cycle played itself out and Walter had lost it all.
His siblings and their families were done with Walter and he was not allowed around them. His wife and children were long gone and she had married again. His children were thoroughly burned out with Walter and would have nothing what-so-ever to do with him.
I had been a Christian four or five years and Walter was probably in his mid-fifties when he hitch-hiked back to Lick Fork, Kentucky. The old family hillside farm was still undivided and was abandoned; it probably wouldn’t have brought $50.00 each to the heirs if it would have been sold. It was steep as a mule’s face and all it would grow were rocks, scrubby trees, briars, scraggly bushes and vines.
The old, deserted, falling down home place house had burned years before as a result of a forest fire but there was an old, tilted, crooked “shotgun shack” (somebody just shot it up there and it stuck) on up the Lick Fork Road then up a steep hillside about a hundred feet above the road.
It was one room probably ten feet by twenty feet and the only inhabitants were the generations of bugs, bats, field mice and the occasional, itinerant copperhead that came looking for an easy meal. The only source of water was where you could find it. That’s what Walter came “home” to and Walter moved in.
Walter’s siblings and kin folks who had stayed back here had their own homes and they shunned Walter like the plague. Somehow Walter obtained a government subsistence check. Walter spent the vast majority of his time alone. BUT: You know how it is; it must be something in the wind, the old drunks and the dopers somehow sniff each other out.
SO: Pretty soon Walter’s place was a “sometimes” hangout for one, or two, or sometimes even three other drunks. They would drink, play poker, eat the cheapest potted meat and crackers and sometimes fight. It was a slaughterhouse. They had already slaughtered the eager, hopeful, shining dreams of their youth and they were busily slaughtering the last few bits of their lives. That shack was their church and they worshipped the forlorn goodbyes they had long ago said to hope.
Town was five miles away and Walter had to walk when he wanted “supplies” or to spend some time at some other drunk’s miserable shack. I’d heard Walter was back and that’s where I saw him the first time; walking up the Lick Fork Road. It was about 1980, maybe ’81.
I barely recognized him and stopped to give him a ride. Walter was bent, and grey, and old. He had deep, deep wrinkles and wattled neck skin filled with a long time accumulation of ground in dirt and grime. His clothes were raggedy, a half inch beard stubble, his once proud hair, dirty whitish-grey now, was sticking every which way and he reeked.
Walter opened the door and hesitated. Walter somehow recognized me. My soul ached; Walter had been my childhood hero; he had always smelled like Vitalis hair oil but he didn’t now. His hesitancy broke something within me; he knew how he looked and how he smelled. His ancient, rheumy, puffy, bloodshot drunkard’s eyes were ashamed and pleading. BUT: In the depths of Walter’s rheumy, bloodshot eyes was a conscious knowledge and the perceptive, reasoning awareness of a living soul.
“Jimmie I—-” “Get in Walter. Man, I’m glad to see you. I heard you was back. I ain’t seen you in ’bout thirty years!” Walter dragged himself in. We got re-acquainted and I told Walter about Jesus and salvation then invited Walter to go to church with me. “Decent” people didn’t pick people like Walter up. They didn’t want their cars to stink and get dirty. I am eternally grateful God, in His endless kindness, gave me a tender heart so I could understand and love people like old Walter. He was in his mid-fifties but he looked like a hard used seventy.
That’s the way it went for two or three years. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, day or night; every time I saw Walter walking I picked him up and told him about Jesus and invited him to go to church with me. Sometimes I turned around if I was going the opposite direction, went back, picked Walter up, took him “home” and then went my way.
Walter always listened politely but his face was expressionless. Under the molten 95 degree summer sky or the arctic blue 0 degree January sky; in the “good” family car or my old pickup truck I always picked Walter up wherever I saw him and told him about Jesus and invited him to go to church with me.
When my wife and boys were with me they treated Walter with the same kindness, respect, and humor they gave my own Daddy and I was proud of them. It wasn’t “her car”; it was God’s car. I didn’t give a hoot about my pickup truck; it was God’s vehicle too. God just gives us stuff and He’s generous enough to let us use it for our benefit 99% of the time.
Walter never asked a question about Jesus or church. I never saw a Holy Spirit induced “Jesus crack” in Walter’s hard-shelled fatalism which was expressed in his tobacco stained, snaggle toothed; “No, I don’t reckon I’ll go this time Jimmie.” That’s the reason you never give up. Sometimes a feller just can’t see the Holy Spirit war raging for a person’s soul back behind their face.
It was a few days after Christmas, dark and cold, on the way home from work and I saw a familiar figure lurching along in the blackness at the far edge of my headlights. “Get in here Walter ‘fore you freeze to death.” Walter was shivering and I turned up the heater full blast. I told Walter about Jesus and invited him to “watch night service” at my church in two days on Friday night. “What’s a watch night service Jimmie?”
“It starts at eight o’clock and runs until after midnight. The women fix a bunch of good things to eat. We break about 10 or 10:30 ‘n eat, then go back in and worship God the old year out and the New Year in by preaching, praying, testifying, or singing; just however the Holy Spirit leads us.” Walter was silent as that old pickup rattled and clambered its way up the narrow, crooked, pot-holed Lick Fork Road. I was quiet. I’ll bet you’ve been there too; it was simply a time to be quiet, to keep my mouth shut.
I stopped to let Walter out; he sat real still looking at the dashboard a long time and finally he softly, ever so softly spoke, almost a whisper; “If you’ll pick me up at 7:30 I’ll go to church with you.” “God willing I’ll be here Walter.” I went on home laughing, and crying and praising God all at the same time! It seemed like a thousand prayers had been answered all at once!
God was willing and I picked Walter up. Nobody will ever know how much courage it took for Walter to walk into that Church house. He looked just like he always did; he had no way to do any better if he had wanted to. I told Walter to pick out where we would sit. It didn’t take long; back pew, closest seat to the door. My sons and wife smiled at us in their friendly way while they were singing in the youth group and choir and I loved them.
They had come earlier in the car to help with the food. Our normal “family sitting place” was down toward the front but tonight was special and I sat in the back with Walter. I guess Walter just wanted the assurance we could make a fast getaway if we needed to. Yes, I would have gone too. I wouldn’t have let Walter walk back down that cold, lonesome road in the middle of the night by himself. You’re not much if you don’t stick by people, especially the weak ones.
The Pastor announced supper time, grace was said and God’s people started lining up to go into the Bible study-kitchen-dining room to break bread together. Walter’s head was down and his dirty, creased hands were wrung together, fingers entwined. I noticed the long accumulated and ground in grime in the creases and how broken and dirty his fingernails were and I, soft and tender, spoke; “Let’s go get something to eat Buddy.” Low and miserable; “I don’t want anything to eat Jimmie. You go ahead and I’ll wait right here.”
With blinding clarity I knew and I thank God for it. Walter saw himself as too dirty and foul to eat with God’s people. He saw his dirty hands handling food in front of the weight of their eyes and he couldn’t do it; his bright and shining courage had fled back into the dark, gaping maw of his lost-ness and he sat shriveled, and dirty, and old, and alone in God’s house with God’s people.
“Walter, I feel the same way, I can’t hardly stand to eat in front of people either. Here’s my keys, you start the truck and get it warmed up; I’ll get us a couple of plates of food and we’ll listen to the radio while we eat.” Lick Fork Creek flowed right beside the old country church and on down by where we parked in front of the church.
Yes, I was stupid enough and weak enough to fleetingly wonder if I’d find Walter and my standard shift pickup in the creek beside the church when I got out there. Well, if I did and if Walter was alright and dry we’d go to church. I’d worry about the truck tomorrow. For “some reason” I had to let Walter know he was worth trusting.
Only those closest to God participate in the watch night service. (Luke 6:20-23) Those tough, old hardscrabble hillbillies who fought life tooth and nail ushered me to the head of the line with gentle hands guided by their tender hearts. They knew how it was too. (2Cor. 6:14-18) In one fashion or another each one of us had been where Old Walter was; unfit and too dirty to eat with God’s people.
As they touched me and handed me forward to the front of the line many voices whispered; “God bless you Brother. We’re a prayin’ fer ye Jimmie.” Those compassionate, generous, kindly ladies working the serving line with their work worn hands piled two plates high, almost to running over, there in the warm little country church with its bright lights in the cold, dead winter night.
(Psa. 93:2 & John 3:16) How could the God of Glory Who came from a place called Everlasting with healing in His wings not warm His hands at that loving “Christ Fire” He had kindled in those tender hearts?
Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Waylon Jennings had supper with us then I turned the radio off. The heater was warm and we sat in companionship silence and there was a sense of a waiting. Then we heard the voices of God’s people raised in the dark, waiting stillness; singing “What a Friend we have in Jesus” and we went back into the church and took our seats. It was sometime before 1AM when Walter gasped with a smothering sob, lurched to his feet and made his way, stumbling, down the aisle toward the front.
The Pastor stopped preaching and met Walter at the altar. Their lips moved but their whispers were too low to be heard. The silence was deafening until the muted strings of a guitar softly, softly threaded weeping through the silence; “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
Then Walter knelt and our lovely Pastor hugged Walter tight as he knelt with him and prayed with him. When Walter knelt one of his old, wore out penny loafer shoe soles flopped down, the bottom of his sock was gone and Walter’s grimy, blackened foot was visible.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I’M SAYING? DO YOU SEE? There was nothing but the blackness of night as far as the eye could see there in the ancient hills except for the tiny brightness flaring from God’s church house windows. YET: (2Ki. 6:17) The church yard and the surrounding hills were alive with racing chariots of fire as fierce angels with faces like lightening guarded God’s Holy Place.
God’s business was being done and no devil dared to stick his serpent’s head into Lick Fork Holler that night. You Christians that read this think it don’t happen? What about when you got saved? Think about it! When you got saved there was no sense of evil or anything bad. You were aware of nothing but God, and you, and God’s goodness! Satan wasn’t allowed to be around and spoil it for you was he? Remember? Well, was he?
(Rev. 20:11-15) Far, far in that place called Everlasting a mighty recording angel had opened the Book of Life and his pen of fire was poised above a page. AND: (John 14:16-23) The God of Glory in His Holy Spirit form walked the church house aisles, the pews, the blood bought altar, the pulpit and His loving people’s tender, sympathetic hearts. A precious soul, precious beyond compare, worth the life of the Son of God, was broken there at the altar Jesus had won for us on the bloody cross at Calvary.
Walter was pleading for his forever at the nail scarred feet of Jesus. It was a Holy Place; as Holy as any great cathedral in some far off place like Rome, or London, or Paris, or New York, or Washington because GOD WAS THERE! CAN YOU SEE?
(1Tim 3:16) Jesus (Col. 1:8-17 esp. V.16 & 17) the Creator of worlds, (Rom. 13:1 & Rom. 1:23-24) the Holder of all power, (John 1:14) filled with grace, (Psa. 103:4) bent down with lovingkindness and tender mercy, (Psa. 111:4) with gracious compassion (John 20:25-29 then Rev. 5:6) and extended His nail scarred hands to Old Walter.
From my place in the back I could see the humble mouths of God’s children moving in silent prayer as they rang the prayer bells of heaven on Walter’s behalf. (Rev. 5:8) After God heard those prayers I am sure angels busily gathered the odours of their essence and stored them in great golden vials (Matt. 12:33-37; 1Cor. 5:3-15 & Rev. 22:12) to be opened when Jesus shall come with His rewards.
There was a timelessness as if all of creation held its breath then the Pastor stood up and helped Walter creak to his feet. They turned toward the congregation, the Pastor, all 5′ 4″ of him, a mighty soldier of God, beamed and Walter blubbered and sobbed a silver cascade that wetted his shirt. (Luke 15:10) God rejoiced in the presence of the angels while the recording angel wrote Walter’s name in the Book of Life. Then Walter got control of himself, gently but firmly eased the Pastor aside and climbed slowly into the pulpit.
Walter could have come back to his seat and we would have all been gloriously happy he had gotten saved but Walter wanted to tell us about it. It was a long time before I understood that was the exact moment Old Walter made the decision to become a CHOSEN VESSEL.
Walter’s light brown eyes were clear and they burned with a Holy Spirit induced “Christ Fire“. His face was somehow cleaner and shown with a beautiful radiance and tears poured down his cheeks, trickled through the wrinkles and soaked into his shirt collar. Walter stood there in his filthy, stinking, torn, raggedy clothes and he sobbed out; “JESUS LOVES EVEN ME.” then he commenced to tell us what God had done for him and where Jesus had brought him from.
Nothing fancy; but Walter was an eloquent man as he spoke just plain old words sweetened by the flat vowels of pure mountain talk and I have never heard anything like that in my life! Walter had lived a hellish life and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it. Walter had been rescued by the Son of God and he was glad to tell it.
In a few seconds there wasn’t a dry eye in the Church. In less than a minute some woman started sobbing softly and was soon followed by a man over on the other side. As the minutes raced by other people started crying and there were quiet amens’ all through the congregation. A few, here and there, quietly said “Praise God”. Even more people, now and then, quietly said “Thank You, Jesus”.
The place was so charged with “Christ Fire“ passion it seemed like the air vibrated but it was all done so low and still; nobody wanted to interrupt Walter and nobody wanted to miss a word as he poured out his soul right there above God’s altar.
(2Cor. 2:14-15 & Eph. 5:1-2) I have the sure knowledge Walter was spiritually laying an offering of thanksgiving upon that blood bought altar and the sweet savor of Christ accompanied that offering to heaven and it was pleasing to God. It was hard to be still and lots of people raised their hands in thanksgiving and shifted around.
As he talked Walter stood straighter and taller. I was so “touched” my tears were pouring and I thought I would smother to death if I didn’t just scream out praise to God. The last thing Walter did was to point a trembling finger at me; “Brother Jimmie, I want you to gather up all these young boys and take ‘em down there where I’ve been livin’ n’ show them where whiskey, dope and sin’ll take ‘em.”
I was too choked up to say a word but I did give him a big nod yes. I felt honored and humbled that Walter “Brothered” me. I still do. When Walter started out of the pulpit the whole congregation met him at the altar and everyone there hugged, and patted on, and shook our blood brother’s hand (Jesus’ blood). Thinking back on it; the way Walter said it, I guess, even then, Walter knew he’d never be back to our church again.
On the way back down the road Walter said he wanted me to call his brother and tell him what had happened and he’d like to see him. I would have done anything in my power to keep Walter from going back to that pig sty he had been living in and now I had my answer. Our old, battered, three room house, according to the old man across the creek, was at least eighty-five years old and had one bedroom so there was no room for Walter there.
Walter was sitting at the supper table in our kitchen, surrounded by my admiring sons; my wife was serving cake, coffee and milk when I made the telephone call. It was probably 2AM when his brother answered the phone in a sleep thickened, half-scared voice. It’s usually bad news when somebody calls at that time of night. I told him who I was and what had happened.
There was a dead still silence for a brief endlessness but I could “feel the mind working” on the other end of the line and then his ice cold, completely alert voice gritted out; “I don’t believe a word you’re ‘a sayin’!” “Estill, you know me and you know I’m the real deal. Walter got saved at my church tonight and he wants to see you.”
Another long silence; “I’ll be there in a few minutes; uhhh thank ye.” His sister came too and after a hugging, crying, Christ inspired reunion in our kitchen they took Walter home with them and I heard he was baptized at their church.
To make a long story short Walter re-connected with his three brothers, his sister and their families here in Kentucky. Two of his brothers and his sister were Christians. I didn’t know about their wives, husband and children. Members of huge families had married members of huge families and between here and “up north” Walter must have had five hundred nieces, nephews and assorted (by blood or by marriage) cousins and other shirt tail kin folks.
Those who were not saved, well, I’ll bet Walter had some things to tell them. The very next Sunday, after church, I took eight 9 to 14 year old boys to Walter’s “house”. God’s Holy Spirit revelation, anointing and inspiration were on every step, every look, every smell and every word.
I guess it wouldn’t be politically correct now and I would get in trouble with the authorities for child abuse. But I would do it anyway; children need to see reality now and then to jerk them out of the fantasy world Satan likes to keep them in. Their parents heartily agreed.
There are no words to adequately describe how it was. We fought our way, uphill, through the briars and brambles; cans and bottles were scattered everywhere; some old, some new, some busted, some rusted, in varying degrees of age; several years’ worth; and the bushes were taller than our head; catching and dragging at us as we followed Walter’s little path to the back door.
The front door was inaccessible; the hill was so steep the front door was twelve or fifteen feet off the ground and there were no stairs or porch to get to it. There was no yard, well, that was the yard because it was grown up and piled up right against the crooked, twisted, partially rotted walls.
I shouldered the warped door the rest of the way open and we all crowded in and they just stood there with expressions like they’d been hit in the liver with a hard left hook. Their eyes were wounded, shocked and horrified that a human being could live like that and their faces were white. It was that bad. It looked like, well, in a lot of ways it looked worse than those Nazi concentration camp pictures you see on TV. But Walter had lived that way voluntarily; he could come and go as he pleased; those concentration camp Jews couldn’t; that was the difference.
The place reeked with a stench that would gag a hog. There was no furniture, everything was on the floor. I pointed out the pile of filthy rags over in a corner that was Walter’s bed. Three or four feet from it was a rusted, scummy water bucket with four or five inches of scuzzy, green-looking water.
Over there by that wall was a “slop jar” (old fashioned chamber pot, used as an indoor toilet before there was indoor plumbing) half full of feces and urine Walter used during the night; there was no lid to go on it. About three feet away from it toward the middle of the room was a grimy wash pan half full of greasy, grey, soap-less dish water and beside the pan was a filthy, wadded piece of paper with four or five forks and spoons and a chipped saucer or two laid out on it that Walter used to eat with.
Every square inch of the place was filthy and mostly covered with hideous trash and garbage. Pork and bean cans and cheap potted meat cans littered the place and some had rotted food in them. In several places stale, molded, rotted piles of vomit had been left where they fell.
I told the boys how a dying stomach would revolt and puke up the poison that was killing it. I painted pictures on their souls how Walter had looked on his hands and knees gagging and sucking for air with hot vomit splashing on his hands there in the awful, horrid wasteland of the destruction of sin and how the devil squatted right there with him grinning in delight.
It was raw! Cheap beer cans, a few cheap whiskey bottles and lots of cheap wine bottles were everywhere. I pointed it all out to the boys and told them what drunkenness, dope and sin could do. There was no electricity AND: I painted more pictures in their brains how Walter huddled up in the cold, in his pile of reeking rags bed, struggling to get a cheap can of pork-less pork ‘n beans open with shaking hands in the darkness of night.
All he had was a coal oil (kerosene) lamp for light and his hands were shaking so bad he couldn’t get it lit; he couldn’t see to find a filthy spoon and had to claw out some beans with his fingers and suck out some juice with his mouth. How Walter would give up, pass out and wake up because his guts were on fire, crawl over to the scummy water bucket and suck fetid water out like a dog while the devil laughed at him! I didn’t know where the water came from and I told them about that too and let them see for themselves.
And the stench, that awful stench, burned and sucked the life right out of our lungs. We left and nobody said a word; the horror in their eyes prevented words, it had just been too great. We sat in the car at the bottom of the hill in a wide place in the road where we’d parked to go up the hill and see what Old Walter wanted them to see. I told the boys about how hard their Daddies and Mommies worked to provide the best life they could for them because they loved them.
I told them how bad it hurt our hearts when they were mean and got in trouble. I told them about their Daddies and Mommies dreams and hopes for them; about how they wanted them to be Christians, and to be honest and true, and go to school, to grow up to be good parents and citizens and how Walter looked, loving his Mommy, back before he got hooked on booze and death.
They still didn’t say a word while I dropped them off where their loving families waited at their clean, safe houses up and down the narrow roads on the branch hollers that emptied into Lick Fork Creek.
And those boys: they are men now, bellying up to around forty years old with families of their own. One is a strong member in his congregation, well known for backing up his Pastor in the “bad times” when the devil attacks their church and he’s witnessing as hard as he can, one died a Christian when he was nineteen, one is a deacon, one is an evangelist, three are Pastors, and one is a backslid Christian but it isn’t over for that last one because he’s still alive and we know how to pray and God is merciful.
(Phil. 4:17) I include the nineteen year old in this because his short life and work for God “touched” a lot of people before he was killed in a car wreck, I know because people came and told me about him and the Christian things he did for them. As long as they live part of what those other six accomplish for Jesus will be because of Old Walter’s Holy Spirit anointed “Christ Fire” and those they “touch” with their own Holy Spirit inspired “Christ Fire” will carry it even further to even more people.
It may even get to you sometime but you won’t recognize it so I want you to know firsthand where it came from! You think it can’t happen? What about Matthew and Mark, Luke and John, Simon Peter, Paul and James; their Holy Spirit anointed “Christ Fire” got passed on didn’t it? You got some of it too, didn’t you? Why not Old Walter’s? That’s just the way it works!
That’s what this whole thing is about. Why don’t you get your Holy Spirit anointed “Christ Fire” all cranked up and go make a mark for Jesus on some desperate soul in your world? Maybe somebody will thank Jesus for sending you their way! Old Walter: A CHOSEN VESSEL.
(Matt. 3:11-17 esp. V.11 keyword: fire) I guess by now most of you think I’m some kind of “nut” with all this talk about Holy Spirit induced (inspired, anointed) “Christ Fire” BUT: some of you, the more spiritually perceptive ones, already know what I’m talking about don’t you? The rest of you can read about it in (Acts 2:1-41 esp. V.3 & 37). No, we all spoke the same language that night and about everybody around here still does.
AND: No, we don’t get to see three thousand people saved like those old apostles did. (2Thess. 2:2-4 & 2Tim. 3:13) The world is just too mean, too deceived, too greedy, too afraid to admit they are afraid, too proud, too selfish, too afraid of being laughed at and scorned and too in search of entertainment.
A Christian’s “Christ Fire” is obtained by obedience, prayer and a desire to serve God. SO: (Eph. 6:10-20) We’ll spiritually fight knuckle and skull, blood and guts, for our Lord and Master Jesus Christ and every once in a while we get to see God save one or two; sometimes even three or four. Want to join us?
Two or three weeks after he got saved Walter called and asked me to go with him to witness to his cousin who had recently gotten home from spending twenty-one years in prison for murder. His cousin’s Daddy and Walter’s Mother were brother and sister. When I picked him up Walter was all cleaned up in new clothes, shaved, clipped, combed and I could smell Vitalis hair oil. It was Walter’s first witnessing trip and I guess he felt better to have some “backing”.
Somehow a feller always feels like he needs to learn how it’s done but Walter didn’t need my help! It’s always between the individual Christian and God. God uses your life experience and your personal relationship with Him when you witness to the lost. I can’t be you because I haven’t lived your life and you can’t be me because you haven’t lived mine!
I said a few words and they were Holy Spirit anointed and that got Walter all fired up. His cousin’s ice blue, cold, Nordic eyes had bored right through mine into the back of my skull while I talked but when Walter interrupted me and got wound out with his “Christ Fire” his cousin bowed his head and I could see his tears splatter on the generational foot slickened, worn, sawmill sawed, rough wood floor. I wish you could have been there to see it and hear it!
At the end of it, when I pulled my pickup truck up at his brother’s house to let Walter out, that was when he took my hand and Walter told me goodbye. “I love ye Jimmie. I’m goin’ back up north. I’ve got family up there ye know.” Yes, his cousin, Irvin, did start going to church and the Lord saved him a few months later.
A couple of years after Walter left the word came down from “up north” about how Walter had reconnected with the rest of his family including his children, they were making up for lost time and he was doing good. A few more months and I got the word Walter had a stroke and was in a wheelchair. Another year or so passed and the word came that Walter was going to have surgery for mouth cancer.
Someone told me later Walter lived over it but he couldn’t talk. Another few months passed and I went to a local funeral home for a wake. I had not realized the corpse was related to Walter and I didn’t know somebody had brought Walter in from up north so he could go to the funeral the next day. I was a step or two through the front door when I saw a wheelchair at the far end of the hall.
The man’s head turned and I recognized Walter in the wreckage dissipation, age, sickness and surgery had left of his face. He was skin and bones and his clothes showed it. Walter recognized me and started tapping his shrunken chest with a loosely closed left fist and pointing upward with his right forefinger; “Yeehusss! Yeehusss! Yeehusss ichhh haahh gooo ahh eee!” over and over.
Who said Walter couldn’t talk? I walked faster and faster; I got on my knees right there in the floor beside Walter’s wheelchair; we hugged and patted each other and cried and laughed a long, long time and Walter kept repeating; “Yeehusss! Yeehusss! Yeehusss ichhh haahh gooo ahh eee!” There was no better Subject we could have talked about. Walter’s wasted face and broken voice are beautiful and always brand new in my memory; “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus is so good to me!”
I wonder how many people he talked to about Jesus when he was up north and I wonder what his testimony accomplished, especially with his family and those patients and staff he met in various doctor’s offices and hospitals. Word had come, once in a while, that this one, that one, or another one had gotten saved over the years; and I even heard a couple of his ex-brothers-in-law had eventually gotten saved.
I personally knew those two poker playing, pool shooting, hard drinking, brawling ne’er-do wells when I was a youngster, they had been “guests” at Walter’s drunkard’s shack, and I was astonished by that news. Walter lived a few months after the last time I saw him. They buried his body up there where his loved ones could keep his grave company. Walter went to a far, far better place than a well-kept, well-flowered grave in a big, groomed cemetery. That shining “Christ Fire” star hadn’t burned long but he sure burned bright while he did. Old Walter: A CHOSEN VESSEL.
NOTE: If you have a Christian friend, acquaintance, family member, or just whoever who might enjoy this true story please send them a computer link to this article or if you can, please make a hard copy and personally give it to them. (Mark 8:36) Thank you with all my heart. END OF NOTE.
SPECIAL NOTE: (8-9-23) Two or three years ago I happened to cross paths with Walter’s youngest sibling, Burdis Mae, in a grocery store. She was 85 years old and the last surviving member of Walters siblings. Neither Walter nor I had mentioned that we were in the military. During our conversation we talked about Walter and she told me Walter was in the Korean War and had never been the same as he was before he entered the military. I guess that is true of all of us combat veterans; changed by man’s inhumanity to man!
GOD BLESS YOU.