Chapter 10: Moments of Destiny

Moment of Destiny
How I Came to Know Christ

I had a quiet longing in my heart to come to know Christ as my Savior, but no one spoke to me about it. On the surface I did not give any indication that I had such a longing. One Sunday afternoon when I was nineteen, a friend of mine asked me if I would like to go for a ride to the mountains, a customary pastime in those days. We picked up a couple of girls in his car, and went for a ride.

As the afternoon slipped by, I encouraged my friend to get back to Reedley in time to go to Church that evening because revival meetings were being held at the Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church. I didn't say why I wanted to get back in time for the service, but inwardly I was hoping the evangelist would say something that would give me the courage to respond to the invitation and accept Christ as my Savior.

I sat with some friends when the evangelist, Dr. P. R. Lange of Hillsboro, Kansas, gave a very challenging message and an invitation for those who wanted to receive Christ to come forward. I felt like I should go, but I was sitting between my friends and I just couldn't get myself to get up and go to the altar.

Then the speaker spoke to the seekers for a while and told all of them to go down into the basement to a prayer room where someone would help them. That's when I got up and walked straight on down. I was hoping to come to know Christ; but again, as I remember it, no one told me how. They just asked me to pray. I prayed, but nothing happened. Or, maybe they did tell me and I just didn't understand. I wanted to know for sure that God had heard me and granted my request. I went out and looked around for my friends, but they had left. I decided I would shake the whole thing off and forget it.

The next morning, I still had this desire to get right with God. I made an excuse to go to my stepbrother, Henry Isaak, to return a tool we had borrowed. I really wanted to tell him about my attempt to come to Christ. I talked to him as he was working in the fields. I said, "Henry, I was at the meeting last night and a lot of people are coming to know Christ. I went forward, too, but nothing happened.

He said, "Let's go into the house."

So we went in and prayed.

He showed me how I could come to know Jesus. There, at age nineteen, I became a Christian. Three weeks later, I was baptized in the South Reedley (now the Dinuba) Mennonite Brethren Church.

I still had my doubts after this; I was never very sure that God had really heard me. I often wondered who would be able to tell me that God had received me. I prayed at night for God to show me a sign, so that before morning, I would know without a doubt that I was in right relationship with Him. This was not necessary; God knew better.

One day it became very clear when Pastor John Richard preached a message in which he quoted Romans 10:9-10: "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Everyone who trusts in Him will not be put to shame." (NIV).

This was exactly what I had done! And since God does what He says, I was assured that He had saved me. From then on, I have not had any great doubts about my salvation. I told my parents about this. Although they were not sure of their own salvation, they were living religious lives. Dad had an earlier experience as a young man, but was never sure if, in the final end, it would be enough or not. Dad said to me, "Son, you will need much strength. You may have the car whenever you want it, to go to places where there are people who can help you in your Christian life."

Happily, not long after this both my mother and stepfather received Christ as Savior, also at evangelistic meetings in the Reedley Mennonite Brethren Church.

I went to church, Sunday school, and drove my parents to prayer meetings in others' homes during the week. Sometimes there were only older people at these prayer meetings, but that didn't matter. I wanted to learn all I could of the Word of God. I wanted God to have all of me.

One evening, when I came home from a church service by myself, I drove the car into the barn and knelt down by the side of the car. "Lord, you have been so good to me," I prayed. "I want You to have all there is of me; all of my life, I want only to serve you."
Of course I did not know where this would lead or what would eventually happen. I was happy, now that I had finally found Christ, and I wanted to live for Him.
Depression Years

I'd had a desire to get an education but had abandoned the idea by then, because I was needed to work to support the family. It was easier for Jake and me to get jobs than it was for Dad, because we were young and strong even though not mature men. After renting a farm for two years, in spite of a severe frost the second year when the crop
was very small, we bought a twenty-acre farm. It was quite run down. We borrowed the down payment of $400 from Henry Schmidt, to whom I've referred earlier.

The banks had a lot of repossessed farms in those days, in the Thirties, because of the severity of the depression. The crops didn't pay for the operation, so the banks wanted to get rid of as many of those farms as they possibly could. The one we bought, twenty acres north of Reedley, didn't produce very much. The bank was going to sell it to anybody they could trust to take care of it, and hoped to get back whatever they could. We got the 20 acres for only $2,300, with $400 down payment.

As part of the agreement, we promised to plant four acres of new vines. There was already an old vineyard, but we promised to plant more vineyard to improve an open piece of ground. This would increase the value and thus the security of the bank.

It was terribly dry; very little rain had fallen for several years. But, because of this promise, we were obligated to plant the new vines, even though it was so dry that we had to make holes in the ground with a large bar. We put in the grape vine cuttings and then poured water into the holes from a bucket. Our pump wouldn't produce enough water to have it run into the furrows.

It was hard progress, so I stayed home most of the time and worked on the farm while Jake went elsewhere for whatever work he could get. But prices for labor also went down. That summer was difficult. I remember needing a plowshare sharpened, and I did not have the twenty-five cents to pay the blacksmith. I asked for credit to get it done. When we first came in 1930, labor was thirty-five or forty cents an hour working on the farms. By 1932-33, it was down to twenty or even fifteen cents an hour.

Jake was about sixteen at the time, and he went to Shafter to work in the potatoes. Each weekend we waited for the $12 to $15 he would bring home to do the weekly shopping, or to pay a power bill for pumping water for the farm. But we managed to get by, to save some in the long run, and pay off our travel indebtedness.

Until I was twenty-one, all the money I earned went for family use. I never kept any for myself, though sometimes Dad would refund some to spend the way I wanted. The same held true for Jake. But through these Depression years and hardships, we learned to be persistent and frugal, and to work hard. These lessons have served me well in later life.

After I was twenty-one, I started keeping some money, but I made sure that the tour debt was paid in full before that. Of course we didn't earn very much. When I kept what I earned, I offered to pay my parents something for room and board, but Dad would not accept anything. By that time the farm was bringing in some money, and they were managing quite well. Of course, Jake was still working and taking money home. After some time I was able to buy my own car, a 1929 Chevrolet coupe, for the price of $162.50. That was a source of pride—to be able to drive my own car.
M y Future Wife

Earlier, as I mentioned, I had prayed and asked God to take control of my whole life, and I did not exclude the matter of courtship. I prayed that He would direct me to the girl He would want me to marry. There were a number of girls I appreciated as friends, but I kept asking God to lead me. One day, just before my twentieth birthday, I met Kathryn Harms, and I was attracted to her.

I knew her brothers and sisters, but she worked in Fresno about thirty miles away, so I did not get to meet her when I saw the others. Though I had only seen her once, I kept thinking about her. Then one day her sister invited me to go with them to a family picnic in Roeding Park in Fresno. The sister and I rode in her brother's roadster, in the "rumble seat," on the way to the park. I asked whether Kathryn would be there, to which she replied, "Probably."

During the day we had an opportunity to talk together and get acquainted. When evening came, the family went home, but her oldest brother and his fiancée stayed in the park for the evening. I asked for a ride home with them. This gave me an opportunity to walk and talk with Kathryn. That was the beginning of our relationship.

I didn't have my own car at that time yet, which made dating more difficult; still we got together sometimes. She worked for a family, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Cliff in Fresno. He was a regional supervisor for Woolworth Stores. When he was promoted so that his territory covered five states, they moved from Fresno to Sacramento, which had better connections for his business communications.

So Kathryn moved with them from Fresno to Sacramento for a year. During that time, of course, we didn't get together except when she came home. We had a good correspondence, and I was able to go there at least once. We knew that we loved and appreciated one another.

Then after one year in Sacramento, her sister, Anna, got married and so Kathryn came back to Dinuba and took her sister's job, taking care of an invalid lady and doing housework. Her parents lived west of Dinuba. She did not have to work; she could have stayed home as the other sisters did, but she wanted to work.

She was thrifty—even though she worked for only $20 per month, she managed to save money. After one year back in the Dinuba area, I asked her to marry me. She agreed, and we set our wedding to come on my twenty-third birthday, November 6, 1936. At that time I worked for the Gugenheim Packing Company, a raisin-packing house in Dinuba, California. The price of labor had gone up by then, so I was earning more money—40 cents an hour. The wedding day was packed with activity, going to relatives and friends' farms picking up flowers and greenery for the decorations in the Zion Mennonite Brethren Church, where our brothers and sisters were waiting to decorate for us. Just before evening, there was the customary trip to the photographer in town. No pictures were taken at the church. Soon it was time to get to the church. We marched up the aisle together and sat down on platform chairs, while my pastor John H. Richert brought a message on a text from the Gospel of John, Chapter 2: Jesus at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Rev. Abram Berg, Kathryn's pastor performed the ceremony. This was followed by a reception with a program consisting of singing by a quartet, recitation of poetry, and a speech by Kathryn's former Sunday school teacher, John Kleinsasser, who openly wondered what kind of character I would turn out to be.  It was nearly midnight when we finally left on our honeymoon. I had $50 when we set out. We went to Los Angeles, Long Beach, and over to Catalina Island. We returned after five days and still had enough money left ($10) for one month's house rent. As we were approaching my parents' home at the end of our honeymoon trip, we came upon a man we knew from our church.  He had been injured in a car crash. Kathryn agreed to wait by the road while I took him for medical care.  This was an example of our life as a married couple, with our willingness to care for others, even when it was not too convenient for ourselves.

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