Friday, February 16, 2007

Journey To Holy Land

Yesterday I made a trek to holy ground. As I passed the big donut sign on the corner, which was there when I was a kid, my heart picked up pace. As I drove slowly past the white building a flood of memories surfaced. The neighborhood had changed, but surprisingly remained intact. On the corner of Marine and Gramacy was Chapman Elementary where I first fell in love with a first grader, Rochelle Arnold. Amazingly, I can remember her name and face but can’t remember people I met last month…a true sign of old age. Two blocks south I turned right on 149th St. I looked at the little matchbox houses in the neighborhood that was my home nearly sixty years ago. I take another right and back to the white building that I consider sacred space.

I knocked on the door that at one time led me to the Sunday School wing. Scott, the pastor, was waiting for me as I had called the day before. After a few minutes in his office he gave me the tour. He told me that after the “fire” in the ‘70’s they remodeled the whole church, but it looks basically the same. I told him that there was a fire in 1959 as well that gutted the main auditorium and we had to meet in the back where he now has an office. As we rounded the corner I recognized the room where Dr. Loys Vess preached and my father walked forward to become a Christian. I remembered how that on that day I was perplexed as my dad didn’t cry or show any emotion when making his decision for Christ. I thought everyone cried when they became a believer, but not my dad. It was as though it was business transaction and shaking the pastors hand was like signing the deal.

When Scott led me into the auditorium my mind went back fifty-two and half years. Of course the hard wooden pews no longer existed and the concrete floor was now carpeted. I told Scott about that day, Friday August 19, 1955. It was the last day of VBS and my brother, Bill, and our friend Ronnie was sitting on the left side of the auditorium. I can still remember walking down the aisle and kneeling at what we called an altar. I cried and repented of my sins as though I was a hardened criminal, though I was only eight years old. After the service I ran back to our little home on 149th to tell my mom I got saved. A few weeks later I was baptized. The baptistery was actually a tank and the pulpit was built over it. The day I was baptized they didn’t put enough water in it and I was barely dunked. But my pastor, Gilbert Thomas, made sure I got all the way under.

Without question a humble beginning of a long and interesting journey. An obscure little boy attending a little known church led by an unheard of pastor and yet it had universal significance. The neighborhood around the Bible Baptist Church in Gardena, California may just be the inner city to some, but for me, it’s holy ground.