Perhaps the greatest joy a Christian can experience is leading someone to confess faith in the saving grace of the Lord Jesus. I believe this is not just a good option for a Christian but a command given to all believers by Christ himself when He gave the great commission at His ascension (Matthew 28:18-20). I love hearing stories of salvation experiences and will ask someone whom I believe is saved to relate their journey of faith. Every story is different just as we are all different, and every story is important because our Savior is the central figure of each story. One of the most unique accounts was part of the testimony of Herb Hodges, an evangelist from Memphis, Tennessee.
I had never met Herb prior to hearing him speak to the Kaleo’s at Kids Across America in Branson, Missouri. This camp is an urban sports camp which has been ministering for the past thirty years, and each year as many as nine thousand kids get a one week, fun-filled camp experience at no cost to them. One of the primary reasons Cathy and I moved to Branson in 2005 was to be close to our daughter Mary Kay, her husband Dave Janke and their two daughters Rebecca and Sara Beth. Dave has been on the staff at Kids Across America since its’ inception in the early 1990’s. This brilliant camp concept was born out of the ministry and hearts of Spike White and his son Joe who were the leaders of Kanakuk Kamps which had operated in Branson over seventy years. These camps give kids from ages six through eighteen the opportunity to have a fantastic camp experience combined with a major emphasis on Christian living. Because inner-city kids could not afford the cost of a week at camp, Kids Across America (KAA) provides the means and the beautiful camp grounds on Table Rock Lake in Golden, Missouri.
Many of the kids from cities like Kansas City, Dallas, St. Louis and Chicago come to the camp in the Missouri Ozarks having never seen a tree growing in the woods nor experienced such a loving environment they find at KAA. From the moment they set foot on the camp grounds they are loved, hugged, encouraged and challenged to be the kind of kids God wants them to be. The total atmosphere is so unreal to the first time campers they are speechless but soon understand they are among friends who love Jesus and love them as well. It is not uncommon for the kids to receive the gift of life Jesus Christ offers before the week is over.
The counselors who accompany the kids from their individual cities and stay with them the entire week are called kaleos (Greek for “called or invited”). During the week kaleos attend talks and training sessions by camp leaders intended to challenge and encourage them in their Christian walk. Guest speakers are invited from various places to add to their total experience. Herb Hodges was a frequent guest speaker, and I happened to be present when he was speaking one morning. Herb gave the following account of his spiritual journey:
“When I was a young man in my late teens living in Memphis I was a rough kid with no thoughts about Jesus Christ nor any interest whatsoever in living for anything or anyone except myself. I wanted to emulate the people I admired, except I wanted to be bigger, stronger and meaner than the worst of them. I believed a real man spoke roughly and used curse words regularly to enhance his image as being a tough guy. I cursed often and frequently used the Lord’s name in vain. Anyone in my presence saw and heard what I considered to be a “real man.”
One afternoon while swimming in a popular public pool I decided to get out of the pool by climbing out the side of the pool rather than at the steps which everyone else used. As I was looking down while getting out I noticed a hand being extended to assist me. I looked up into the face of someone I had never seen before, and while he was helping me up he said, “Son, the One whose name you use as a curse word is the only One who can help you.” This was all he said, and he turned and walked away. I didn’t make any comment to him and never saw him again. Those words kept resonating in my thoughts over the next seven to ten days, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said and what it might mean to me. About a week later I just “happened to walk past a church having a revival meeting” and entered the church out of curiosity. I was strangely moved by what I saw and heard, and when the invitation for salvation was given I responded by giving my life to the Lord Jesus Christ!”
One can never know the eternal impact he has through his life style or the words he might speak or even the extending of a helping hand to a stranger. The point Herb Hodges made so well the morning at KAA was our responsibility as believers is to sow seeds of God’s loving grace regularly and often wherever we might be. We never know when one tiny seed might fall on the fertile soil prepared by others. It could even happen at a public swimming pool!