Virginia and I arrived in a little Washington “dam town” for our first mission pastorate in midsummer 1954. In just two weeks, we were fully occupied with our first Vacation Bible School. Daily we packed 90 kids into a small storefront building.
One morning, I took our five-passenger coupe to pick up kids from a dumpy little housing project in a nearby rural area. I returned with 15 kids stacked in five rows, three deep.
When the day’s session was over and I’d taken the children home, I discovered a little pair of girl’s shoes in the car.
That afternoon, I scoured the housing project until I found the little owner and her family. Her mother was a redhead named Janet. I visited the family, several times, and Janet and her husband enrolled their children in our Sunday school. Then, suddenly, 300 men got their “pink slips,” in one week, and the family moved away.
Five or six years passed, and Virginia and I had moved to a new mission pastorate. Again, I was a bi-vocational pastor, this time selling cars in addition to pastoring. One afternoon, I showed a new car to a young man, who recognized me. It turned out that Janet had divorced her first husband, and married this man, Larry, who’d been their neighbor. He was distraught because now Janet was being unfaithful to him. I counseled him, and invited him to bring the family to church. Next Sunday, the whole family was sitting in the front row for our evening gospel service.
In their group was one of Janet’s sisters, Marilyn. She seemed to hang onto every word as I presented the glorious gospel of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.
I found out later that Janet had tricked her sister into moving from Nevada to care for Janet’s children while Janet worked nights in a cafe. Problem was, it was only a ruse for Janet to have an affair.
But Marilyn was stuck. She was eight months pregnant and had a dangerous congenital heart condition. Her doctor would not release her to fly back to Nevada.
In an effort to part Janet from her paramour, Larry went to Arizona and got a job on another dam. He sent bus tickets for the family to join him. But Janet decided she wasn’t going. We found her with her boyfriend in a cheap motel. We put her on the bus to Arizona.
Now, Marilyn was really in a pickle. Her family was gone; she could not go back to Nevada; her husband was stationed in Greenland and, because of her heart problem, she did not dare to live alone.
So she came to live with us.
Two or three days after giving birth to her first child, Marilyn’s heart failed and she nearly died. We got her husband home from Greenland and helped transfer her to the nearest military hospital. For several days she hovered between life and death. We were sure we would lose her.
Then one morning, I drove the 100 miles to the hospital and walked into her room. To my utter surprise, she was sitting up in bed, the oxygen apparatus gone, her hair groomed, and she looked wonderful. I could only blurt out, “Marilyn, what has happened?”
Her simple reply was, “I’m saved and I know it!” In her darkest hour, she’d believed the simple gospel message of salvation through the grace of God. God had answered her simple prayer of faith and given her a perfect assurance that, live or die, she would be in God’s care. When God saved her spiritually, He also saved her physically. I have never seen such a dramatic recovery.
In just a short time, she was back in our home. Six weeks later, we put her on a train for San Antonio. The Air Force had transferred her husband there, so she could be near their great medical center.
Though the doctors advised against her having more children, she gave birth to two more children. The second time, she became the first woman to birth with a catheter and monitor in her heart.
For many years, we would occasionally hear from Marilyn. Her news was always upbeat, even though doctors had said she would probably not live past age 35. She did, but we don’t know by how many years.
In her last communication, Marilyn was full of joy as she reported that all five of her sisters, her mother and her eldest child had trusted Christ and were happily living the Christian life. Her husband, though not yet saved, was showing definite interest.
I think about Marilyn often, and wonder if she is still among us, or has gone to her reward. And I can never think of this family without wondering, who would ever have thought that so much good could have come from the return of a little pair of shoes?
The Rev. Cordell Baker lives in Walla Walla and is retired from active ministry. He last served as pastor of an Independent Baptist Church in Tooele, Utah. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should call Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.