52 Years Ago Today! An Excerpt from Chapter 6 (Lost In Paradise) page 117Published February 21, 2019
Martin Brett spoke calmly, but passionately, as he recounted his
own experiences of trying to “lose himself in the bottle.” He testified
how the grace of God offered him a second chance at life and blessed
him beyond his wildest dreams with family, good health, and a purpose. Brett knew his audience well and kept his statements simple
and sincere. He had a lively delivery and yet, he didn’t come across
like a typical preacher. I had mixed emotions. I was genuinely moved
by his testimony, and my personal nostalgic moments reminded me
of my lost yearning for God.
My palms sweat and my heart was pounded as “that” moment
approached. “That” moment was the one that I heard some men
speaking of, as the best chance to score a cot for the night. I had to
answer the “altar call.” The “altar call” was a ritual in evangelical worship services. At the close of the speaker’s message, the repentant sinners are called forward to make a public acknowledgment of their desires to “get right with the Lord” and turn their lives around. The wonderful hymn “Just as I Am” was sung by some attendees while others hummed along. (“Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me.”)
A few men slowly walked down the center aisle to the front of the
chapel. Some men openly cried as they shook the hands of Brother
Johnson and Martin Brett; then, they stood with heads bowed as others
joined them. I felt myself moving forward. I looked Brother Johnson
in the eye. Martin Brett stepped from the platform and embraced
me with his one arm.
When no others joined the group of ten or so, we prayed for
our souls to be healed. Afterward, each man was given a pamphlet
with details on what actions to take to be saved. We were urged to
seek counseling with Brother Johnson or Brother Brett after the
meal. Then, those men with legitimate needs—who weren’t drunk
or high on drugs—might get to sleep in the dormitory for the
The bowl of hot soup and few slices of white bread tasted like a
gourmet feast to me. Most of the diners exited the soup kitchen onto
Fifth Street, but I returned to the chapel to converse with the brothers.
Brother Johnson was talking to someone. Brother Brett motioned
me to an empty chair opposite him; he looked me over carefully. I
expected questions regarding my presence on skid row.
Martin Brett asked if I was sincere in my desire to give my life to
Christ. I assured him honestly, that I was. I embellished my answers
with phrases I learned from many years of interacting with church
people. He was impressed and asked if I’d like to help them at the
mission. It was a ministry of the Reverend Fred Jordan, a well-known
television pastor on a weekly program called Church in the Home. I
agreed to consider his offer overnight, which assured me of a place
I woke up early the next morning. I lay quietly, remembering where I was. I felt troubled by what I had done with my life up to this point. I silently wondered if indeed the hand of God might actually be guiding me, saving me from myself. I prayed for guidance. I was a fugitive. All I had to do was turn myself in to make things right. But I was a troubled and confused young man who needed some time and a place to sort things out. Was this the place?
At 8 a.m., the six men who slept there were summoned to morning
devotions in the chapel with the limited mission staff. Arranged
in a small circle, we listened as Brother Johnson read a bible passage
and explained what it meant to him. Other staff did the same, and we
all recited the Lord’s Prayer. I delivered it forcefully and fervently. I
wanted to find the God of the Lord’s Prayer and get to know him. I
wanted to change my life!
After devotions, we ate breakfast. Brother Johnson asked if I’d
thought about Brother Brett’s offer. He seemed pleasantly surprised
when I said that I wanted to stay and help the ministry for a while.
Brother Brett joined us, and they welcomed me. I was introduced to Emil, the cook, who put me right to work.
Martin Brett said that I would be paid a stipend of two dollars per
week. I noted the date of the morning newspaper on the counter: February 21, 1967. It was my birthday. I was eighteen-years-old.
William L. Ingram / Author of Finding Heaven In The Dark (A Memoir)