In the early morning hours of July 4, 1962, while it was still dark, I was awakened from sleep by my Father, and the first thing I noticed was my Mother crying. They had just received some horrible news. My Uncle David, Mom’s brother, who was only about 44 years old, had just died of a heart attack. My uncle was an airport limousine driver. It seems that earlier that night, which was a very rainy one, he had been involved in a very bad accident while driving the limousine. Nobody was actually hurt, but the cars involved were badly damaged. Evidently, on account of the accident, my uncle was very shook up. Several years earlier he had already had one heart attack. And perhaps this accident was the catalyst for the one he was to have later that night. So it was that at about 2 AM (I think), as my uncle was driving home in his own car, he suffered the heart attack that would claim his life. I was 8 years old at the time, and Uncle David was my favorite uncle. Our planned Fourth of July picnic with Uncle David would not take place, and there would be no Fourth of July celebration.
My uncle, who was single, had been a bit of a carouser in his life. My Dad told stories about how sometimes, after a night of drinking, Uncle David would come home and would have to literally crawl up the front steps to get into the house. However, just a few years before he died, when he was working for a cab company, a fellow taxi driver named Gene Hayble witnessed to him about Jesus. Gene Hayble had had a dramatic conversion. In fact, his story was told on the radio program, “Unshackled,” produced by the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. So, Gene Hayble witnessed to my Uncle David, and my uncle was converted and became a Christian. He started attending the same church as Gene Hayble did, the First Christian and Missionary Alliance Church of Greensboro, North Carolina. After he had been attending church for a while, he decided that when he went, he would stop on the way and pick up his nephew—that’s me—and take him to church with him. Neither one of my parents were Christians, and I had never gone to church. But now, every Sunday, I went to church with my Uncle David.
A few days after my uncle died, I remember telling my Dad, “Someday, I’m going to become a Christian just like Uncle David. But not just yet; I want to have some fun first.” I have no idea what put it into an 8-year old boy’s head that Christians couldn’t, or weren’t supposed to, have fun. In any case, it was a little less than a year later, on June 14, 1963, that I raised my hand on the last day of Vacation Bible School, and said that I wanted to become a Christian. And I “prayed my own prayer” to “receive Jesus Christ into my heart.” And the VBS class in which I did this was one that was taught by Gene Hayble.
I’m not really sure if I actually became a Christian that day. I had a much more dramatic and emotional experience a few months later, and I tend to regard that later experience as the occasion of my real conversion. Nevertheless, that Friday morning commitment made during VBS certainly was not without significance. And it came about because a man who had had a dramatic conversion to Christ decided that he ought to testify about Christ to a fellow cab driver. And then that cab driver became a Christian and decided he ought to start taking his nephew to church. And when the uncle died on account of a car wreck and heart attack in the early morning hours of one particular Fourth of July, something clicked inside the nephew and he resolved to become a Christian just like his Uncle David.
I always thank God for July 4, 1962.
July 4, 2014