Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Saved From the Fire, Smoldering and Smoking

Just to review where we were at this time in our lives, 1975. We had lost our seventh baby due to a weakness in my wife’s cervix. She could not hold the fetus in place beyond 5 months. Four of the losses came in the fourth month, just short of that deadline; three were born after five months had been reached. If before the five months they were classified as miscarriages; after as still births, although they lived briefly after being born. If these early births had occurred in our present day most, if not all, would have probably survived. That is how far birth science has progressed. This was not the situation in the 1960s and ‘70s. The doctors concluded my wife would not and could not ever carry a baby to a point of viability and warned against any future pregnancy. My wife claimed she had her tubes tied after she lose the seventh child, a girl we called Amy.
After we lost the seventh baby, my wife sank into a debilitating depression and in desperation we did what we had avoided for nearly a decade. We entered a church. Its name was Laurel Hill Bible Church, a spanking new construction along Blackwood-Clementon Road just down the road from our apartment.
Although the building and location were new, the Pastor and Congregation were not. They   This last loss completed a phase of our lives.
had simply outgrew their old building called Laurel Springs Church (right). How strangely coincidental wasn’t it? Here was this Atheist, whose wife had lost seven babies, who suddenly accepted that a God must exist because he listened to the heart beat of that last doomed child, but still needed something further to complete that message. It is odd, is it not, that in Biblical numerology the number 7 stands for completeness?
Although the label on the bulletin handed to me as we entered that church scared me to death because it read, “Fundamentalist”, nothing untoward happened, no weird behavior, no people slammed a Bible over my head, nothing except friendliness and a invite to come again.
Come again we did. We came the next Sunday and the next. On that third visit the Pastor, Fred Diven was his name, preached from James. I remember him reading James 5: 15-18.
And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.
I was caught by the words I was hearing. It seemed as if Pastor Diven was speaking directly to me, everything he said was my life up until that moment. At the end of the service he stated anyone who wanted prayer should raise their hand. I raised my hand. What could it hurt? They did an alter call almost every Sunday and did so that day as well, but I wasn’t making that trip out in front of everyone. We were all supposed to have our eyes closed, but maybe someone was peaking.
But his message of redemption and salvation stayed with me. Having been brought up by hook or crook against my will in the Methodist Church, before it turned too liberal, I did know the basic procedure and something of the Sinner’s Prayer. That Tuesday I knelt down next to my desk where I wrote and stumbled through my version of it.
There wasn’t any sudden flash of light or voices from Heaven. I didn’t burst out in song, nothing like that. I think the first thing I did was follow an urge and toss all the pornographic magazines I tucked about the apartment into the trash. Well, that’s no big deal. It is the kind of thing many do when they believe that had an epiphany about something, one of those spur of the moment actions in a burst of enthusiasm, like a smoker crushing his cigarettes of an alcoholic pouring her cooking sherry into the toilet. How could I be sure I wouldn’t be running to the nearest adult bookstore by Thursday.
I did feel different. I felt light as if some burden had been taken off me, but what really convinced me of real change was when I dug a Bible off the bookshelf. I hadn’t done that much in recent years, the top of the thing was pretty dusty. I sat down and began reading at random and that was when I noticed something. I had read Bible passages many times in my life and most of them made very little sense to me. Now a sudden I could understand what I read. And amazingly, it was interesting. The more I read the Bible, the more it made logical sense, and the more I wanted to read.
We began being church mice; that is, we were attending besides Sunday morning, the evening service and the Wednesday Night Bible Study and Prayer Meeting. I noticed as we did that
my wife was coming out of her depression, she was becoming human again. We also began to make friends with people at Laurel Hill. A couple we began socializing with was Rick and Mary Lee Webber. I had begun bonding with Rick through shared ministries we were involved in, especially the sound and sight controls for services. I had been in Audio-Visual Club in Junior High School so it seemed an area they had a need that I could fill.
Rick was already involved in this activity and now we worked together. We sat in a small booth at the top and rear of the balcony and ran all the sound equipment, projectors, etc. during services. We didn’t work every Sunday, we shared duties with a few others so no one was stuck doing it every week; however, Rick (left) and I sort of became the chief operators and we generally did any special services as well as every third Sunday.
Being together a lot in that little booth we became quick friends and soon he and his wife,
Mary Lee Webber (right), and we would visit each other.
Rick and Mary Lee were very active, perhaps a bit too much. There children were growing up in the church quite literally. They were at the building so often the sanctuary was a playground to their kids. There is a saying sometimes bandied about in the church community, “So Heavenly minded you’re no earthly good”.  Sometimes we forget that serving God may actually entail a bit less serving the building and a bit more exampling the faith.
I was certainly in danger of this. I was very quickly into all sorts of ministry, even though I was a new Christian and really needed more guidance than being a guide, but like many a new convert in anything my enthusiasm was unbounded. On Sundays I wasn’t manning the audio-visual booth I was Ushering. Then before one could blink I was an active member of the Visitation Team, going out to the home of anyone who dropped a visitor card in the collection plate.  Lois and I also joined the Adult Fellowship almost immediately. Despite being newly members of Laurel Hill and having accept Christ as my Savior only in September, Lois and I were elected the Leaders of the Adult Fellowship (left) by that December. 
Things were to get even more active in 1976. I assisted as a leader for Boy’s Brigade, a
Christian organization patterned after the Cub Scouts. I taught Bible School that summer. If I wasn’t at work, I was at the church doing something.  Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ launched a nationwide campaign called “I Found It”. I became the Publicity
Coordinator for the South Jersey area. I was training, making speeches, meeting with media and ministers. I was at a phone bank along Philadelphia’s City Line Avenue making calls. At one point I was on the street with others making cold call home visits in neighborhoods delivering the Gospel to people. It was an intense and busy time.
Lois and I also attended the week long seminar of Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Youth
Conflicts. Before the year was out we became youth ministers for Laurel Hill’s chapter of Word of Life Bible Clubs. With two other married couples, we planned, designed and ran the meetings of the junior high aged kids in our church. This was almost a full time job in itself and Lois was not really happy doing it, but did it because she knew how much I wanted to. (The Leadership Team is in the back of this photo with a few of the kids. On the left is Liz and Ed Dittman, whose car was wallpapered with religious bumper stickers. They were a semi-hippie couple. Next is myself and my wife, Lois. To the extreme right in the back is Bruce Gardner. His wife took the picture. Bruce struggled sometimes with what he thought was the lack of appreciation on the part of the kids. One day he grumbled about them never thanking us. I told him someday in the future they  may find themselves in need of God's help and remember what we taught them, and that was why we did it, not for thank yous.)
Thirteen to fifteen year olds can be a rough bunch to deal with, I’m sure most junior high school teachers will tell you that. To herd them together more at the insistence of their parents than themselves for some Bible lessons and goody-two-shoes talk is a challenge.  I found it interesting, probably harking back to my teen years in MYF. I wasn’t afraid to challenge them to think more than lecture on dos and don’ts. I had quite a record collection by then, all kinds of music. Pastor Diven and others were trying to urge youth to destroy their Rock records, but I thought it would be better to utilize them for lessons. We sat about and analyzed the lyrics, broke down what the subject was and how it was presented. Better to understand what was being aimed at you then just told it was evil.
I sometimes wrote short plays and in 1976 I wrote a long piece called “Words of Life”, which combined Bible passages with hymns. Every kid in the club had a part in the play and we took it on the road, performing at other churches and in Nursing Homes (generally referred to in those days as “Old Folks’ Homes”).

I also suggested we begin our own magazine, which we did. It was published monthly and distributed in the church. The kids wrote most of the content while I acted as editor, although I did a column in each issue on some aspect of the Word of Life program. The publication was called, "Teens on the Scene for Jesus Christ".
In between weekly meetings we did either social fellowships, such as going horseback riding, or Christian Service.

One Christian Service we did was go to the nearby strip malls and wash car windows in the parking lot. We then would place a tract under the wipers. If a car owner would appear we explained what we were doing and tell them, we weren’t raising funds. If they tried to give us any money, we would refuse it and simply ask they read the tract.
One of the weekly challenges we gave them was when in school that week to tell their classmates they were a Christian. We didn’t ask them to go into any long spiel, just to tell other
kids they were Christian and see where that led. Part of this was to get them over any fear of presenting their belief publically. Of course, anything we assigned to the kids, we leaders had to do. Therefore we had to tell our fellow workers we were Christians. I met with no problem from anyone I told. Some asked some questions, most just accepted
it matter of fact; however, after that I found when someone in the office was struggling with life difficulties, they would come and ask to talk with me. The kids reported back with kind of the same experience. This was in the mid 1970s; I am not sure what would have happened if the same assignment was given today. The kids would have probably been reprimanded for such religious activity within their schools.
This was our life then, working and going to church.

We quickly lost some of our old friends, especially the Stones. We had tried continuing getting together, but they felt we had changed to much, we were now too boring and we just stopped seeing each other. Bill died a few years ago, I do not know where Grace is today assuming she is still alive. Bill had been ten years older than Grace, Lois and I. If he were alive he’d be 85 now.
New friends came along. We didn’t socialize with Pastor Diven, he was not the social type. Frankly, he was rather oft-putting. He was somewhat prideful, although sometimes in laughable ways. He wore a cheap toupee and dressed often in a green leisure suit on Sundays, one of those outfits with the oversized lapels. He had grand schemes for Laurel Hill, none of which materialized, at least while we were there. One was a desire to build on and open a Christian school, a strange desire since he really was uncomfortable with the kids attending Word of Life events in the church, fearful constantly of their scuffing up the floors or breaking something.
He also had a strong desire to become a radio evangelist.
His wife was very quiet and receded into the background. Her name was Joy, but it wasn’t an emotion she displayed very often. Joy Louise Diven died in February of 2015 at the age of 81. Fred Diven survived her and I believe he is still living in Florida where they had retired.
Joy’s sister, Pearl, is the one who should have had the name of Joy. She and her husband,
Reverend Raymond Van der veer were both joyful people. Lois and Pearl became friends and after all these years they still write to each other. Ray and pearl at that time directed the Cedar Lane Missionary Homes, located just behind Laurel Hill. These were cottages where
missionaries would come to from off the mission field at times and stay.  They also retired to Florida and it was there that Ray died a decade ago. Pearl never liked Florida and she moved back with family in New Jersey.  It is a small world, for Ray and Pearl often spoke with fondness, and some wistfulness, about a church they had started and Pastored in Claymont Delaware called Bible Baptist. They had begun it in an abandoned movie theater and finally been able to build a proper church (left). Bible Baptist would play a role in my life some years later.
We also became friends with Rusty and Beth Van der veer (right), who were closer to our
age. Rusty was Ray and Pearl’s son. At one point Rusty and I began writing a play we titled, A Little Fuss. The concept was how the Passion Week would be covered if the media of 1976 existed then.
(A Street in Bethany during Tuesday evening.)

(CLAY ADAMS enters, looking at the houses.)

(ADAMS is a reporter. He is middle-aged, hardened, cynical, and at the moment, dusty.)

(Another MAN enters the street from the other direction.)

Excuse me, sir.


Excuse me, but could you tell me where to find Simon the Leper’s house.

You one of his?


That Nazarene, Jesu barJoseph.

Never met the man. But I am looking for him. I was told I’d     find him at Simon the Leper’s tonight.

That house. Eating with lepers and sinners. One don’t kill him, the other might.  Listen, don’t go falling for any of his talk. I hear he’s a fancy talker.

You never heard him yourself?

Never heard him. Never seen him. Never want to. Nothing good ever came out of Nazareth
I hear rumors, though. I hear he’s illegitimate.

May I quote you?

Say what? Quote me? To who?

My names Clay Adams. I’m a reporter for the Times. We heard there was a little fuss in Jerusalem last Sunday. I was sent down to check out the story, if there is one.

You can quote this: those people in Jerusalem were fools. They
think he’s some kind of king. Well, I say he’s the son of a whore and should be put away before trouble starts for us all. He’ll come to a bad end, mark my words.

Unfortunately, we never finished it. We also collaborated on a story called, “Monster of Little Big Bridge”, but we didn’t finish that work either.
Another couple we became involved with for a short time were Abderrahim and Lennie
Biad. They were missionaries home on furlough and staying at Cedar Lane. He was from Morroco, a country he could not return to because he had a price on his head for preaching Christ. They were in the states raising support to return to the mission field, which would be to the Muslim population in Paris. They did eventually go to France, but I don’t know their fate after they left New Jersey.
All our new friends weren’t directly connected to churches or missions. For instance we befriends the Bob McFalls, who was a Special Agent of the FBI, even if he didn’t look like Hollywood’s version of an FBI Agent.

Our life in the mid 1970s was far from what it had been when the decade started. The porno magazines had all been replaced by Christian books and my record collection now had such artists as Jimmy Swaggart, The Harbor Lights, Honeytree
(Nancy Heniggbaum - right), Bill Gaither Trio, Tony Valenti and other Christian singers then popular. My car radio was preset on WVCH, a Christian station out of Chester, Pennsylvania that broadcast such shows as Chuck Swindoll and Oliver B. Green, or Harold Camping’s Family Radio. This was many years before he got into predicting the date the world would end. He was a fairly respected Christian commentator back then.
My life was busy and happy, actually, but I was definitely into too much too early as a new Christian. Something would soon change all this over involvement and that something was indeed a miracle.

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