I was humiliated. One year out of college, a junior auditor with Coopers & Lybrand, preparing for two years of humanitarian service with the Peace Corps, I was locked up behind bars. Fingerprints, mug shots, and my name, John T. Henry, was placed on police record for loitering on the streets of Baltimore. “The Commissioner must hear my story and release me”, I thought. But with no hesitation, he said, “Hold him ‘til Monday, $100 bail.” I pleaded for my right to make a phone call, but they wouldn’t listen. The officers were chuckling. Then voices from the other cells began to mimic my complaint: “Hey, what about my phone call? I have my rights!” They were laughing too.
LATE FOR MY OWN WEDDING
The church bells began to strike noon. I was digging in the dirt. The bells reminded me, “Oh no! I’m late for my own wedding!” I began to run. It was hot and I was dripping with sweat and dirt. After a long midday run across town, I came rushing in the front doors of the cathedral church trying to catch my breath as the wedding march music began. Everyone turned around in their seats. All eyes were on me with disappointment. Then I woke up. It was a dream.
I shared the dream with my brother Rob. He said, “Where were you standing, John?” “In the back of the church, of course,” I replied. He said, “That’s the place for the bride.”
Rob explained to me how the Bible calls the church “the Bride of Christ”. He is a Christian and he told me that the dream I had was from God. He said, “Jesus is coming back for a bride adorned in white garments, but you’re not ready.”
I knew Rob was right about my spiritual condition. But how could I live consistent with what Jesus Christ taught? I was raised a Catholic and though I didn’t act like it I accepted what was taught by the Apostle’s Creed. But something was missing in me. Rob found what I was looking for and I was determined to find it too. I didn’t know that jail awaited me at the end of this long journey to find God.
I CHOSE TO RUN ALONE
Rob suggested I go to a “love feast” dinner sponsored by his church. He couldn’t go, but Dutch, an alumnus from my college fraternity, would be there. The people were too kind to me. I wanted to leave a few times, but I honestly needed to know what was different about them. After dinner, they sang songs in a very lively fashion. They asked around each table who needed prayer. “Not me. I’m fine,” I said. All around the room circles of prayer were formed for those who asked. Everyone there was prepared to extend their love and prayers for those who asked, except me.
Recognizing again my need for what these people had, I quickly gathered with the huddle at my table to pray for a young man who was already crying. They all began to pray simultaneously with their hands lifted in the air displaying an outward sign of an inward surrender. I hungered all the more for this genuineness.
Eyes were closed all over the room. No pressure was put on me to participate, but I knew I must. I slowly raised my hands and began to mutter a prayer similar to the one I heard Dutch praying. Suddenly I knew my prayer had touched God. My heart was touched with a warmth and tenderness that I have never been able to adequately describe.
I asked timidly what I might do to “get involved”. I didn’t like the reply, “Go submit yourself to that fellow in the green sweater.” I couldn’t in my right mind do that. I didn’t know the guy in the green sweater so I left that love feast a little confused. I had determined to know God, even if it meant doing so without the help of other Christians. They may have been off base regarding submission, but I chose the hard way.
Because the Holy Spirit had touched my life, I realized a new conviction of sin. I began to recognize drugs, alcohol and premarital sex as selfish and destructive. A daily 5-mile run replaced those things. As I ran I prayed for God to accept me and forgive me. Because I no longer sought to cover my sin or bury it, I began to feel the wounding of many broken relationships. I was either the cause or the victim of hurts in the lives of nearly everyone I loved. My life-style was selfish. If things didn’t go my way I would either try to make it work my way or walk away; always leaving in my wake a trail of hurt people. Now I was seeking to be reconciled with the One who saw everything I ever did; the One I had hurt more than any other. I knew I didn’t deserve it, but I had to try to make it right with God.
I volunteered to serve in the Peace Corps. I was convinced that getting right with God had to do with how hard I worked at proving my love for Him. Two weeks before I would be given my field assignment with the Peace Corps, I met a girl named Jenny, whose relationship with God shined on her face. I told her I was going out to work in another country for God. I tried to explain who I thought God was. I used many of the metaphors I had found in reading C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.”
Jenny said one sentence that shook me to the core and, ultimately, changed the course of my life. She didn’t argue with me or quote scripture. Jenny simply and humbly said, “I don’t know about all that, John, all I know is I gave my whole life to the Lord.”
SHE CALLED HIM “LORD”
Lordship was missing in my relationship quest. In all my searching and good works, I was running from the central truth about a relationship with Jesus Christ; that He is “Lord.”
Some people are really slow to learn and I may be the slowest. As clear as Lordship had become to me, I still didn’t know how to respond to such simplicity. I set a date to “surrender.” I didn’t know it at the time, but by doing so I was telling the Lord how and when I would allow Him to be Lord. My action became the basis of my salvation. That’s not the way to enter into a relationship with anyone, especially not a saving faith relationship with Jesus Christ.
FROM THE ALTAR TO JAIL
A friend from my college days asked me to be in his wedding. As a Catholic, I thought serving as an usher at a wedding would be as close to the altar and God as I could get. I planned to say my vows to the Lord when they said their vows to one another.
I only had one week before becoming “John, the Christian”. It seemed so final. Overwhelmed, I accepted the invitation to the bachelor party for one last fling before it all ended. I smoked cigarettes and drank beer as if I had never quit. But something was different. I felt dirty. The groom’s brother took us to the “red light district” of Baltimore. What made me any different than the drunk on the street?
The end result of the bachelor party was like so many others; we hurt ourselves and others for the sake of a “good time.” The groom’s brother was a policeman. His way of celebrating was to beat his little brother to a pulp. This wasn’t fun. The next morning I was hungover. We had a great idea on the way to the wedding, the ushers bought a bottle of champagne for the Bride & Groom and, yes, we bought one for ourselves too.
At the altar, I knew I had failed. I wasn’t ready. Smoke on my breath, alcohol in my blood; I couldn’t make my vow to God. He couldn’t accept me that way, could He? I didn’t think so.
I went on to the reception and spent the majority of the time at the bar. I don’t remember how many more parties I went to before finally arriving at a tavern at midnight. I was drunk; worse than ever. All my efforts to know God had ended in failure.
A policeman drove up as I was getting some fresh air. He asked me to move along. Pitifully, I explained that my friend was inside and that he would be coming out momentarily to take me home. He repeated himself. I repeated myself. He said, “I told you twice.” I perked up and said, “No officer, I told you twice.”
I WORE A TUXEDO TO JAIL
I awoke in a cold cell knowing I had failed in my quest to know God. But somehow I knew that God had allowed this to happen in order to show me that He accepted me even in that jail cell. I thought of Jonah, captive for three days in the belly of a great fish because he ran away from the will of God. As the officer opened the doors of the jail when I was bailed out, I felt as though I was being spewed out of the mouth of that great fish. But to what? I still wore a smelly tux. My head still pounded. I turned to the gospel of John. As I read chapter eleven, Jesus stood outside Lazarus’ tomb and wept. It was then that I knew Jesus wept for me too.
I surrendered that day by simply accepting what Jesus Christ has already done through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. I wore a tuxedo to jail because I ran from the will of God. Jesus wore a sinless body to hell because he ran toward the will of God and died on a cross. Because He rose from the grave on the third day having defeated the powers of sin and death, I am justified. I am prepared for the day He comes for His bride. I am free to call Him “Lord.”
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8
I received the free gift of salvation on June 4, 1982. For 24 years, I have served the Lord as a full-time faith missions volunteer with Youth With A Mission, supported by the generous free-will gifts of friends, family, and supporting church congregations.