When I was 15 years old, I was horsing around at the supper table one night and my mother got fed up: she said, “Son, if you are going to act like a horse, why don’t you go to the barn and spend the night with them.” Being the smart mouth that I was and thinking about my brand new sleeping bag from Army Surplus, I said, “That is a good idea, I think I will.” My baby sister [10 years younger] cried to go with me. It was in late November and rather cool but I let her go. The loft was full of hay but we had a second loft over the feed room, adjacent to the crib which was full of corn. About the time we got situated in the sleeping bag, Holly said, “I’ afraid of the dark, I want a light.” I climbed over to the big loft and pulled the string that cut on the light. The light was hanging from the rafters. The wiring was very old and some parts of the wire were showing. I crawl back into the sleeping bag and we both go sound to sleep. Right at mid-night, I woke up and saw a bright light and felt an intense heat. When I turned, the big loft was in a blaze, no more than 6 feet from where we were laying.
I’ll tell you how close our encounter was: Holly had a puppy who was a sleep at the foot of the sleeping bag but I my only thought was getting Holly to safety, I pulled her out of the bag, went over the corn and kicked out the wooden window, jumped to the ground and then had her jump to me. I moved her away from the barn and that’s when she said, “Where is my puppy?” I head for the barn but before I can get through the window, we hear the little fellow howl in pain. It’s cry of distress lasted only seconds and we knew it was too late to save her puppy. Daddy worked evenings and he was just getting home from work. I knew I was in for a beating: all his hay and corn were in the barn. Soon after his arrival Mother was up and of course, she was overwhelmed with joy that her two children were safe. By this time, the sky was light up from the burning barn filled with hay and neighbors started pouring in from all directions.
Long story short: Daddy didn’t beat me. He didn’t even fuss. He realized, as did mother, that we almost went up with the barn. He and mother were relieved that we were alright but mother and I could not go back to sleep. After all our neighbors had gone home the fire was smoldering, Daddy and the others laid down to get some rest but Mother and I sat up all night talking. Neither of us could sleep, we were wide awake. The near death experience woke us up literally.
Word spread rapidly about the fire. The kids at school teased me. I told them the fire was caused by a shortage in the wiring but they said, “It was a shortage in your cigarette.” I had been known to hide behind the barn and blow smoke rings but I didn’t know how to inhale but I was not smoking the night of the fire. My pastor walked up to me at church the next Sunday, he said, “Jack, God saved you for a reason.” I tried to brush it off but I never forgot his observation.
I was saved when I was nine but I floundered from then to about age 15, the fire and several other things woke me up. I tried very hard from this point on to live for Jesus but I was young and not strong in my witness at all. By the grace of God, I was able to clean up my language and to stop doing some of the stupid things I had done for attention.
By the way, the next week at school, one of my teachers who had heard about the incident said, “Jack, God saved you for a reason.” That’s when I knew this was no coincidence. I struggled with that inner voice for two more years but I was willing to even consider devoting my life to the gospel ministry. I was very afraid that God was calling and very reluctant to listen. Now, I am thankful that God is patient.