by Bill Rudge
At the age of 18, I decided that whatever I was looking for, it had to be somewhere other than in Pennsylvania. I thought I would find what was missing in my life out West. Or maybe I was running from the God my girlfriend, Karen, kept telling me about. All I knew for sure was I had to get away. So in May of 1971, my weight-lifting buddy and I hitchhiked west.
A few months earlier, my brother and I had spoken by phone. I said I might come out to see him sometime; he said he could get me a “hot” motorcycle to ride from there on out to California. He didn’t really believe I would ever come out, so when (after two adventurous days and nights on the road) we reached Albuquerque and called the hippie compound where my brother was living, I was told he had left the previous day to go swimming in some mountain springs 100 miles away. No one knew when he’d be back.
Deciding then to hitchhike on to Santa Fe (about 50 miles north), we walked three miles before finally getting a ride that took us straight in. On the way, the radio reported night temperatures would drop to 25 degrees – a record low for this time of year. We had anticipated warmer weather out West and were wearing only short-sleeved shirts and a plastic poncho.
With darkness setting in, we wandered the cobblestone streets seeking a place to spend the night; it seemed the whole town had closed down. We eventually found an open bar but were not allowed inside because we were under-aged. “Could we just go in long enough to find someone to put us up for the night?” we asked. The manager, however, didn’t really care about our problems and again refused us entry. We saw a girl cycling by so we yelled at her to stop. She pedaled all the faster, and disappeared down a side street. Now even the bar was closing, no one was willing to help, and our hope of finding shelter plunged right along with the temperature.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, down that narrow street came a small, yellow foreign car with four longhaired hippies, a German shepherd hanging out the window. We began to wave and yell, and suddenly one of them yelled back, “That’s my brother! That’s my brother!” The car screeched to a halt. My brother Larry, who was supposed to be swimming in the mountains 100 miles away, did not know I was even in New Mexico. Yet there, in the small town of Santa Fe, on a narrow street, The God who knew I would one day give my life to Him, intervened at our hour of desperate need.
Back to Pennsylvania
Somehow managing to scrunch into the little car, we drove on to where my brother and his friends were staying. We smoked some marijuana and talked. My brother explained they came down from the mountains to return a borrowed car. But he also explained he couldn’t get us that “hot” bike, after all. The following day, greatly disappointed, my buddy and I headed back to Pennsylvania.
The first thing I did upon my return was to see Karen. She asked, “Bill, why don’t you go with me tonight? There’s going to be a fantastic evangelist speaking in Youngstown, Ohio.” I wanted nothing to do with her Jesus, but she looked so beautiful that I finally agreed to go. I expected to hear the usual pitch, and resigned myself to sit there and watch those stupid Christians walk down the aisle and pray.
But this night was different; the speaker talked on Bible prophecy – on how we can know a real and personal God. The Holy Spirit dealt with me as never before. I’d been searching for meaning and purpose all my life but knew already the futility of looking to alcohol, drugs, sex, weight lifting, karate – or anything else – for lasting peace and happiness. I saw that no self-improvement plan, no patterning my life after anyone else’s could truly change or fulfill me.
A New Man
In a moment, the truth of Jesus Christ became reality to me. The spoken words seemed to pierce my very heart and reveal what I’d always longed for: to be restored to my Creator, through His only Son, Jesus Christ. Though in the past, others had tried to prod or persuade me to a decision, this time I willingly stood to make that long walk to the altar. On the way I said, “God, if you prove Yourself real to me today, I will live my life for You.” Down on my knees, I was totally sincere for the first time in my life. “Lord, I am sorry for all my sins! I want to give my life to You. Please, forgive me.” On the following evening, the evangelist said to me, “Young man, last night there was a battle between heaven and hell. Hell wanted to keep you, but God won.”
My whole life was changed. Now that I had accepted Christ I had to grow in this new relationship with God. I was baptized and began changing from someone who only cared about himself and used people, to someone who really cared for others.
I am a new person in Christ. When I sincerely asked Him, Jesus did what no one or anything else ever did or could have done. Through Him, I found meaning and purpose. Only through Christ could I begin to conquer all the problems I had throughout my life. He truly is the Ultimate and Only Truth. Those who knew me before cannot believe that I am now a minister, and those who meet me now, who do not know my past, cannot believe what I once was like.