By Bill Rudge
Fifty years ago, on May 16, 1971, I began my hitchhiking quest across the country with my weightlifting buddy to get away from my girlfriend and her Jesus. In reality, I was in search of peace, fulfillment and the purpose of life. The adventures along the way – as well as the dangers – were many but the story took a turn while stranded in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We received rides from all types of people.
I remember getting picked up by a businessman outside of Akron, Ohio. I thought, “Nice car!” Wouldn’t you know, he began to witness to me about Jesus Christ. I run right into this religious nut who is telling me about this Jesus who I do not want to hear about. He knew I did not want to hear about Jesus so when he discovered I was going to New Mexico he said, “I know some monks out there.” (I later discovered they were born again, Spirit-filled monks).” He wrote a note and said, “I want you to give this to them and they will take care of you.” He sealed it in an envelope and I filed it away.
I thought, I am never going to see some dumb religious monks, so I later opened the letter. It said something like, “These boys are deeply troubled. Please pray for their souls.” I kept the note just in case we needed to go there and get some food.
Then in Columbus, Ohio, we hitched a ride with a guy who pulled a Bible out of his glove compartment and I thought, “Here we go again!” But when he opened his Bible, there was a hole cut out of the center pages with a stash of marijuana hidden there. As we all shared a joint, I thought, “How cool; no cop would ever think of looking inside a Bible for that.”
Albuquerque, New Mexico
After only two days and nights on the road and many adventures, we reached Albuquerque. I hoped to see my oldest brother who was living in a hippie commune there and to obtain a “hot” [stolen] motorcycle to ride to California. My brother had phoned at Christmas and I told him I might come out to see him sometime. He said he could get me a “hot” motorcycle on which we could travel across the rest of the country. He didn’t really believe I would ever show up.
At the hippie compound I was told that my brother had left the day before to go swimming at some springs in the mountains a hundred miles away. They had no idea when he would be back.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
We decided to hitchhike to Santa Fe, which was about 50 miles north of Albuquerque. After walking about three miles we finally hitched a ride that took us right into Santa Fe. During our ride, the car radio informed us that the temperature was going down to about 25 degrees, a record low for this time of year. I had anticipated warm weather out west in May, so all I had was a short-sleeved shirt and a plastic poncho.
Our ride dropped us off and we walked the cobblestone streets of Santa Fe to find a place to spend the night. Darkness was settling in and it seemed as though the whole city had closed down. Finally we found an open bar but were not allowed inside because we were underage. We asked again if we could just go inside long enough to find someone to put us up for the night. The person running the bar did not care and assured us that without proper I.D. we would not be allowed in.
We saw a girl riding by on a bicycle (the only sign of outside life) and yelled at her to stop but she pedaled all the faster and disappeared down a side street.
We returned to our only hope, the bar, which was now closing. No one leaving the bar was willing to help or put us up for the night. It was very late and the temperatures had dropped drastically.
I had unknowingly served Satan faithfully over the years but now he knew that God was beginning to move in my heart so he led me here and set me up to freeze to death.
Hope was diminishing and then, seemingly out of nowhere, down a narrow street came a small, yellow foreign car with several longhaired hippies and a German Shepherd dog hanging his head out of the window. My friend and I began to wave and yell hoping they would stop. All of a sudden one of them started yelling, “That’s my brother, that’s my brother!” and my brother Larry screeched the car to a halt. One of the passengers, Rick, said, “Yeah, we’re all brothers. You and me are brothers. The guy in the back seat is your brother too.” Larry said, “It is my blood brother.” Rick said, “That’s impossible!”
My brother did not even know I was in New Mexico. He was supposed to be 100 miles away swimming somewhere in the mountains, and there in the small town of Santa Fe, on a narrow street, a God who knew I would one day give my life to Him, intervened and spared my life.
Larry, his buddies, and a German shepherd dog Larry found had hitchhiked up to Jemez Hot Springs (59 miles north of Albuquerque and 50 miles – by road – west of Santa Fe) and stayed for a couple days. Larry and his friends were thrown out of the Hot Springs after a few nights and were hitchhiking back to Albuquerque when a young female school teacher picked them up. She took them to her home – which just happened to be in Santa Fe – and let them sleep on her floor that night. She said to Larry, “You guys aren’t going to trash my house and steal my TV and other items?” Larry promised they would not.
The next day this single female teacher left them a note stating she would be back at noon and that they were welcome to wait at the house. She came back home from school at noon and gave Larry the keys to her car saying they could use it to see Sante Fe but to please bring it back that night since it was the only car she had. She asked Larry again, “You guys aren’t going to steal my car and take everything in my house?” Larry promised her they would not. Another schoolteacher who had followed her home at noon drove her back to school and then dropped her off at her house after school. It was later that night, as Larry was driving the car back to her house, that he saw me. Larry later told me they had thought about stealing her car but wanted to keep his promise to return her car since she had been so nice.
It was on Larry’s way back to her house that God used him to save my life. If the car windows hadn’t been rolled down, Larry would never have seen me. You know why the windows were down in such cold weather? Because they had been feeding Mexican beans to the dog and it had gas. Since the defroster wasn’t working, all the windows would have steamed up, he wouldn’t have seen me, and we would have passed like two ships in the night. So God used the dog’s gas for those windows to be down!
God uses the foolish things to confound the wise and the weak things to confound the strong.
We all scrunched into that small car and soon all of us were hanging out the windows. We went to where they were staying and I completely forgot, or cared, about God. We all smoked some grass and shared stories. Larry explained that he would not be able to get us a motorcycle so the next day my friend and I started hitchhiking back to Pennsylvania. Larry, his buddies, and the dog returned to Albuquerque – never to see that school teacher again and wondering not only why she ever picked them up, let them stay in her house, and borrow her car, but also why they didn’t steal it and take off. For many years, Larry was in and out of prison for drug related charges. He told many prisoners about that miracle in Sante Fe in 1971. Years later, Larry was on fire for Jesus Christ. He died of lung cancer and with his dying words He praised Jesus for what God did in Santa Fe.
Back in Pennsylvania
We encountered many more incidents along the way but were really happy when we arrived home. The first thing I did when I got home was call Karen and then go to see her. It happened to be Sunday so, after our reunion, Karen said, “Bill, I want you to come tonight and hear this fantastic evangelist speaking in Youngstown, Ohio.”
The last thing I wanted to do my first night back was to spend it in church hearing about Jesus. I told her, “Karen, take your religion and shove it.” She persisted so I decided to go since we hadn’t seen each other for so long and she looked so beautiful.
But that night the Holy Spirit was dealing with me in a way I had never known before. The evangelist spoke on Bible prophecy and how we could know God in a real and personal way.
I had been searching for meaning and purpose in life for a long time. I had tried everything imaginable to find lasting happiness and peace. I now knew that what I was looking for would not be found, no matter where I went or what I did, but only through giving my life to Jesus Christ and fulfilling the purpose God had for my life.
When he gave the altar call, Karen and her friends asked the usual question, “Do you want us to walk down with you?” I said, “No. This time I’ll do it alone.”
I stood to my feet and as I walked down the long aisle to the altar, I said, “God, if You prove Yourself real to me tonight, I’ll live my life for You.” That was May 23, 1971. God did, and I’ve never been the same since.
The next night I went to hear this same evangelist speak in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania.
During the service he pointed to me and said, “Young man, last night there was a battle between heaven and hell. Satan and hell wanted to keep you, but God won!”
And that’s exactly what happened. I’ve never been the same and I never will be the same.
God intervened and changed my life in a way no self-realization course, no mind-expansion technique, no latent mental powers, no psychotherapy technique, no martial arts involvement, no weight lifting, no hypnosis, no meditation, no Yoga, no occultism, no Eastern religion, no human potential, no atheism, no self-effort or works of righteousness could! Nothing and no one could change my life, except Him.