A Changed Life Challenges Jew to Faith in Christ
by Sheree Zippay
Since the very beginning of the Bill Rudge Ministries, Sheree Zippay has been a good friend and faithful supporter. She was our first staff member. Sheree’s testimony is powerful and challenging to both Jews and Gentiles.
My name is Sheree Zippay, and I am a Messianic (believing) Jew. I came to know Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) as my Savior and Lord on December 23, 1973. I was on a search for who God really is.
Karen Rudge, a long-time close friend since seventh grade, told me about the Lord at around age sixteen. I told her I wasn’t disclaiming that Jesus is the son of God, but that was a Gentile thing. As a Jew, I’m not supposed to believe Jesus is God’s Son. That was the way I believed and I wasn’t changing! (Little did I know what God was up to!)
At age seventeen after graduation, I moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the U.S. government. Twice while I lived there I was approached about the Lord: a guy I met in a mall in Maryland, and a few month’s later, a co-worker, talked to me about the Lord. The problem was, I did not understand what Jesus had to do with my people, the Jews. He just sounded so Gentile. Besides, in the last church I went to after being pressed to go by a co-worker, the minister said all Jews were going to hell because they won’t convert and believe in Jesus. I was so enraged I didn’t want to hear anymore about this Jesus.
In 1972 when I moved back to Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, I was not satisfied at all with my life and how things were going, so I started on a search. I went back to visit the local synagogue. The new young Rabbi from Chicago was speaking about the Gentile Christians trying to convert Jews to Christianity. He told us not to listen to them because they were trying to proselytize the Jews.
A few months later Karen Rudge called me from Mt. Vernon, Ohio (where Bill was attending college), to invite me and another friend, Janet, to visit her and Bill. I was so shocked she had married Bill, I was compelled to go. Janet and I went off to Mt. Vernon. I was amazed at what had happened to both of them ― especially Bill. I knew a miracle had taken place. I couldn’t be around Bill for a very long time previously because he could be very mean and cruel. When I saw Karen and Bill in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, I was witnessing totally new people. Bill was completely different! They witnessed to me some more, but I still wasn’t convinced because of my Jewishness. Nevertheless, I was amazed by the change in them.
A few months later I finally decided to ask God myself. I said, “God, if you have a son, show me and I will believe.” The rest is history. God tailor-made the answer for me. A couple days later Karen came into town for the Christmas holiday. Bill was still in college and came a few days later. I told Karen that I believed Jesus is the Son of God and asked her what I needed to do, and she told me. That very evening I knelt in the basement of my home and asked Jesus to come into my heart and be Lord of my life, to forgive me of all my past wrong doings (sins and transgressions). When Karen told Bill, he almost couldn’t believe it.
Bill and Karen told me about a good church in Niles, Ohio. We all went that weekend. I told the praise and worship leader, Charlie, that I became a Christian and I used to be Jewish. Charlie explained to me that I was still a Jew. The Messiah came as a Jew and was for the Jews. Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah; therefore, I completed my faith by becoming a completed, Messianic Jew. He also told me that the Gentiles (non Jews) are the ones who convert ― becoming Spiritual Jews by receiving the Jewish Messiah. I was overjoyed with the news. I felt double-blessed and that I received back my Jewish roots! That same night I was introduced to Betty Best who had just started the Steel Valley Chapter of MJMI ― Messianic Jewish Movement International. She explained everything to me about Messianic Judaism. I became very involved in the Messianic movement and stayed there for three and a half years.
At that point, Bill had graduated from Mt. Vernon Bible College and he and Karen moved back to Sharon, Pennsylvania. In July of 1977, Karen and Bill told me about their vision and burden to reach youth and help troubled teens. Bill was being led to start a multifaceted ministry. I told them I would like to help and be involved as a volunteer. They were excited to have me become their first staff member. The three of us prayed separately in different areas of a local church one evening. We then came together in agreement that the ministry would be called Bill Rudge Ministries. I became very involved with them and totally supported what they were doing for the Lord.
Throughout the years of Bill Rudge Ministries, I have seen miracle after miracle, too numerous to mention. I saw Karen and Bill struggle with no money and many other things that could have discouraged them. Instead, they grew stronger and so did the ministry. Bill Rudge Ministries has been run with integrity before the Lord. Bill and Karen are always careful to do what is right in God’s eyes, regardless of their circumstances. I have supported them prayerfully and financially since the very beginning. They are not only ‘good’ friends, but good examples for God and always put Him first. They always think of others before themselves and care about lost souls. That’s what it’s all about ― winning the lost.
One Scripture comes to mind that the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:13. . .
“But one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and striving toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Shalom! May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
A Drug Dealer’s Life Transformed – Mike Sarkissian
The following is the powerful testimony of Mike Sarkissian. Mike was a former student of BJ Rudge’s when he was on staff as a professor with California Biblical University and Seminary. His testimony is a reminder of how God can change the heart of anyone, even the heart of a drug dealer. Mike has also written an excellent book on prayer called Before God: The Biblical Doctrine of Prayer.
The time in which I actually ceased living worldly and truly surrendered my life to Christ was a very interesting period in my life. When I reflect on it, it does not seem too different from many other people’s experiences (that I have met). However, some have described it as ‘amazing’ and ‘powerful.’ All I can say is that our God is ‘amazing’ and ‘powerful’ and every sinner who comes to Christ is an ‘amazing’ and ‘powerful’ testimony to the power and love of the Living God.
It all started years ago. To make sure I was saved, my parents baptized me as a baby, both in the Catholic Church and the Armenian Orthodox Church. Our family, for the most part, was irreligious and did not value the things of God. Yet, we were ‘Christian’ because of the following reasons: my parents’ upbringing was Christian, we were ‘good moral citizens,’ and we were ‘Americans.’
From the age of ten until about fifteen my mother took my two brothers and me with her to a small Evangelical Christian church down the street. My father stayed home and did yard work. I enjoyed going to church and I learned a lot. Nevertheless, even though I did not want to, I always reverted back to my old self, usually by Monday or Tuesday.
At the age of thirteen I went forward to ‘accept’ Christ. For the next couple of years I began to be involved in the youth group as a leader and studied the Bible somewhat regularly. Yet, when High School came, other interests took over my life. I became one of those who were in the ‘in-crowd.’ Though I was still going to church occasionally, there was no fruit of repentance in my life. I had not taken the call of discipleship and forsaken my old self. One could wonder whether or not I was even saved.
Towards the end of my High School years and immediately following it, I had fallen into a deep pit of sin and depravity. I was consumed with the thought of making money and ‘coming up.’ In my lust for money, power, and ladies, I ended up becoming involved with a family connected to the Mexican Mafia. Though I never even touched a cigarette, when the summer of my senior year arrived, I became one of biggest drug dealers in the city. I already had a problem with pride, and with my love for Italian mafia movies, this really drove me farther from God and more into my self.
For over three years I began to sell anywhere from twenty to fifty pounds of marijuana per month. Trips to other counties and states were routine for me. There were close to twenty people working for me at any given time – growing, selling, driving, etc. Networking hallucinogenics, such as LSD and mushrooms, from various places also became common as well. I had even begun to get involved in connecting and distributing illegal cell phones for a brief time. Though I never had to use them, there was a clean up crew who were always one phone call away. They would take care of anyone or get anything I needed. Praise God I did not ever go that far.
Interestingly enough, while all this was taking place I read the scriptures, prayed daily (including to and from picking up drugs), and even went to church often. My theology had evolved into a hybrid of Rastafarianism (I was heavily into Reggae music) and Christianity. Though I never audibly denied the Lord Jesus my lifestyle proved otherwise. I was a connoisseur of marijuana, writing papers at Riverside Community College, traveling the state to trade or purchase the best types available. I was even planning on going to be a judge at the Cannabis Cup (an exclusive marijuana festival in Amsterdam that is held annually).
Then the Lord started to break into my life rather forcefully. In a period of approximately six months two associates of mine were busted immediately after I left the scene. I was arrested for a DUI, and I was involved in three major car accidents. In the first accident, a car pulled out in front of me, which resulted in my show truck getting totaled. This took place directly in front of a church, which no doubt had my mind wondering. The fire department had to use the ‘jaws of life’ to get the other driver out of her car. Both she and I were taken to the hospital in ambulances. I was also cited for driving on a suspended license.
Though I was receiving treatment for my injuries, two months later, as I was trying to resist God’s calling on my life, I was in a mini-truck that hit a semi on the freeway while leaving a club. My head actually grazed the truck! Yet, I still did not submit to God. I increased my illegal activity moving more and more drugs and came ever so close to funding and operating a meth ring.
I was involved in another car accident three months after that. This one took place within one mile of the first one. We could actually see the site of that first accident and pondered the significance of it with the police officer. This officer, remarkably, was the same officer who arrived at my first accident! He reminded me that I ought to have died in both wrecks.
Miraculously, the old woman, who was in the other vehicle that my friend hit with his 67’ Mustang, walked away unscathed. Thank the Lord! We, on the other hand, had some major bruises and managed to limp away from the site.
Besides all this, the Lord was warning me to cease my activities or else. The Lord practically spoke to me audibly through a dream of which I can recall every detail. A couple of times, people I knew were stopped or raided and questioned about me and my operations. I had many close calls where I was pulled over with a substantial amount of drugs, yet amazingly I was let go.
In one instance, a carload of us were pulled over late one night on the premises of an elementary school. We had paintball guns, marijuana, and all the ingredients to make fifty pounds of meth. The police searched the entire vehicle. They pulled out everything, even the bottles with the skull and cross bones on it, and they let us go.
I remember at least two car accidents happening within one hundred feet of me. It was like the movie, Final Destination. Friends of mine thought death was chasing me down. Moreover, I began to sense a deep emptiness in my life. That lifestyle was not very exciting anymore. Everything that I did became increasingly convicting. This led me to reflect on my sin and how far I had fallen away from God.
I began to study the Bible in depth more than ever and slowly began to decrease my wicked ways. Though I struggled in my mind with my illegal activities, constantly trying to justify various things, it all came to a halt when the Holy Spirit used a passage from Galatians to wake me up from the dead.
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
This passage haunted me, because I knew that my lifestyle demonstrated that I would not inherit the kingdom of God. It was at this time (after about nine months from my first accident) that I fully devoted my life to Christ, was baptized, and got a job as a 411 operator. It paid pennies, but it was a legal job. I praise God for His protection from numerous temptations to go back to the world. Four nights a week I was involved in a Bible study or some type of fellowship, being saturated with the Word of God. The Lord placed such a love in my heart for Him and His Word that He led me to Biola University to finish my degree and later to Seminary, where I would focus on biblical apologetics.
Praise God for His amazing grace! Five years later, the Lord would have me serving full time in a local church. I would never have thought that this would have been my lot. It has now been close to twelve years since the Lord delivered me from that horrible lifestyle of sin.
I had served the Lord at D.C. Christian Fellowship in Moreno Valley for ten years, the last five as a teaching pastor. From there, God in His providence led me and a handful of others to start a church in a neighboring community. We started with twenty people and by the grace of God grew to over one hundred. Many people were leaving their lives of sin and coming to Christ as Savior. It was apparent that there was an amazing spiritual battle going on in the community we were ministering and amongst our families.
At that point in time the Lord led me to study deeply on the subject of prayer and even write a book, Before God: The Biblical Doctrine of Prayer. As the book was going to print, and by God’s grace receiving some excellent reviews, there was a ferocious spiritual attack on my family in numerous ways. For the next three years I went through some tough times of depression, yet, God never left me.
I received my doctorate from Covenant Theological Seminary, was awarded another degree from California Biblical University, and more significantly married a wonderful woman who loves the Lord and is a true helpmate. She has a wonderful heart for people and is a tremendous blessing to me.
These last fifteen years, I have learned a multitude of lessons, theologically and practically, and I know that there are many more lessons God has in store. We have been ‘stretched’ in many ways in our current ministry and have really been learning how to show grace to others. The community that our church is in is very poor and needy. Yet, the Lord is faithful to us and continues to show His favor upon us in many ways.
Early in my Seminary training my eyes were open to the doctrines of grace and my love for God and passion for His Word grew even greater. Contending for the faith that was once and for all given to the saints has been a value in my life. From 2005-2008, I participated in three formal debates regarding historic Christian doctrine (two pertaining to the Trinity, and one on the existence of Hell).
It has been a great privilege for me to know God and be used by God to share his love and grace with others. I remind myself often of the greatness and saving power of God not only in my life, but in my family’s life, and in my church. Soli Deo Gloria
Alvin C. York – World War I Hero
by Colonel Douglas Mastriano
Sergeant Alvin C. York American World War I Hero Recipient of the nation’s highest military award — the Medal of Honor
The Argonne Forest, France, October 8, 1918. After his platoon suffered heavy casualties, Alvin York assumed command. Fearlessly leading seven men, he charged with great daring a machine gun nest which was pouring deadly and incessant fire upon his platoon. In this heroic feat the machine gun nest was taken, together with four German officers and 128 men and several guns.
The Making of a Man of Character
Alvin York was born into a poor family in Tennessee on December 13, 1887. When Alvin’s father died, York said:
I got in bad company and…got to drinking and gambling…I used to drink a lot of moonshine and had a lot of fist fights.
On January 1, 1915, Alvin attended a revival meeting conducted by Reverend H.H. Russell. During the sermon, York felt as if lightning hit his soul and was moved to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. From this point on his life was forever changed and he stopped “smoking, drinking, gambling, cussing and brawling.”
York took this commitment seriously, grew in his faith, taught Sunday school, led the choir and eventually became an elder in his church. York’s old friends tried to persuade him to go drinking, but he refused. It took moral courage for York to remain committed to the Lord, but with the strength of the Holy Spirit and personal resolve, York prevailed. This sharpened York’s character and moral courage, directly contributing to his heroic deeds in the midst of battle only two years later.
Thou Shall Not Kill
York immersed himself in the “trinity of Christian growth”: prayer, Bible study, and fellowship. As Alvin grew in his faith, World War I raged across Europe with the U.S. entering the fray in 1917. Alvin’s world turned upside down in June 1917 when he received a draft notice. When he read “Thou shall not kill” in the Bible, he took it literally. However, he also believed that God ordained governments as instruments to be obeyed. Alvin York summed up this dilemma when he said:
I wanted to follow both [the Bible and the U.S.]. But I couldn’t. I wanted to do what was right…If I went away to war and fought and killed, according to the reading of my Bible, I [wasn’t] a good Christian.
York applied for exemption from the draft as a conscientious objector, but his request was denied. This put York into doubt and confusion. He trusted God to get him out of what he perceived as doing something contrary to the Bible. As he said:
I was [sort of messed] up inside [worse than] ever. I thought that the Word of God would prevail against the laws of men….
York did not know what was ahead, but reported for duty to Company G, 328th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Infantry Division at Camp Gordon, Georgia. York’s Company Commander, Captain Danforth, and Battalion Commander, Major Buxton, were both committed Christians. Buxton and Danforth knew their Bible and dedicated hours of their time to contend with York’s doubts. They literally walked through the Bible together to debate the issue. For every verse the commanders used to support their position on warfare, York countered. Finally, Danforth read Ezekiel 33:6 ―
But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
With this, York said, “All right, I’m satisfied” and resolved to serve as a soldier. Armed with this assurance, he sought to excel in all that was entrusted to him.
Argonne Forest, France
October 8, 1918 ― Argonne Forest, France. It was another wet and foggy morning along the edge of the rugged Argonne Forest. At precisely 6:10 a.m., the battalion attacked, with a mission to take the German Decauville Railroad in the midst of the forest. This would force the Germans out of the Argonne. The attack would take the Americans up a funnel-shaped valley, which became narrower as they advanced. On each side and the far side of the valley were steep ridges, occupied by German machine guns and infantry troops. As the Americans advanced up this shallow valley, the Germans opened up with intense machine gunfire from the left and right and the front. Soon, artillery poured in upon the beleaguered attackers, compelling the American attack to stall. The Americans were caught in a deadly crossfire. As York recollected:
The Germans… stopped us dead in our tracks. Their machine guns were up there on the heights overlooking us and well hidden, and we couldn’t tell for certain where the terrible heavy fire was coming from… And I’m telling you they were shooting straight. Our boys just went down like the long grass before the mowing machine at home. Our attack just faded out… And there we were, lying down, about halfway across [the valley].
The Germans took a heavy toll on the Americans with the survivors seeking cover wherever they could find it. The German machine guns had to be silenced. Sergeant Bernard Early was ordered to take three squads of men (including York’s squad) to get behind the German entrenchments to take out the machine guns. They successfully worked their way behind the German positions and quickly overran the headquarters of a German unit, capturing a large group of German soldiers who were preparing to counter-attack against the U.S. troops.
While the Americans were contending with the prisoners, the Germans on the hill above poured machine gunfire into the area, killing six Americans and wounding three others. The fire came from German machine guns on the ridge, which turned their weapons on the U.S. soldiers. The loss of the nine American soldiers put Corporal York in charge. As his men remained under cover, and guarding the prisoners, York worked his way into position to silence the German machine guns.
As soon as the machine guns opened fire on me, I began to exchange shots with them. There were over thirty of them in continuous action, and all I could do was touch the Germans off just as fast as I could. I was sharp shooting. I don’t think I missed a shot. It was no time to miss… All the time I kept yelling at them to come down. I didn’t want to kill any more than I had to. But it was they or I. And I was giving them the best I had. Sergeant Alvin York
One of York’s prisoners, German Lieutenant Paul Vollmer, emptied his pistol trying to kill York. Yet not one shot struck York. Seeing the mounting losses, he offered to surrender the unit on the hill. In the end, York and his men marched 132 German prisoners back to the American lines, silenced the German machine guns, and enabled the Americans to capture the Decauville Railroad. For his actions, York was promoted to Sergeant and awarded the Medal of Honor. York’s life is relevant for us to contemplate as his physical courage on the battlefield reflected his moral courage in his spiritual life.
The Legacy of York’s Life
There are several lessons derived from the testimony of Alvin York that reach across the generations and speak to us today. The primary one is the impact that godly leaders made in Alvin’s life. Major Buxton (York’s Battalion Command) and Captain Danforth (Company Commander) had every reason to decline speaking with York ― foremost was the serious time constraints the unit was under. The 328th had only a few months to train raw recruits for combat. Despite this, they helped York overcome his doubts.
We talked along these lines for over an hour… We did not get angry or even raise our voice. We just examined the old Bible and whenever I would bring up a passage opposed to war, Major Buxton would bring up another which [sort of] favored war. I believed that the Lord was in that room. I seemed to somehow feel His presence there. Alvin York
These two biblically knowledgeable Christians gave hours of their precious time to help Sergeant York work through his doubts about the ability of a Christian to take up arms in defense of his nation. Their boldness for the faith, patience, and understanding were crucial in helping York fully commit to the tasks that lay ahead. Without the influence of Buxton and Danforth, York might have ended up not serving his country, and thereby not saving his unit from annihilation only months later and depriving us of an incredible Christian witness.
God used Sergeant Alvin York to save the lives of hundreds of Germans and Americans on that fateful day of October 8, 1918. In the decades since his heroic deed, the testimony of Sergeant York echoes across the ages to remind those who have inherited his legacy to live up to God’s calling. As Alvin York, we must endeavor to take our faith seriously, endeavoring to build our character and moral courage “muscles” by choosing to do the right thing every day. This will prepare us for the day of battle that lies ahead. Certainly, York was physically courageous on the battlefield, because he was morally courageous in his spiritual life.
Character is like a muscle; the more it is exercised and used, the stronger it becomes. Every time we choose to do what is right, we build character and moral courage. York consistently chose to follow the Lord’s Way and was faithful in the little things. As a result, he was able to accomplish unimaginable feats later in the heat of battle.
God has endowed each of us with distinct talents and gifts to fulfill His purpose for our lives. In the case of Alvin York, his sharp eye as an expert rifleman made the difference during the fierce battle for the Decauville Railroad in October 1918. With such confidence, believers can move forward knowing that God has equipped us in the right place and the right time to fulfill His plan for our and others’ lives. York’s life is an example of this ― of how an obscure, albeit talented Tennesseean sharpshooter would rise as a witness for Jesus to the nation. What a difference a Christian can make.
A conversation between Sergeant York and his Division Commander, General Lindsey, in January 1919 when they toured the site where York captured 132 Germans three months earlier.
“York, how did you do it?”
“Sir, it is not man power. A higher power than man power guided and watched over me and told me what to do.” And the general bowed his head and put his hand on my shoulder and solemnly said.”
“York, you are right.”
“There can be no doubt in the world of the fact of the divine power being in that. No other power under heaven could bring a man out of a place like that. Men were killed on both sides of me, and I was the biggest and the most exposed of all. Over thirty machine guns were maintaining rapid fire at me, point-blank from a range of about twenty-five yards. When you have God behind you, you can come out on top every time.”
Bairs Displayed the Love of Christ
Bill and Karen Rudge met Bill and Marilyn Bair in the early days of their ministries and were impressed with the love of Christ displayed through them.
Bill and Karen served as foster parents for several Bair Foundation youth and Bill spoke at many Bair Foundation events and conducted training sessions for Bair staff and foster families.
Bill Bair went home to be with the Lord on July 8, 2004, and was joined by his beloved wife Marilyn on April 2, 2019. Bill Rudge was honored to pray and share Scripture with Marilyn the night before she died. She was as loving and graceful as ever.
The Bairs were faithful supporters of the Bill Rudge Ministries and a blessing and encouragement to Bill and Karen throughout the years – even inspiring the Prayer Room we have to this day.
In Marilyn’s Words –
“Dear Bill & Karen, God’s blessings to you, faithful to God friends. I love your newsletters and read them from front to back. Your whole family has been blessed by God in wonderful ways. Karen, how you have blessed me with your precious notes, many times just when I needed them. My Bill admired and loved what you were doing. His big concern was the same as yours, winning souls for Christ. God bless you. I’ll be praying for you. With much love.”
Cam is in Heaven
by KC Hutter
Have you ever heard the phrase, “You’ve come a long way baby?” Well that is where I happened to be Christmas of 1997. Far from the cold of North Dakota, I lived in beautiful sunny San Diego. I had a wonderful Christian husband and my two sons were both married to wonderful women.
All my husband Jerry and I had to worry about was finding a yacht to fill the empty boat slip in front of our home. We attended a couples’ Bible study, were active in our church, and I also attended a women’s Bible study. Had it made in the shade … just where I had planned my life to be while I was riding a tractor and doing farm work on my uncle’s farm in North Dakota. Little did I know that there was a storm brewing that would take my very heart and soul so far out in the sea that my anchor could only touch for a very few minutes, now and then.
Oh, yes, my sons were both doing well. The oldest son, Del, was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force and was stationed with Beth and my three grandchildren in Germany. Cameron, my youngest son, had taken over our family car rental business that he and I had been building for the last seven years … oh, yes, life was perfect.
That perfect life lasted only four months. It was not fair, I told myself for the next four years. Life is just not fair! But I was to find out that the Lord God is fair and He was and still is in total control of my life. I do praise the Lord Jesus Christ for all His comfort. When no person or thing could still my broken heart, He did. Through the long, long, long hours, days, months, and years to come I would repeat the words of the song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”
On Monday, May 7th, 1998, Susan, our daughter-in-law called and said, “I’m a little worried about Cam. Last Friday he had his teeth cleaned and his gums are still bleeding. His nose was even dripping a little blood.” I wasn’t worried about that, as Cam was 6 foot 4 inches tall and had never been sick with anything serious. I remarked, “Maybe he’s anemic; he might need some iron.” Cam left work and drove his little black Porsche, which he raced on Sunday afternoons, to the doctor for a blood test.
Tuesday, Susan called me at Cam’s and my office where I was working and said she was driving Cam to the hospital as they wanted more blood work.
On Wednesday when I walked into his hospital room, there on his small bed was Cameron and his beautiful wife, Susan. Instead of picking out baby names for the child to be born in six months, they were talking about his acute leukemia. He had only had it one week. His chances were better than 70% that by his 33rd birthday in September he would be cured and life would be wonderful again. As I walked out to my car, it just seemed like a bad dream. I called everyone I knew and said to pray for Cameron. That Wednesday morning I had stopped at my women’s Bible study group and passed a picture of Susan and Cam at their wedding, and we ladies prayed for him.
On Thursday Cam had a beautiful white dove on his windowsill at the hospital. Friday, Cam wanted to go to the first race of the Porsche season, but instead his doctor gave him a ride by ambulance to Scripps Green Hospital where he was to have the best doctors in the world.
Saturday, Jerry and I went to see Cam and he was in a good mood. He was excited about his baby to be born in October. I told him that since tomorrow was Mother’s Day I would buy a couple of cute outfits for Susan, from him.
Sunday, Mother’s Day, Jerry and I took Jerry’s mother, Ruth, along to the hospital to see Cam. I did not know that day would be the last day I would look into Cam’s big beautiful blue eyes.
Early Monday morning I was sitting at my desk and it seemed God said, “GO TO CAMERON.” I told Ed to watch the office and I headed to Scripps with the Bible verse that says God has plans for us, plans to give us a future and hope, typed to place on his bed stand. When I walked into his room, his left eye was black and blue. Standing by his bed, I prayed the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm.
Something seemed very wrong. I talked to the doctor on duty to see why Cam did not respond to my voice. She said that he had been a little restless and they had given him some sedatives. She told me, “Don’t worry he will be OK.” I went back to his bedside and his long arm came up to touch his swollen left eye. I grabbed his hand and I told him, “The Lord is here, Mom is here, and you’re going to be OK.” He held my hand tight and gave me three strong tugs, like he was confirming what I had told him. That was my last communication with Cam. I reached up to touch his hair and as I ran my fingers through his hair, there was the death sweat. I called to the nurse that had just walked into the room, “Call the doctor, this kid is not all right.” All at once one doctor, two, three … it all went so fast. An oxygen mask went over his face and the group hurried him out of the room for a brain scan.
There I stood in his empty room when Susan, Valerie, her best friend, and Sandra walked into the room. It seemed hours before the doctor came back into Cam’s room and told the four of us to call the family. Cam’s brain was hemorrhaging in seven places. Within twenty-four hours Cam was dead.
During those last hours, life was a blur. Jerry and I would be by his bedside and then in the hospital chapel praying that the Lord would heal Cam so that he could hold his baby. We were on our faces, on our knees. That was not to be, as Cam’s spirit left him in the early morning hours.
All I could pray for the next two years was, “Jesus, Jesus.” Nicole had given me a plaque that read: “ Do not let go of the hope you cherish and confess. Seize it and hold it tight. Put your hope in what I have promised you. For I am reliable, trustworthy, and faithful to My Word” (Hebrews 10:23). I read this over and over and still my only prayer was, “Jesus, Jesus.” That is as far as my mind could take me.
Working with Cam for the last seven years, I would put books and tapes on his big wood desk almost every month. I told Cam many times, “It is not important how many cars we have on rent, but that we will be together in Heaven.” Sometimes the books would disappear completely. Sometimes they ended up back on my desk.
Still the words that Pastor Miles had uttered, “Cam is on the fence,” were haunting me. One night after I had finished work I fell to the floor in Cam’s office and cried to the Lord to give me some sign that Cam was with Him. The next morning an unbelievable thing happened. Kelley, a pilot’s wife in Australia wrote to my oldest son, Del, in Germany. That letter and another from Kelley’s friend Jill, who had also been praying for Cam, had been E-mailed to him. He read me the most beautiful words a mother can hear. Kelley wrote:
During my prayer time for Cam, I envisioned Jesus coming to Cam while he was in a coma and asking him, “Why have you kicked against Me and denied Me for so long?” And Cameron responding, “My God, You really are He! Why would I choose anything else, I choose to go with You, Jesus.”
I received many wonderful cards and letters following Cam’s death. All these things were like harbor lights to my little boat being tossed in the waves. The only person I let pray for me and with me, except my sweet Jerry, was Bill Rudge. What a faithful brother and friend he was and still is. Bill went to the gravesite with Jerry and me on the second anniversary of Cam’s going home to heaven. Tears by the bottle. I could not go to the gravesite as I would wail until the very veins in my nose would break and the blood would run all over my baby’s grave. Yes, even at the young age of 32, he was my baby.
For many years following, I could not take my eyes off my grief. All my hopes and dreams for the future were gone ― destroyed in one week. Then one day Bill Rudge walked into my office and gave me a set of praying hands. The hands were made of olive wood from Jerusalem. Bill also penned these words, which hang on my wall today:
The Lord spoke to my heart to give you these praying hands from the old city of Jerusalem. The Lord impressed that they should remind you to keep praying and trusting. Restoration. One day your hands and Cameron’s will be together again. Look up, just as the fingers of the hands point heavenward, always keep your eyes on Jesus.
We live in a hurting world and need to be aware of our friends that need to know about God’s love. My life has been changed forever. My boat will never be tied to the dock again. But my Savior has me on a lake where I can fish for men and women to tell them Cam’s story. Through all the tragedy and pain and tears God has been faithful.
Bill Rudge called to ask if “Cam Is In Heaven” would be a good title for this story. I asked him, “How did you remember?” Bill said, “Remember what?” I responded, “On Cam’s headstone it reads, ‘CAM IS IN HEAVEN.’ ”
Precious Lord, Take My Hand
In her memoir, How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, author Kc Christman Hutter chronicles a life filled with disappointments and broken dreams. The question, “What is wrong with me?,” would haunt her throughout the years as she tried to sort out the reasons why. Deaths, divorces, money problems, health problems, and loneliness: through it all, God held her hand. “Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath” (Psalm 34:17-18). Kc renewed her faith after picking up her uncle’s worn, dusty The Living Bible and reading it cover to cover. She had forgotten how very much God loved her. It wasn’t too long after that Kc met her soul mate, Jerry Hutter, and shortly thereafter they were born again, baptized and married. Life was good. But life is hard. Kc’s handsome, healthy son, Cameron, who had become her business partner, was diagnosed with acute leukemia and within a week he was gone. No one can describe the anguish of a parent who has lost a child. Kc pours out her heart in this book; her soul’s desire is to guide those who are hurting and without hope to the “Mender of Broken Hearts.”
Conversion of a Voodoo Witch Doctor
by Bill Rudge
Jacques (witch doctor by Mission Possible) & one of his girlfriends (Chalesia) right outside Mission Possible.
Bill sharing Christ in Jacques’ hut.
Jacques’ hut surrounded by villagers as Bill leads Jacques to Christ.
Hands raised in committment after Bill’s message.
Tabitha playing with kids outside Jacques’ hut while Bible study going on.
Bill having Bible study at Jacques’ the day after his conversion – Salvation Army pastor (Boisrond) interpreting.
Village ministry by Sanu’s hut.
Bill baptizing Jacques and Chalesia.
Jacques shares his testimony with Sanu and they both are in the center of our circle.
In the midst of coup attempts, embargoes, political upheaval, excessive poverty, and oppression from voodoo, God’s Spirit still moved in a powerful way. The following are excerpts of an actual encounter with a voodoo witch doctor including details supplied by other eyewitnesses. These well-documented experiences occurred during five mission trips to Haiti.
He was known to be the meanest man in the community…a killing machine who murdered and tortured many people through voodoo. His name was Jacques, the voodoo priest (more popularly known as the witch doctor). I met him in Haiti during my first outreach there. He was living with a woman near the Mission Possible compound.
Except for what Leila, my interpreter who was serving as a missionary in Haiti, told me, I knew little about Jacques when we first met. Leila told me that a few years earlier Jacques had been preparing to sacrifice a baby when she intervened and rescued the child from his arms.
Another account involved Idelette, a beautiful Haitian girl, who worked at the mission compound. Her mother was seriously involved in voodoo with her boyfriend Jacques, the witch doctor, and was quite upset that Idelette was working at a Christian mission where she would reveal Jacques’ voodoo secrets. This also greatly angered Jacques.
One day, those at Mission Possible heard awful blood curdling screams and voodoo drums. Some of the missionaries looked over the mission compound wall and saw that Jacques had tied up Idelette naked to a chair and was beating her and using hot charcoal to burn the religious spirit out of her. He cut her head with a machete and tried to force her to drink a cup of animal blood and denounce Jesus. She would not denounce Him!
I asked why they did not intervene. I was told that it was unlawful to interfere with a voodoo ceremony and they were afraid the voodoo practitioners would come and machete everyone to death in the mission compound.
Again, I was hearing firsthand about the paralyzing power of darkness. Yet I knew through Scripture and years of personal experience that the power of God is greater. The awesome, transforming power of God is what this story is all about.
Jacques and I met for only an hour that day, but it was enough to plant the seeds of God’s powerful truth in Jacques’ mind. I asked probing questions about voodoo; he remained elusive. So I turned instead to sharing my testimony of how God changed my life.
I felt great compassion for him from the Lord. God’s Spirit was leading me to share the love of Christ gently with him rather than to come on too strong. So I said it in love, but it was bold. I declared to him that the spirits which gave him power and information were not gods but demons. I warned him that when the spirits, which he thought he controlled, had no more use for him, they would discard him like garbage. “When they do,” I said, “the only One who is powerful enough to help you is Jesus Christ. So call on Him!” Jacques said he was not ready to give his life to Christ, but he did want me to pray for him.
The seeds of truth were planted. During the following two years they were watered by Bettie, director of Mission Possible, who greeted Jacques with “Jesus loves you!” whenever they met. The Lord was working on Jacques’ hardened heart to the point that when Bettie told him I was coming back to Haiti he got excited! Shortly after I arrived, Jacques came to the mission compound at night to see me.
I brought a team of seven people with me during this second outreach to Haiti. We spoke at several churches and schools, including remote mountain schools that few missionaries ever get to. We ministered hut to hut in several villages and delivered thousands of pounds of food to many mountain communities. This was also the appointed time for Jacques’ conversion.
The day after we arrived I went to Jacques’ hut with several team members. I stood face to face talking to him as Rosemond, the interpreter, stood to the side of us. Jacques towered over me by almost a foot. I shared with him from Revelation 20:11-15 that unless he gave his life to Jesus Christ and his name was written in the Book of Life he would be separated from God’s presence for eternity.
After sharing for a little while longer, I told him I would come back the same time tomorrow and we would have a Bible study together. I did not want to push him too fast, but he called me back to pray. I believe he had cast many spells on me during the past two years, but when he saw they were ineffective and that I had courage and love from the Lord, he wanted to know the God I served. So during the prayer I mentioned the power of Christ being greater than the power of voodoo and renounced Jacques’ past voodoo involvement—all of which he sincerely repeated after me.
By this time Jacques’ hut was surrounded by people who were peering in—some of the men had hateful glares on their faces. Their eyes seemed enflamed with anger.
During this whole ordeal I was focused on Jacques and aware of little else. Things were unfolding so quickly and happening spontaneously as some team members were praying and others were playing with the children to keep them occupied. My wife later told me that she started to pray outside the hut when suddenly a strong evil presence almost knocked her over. She started to quote Scripture and a peace came over her. She prayed a hedge of protection around the hut and all of us.
Jacques led me into an inner room of his hut where all his voodoo items were kept. He lit a candle in this dark room and began to gather all the voodoo pictures, fetishes, leaves, and other items to burn. The Spirit of God was so powerful in that little room that I said to the others, “Get on your knees.” Simultaneously myself, Jacques, Rosemond, and two team members who had just joined me fell to our knees as I prayed a prayer to dedicate Jacques’ hut to the Lord.
Jacques was gathering up the voodoo items and taking them outside to burn. By now almost 100 villagers were gathered outside the hut. Jacques went back in his hut and even brought out the stand his voodoo materials were on. Rosemond got some dried grass and found a neighbor with a lighter and burned them.
Jacques went back in the hut and dug up some bottles. An inverted cross in his yard was burned. Jacques even pulled out an aloe vera plant he used for herbal medicine and spells and cast it into the fire.
I have never felt God’s power so great. It was like a chapter out of the book of Acts. Through the interpreter I said to the people gathered in a large circle around the burning voodoo items near Jacques’ hut, “You may want to know what has happened this day. The God who created the heavens and the earth has revealed Himself to Jacques and Jacques has given Him his life.”
My daughter Tabitha and another female team member saw two men with machetes and one man with a lead pipe run over. Their nostrils flared and their eyes were inflamed with rage and hatred. I am sure Satan’s plan was for them to kill me, the interpreter, and Jacques, and thereby put an end to all of this, but God protected us. Besides, His presence was so real that I had no fear at all.
After finishing my message and sharing the truth and reality of Christ and their need to accept Him, I said, “All who want to have the courage Jacques had to accept Christ, raise your hand.” I raised mine and so did all of my team members, as well as most of the women, all of the children, and some of the men. But still many men stood there with hate in their eyes.
I knew Jacques might be greatly persecuted or even killed, so I told the people that I would hold a Bible study the next day at the same time. I went to the two meanest looking men and said that I hoped they would come. They said they would.
Bettie later told me that the whole village and community were talking about it. Later that night Jacques came to the mission compound on his own and joined in the singing. Everyone at the mission compound praised and thanked the Lord for the tangible miracle He brought through Jacques that day.
The next day we went to Jacques’ hut and had a Bible study. It went well. Pastor Boisrond of the Salvation Army who interpreted for me said he would help disciple Jacques when I returned to the U.S. After Bible study, I had our group split into three teams, each group with its own interpreter. We went into the nearby villages to minister and all had great experiences.
Jacques told us that God began dealing with his heart two years ago, after I initially talked to him. Then when I came back to Haiti, he made his final decision to give his life to Christ when he burned everything. Bettie said this was the greatest miracle they had seen that year.
We learned that several days earlier, Jacques had been given thirty-five dollars to perform a voodoo ceremony for someone. But when he converted, he said he would not do it and that he would pay back the thirty-five dollars. Jacques is a changed man.
A fax from Bettie to the Mission Possible headquarters in Florida titled, “Witch Doctor Saved In Haiti,” stated—
The air was thick and heavy as the bonfire burned brightly behind the compound. The gods of voodoo were being burned up. For miles around, people were talking and gathering toward the site of the fire. He’s been converted! After hearing this report of the dreaded witch doctor Jacques Innocent, some came to the place with great joy, others with machetes. What a miracle!
The last time Bill Rudge was here was two years ago. At that time he asked me to get him an interview with the witch doctor who sometimes tried to torment us. This man had been known to be vicious, even a killer. Bill asked him some questions, told him that he loved him and so did Jesus, and that he would pray for him. From that time on when I would see him, I would stop and greet him. Sometimes he would respond, other times not.
When Bill came back this week, along with a group, he asked again to see Jacques, so I arranged it. When they met again, Bill talked to him about the Lord. He accepted Jesus with tears of joy. Jacques remembered the man who took time for him. He said that God had been working on him since that time.
The bonfire was his statement to the community that he had made his choice. He burned cards, jugs of potions, beads, feathers, and pictures. The last thing to go was an aloe plant in his yard. He used it for the basis of his potions. When all the things were burned, the power of God was awesome. When our Haitian helpers heard the news, they danced in the kitchen singing, “Jacques is converted! Jacques is converted!”
Jacques stated the following while sharing his testimony in a nearby village:
If there are any of you who do not know me, it is because you have not been here long. This was my district as a witch doctor. You looked to me as your god, but I am here to tell you that I am not your god. Then he pointed his hand toward heaven and said: “My God and your God is up there.” He proceeded to share what happened to him and how his conversion has affected his life.
Right after his testimony at one of the villages, a man came up and said that he wanted what Jacques had. Not long thereafter, when the Gospel was shared with Jacques’ mother, she responded by indicating that she wanted what Jacques had, as she had observed the change in her son.
One of the men who had a machete and wanted to kill us during Jacques’ conversion became a believer in Christ after several years of watching the change in Jacques’ life. I have no doubt that Jacques’ conversion has touched many lives in Haiti and there will be many Haitians in heaven as a result.
Since his conversion, Jacques has endured much suffering for the name of Christ. He has gone through many difficulties, but continues to be faithful because the truth of God’s Word has set him free and the love and power of Christ, which are greater than anything he had known before, sustain him.
During my fifth outreach to Haiti, more than ten years after Jacques’ conversion, Bruce Lozier was one of the team members who went with me. It was a powerful trip in the midst of much turmoil and danger during which Jacques traveled with us to minister. Bruce writes:
During Jacques’ testimony, he told of some dreams that he had. One was before he came to know the Lord and one he had after coming to know the Lord as Savior. The first dream was that a white missionary was going to come to share the good news of Jesus Christ with him. In the dream, he was told that if he did not accept Jesus as Lord he would soon die. One day this dream was fulfilled when the Bill Rudge ministry team returned to Haiti and Bill had the blessed opportunity to lead Jacques to Jesus Christ. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between these two men as well.
The second dream that Jacques shared was that Satan came to him and told him that he was going to make him a very wealthy man, but first he had to denounce Christ and serve Satan. As proof of his allegiance to Satan, he had to thrust his hand through a dark hole. Jacques refused and his response was that he was through with all of that and he said, “I serve Jesus now.”
I had heard many stories about Jacques before coming to Haiti and I was elated to get to know him and hear him give his testimony. I was greatly encouraged to see how God turned this man’s life around.
It seems like only yesterday that we met Jacques when he was steeped in voodoo and occultic superstitions. Truly, God has changed his life. Many other amazing things have happened as a result of Jacques’ conversion, but are too numerous to share in this article. God’s grace and power continue to touch lives that have been bound in darkness with the light of His Gospel.
I have also had encounters with many other voodoo witch doctors on their turf. The power of Christ has always proven superior, and the love of Christ has always touched their hearts in some way.
Faith Through The Fire – BJ Rudge
by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.
At the age of six, I started playing soccer. I didn’t like to practice nor did I see the importance of it. All I wanted was the excitement and challenge of the game and to score goals.
Having been a fitness instructor in the past with some soccer coaching experience, my dad knew that if I was going to be good and achieve my potential, I had to train. He made me practice every type of kick imaginable using both feet, run laps, and do various drills he would invent. He made me practice soccer in the rain, mud, and snow. Above all, he sought to teach me the importance of honoring the Lord and having a good attitude. I became so motivated and dedicated that I would train two to three hours on my own almost every day. The fruit of my labor paid off. In June of 1991, at age 14, I was to leave for Europe where I was selected to be on Teams USA in soccer to compete for one month against teams from around the world.
Everything was set for me to leave. I had been training for hours every day in preparation. Five days before I was to leave for my “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity with Teams USA, I was trying out in Erie, Pennsylvania, for the Keystone State Games that were to be held in August. In the process of scoring a goal, I collided with the goalie who kicked me in the ankle, flipping me over. The coach thought my ankle was only sprained and planned to put me back in the game, but I was unable to walk. After an hour-and-a-half drive back from Erie and X-rays in Hermitage, we discovered that not only was my ankle broken, but I would also need surgery. My dream appeared ruined and my heart was broken. As tears ran down my face, my dad promised me that if I trusted the Lord and honored Him, somehow the Lord would bring good out of this tragedy.
In the meantime, the coach, still unaware that I had broken my ankle, called to say I had made the Keystone League (Great Lakes Region) team.
At church the next Sunday morning, special prayer was offered to God on my behalf. My dad said he really sensed the Lord’s presence and felt a strong witness in his heart. He believed God healed my ankle, as did the pastor and everyone else. But X-rays on Monday proved otherwise. We had many more difficulties to go through, but we continued to trust the Lord.
After my surgery, my dad told me that the Lord wanted me to learn two main character traits through this — patience and kindness. It was amazing how the Lord worked in my life. Instead of this adversity driving me away from the Lord, it drew me closer.
Initially my parents were told that I would need three to six months for full recovery. As it turned out, I was able to have my splint removed three weeks after an excellent surgery by Dr. Bonier. I was able to resume normal soccer participation only two months following surgery. During the fall of 1991, I helped coach two younger YMCA soccer teams, played on my own team, and also refereed for two different soccer leagues.
Although the Lord was obviously still working in my young life, He used something of this magnitude to teach me to trust and honor Him — no matter what. The Lord greatly blessed me for staying faithful in the midst of trying times.
The following article, BJ Rudge: Striving For Excellence, written by Ashley Sharapan, was printed in May 1992 on the front page of The Hickory Leaf, the Hickory High School newspaper, and is a good summary of the events:
Although BJ Rudge was eligible for Teams USA, a very prestigious soccer team, in 1991 a soccer injury prevented him from traveling with the team. This July  BJ will travel with the East-West Soccer Ambassadors for three weeks in Sweden and Denmark to play in the Gothia and Tivoli Cups.
Since he was six years old, BJ has played soccer. …He has been named the most valuable player at least three times and has won awards for the most goals scored, yet BJ still strives to achieve further goals.
At 14, BJ was honored by being chosen to represent the United States throughout Europe with the soccer team, Teams USA. However, his dreams were shattered five days before he was to depart for Europe. While trying out for the Keystone League soccer team, a state team, BJ was injured when the goalie kicked him in the ankle. BJ comments, “The hour-and-a-half trip home from Erie was extremely painful, but I hoped that my ankle was only sprained.” Just as BJ found out that he made the Keystone League team, he also found out that he couldn’t go to Europe because ankle surgery was necessary. “My dreams seemed ruined; my heart was broken, but I believed in the Lord and trusted all would work out.”
Initially it was thought that BJ had to be off his ankle for three to six months, but the splint was removed just three weeks after surgery. He began playing soccer regularly, coaching two YMCA younger teams, and refereeing for two different soccer leagues. BJ even coordinated his own team to play indoor winter soccer in Austintown. He is continuing rehabilitation to strengthen his ankle and practices and plays a hard game. Dedication, determination, and heart have paid off for BJ! Because of his and other students’ love for the game, having an official school team was presented to the school board. On April 27th  it was approved at the school board meeting. BJ is thrilled to hear the news!
During the July 1992 European tour mentioned in the above quote, I was able to make significant contributions to the USA team. Not only was I appointed team captain by the coach during the whole tour of both Gothia (Sweden) and Tivoli (Denmark) cups, I scored the most goals for my team and was leading scorer in my age group for all East-West USA teams. I also scored the one and only point of the game against Norway to help the American team qualify for the Gothia cup playoffs. Time would soon prove, however, that the Lord was not yet done refining me through the fire. I had many more trials to face as the Lord continued shaping my young life, like a potter molding clay (Isaiah 64:8).
The Refiner’s Fire
I was only 16 and in a few weeks would begin my senior year of high school. Much of the summer was spent traveling in the eastern part of the U.S. during my soccer itinerary. I was on several different teams, as well as the Olympic Development Program. My parents felt it was a wise investment of their time and money since this was the year I needed exposure beyond our area to enable me to get a college scholarship for soccer. I had high expectations that my senior year would be my best year of high school. I would be playing soccer in the fall for my high school’s first year of varsity soccer. My soccer coach had hopes of being in the playoffs our first year with me on the team. I was instrumental in helping start soccer at my school, which then quickly spread to many other schools in the area.
Also in my senior year, I was going to kick for the high school football team ― something I had never done before. After seeing me kick, one of the football coaches began training me for the position. The soccer and football coaches were going to cooperate so I could participate in two varsity sports during the fall season. Then in the spring I anticipated another great season of running track. I was certain it was going to be a great senior year. Life, however, does not always turn out as expected. A few days before starting both soccer and football summer camps, the Slippery Rock University soccer coach saw me at a tournament at a university in northwest Pennsylvania and was impressed. Not only did he want me to go with him the following Saturday to play on his team in a tournament at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but he also offered me a scholarship to play on his college team once I graduated from high school.
On Saturday, August 14, 1993, I played in this tournament. During one of the games, I jumped over the goalie on the way to score and heard a pop in my knee. I could barely walk. It was just two days before football and soccer summer camps were to begin.
The news couldn’t have been worse concerning my knee injury. When our family doctor drained my knee, instead of clear fluid there was blood. We then went to several knee specialists who informed us that not only was there cartilage damage, but I had also torn a ligament. The MRI results confirmed a near-complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament. Reconstructive surgery was recommended. To make matters worse, I was covered by insurance on all the 30-plus soccer games I had played that summer for PA West, Keystone League, and Olympic Development Program, but not the tournament in which I was injured.
I had previously broken my collarbone and left ankle, and now I “blew out” my right knee. My dad reminded me how two years earlier when I had broken my ankle trying out for the state games and lost my trip to Europe, the Lord worked it all together for good. He assured me that God would do the same this time. With tears in my eyes I said, “I know God was faithful and that I was able to repeat Europe the following year, but I can never repeat my senior year in high school.”
Since it was my senior year, I opted to postpone surgery until after soccer season. I decided to do rehabilitation to strengthen my leg enough to be able to play with a brace. I did not want to let down my team, and I still had hopes of getting a scholarship for college. After five weeks of excruciating rehabilitation, I returned to play with my team.
A few days before my second game I received threats that if I played, opposing players would re-injure my knee. Word had gotten out that players on the other team were saying, “If BJ plays, we lose; if BJ doesn’t play, we win.” I asked my dad if he thought I should play or not. He said, “I’m not one to back down to threats, but it’s your choice.” After prayer, I decided to play. As soon as I dribbled the ball, I had three of the other team’s players all over me. I was able to weave through them the first time, but the second time I had the ball would be my last. Within a few minutes of playing in the game, I was slide-tackled from behind, which re-injured my right knee. I went down in excruciating pain and was carried out of the game.
Two days after re-injuring my knee we were able to see Dr. Fu, a knee specialist in Pittsburgh. We were informed that the anterior cruciate ligament was completely torn, and there was no alternative but to face extensive surgery. My dad told me on the way home from that appointment, during which we set the surgery date, that “Trials, obstacles, and difficulties put iron in our blood and make us strong as nails.”
After I arrived home from Pittsburgh, my dad returned my soccer uniform to my coach. That very day I also took down all my plaques, trophies, and jerseys from my bedroom wall. My parents thought I had thrown them all away, but later found them in a bottom dresser drawer.
Tacked on the wall where the plaques had been, I placed two pieces of paper with hand-printed words. The first stated: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” The second one stated: “The end result is always victory.” I recorded the following in my journal:
I always wondered why people had to go through hard times. Also, why the Lord doesn’t always intervene when you want Him to. But since I injured my knee, I learned a lot of things. First, I learned that I had the best family who loves me and really cares about me. Second, I learned a lot of character, and my relationship with the Lord grew stronger. Maybe things didn’t work the way I wanted them to. I didn’t get to play soccer and football my senior year. I didn’t even get the healing I wanted from the Lord. What I did get is more important than playing soccer and being the big star. I found the true meaning of what it is to love the Lord. Lord, I thank You for Your faithfulness and Your love. Help me continue to grow stronger in You.
On October 8, 1993, I had the reconstructive surgery and a ligament transplant in my knee. As the Lord continued to stretch our faith, He assured us that this too would work out for good, and the end result would be ultimate victory.
When I initially injured my right knee on August 14, 1993, my dad fasted. My mom and I also fasted as together we sought the Lord with all our hearts. My dad said, “In all my walk with Him, I had never sought Him so earnestly or felt so close to Him. I knew of no other way to seek Him anymore but to seek Him with all my heart.” The promise the Lord gave us from the day I first injured my knee was to trust Him, and everything would work out for ultimate victory and blessing. One such blessing came later when we discovered that since I was injured during a school game, the school insurance would cover the surgery and hospital expenses. My parents would personally only have to pay a few thousand dollars for the previous rehabilitation and brace, and could make interest-free payments for that. I told my dad one day before surgery that I had more fulfillment from and desire to play soccer than anything else. But I also said, “I desire the Lord even more.” My dad said, “The Lord wants you to have a desire for Him which is greater than your desire for soccer. The Lord will eventually give you greater fulfillment than soccer ever could. And the Lord wants to take the skill you have in soccer, and give you even greater skill in serving Him!”
What I temporarily lost physically, I gained spiritually. Not only did the Lord use these circumstances to greatly mold my character, but I also ended up at a Christian college instead of going to a secular university as originally intended, where I would have played for what appeared to be a more prestigious opportunity. In March of 1994, during my senior year in high school, I decided to attend Geneva College from which I had received a soccer scholarship. In April of 1994, while I was on a senior class trip to New York, my parents put all my plaques and trophies back up on my wall. I was pleasantly surprised when I returned home. My parents told me that it took a long time to put them back up so, if I got injured again, to please not take them down. At the bottom of my sign stating, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” my dad added the words, “And the Lord giveth back!” Gradually, the Lord instilled in me a desire for ministry, to pursue my doctorate in theology, and to one day teach at the university level.
All Things Work Together for Good
Although only a freshman, I was on the varsity team at Geneva College. On November 4, 1994, just two weeks after knee specialist Dr. Fu told me that my right knee was fully recovered, I injured my left knee during soccer practice. I had spent one year rehabilitating my right knee and had been playing with a brace while at Geneva. A few days before my injury, the team ran nine miles on cement. My dad was concerned because my right knee was sore from it and I didn’t want to complain or make excuses. During a practice session at the college, another player pushed me just as I kicked the soccer ball. I heard a similar pop in my left knee exactly like the one that occurred in my right knee a year earlier. I knew I had torn another ligament. Sure enough, on November 7, 1994, Dr. Fu drained blood from my left knee and said I needed the same surgery as I had on my right knee. The MRI showed a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament and other damages. From November 7-30, my parents fasted from all television and, occasionally during that time, they fasted on just liquids and fruits and vegetables for one to three days at a time. They fasted for the “Lord to be glorified through BJ’s left knee.”
My injury occurred two weeks before we were to leave for a ministry trip to Haiti. Although Dr. Fu told me upon examination on November 7 that I needed surgery, the plans were finalized the next day to go to Haiti on November 23. So in spite of torn feelings and pressure to stay home, we planned to move ahead on the trip and trust God to work things out. On November 14, the MRI report confirmed the doctor’s prognosis — a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament plus other damage. I was scheduled for reconstructive surgery on December 13, 1994, and would then have many months of intensive rehabilitation. In spite of this report, we continued our plans to go to Haiti.
Just days before our trip to Haiti, I called my parents from Geneva College to tell them the exciting news that Geneva won the national championship in soccer — a first for the college. Since I had played for the varsity team at Geneva, the coach made sure I got a national championship plaque even though I was unable to be at the game. The Haiti mission trip was quite a challenge for me, but I made it. I walked many miles in hot weather over rough terrain wearing a leg brace. One slip could have been a real tragedy, but everything went well. My knee injury and brace gave even more impact to the message I shared in the school assemblies in Haiti — the students knew I identified with their even greater suffering.
On December 13, 1994, I had surgery on my left knee. Although the MRI showed other damage than the ACL, Dr. Fu said he only had to repair the ACL and everything else was fine. My dad told me after my surgery, “We sought the Lord for six weeks and you had to have surgery. Let’s show the Lord we were not trying to manipulate Him to give us what we want. Let’s continue to seek Him now with all our hearts to find out what He desires us to do. We have a chance to walk by faith like Abraham, not knowing where we are going.” I took a year off from playing soccer, not knowing if I would ever play again. I earnestly sought the Lord’s direction for my life. I filled much of that time with coaching and refereeing, as well as studying Scripture.
Later that spring, some of the guys from the team that injured my right knee in high school asked if I would coach their indoor team. I graciously accepted. Then in the summer, the head coach of the high school team that had injured my right knee asked me to be his assistant soccer coach in the fall, since I would not be playing for Geneva College. He told me that my virtues would be a great asset to his team. Once again, I graciously accepted. Although I was only 18 and a sophomore in college, I became assistant soccer coach for an area high school.
In February of 1996, I was hired to be head coach at Hickory High School for the fall 1996 season. At the age of 19, I was quite possibly one of the youngest head coaches in the country.
The Lord gradually changed my focus from being a soccer star to being more totally committed to ministry and helping others. I ran soccer clinics and summer recreation for Hickory High School and helped at the YMCA camp.
I fully recovered from knee surgery. After a year off, I played for two college teams and a highly competitive men’s regional team. I also coached soccer, and spoke at various churches and schools.
“Soccer Was My God and It Destroyed Me”
I was now 20 and actively involved in coaching soccer, running clinics for area youth, training individuals, coordinating indoor soccer tournaments at the ministry, and also playing in a men’s league consisting of some of the best players from throughout the region. I was playing well. Even though I had a ligament transplant in each knee, my knees seemed to be fine. We were thankful to the Lord for providing such an excellent surgeon and physical therapists.
It was Saturday, June 7, 1997, that I played in a highly competitive game on the same field where my knee was re-injured during a high school game. As I shot on goal a defender ran into my extended leg. I heard the familiar pop in my left knee as I was spun around from the impact and knocked to the ground. Two of my teammates helped me limp off the field. I was certain it was the same injury as before. My team ended up winning the game, but it cost me another knee injury. I was on the verge of losing everything again: playing on this team; running summer recreation which would start in a week; leaving on an outreach trip with my family to Nevada and California in three weeks; coaching in the fall for my second year as head coach; and taking my team to an amusement park (four days after the injury).
My dad had that same gut-wrenching feeling again as he examined my knee on the sidelines. This was the calmest I had ever been after such a traumatic injury. I guess I knew in my heart that my days of playing competitive soccer were finally over, and I resigned myself to the inevitable.
Late that Sunday afternoon I went to the emergency room. After examination and X-rays, the doctor at the hospital thought I might not have completely torn my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). An area knee specialist saw me the next day and also felt after examination that the ACL was not completely torn. He requested an MRI the following day and said he would call us in the evening to give us an overview.
The stress and emotions from the ordeals of my previous injuries returned as we went from doctor to doctor and experienced the same roller-coaster emotions from elation to despair. We were hopeful the MRI would show minimal damage requiring only rehabilitation or simple surgery to correct the problem. The local knee specialist called to inform us that the MRI report revealed ACL damage — a rupture or complete tear. With disappointment in his voice, he said he would look over the MRI himself and call us back later that evening. Upon further evaluation of the MRI, he felt we should go back to Dr. Fu in Pittsburgh who had done the previous surgery, because the screw from that surgery on my left knee obscured the view of the ACL. Believing I would definitely need more surgery, the local knee specialist said that although he could do it well, Dr. Fu had done so many that he could do it with his eyes closed.
Hoping and praying for a diagnosis of no surgery, we went to Pittsburgh on June 12. I had already determined in my heart to give up competitive soccer, so we were hoping no surgery would be needed in order to seal that decision. My parents added my situation to their growing fasting list. My dad earnestly prayed and cried out to the Lord for His assistance. If immediate surgery was required, the upcoming ministry trip to Nevada and California would have to be canceled. I would not be able to run summer recreation for Hermitage, which started in a week, and I would have to resign as head coach for Hickory High School — even though I had just signed their contract for my second year. I had just finished three weeks of commuting to Geneva College, so I would have enough credits to graduate the following year, and still be able to coach in the fall.
When Dr. Fu’s associate saw the MRI, he immediately said, “There is no ACL.” He said it was completely gone. Once again we were facing the worst possible scenario. We had prayed that the Lord would put into Dr. Fu’s mouth the words of what we should do. When Dr. Fu came in and looked at the MRI, he said, “Let’s wait and rehabilitate it for a while.” For the previous knee injuries, he had immediately recommended surgery as the only alternative, but not this time. We’re not sure whether it was because the MRI did not conclusively show the ACL being completely torn or because second surgeries on the ACL do not have the same success rate. Nevertheless, we felt the Lord honored our prayer, and for the time being, no surgery was scheduled. I continued my regular knee conditioning as well as more extensive therapy for the new injury.
At least with the previous injuries I knew that even though I had to face surgery, I could at least probably play soccer again after doing rehabilitation. Now I knew I may still have to face surgery eventually, but would probably never play again competitively.
On July 17, we had a follow-up appointment to determine if I needed surgery. I had been doing physical therapy since the injury, and the physical therapist felt my knee was too tight to have a complete ACL tear.
My dad told me on the way to Pittsburgh that it would be great if Dr. Fu said it was only partially torn. Then I would be motivated to not return to competitive soccer, but could still coach and demonstrate moves for my players, and live a relatively normal life.
An associate of Dr. Fu’s came in and checked my knee. He was amazed it was not looser with a torn ACL. He indicated that maybe it was only partially torn as he reevaluated the MRI. Then Dr. Fu came in and seemed bewildered as he examined my knee. He, too, was amazed how tight it was, and also examined the MRI. He said to his associate, “These people are very religious people,” as if to explain the amazing improvement of the knee. He told me to resume normal activity, but to wear a brace for the next two months. He wanted to examine me again in six weeks.
In the Midst of the Fire, God Was Faithful
My broken collarbone, broken ankle, and four knee injuries each seemed hopeless at the time. But the Lord kept encouraging us to stand strong in faith and reassured us that everything would work out for good. The end result would be ultimate victory.
Seeing no way for this to happen, but trusting the Lord, we sought Him with all our hearts. By God’s grace and empowerment, our faith endured the fire. In the midst of the fiery furnace,God was faithfully accomplishing His purpose.
With each injury God would refine and mold my personality. Each time I was injured my dad saw a little bit more of the world being stripped away from my life — a little bit more pride — and instilled with a little bit more humility — a little bit more trust and faith — a little bit more courage from the Lord — a little bit more indifference to be lured away by all the cares of this world. So I say, “Thank God for His faithfulness.” Not, “Thank God for the tragedies,” but “Thank God for His faithfulness in the midst of the tragedies.”
I kept personal records listing spiritual goals while experiencing pain, setbacks, and disappointments. Three quotes in review are:
“Let my heart pursue Your will, the way it does to score a goal.”
“The greatest thing I learned from this was something that has completely changed me. I now know it is time to start focusing on the Lord’s calling for my life.”
“Build within me a desire to serve You; stronger than my desire to play soccer.”
Our family has been greatly blessed of the Lord and my sister and I have excelled at almost everything we have attempted. Both of us have received many honors throughout our school and college years. My dad always reminded us that I Samuel 2:30 says, “Those who honor Me, I will honor.”
We have attempted to honor the Lord and put Him first, and He has honored and blessed us in so many ways. We have faced obstacles and difficulties repeatedly which have kept us humble and built our faith. Trials have made us even stronger in Him, and taught us perseverance. The Lord has taught us the importance of staying faithful to Him — even when we may feel He has forsaken us. As time always proved, He was not unfaithful, but faithfully working all things together for good. He has greatly blessed us for staying faithful to Him throughout trying times.
I graduated from Geneva College in May of 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies. At the graduation one of my professors said to my dad, “What a change the Lord has done in BJ’s life. When he first came here all he wanted to do was play soccer, and now all he cares about is ministry.” This statement is indicative of the transformation that has occurred in my life over the years of fiery trials.
By taking six more credits in the fall of 1998, I also received a double major in philosophy. Commuting one more semester to receive this double major from Geneva College enabled me to coach my third year at Hickory High School. Although they did not make the playoffs as I hoped, the impact I had on the players through the many adversities I faced was realized months later from comments and letters I received.
In January of 1999, I entered Talbot School of Theology in California. Following a rigorous and disciplined schedule, I was able to graduate only a year and a half later with a master’s degree in theology. I married Tara Rowe, my high school sweetheart, on June 17, 2000. That fall I began pursuing a doctorate degree in philosophy and apologetics from Trinity Theological Seminary which I finished in December of 2005.
I also went on to get my national coaching license. As long as I am able, I am sure I will continue to train individuals, coach teams, referee, write books, and speak at churches, schools, and various other groups. In addition to coaching and serving full time in ministry, I am an adjunct professor for a couple of universities. In a paper I wrote at Talbot while working on my master’s degree, I stated:
I look back now and I am thankful that God did not heal my knee. I had placed soccer before God and it became my identity. However, these surgeries helped me to straighten out my priorities in life. It took me a while to realize this, but as I look back on it now I realize that I gained more from my surgeries than I had lost. The Lord gave me more than I could have imagined. I would never be the person that I am today if I had not gone through those surgeries.
People ask me all the time if I had the option, would I go back and change the past. I tell them there is no way that I would. Sometimes I do wonder what I would be like if I had played my senior year and had been able to play all four years in college. Every time I do, I remember where I was then, and how I could only have gotten to where I am now through the reality of losing something so important to me. Soccer is still a part of my life, but now I keep it in perspective of what is most important – my relationship with God.
Only the Lord knows what is ahead. But when He takes us through the fire, we know that somehow He will use it to build our faith and mold us for His purpose and glory. He is the potter and we are the clay. Therefore, we submit to Him and His dealings in our lives knowing that He loves us, is in control of all that we face, and that ultimate victory will come. I have learned that the road that leads to the fulfillment of God’s purpose requires faith and perseverance because it goes through barren deserts, treacherous wildernesses, and lonely valleys before ultimate victory is achieved.
In closing, keep in mind what my dad told me during a difficult time in my life:
Out of the ashes of our dreams, God performs His will.
Excerpts from “Faith Through The Fire” book.
From Biker and Bartender to Christian
Sandra L. “Sandy” DeMatteis had a giving heart. From biker and bartender to Christian and BRM prayer intercessor, Sandy had a love and concern for anyone she met. She wanted everyone she knew to know Jesus.
Sandy volunteered her time at Bill Rudge Ministries to help pack boxes of books for our World Literature Outreach, prayed faithfully, and cut the grass at the ministry center with her husband Phil until her health declined. Several times Sandy collected shoes and bought socks and flip flops for an orphanage BRM supported in Africa. She also paid the shipping expenses to send boxes of supplies to the Karen Rudge Foundation in Liberia.
Sandy prayed, gave, and shared God’s love. In April of 2017 she left this world and is now with her Savior. We were blessed to know Sandy and receive of her kindness.
From Chinatown Gangster to Pastor
Bill Rudge met Kit at Wheaton College in July of 2006 at the Christian and Missionary Alliance New Workers Forum. They became friends and during their conversation, Bill asked Kit how he came to know the Lord. The following are highlights of Kit’s powerful testimony.
Kit’s martial arts instructor (master) was trained by the same grand master who trained Bruce Lee. Because of Kit’s martial arts skills, from the age of 13 to 15, he got into a gang lifestyle in Chinatown in New York City and often put rivals in the hospital. He would get in trouble for having fights in school. Two of his friends would hold the classroom door shut so no one could get in or out as he beat up the person. He carried a weapon and sometimes would take out one bullet and press it against the person’s forehead and tell them that this bullet might have their name on it.
Kit commented that many bystanders get wounded or killed in drive-by shootings because they may think that the sound of a gun shot is merely a car backfire. Standing there curiously looking around, they may inadvertently get hit by stray bullets. In contrast, when a gang member hears a shot, he instantly hits the ground. To this day, if Kit hears a car backfire, he automatically hits the ground.
At age 17 and with many enemies, Kit knew it was time to get out of Chinatown. His parents put him on a flight to Boston to stay with relatives. A few months later, he went to stay with relatives in California, but since he was not willing to go to school or get a job, they encouraged him to move to the Pacific Northwest and live with his cousin. He went with his cousin to a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. A school teacher, who also taught Sunday school at the church, took Kit under his wing and became a role model to him.
As a result of this teacher’s influence, Kit became a Christian and graduated from high school. After graduating, he went to a university in Connecticut and got an engineering degree. He planned to serve the Lord faithfully with a career in engineering, but felt a call to ministry. He went to Nyack Seminary and earned a Master of Divinity degree.
Kit discontinued his training in the martial arts because he felt his example would cause others to stumble. He said that he saw friends and other martial arts practitioners who after chanting and going into trances, manifested wild and bizarre behavior. He believes there is no other explanation except that they were demonized. He is convinced that Chi and Ki (a supposed impersonal energy force) is demonic.
A youth living without Christ, through making poor choices, Kit made people cry. Meeting Jesus as his Savior and Lord, Kit learned that Jesus cries for him. Today, as he lives out his call for Christ, Kit is learning how to cry for others. For two years he pastored at a church in Chinatown in New York City and currently is pastor of a church in Long Island. Kit is a loving and energetic servant of the Lord.
From Planned Suicide to Salvation – The Bob Davis Story
by Darlinda McDonald
The seeds of faith that Bill Rudge planted in the 1970s bore fruit when one Sunday morning Bob Davis laid down his gun and decided to go to church. That very day he found salvation.
It has been 10 years this month since Bob Davis’ plan to end his life was foiled. Bob tells it this way:
In the summer of 2007, my wife Sally had started going to a local church in Mount Vernon, Ohio (Grace Community) but I chose not to go. I had started planning my own demise early in 2007 as I was just fed up with life. About two miles outside of town in the semi-flat farmland is a beautiful road known as Green Valley Road.
There is a one-mile stretch that is straight and then does a very hard 90-degree right turn. At the end of the straight stretch was a very large old tree and I figured that 85 miles per hour into that tree would solve all my problems. I decided to do a test run and much to my dismay discovered the tree had been cut down.
Later that summer, September 16 to be exact, after my wife Sally had gone to church, I headed out of town with one 9mm round that I had hand-loaded into my gun and written my name on with a Sharpie pen. As I reached the edge of town I suddenly began to wonder, “What am I trying to prove?” I turned around and headed to Grace Community Church. Three times I stopped but got there just as the service began. After the service I met with the pastor and found salvation.
Later that day the church was having a dinner in the park, which happened to be across the street from our house. I approached the pastor and gave him my “personalized 9mm round” which he still has and uses its story to help others.
Bob says there were three important “seed planters” in his life – his grandmother, his friend Jerry, and Bill Rudge. Bob’s grandmother planted seeds of faith throughout his life and often told her grandson that she knew he would be saved. However, she died in the 1980s and, unfortunately, did not live to see his conversion.
In the 1960s, Bob’s best friend Jerry asked him to join him in starting a band. Bob played the drums and Jerry sang in what evolved into the very successful band, Nomads. Jerry was another Christian who was a seed planter in Bob’s life.
It was in the mid-1970s that Bob met Bill Rudge. Bob was seeking a karate instructor at the time. When a friend told him about Bill, he said, “Who’s Bill Rudge?” Bob’s friend replied that Bill was a student at Mt. Vernon Bible College so Bob drove out to Bill and Karen’s mobile home right away. He took lessons from Bill who tried to “turn him onto Christ” but Bob says he didn’t care to hear about God at that time. Bill and Bob practiced martial arts together for several months as Bill continued to plant seeds of faith. These seeds took some time to grow but they did grow.
Bill graduated from Bible college and moved to North Carolina and then Pennsylvania. Bill would visit Bob every so often and give him the latest books he had written. Bob continued his martial arts training and became a Black Belt instructor before quitting years later.
Bob has experienced much pain in his life. Four of his six stepchildren have died, two before Bob became a Christian. His son, Kerry, was involved in drugs and committed suicide soon after he had an argument with Bob. In 1997, his son Greg died from lung cancer, 13 years after he was cured of thymus gland cancer. Bob became a Christian before his son Ted died of a heart attack in 2008. Then, on January 13, 2015, his daughter Gretchen died suddenly at work. An autopsy revealed a previously undetected defective heart valve. Over 1300 people attended her calling hours.
Earlier this year Bob had been praying that God would give him a sign that He was still with him. The next morning Bill unexpectedly showed up at Bob and Sally’s house in Mount Vernon. Bill had “suddenly” changed travel plans because he felt led to see Bob. In hindsight, Bob realizes that God has always had His hand on him and is grateful for the part that Bill Rudge has played in his life. Bob commented that Bill and Karen are two of the most faithful he has ever met and he thanks these “farmers” – sowers of seeds.
But Bill is even more amazed by the way Jesus has transformed Bob’s life. God’s grace has kept Bob and Sally steadfast through all their trials and tribulations. In spite of the many heartaches, Bob and Sally Davis faithfully serve Jesus Christ as they excitedly await His soon return.
From Rebel to Chaplain – Bill Robinson
by Chaplain (Major) Bill Robinson
Mine is the typical tale of our age. I was a child when my parents divorced. My father remarried and I had a hard time accepting a new mother. My desire for my birth mother’s love caused me to date at a very young age. I was always seeking the female love I had lost when my mother left. This early childhood trauma also manifested itself in a need to be accepted by others — “external validation.” Add to this mix the fact that we moved around the country continuously, from Oklahoma to Texas to Alabama to North Carolina to Kentucky to Ohio… all before first grade. It was a recipe for disaster.
I believed in God and Jesus and was convinced that sex outside of marriage would send me straight to Hell. The only thing I understood about Christianity was the “Don’ts” and going to church. The desire to fit in, to be a part of some group, caused me to form relationships of tremendous value outside of my family while my life at home was barely tolerable. Of course, the desire to fit in with the world cost. I was learning to cuss, drink, and smoke — and all the things that go with these, like lies and deception — all the while believing in God and Jesus. I could not see the disconnect.
My desire to fit in was perfect for the military; even as a kid I had tremendous success. I joined the Civil Air Patrol, made rank, went to Blue Beret school. I had found a place to belong: a family that loved me and a world that made sense.
I went to church camp and it changed my life. I made my confession of faith and was baptized into Jesus. For the first time I saw real Christianity and loved it. But when I got back to my home church, I was given my gift Bible and sat in the “Sinner’s Pew” in the back of the church with the other teens. The Christianity seemed to wear off. I remember wondering why church and church camp were so different. In time, I was right back to all the sinful things I was doing before. And this happened over and over. I just did not get it. I could not see my own inconsistencies and contradictions.
I ended up having to go to a teen thing my Dad knew about at Bill Rudge Ministries and I met a guy who had a different Christianity. It was genuine; it lived and breathed; it was honest, sincere, and consistent. But since I had not seen anything like him outside of church camp, I figured it was the same difference between church and church camp — a kind of “bait and switch.”
As time went on, I continued to become increasingly like the world. But every time I ran into this “Bill Rudge guy,” he was the same genuine full-of-life Christian that down deep I wanted to be like. I wanted the joy and hope that he lived and breathed through his faith in Jesus.
After high school, I went off to Bible college (the same one my Dad went to) but never felt like I fit in. Maybe because I did not get Christianity. I was suspended my second semester due to my own sinful actions. I could not go home and was 500 miles away from everything I knew with only $20 and a ’77 Ford Granada. I did not realize that GOD sustained me during these times. I thought that I was too tough to break and that I made it through by means of my own grit. But as all sin is only good for a season, I eventually had to “pay the piper.”
After being arrested, my fiancee spent all her graduation money to bail me out of jail. We got married and I joined the Army and left for Germany.
Wouldn’t you know, this “Bill Rudge guy” showed up in Germany at a nearby military base. I went to hear him speak and met with him after the service. He still had the same hope, joy, and faith in Jesus I had seen years before! He was still real and it made me think. But think was all I did, because I was a Christian — I went to church and gave my money. Wasn’t that what it was all about?
The Army took God’s place in my life and I worshiped it and its culture. All I wanted to do in life was get married, make Sergeant, fight in a war, and have a son. By age 25, I had done all of these and none of them brought satisfaction. I was very disillusioned after the Gulf War and hanging out at the bar with other veterans didn’t help much.
Eventually, I was on the verge of divorce, had lost my job, and everything was falling apart. It was at this point I hit my knees and said, “God help me! I’ve ruined my life!”
The road back was not an easy one, but over time God restored all that had been lost and then some. Little by little, I acknowledged all the idols I had created in my life to worship and made the choice to put them away. I realized that my Heavenly Father loved me not because of what I did, but because of who I was – His beloved child.
As things grew in focus I wanted to share Jesus with my friends, especially those I had led the wrong way, and I wanted to serve Jesus out of gratitude. I was beginning to have joy and hope.
I got back in the Army, but this time I put God first. It was strange that all the things I sought before and never could attain now fell into my lap — but they really didn’t mean that much to me anymore. As I followed God closer and closer, more “God-incidences” began to happen. I was content to be a Christian Combat Engineer and help my soldiers come to Christ. I never considered the idea of college or full-time ministry. I had even turned down the Army College Fund because I would happily rather be a “grunt” for twenty years. I can almost hear God laugh.
Eventually I left the Army to go back to Bible college and while I was there my professors encouraged me to look into the chaplaincy. They viewed it as a mission field and me as a “native” in that field. God continued to lead and prepared the way. Impossibility after impossibility was overcome – money, age, graduate school, Greek, and Hebrew. In all of these, God’s provision was more than sufficient. Through all of this, I have been blessed to know Jesus and one of His true followers — that “Bill Rudge guy.”
You would never know this story unless I told you or you asked Bill Rudge. Today, I have been married 19 years, have an 18-year-old son, am a chaplain in the U.S. Army, and am a beloved child of God. To God be the glory as He continues to work in our world. His ways surely are above our wildest imagination.
Bill Rudge Remembers Meeting Bill Robinson in Germany in 1990
A macho soldier (Bill Robinson) drove an hour from his base in Germany to hear me speak Sunday morning and Sunday night at Darby chapel on a Nuremberg Military Base. He spent the day with us and later that night he wanted to talk to me alone. He said, “Bill, I’m rough physically – but I can’t resist the peer pressure.” He continued, “I have listened to your cassette message on “Courage To Stand Alone” several times, and that’s what I want!” A few weeks later he was sent to Saudi Arabia to serve in Desert Storm. God protected him in some amazing ways. Years later we met again in Pennsylvania. This time he was faithfully serving Jesus and in the midst of intense study at seminary. A couple years later he sat in my office and informed me of the wonderful things the Lord had done in his life. He also told me he would be leaving for Iraq to serve as a chaplain.
I am privileged to know Bill and his family and excited to see how God is using him. We continue to pray for him and his family and for God’s protection and that much fruit be borne through his ministry and service in Iraq.
God In The Storm – A Fascinating Account of Divine Intervention at Desert Storm
by Colonel Douglas V. Mastriano
The burden God put on Bill’s heart to reach the U.S. Armed Forces with the Gospel of Jesus Christ has led to a lot of doors opening for Bill to minister to U.S. troops in Germany, Korea, Haiti, Fort Stewart, Maxwell Air Force Base, Fort Meade, and the Presidio of Monterey.
My experiences in Desert Storm are directly linked to Bill and Karen Rudge’s mission trip to Germany in October 1990. We sponsored Bill and Karen to minister to the troops in my regiment and other units in Germany. Their schedule was rigorous and included an array of speaking engagements at our military chapel, an American school, and a German house-church. I really didn’t know what the response would be at the chapel where Bill and Karen ministered since it was the first time we had them minister to the troops. The large chapel was packed so the chaplain decided to also do an evening service. He had never done an evening service before at this base but it was packed again. I was amazed by the response and it was awesome what God was doing.
The timing of Bill and Karen’s visit was ideal. Only a week after their departure, our regiment, the Second Armored Cavalry, received orders to deploy to Saudi Arabia. God used the Rudges’ outreach to the U.S. military community in Nuremberg, Germany to prepare our hearts for the challenges and trials ahead. Despite the physical uncertainty that confronted many of us, God was faithful.
Prior to the regiment’s deployment to Saudi Arabia, our mission in Germany was to defend Germany from a Warsaw Pact invasion and to patrol the Iron Curtain. This included a large portion of West Germany’s border with East Germany, and the West German/Czechoslovakian borders. Tensions were high along the border. We were surprised when the Iron Curtain “fell” in late 1989-early 1990 and welcomed the newly freed Eastern Europeans to the West. The world boasted about a new era of global peace.
Suddenly, on the other side of the world, this so-called new era of peace was shattered by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The U.S. responded quickly to this aggression by deploying over 500,000 members of its armed forces to the region. 100,000 of these U.S. soldiers came out of Germany, which included my regiment, the Second Armored Cavalry. The regiment arrived in Saudi Arabia in early December 1990.
On 17 January 1991, President Bush ordered the beginning of Operation Desert Storm. Phase one entailed the air war against Iraq. This was designed to weaken Iraqi defenses throughout the Kuwaiti Theater of Operations. Phase two was the ground war with the mission to forcibly remove the Iraqi Army from Kuwait.
It was hard to believe that I was in the Iraqi desert. Only three months earlier, I was wrapping up a three-year tour in Germany and had a lot to be thankful for. After years of vigilance, we saw the end of the Cold War and the elimination of the Iron Curtain from Europe. What an exciting time to be alive, to welcome Eastern Europeans to the free world. All around people proclaimed that peace and safety had at last arrived even as American and Soviet military units disbanded. This jubilation was shattered in August 1990 when the Iraqi army invaded and occupied Kuwait.
We awoke to yet another dismal day in the southern Iraqi desert on 26 February 1991. For two days my regiment had been leading the American main attack deep into Iraq. Like the cavalry scouts of the old American west, our tank (M1A1 Abrams) and helicopter (AH-1 Cobra) squadrons advanced far in front of the 1,000 American and British tanks following behind us, to find the enemy. We were the “eyes and ears” of the attack. Our ultimate goal was to deliver a knockout blow to Saddam Hussein’s most loyal and motivated unit, the Republican Guards.
As every morning in the war, we started the day by sending our helicopters six miles in front of our tanks. As our helicopters took their forward position, they immediately saw a panorama of hundreds of Iraqi tanks and vehicles dug into well-fortified fighting positions. The Iraqis gave our helicopters a warm reception and began firing at them. We returned the favor by bringing in U.S. Air Force F-16 strikes against them. Although effective due to their sheer number, the air strikes did little to deter the wrath of these Iraqi soldiers. They had been waiting for this day for over six months and were ready to give us the fight of our lives. [GIS4]
Our helicopters continued to work with the USAF to destroy what we could of the enormous array of Iraqi vehicles before our already rapidly-advancing regimental tanks took over the assault. This was the tricky part of the battle, turning it over from the helicopters to the ground tanks. It was too dangerous to have our helicopters fighting in the same vicinity as the impending tank battle, so they were ordered out of the area. This occurred as our tanks were almost close enough to fight the Iraqi Republican Guards. At last, Saddam’s elite troops could unleash fury and death upon the Americans. They only needed the regiment to come a few kilometers nearer to open fire. The impending fight would ultimately be called the Battle of 73rd Easting. The name came off the grid line on our maps since there was really nothing else in this part of the Iraqi desert to give this battle a more fitting name. Everything was set for this decisive tank battle.
Three Feet From Killing Us
My first direct evidence of God’s protection occurred shortly after the war began. One night, my driver and I were sleeping in a shallow trench in our perimeter. Since we were at war, and not far from Iraqi positions, our vehicles did not use their headlights. Using bright lights would catch the attention of the Iraqis. When you enter a perimeter, the vehicle’s passenger must dismount and lead the vehicle through on foot, so no one is accidentally run over. One night, the passenger in a vehicle was too lazy to walk in front and told his driver that he was not going to dismount. As my driver and I slept, this vehicle headed directly for us.
Meanwhile, out on guard was Corporal Trump, one of the few who knew where my driver and I were sleeping. Trump could not escape a nagging voice inside his heart that kept telling him to get back inside the perimeter. At first, he resisted this urge, since he was on guard duty and certainly must not abandon his post. However, the urgency of this feeling intensified, causing him to give in.
As Trump neared the location where my driver and I were, he saw the aforementioned vehicle heading straight for us. Thanks to his obedience to God’s prompting, Trump stopped the vehicle only three feet from killing my driver and me. The next morning I awoke to see the evidence in the sand (tire tracks) that death was so near, but God was faithful to His Word, as it says in Psalm 121:8:
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth and even forevermore.
Threat of Chemical Weapons
One of the biggest concerns of the U.S. was that Iraq would use chemical weapons against our ground forces. We had quite a few reasons to anticipate Iraqi use of chemical weapons against us. The primary basis for this was the prevailing winds, which favor their use. The wind normally blows from Iraq (northwest) into Saudi Arabia (southeast). This meant that if the Iraqis used chemical weapons, the wind would carry the toxins deep into the American lines. Another reason to believe that Saddam would use chemicals was recent history. He extensively used them against both the Iranians and his own Kurdish people a few years previous. This, combined with the prevailing winds, convinced us that it was inevitable that we would face a chemical attack. However, God had other plans.
The U.S.-led ground offensive was scheduled to commence on 24 February 1991. Since my regiment was assigned a vital mission, we were ordered into Iraq one day prior to the official launch of the ground war. The very instant that our tanks entered Iraq, a strange thing occurred. I noticed quite a few little dust devils all around me, which seemed very ominous. Before my very eyes God changed the direction of the prevailing winds.
When the regiment’s tanks entered Iraq at 1:30 pm on 23 February, the wind changed from the prevailing course of blowing from Iraq into Saudi Arabia to the opposite direction from Saudi into Iraq. Such an event had severe repercussions on any plans that Saddam had of using tactical chemical munitions. If he used them now, they would blow right back into his own troops. The miraculous thing about this wind is that it generally stayed this way until 8:00 am, 28 February, the very instant that the cease fire went into effect.
Almost Shot Down in Blackhawk Helicopter
My regiment was given the task to lead the U.S. main attack into Iraq to engage and destroy the Iraqi Republican Guards. Before the decisive Battle of 73rd Easting, the 12th Iraqi Armored Division moved from its positions near the Iraq-Kuwait-Saudi borders to block the movement of my regiment into Iraq. Part of this Iraqi force clashed with our lightly defended regimental Support Squadron (RSS). RSS is not equipped for a big fight, since its primary mission is to supply the regiment with food and fuel. Upon making contact with this Iraqi force, RSS called upon my squadron for help. We were best suited to counter this threat, since we could respond faster than tanks.
When we received the request for assistance, I was in a Blackhawk transport helicopter with eight other soldiers. Unfortunately, our one available Attack Helicopter Troop (Quickstrike) needed about five minutes to respond. Since we were already airborne, the senior officer in the helicopter decided that we would head to the location that RSS called for help, and mark the location of the enemy for our attack helicopters. This was about all we could do since our Blackhawk was only armed with two M-60 machine guns.
There was not a moment to lose. We arrived at the location where the battle occurred but found neither Iraqi nor American vehicles in the area. To locate the enemy vehicles, we slowed our airspeed and increased our flying altitude slightly and continued the search. However, this maneuver made it easier for the Iraqis to engage us. Within an instant, we stumbled right into a group of Iraqi armored vehicles, which immediately fired at us at point blank range. We literally flew right on top of them and had not realized it.
Meanwhile, in the helicopter, none of us yet saw the fire and death aimed in our direction. Suddenly, I glanced out of the left door gunner’s window and saw that death was imminent. We were so close to the enemy that my view of them was filled with images of fire coming out of their machine guns. Everything began to move in slow motion for me at this point. It was evident that we were soon to die. However, God literally shielded us from their bullets. Meanwhile, the senior officer in the helicopter also saw the enemy fire and immediately alerted the crew to get our helicopter out of there. As soon as we safely escaped the enemy guns, Quickstrike arrived with their attack helicopters.
Although it was obvious that God intervened to spare our lives on that day, I did not ponder it much. However, God drove the point home a few weeks later during an Easter service conducted by our regimental Chaplain near the ancient Iraqi town of Ur. At the end of the service, the chaplain asked us to stand up and recite the “Soldier’s Psalm” (Psalm 91). We read it often during the war, but when we read verses 14 and 15, the Holy Spirit gripped my heart and brought all of the events in the Blackhawk back to mind.
Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore will I deliver him. I will set him on high because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him (Psalm 91:14-15).
The message was clear: I and eight other men were alive only because of God’s grace and the prayers of His people back in the United States.
Mysterious Shamal Saved Many American and Iraqi Lives
Shortly after my brush with death, the Battle of 73rd Easting occurred. The Iraqi tanks were indeed dug in and ready for this key battle. The lead Iraqi unit was only seconds away from firing upon the American tanks, when a strange occurrence obscured the horizon. The instant that the U.S. helicopters departed, and the tank battle was about to begin; a mysterious Shamal (an extraordinary sand and rain storm with thunder and lightning) settled upon the battlefield and completely blinded the Iraqi troops. Despite the miserable weather, the Iraqis remained vigilant for the fight, but could not see the American tanks. Suddenly, in the distance the Iraqis saw flashes. It was our tanks firing at them. Iraqi tanks burst into flames across the line. Several valiant Iraqi troops returned fire, shooting at the gun flashes that they saw in the distance, but their rounds fell short. As more Iraqi tanks exploded into flames, many abandoned their vehicles since they could not fight what they could not see.
Thanks to God’s impeccable timing with the storm, the regiment pressed the attack, despite being out-numbered three to one, and broke the back of the lead Republican Guards division. Had the storm arrived a few minutes sooner, it would have hampered our aviation attacks and a few minutes later would have been too late. The timing was perfect. God’s intervention with this mysterious Shamal saved numerous American and Iraqi lives and played a decisive role in the defeat and rout of Saddam’s best-trained and most motivated troops. The outcome of this one-sided victory contributed to Saddam’s decision to withdraw his two remaining armored Republican Guards divisions.
Power of Prayer
As you can imagine, these were trying times for both the soldiers and their families. Yet for those who loved the Lord, a strange peace filled our hearts, as the Scripture promises:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Through all of the adversity and tribulation that we faced, my wife Rebbie, and the wives of other believers in my regiment, rallied prayer cover for us. The Bill Rudge Ministries and over twenty churches were specifically praying for the protection and safety of the men in my cavalry squadron. Because of this our squadron did not lose one man, even when we had several helicopter crashes, and despite fighting elements of over five Iraqi divisions. This prayer cover played a key role in bringing me, and several others, through the war alive.
Shortly after the cease-fire, my regiment was ordered to occupy forward positions along the Euphrates River near Abraham’s home town of Ur. Even then God continued to protect us. The most important thing to happen both before and after the war was that many soldiers turned to Jesus for salvation. There were no distractions there so you had a chance to think about life and eternity. Many realized that they were missing the key ingredient in life, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is ironic that so many came to Jesus Christ in the heart of the Islamic world.
These experiences during Operation Desert Storm reveal that prayers do make a difference. God’s Word is true. God remains faithful to what He promised.
God in the Wildfires, part 1 – The “Great” Escape
by Bill Rudge
The neighborhoods and mountains were devastated as if by an atomic blast! Charred mountains and canyons lay as far as the eye could see. Over 3,500 houses were destroyed – most reduced to rubble and ash – along with ranks of burned cars and trucks, their windshields blown out. Billows of smoke blackened the daytime sky. Black soot covered everything in sight, creating a lunar landscape as out-of-control wildfires, exacerbated by Santa Ana winds, devastated an area equal in size to the state of Rhode Island.
The Rudges had just returned from ministering at US Army and Air Force bases in Germany and were in Southern California for further ministry when they found themselves under a mandatory evacuation order due to California’s most devastating wildfire in history. Shifting winds caused the raging flames to cut off many escape routes. Some people had already died trying to flee when the intense heat overtook them. Others lost all their worldly possessions in homes that had no insurance and faced an uncertain future. We prayed that daughter Tabitha’s home, which was in harm’s way, would be protected.
In the midst of this chaos, our faithful God provided not only a way of escape but avenues for ministry. Over the next two weeks, Bill Rudge had opportunities to minister to hundreds of people as a Red Cross Chaplain not only at several evacuation centers but also at the sites of their burned homes. He freely gave out hundreds of his books and audio messages to the fire victims who requested and received them gladly.
It was a beautiful and peaceful evening on Saturday, October 25, 2003 at my daughter and son-in-law’s home in Alpine, California – about 30 miles east of San Diego. As it was the last weekend in October, we turned the clocks back one hour before retiring. About 3 a.m. Sunday morning Tabitha woke me because the Santa Ana winds were gusting up to 70 mph – blowing the outside furniture and toys away.
There had been no significant rainfall in Southern California for over six months, creating perfect weather conditions for fire.
Glimpse of Revelation
In the morning, I went outside and saw billows of smoke to the north, west and south; looking as if atomic bombs had exploded! The sky became pitch black; the sun appeared red – it seemed like Armageddon. On a smaller scale I caught a glimpse of what it will be like all over the world during the Tribulation.
My son-in-law, Clayton, a California Highway Patrolman (CHP), had been out working the fire areas from Saturday night to Sunday morning and was exhausted. (He threw up three times from smoke inhalation.) (Photo shows Tabitha and Clayton’s neighborhood during the wildfire.)
As the fires burned ever nearer to their house, (photo below shows Tabitha and Clayton’s house during the California wildfires). I stepped out in Tabitha’s driveway several times and raised my hands to the Lord, asking Him to spare this house because it was used for ministry purposes. At about 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 26, Clayton decided to take his family to Rich and Sunday Miller’s house in Mission Bay (on San Diego’s coast). I’d wanted to stay on at the house but Clayton insisted we follow in his car.
My son-in-law, daughter and two young grandchildren led out heading to Interstate 8 West. Karen and I followed in a 1995 Neon with a gas gauge that was not working – their two dogs in the backseat.
Only a few miles into the trip, Tabitha informed me they’d left the gas on at the house. I said I’d go back (in spite of Clayton’s warning not to do so) but wanted Karen to go with them. She insisted, however, on staying with me. At this point the flames were burning within 100 feet from where we stopped on the freeway. And I was about to learn an important lesson: Do not turn around!
Back at the house, I turned off the gas and closed all the windows, which Tabitha had opened because of the high winds earlier. Thank the Lord I did, or they would have sustained soot and smoke damage throughout the house. Meanwhile Karen heard on the news that I-8 was now closed to the west and fires were burning all over San Diego County.
We decided to stay and I got both dogs out of the car. Twenty minutes later, I saw an orange glow and flames just over the hill from Tabitha’s house. I went out in the driveway and again raised my hands to the Lord asking Him to spare this house.
Thirty minutes later, the Sheriff came through the neighborhood announcing a mandatory and immediate evacuation. I loaded Molly in the car but was unsuccessful in corralling Niki – a huge Siberian husky. After five minutes of chasing him around we had to leave. I prayed the Lord would somehow protect him. Firefighters and neighbors at the end of Tabitha’s street told us not to expect anything of our neighborhood to be left.
We were uncertain of where to go and even how to get there. The only place the fires were not yet burning was to the east, taking us farther from our daughter and her family.
It took us one hour to go merely a quarter mile in bumper-to-bumper traffic while leaving Alpine. Clayton told me via cell phone to leave his car and RUN because the flames could quickly overtake us from the unpredictable winds that were gusting up to 70 mph. He said people had been incinerated while trying to escape in their cars. Since we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, he told me to take his gun from the trunk, strap it around my shoulder and abandon the car. But where could we go without a car? So we stayed with the car.
The sky was ominous with billows of smoke. Fleeing the approaching wildfires, traffic was often at a standstill so you could get out of your car. I told people we met that we were catching a glimpse of Revelation and that the Biblical account is accurate regarding its description of destruction on earth during the Tribulation (Joel 2:30, 31; Revelation 6:12; 8:7, 11, 12).
I had recently read Fox’s Book of Martyrs and also had watched videos about Christian martyrs such as John Huss and others who were burned at the stake or tortured with fire, so I had vivid mental pictures of what fire and smoke could do to humans.
Karen was crying and calling BJ and Tabitha and other family members to say goodbye. However, I assured them I had total peace and knew the Lord would keep us safe and also protect Tabitha and Clayton’s house. Looking back though, it appeared to us that Tabitha’s house was in flames and smoke! We prayed several more times that the house would be spared.
In one moment, it seemed Karen and I were safe, secure and comfortable; yet in the next moment we were fleeing for our lives – without food, water, shelter or a bed.
Still caught in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, hot ashes were falling all around us and our eyes and lungs were burning from smoke. Once again, I assured Clay and BJ that we would be safe. Tabitha was very upset because she felt she’d sent us back to her house. Unable to go west, we headed east in hopes of reaching the home of Sue and Doug, friends of Tabitha who told her we could stay with them.
When we finally got out of Alpine and onto 8 East we saw a woman standing along the freeway near a motor home. She looked distraught and was staring back at Alpine watching the fire. Karen and I stopped and stood with her. She had fled Alpine when the canyons around her house burst into flames; she was certain her brand new house had burned to the ground. Her husband had gone back to get their truck, which was loaded with personal items. I prayed with her that her husband and house would be safe. About a minute after praying she was elated to see her husband drive up in the truck.
Sue and Doug, whose house we were hoping to reach, lived in Mt. Laguna in Cleveland National Forest, about 25 miles east of Alpine. It was dark by the time we drove the last ten miles to their house in the mountains – on unfamiliar winding roads.
We faced several other challenges. Our cell phone battery was dying but Karen tried one more time to call Sue for her address. As soon as Karen got it, the phone went dead! Although the gas gauge was not working, we knew we were almost out because Clayton kept a record of his mileage so he would know when to fill up. With electricity out (no street or house lights) it was pitch-black in the mountains. I stopped at a fire station near Sue’s house to call and ask her husband to stand at their road with a flashlight so we could find them.
Sue and Doug were using candles to light their house and were hosting another displaced couple. In the course of the evening Sue asked me how I came to faith and we all talked together for over an hour as I shared my testimony.
Early the next morning, I felt led to drive back to Alpine. I wanted to check on Tabitha’s house, then make our way the 30 miles west to Miller’s, but knew it would be difficult since so many roads were closed. The thick smoke made daylight seem like night.
At their insistence, we left Molly (who looked like a coyote) at Doug and Sue’s in case we had to walk to Alpine because of blocked roads or if we ran out of gas.
We wound our way down the 10 miles of mountain roads and then took U.S. Route 80 heading west. However, seven miles from Alpine, this highway was closed as well as 8 West. Taking the only road left open, sent us south toward the nearby Mexican border. I was concerned that should the road take us into Mexico, having a gun in the trunk could mean life imprisonment there. Not knowing the road, we were relieved to finally see a sign indicating 16 miles to Alpine, so we continued on. Ours was the only vehicle on the road.
About four miles from Alpine, airborne ash and smoke were so thick, I thought we might have to turn back, yet I knew that could be dangerous too. I expected our tires to melt at any moment as hot ashes rained down all over and around us. I apologized to Karen for getting her into this if anything should happen, but still felt the Lord would get us through. Then in the distance – out of nowhere – I saw three pickup trucks and followed them right into Alpine! A few hours later, the entire area through which we’d just driven was consumed by fire – as we would have been if we had run out of gas or broken down.
Alpine was abandoned except for a few vehicles. It looked like a ghost town. As we drove down Tabitha’s road we prayed their house would still be standing. From a distance I saw that it was! We rejoiced and thanked God. It was covered with ash, but untouched by the fire. We were elated to see Kacy Magnett, Tabitha’s good friend and one of our volunteer staff, pull up to Tabitha’s house with her daughter. They had slept in their house last night in Alpine since her husband Terry could not get home because I-8 was closed. Niki the dog was also safe, taking refuge in a storm drainage pipe.
We could not stay in Alpine because the air was still too thick with smoke and ash so we got on I-8 going west and met Clay at the CHP office in El Cajon to switch vehicles and give him his gun and belongings. Clay hugged me three times.
After leaving Tabitha’s and while on 8 West, helicopters flew 100 feet overhead dropping water on burning fires. The smoke was very thick all the way for 30 miles from Alpine west to San Diego. (The hazardous air quality lasted for days.)
Rich and Sunday hosted thirteen people (including two pregnant women and three toddlers), two cats and two dogs in their home which at that time only had three bedrooms and one bath.
The one road in and out of the mountains which we had traveled to stay the night was shut down the very next day due to fire. It would have taken us two or more days to get to the Miller’s if we’d had to go another way.
I was scheduled to fly to Pennsylvania on Monday but my flight was cancelled. On Tuesday I went to a one-hour Red Cross training for volunteers, followed by a one-hour chaplain training session.
The people of California and the Red Cross workers were amazed that being from Pennsylvania, a refuge of the fire myself and staying at a temporary shelter, I should serve as chaplain to other fire victims. Truly, the Lord orchestrated this ministry opportunity. Some of the people affected by the California wildfires had, a few years earlier, come east to help at the 9/11 terrorist site. Now I was able to return the favor.
On Wednesday I took eight hours of Red Cross Mass Care Training. KC Hutter, owner of Dirt Cheap Car Rental, gave me free usage of a yellow convertible Mustang. (I wanted something more conservative but she insisted I “deserved” this vehicle.)
On Thursday we moved back into Tabitha’s house. With no telephone service or electricity, we had to throw out all the food in the refrigerator. We had a cell phone, but no way to charge it.
That same day, Karen and I went down Stagecoach Road to see Susan (the woman we’d met on 8 East when the canyons around her house were burning). She was overjoyed to see us, and we were overjoyed to see that her beautiful new house was still standing. The fire came within 20 feet of it and the canyon burned on three sides, but her house remained untouched. I gave her a copy of my book, Faith Through the Fire and a pamphlet copy of my testimony which she enthusiastically received.
During the following days I had hundreds of ministry opportunities. In God in the Wildfires, part 2, I will share some of the amazing stories and exciting opportunities during the devastating wildfires.
God in the Wildfires, part 2 – Deliverance in Devastation
by Bill Rudge
“When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2
Out of the Ashes
In the days following Bill and Karen’s escape from the devastating Southern California Fires (see the September 25 blog for the incredible account) Bill served as a Red Cross chaplain at several evacuation centers and the sites of burned homes. Many of his books and audio messages were given to fire victims who requested and received them gladly. Bill heard many amazing stories and had hundreds of exciting ministry opportunities. The following are a few excerpts from his journal.
Friday I was sent as a chaplain to Scripps Ranch – one of the most devastated areas from the fires. As well as ministering to fire victims, I also ministered to workers from various agencies at the center who were helping the fire victims. Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, showed up for a major media event. I had opportunity to share with the liaison for the mayor of San Diego and a security agent for Tom Ridge, who approached me.
But for the Fire
Todd and Lynn, from Santee, had been displaced by the fires along with the rest of us who were at Rich and Sunday’s. On Saturday at 5 a.m., we received a call from Lynn that her husband had not come home from w ork the previous night. Todd last called her on Route 52 (about 10 miles from their home) about 6:30 p.m. on Friday. Clayton and Rich went looking for Todd in Clay’s cruiser while Sunday (Todd’s sister) and Louise (their mother) were looking for him on their own. Several hours into the search I picked up Lynn and, following prayer, we met up with Clay and Rich. Clay pulled me aside and mentioned that a car fitting Todd’s description was hit on Route 52 last night, and totally destroyed by fire, with no report of the driver.
Clay told me Todd could be dead, and not to tell Lynn, but to keep her occupied. Clay and Rich went to the site of the burned car and found Todd lying face up on the ground about 20 feet down the hillside. Had the heavy brush (chaparral) not burned off in the fires, they would have never seen him. He had been badly injured and was within moments of death. An article and radio broadcast, Miracle On a California Highway, on our website shares his miraculous story. I visited Todd at the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at the hospital before and after assignments with the Red Cross.
Short Stories from Harbison Canyon
On Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., the Red Cross has me go with a crisis intervention team to Harbison Canyon, a community where over 300 of the 496 homes were completely destroyed. I listen to their stories, provide food, water and clothes, pray with, counsel and encourage over 100 people today. All of them are deeply appreciative and I too, am greatly encouraged by their attitudes.
Mark, a pastor I meet there, lost both his home and his church, but enthusiastically proclaims the Lord’s faithfulness.
Another person – a woman – has been living on the street for the past year, since she and her husband divorced. All four of her children have been living with her ex-husband. Her clothes and belongings which were being stored at a friend’s house, burned in the fire. I convince her to get some financial assistance, then volunteer her time helping at the evacuation center for the rest of the day. The other Red Cross workers say that was the most helpful suggestion I could have made. She became a different person.
A 3-year-old sits crying with red, swollen eyes from the smoke. She shivers in the cold evening air. Her mother has brought her and three other children to wade through the assistance application process. I am able to find warm jackets for each of them.
Then a nurse, Sherry, staffing the Red Cross station, takes a liking to me because I bring her people who need medical help. She asks me to eat with her during break at which time I ask her if she has a religious background. She tells me that she has a Catholic background but is no longer interested in Christianity. After sandwiching our conversation with non-religious talk, I interject how I also was raised in a mainline church, but that coming to know Jesus was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. It is the right opportunity to share with this Red Cross nurse and several others. They are very open because I am sharing in a non-confrontational way. Just by asking questions and sharing general things about my own background leads to their asking questions, which create ministry opportunities.
The nurse I met there, has written several times to let me know how she was encouraged and her life touched during our conversation and to thank me for the additional books and audio messages I have sent to her since then. She has kept in touch with my wife and me throughout the years.
The following day I am stationed at the Red Cross Center in Lakeside. Wildcat Canyon in Lakeside was another canyon area where the fire and wind combined to form a wind tunnel effect. Tragically, most of the people who died were from Wildcat Canyon. Several of the survivors gave me the following report:
About 2 a.m. on Sunday, they awoke to horns sounding from fleeing vehicles. Most said they had no warning as the fire quickly came upon them. With no electricity and 70 mph winds, they had to flee through darkness and smoke-filled air, making it virtually impossible to see as they drove out. Some did not make it and were consumed by the flames.
Many people describe fire tornados – fire spinning just like a tornado. They describe tumbleweeds catching on fire; the wind throwing them ablaze into the air a couple of hundred feet. Wherever one landed it would ignite and spread the fire.
I am the only Red Cross worker at Lakeside Center dealing with the hundreds of people who are coming in response to a Buddhist group distributing money to the victims. About 20 Buddhist workers are there giving out $500 checks to anyone who has lost a home. Over 200 families are represented, resulting in hundreds of people standing in line under the hot sun. I give out water and food, listening to their stories and encouraging them.
When the Buddhists are done with their work, I hand several of them my book, Faith Through the Fire, as well as pamphlets with my testimony. They ask if they may keep them and when I say, “Sure,” they are deeply appreciative and bow as they thank me. I am asked if I might be interviewed on camera for a program that will be aired on nationwide television in Taiwan – which I am happy to do. The interviewer asks what I am doing there, where I am from and about my organization. During the ten-minute interview I share about traveling the world, then give an overview of the ministry.
Ping Yao and Jennie, two Buddhist workers (see photo) follow me to my car where I give them books and copies of my testimony. Upon receiving these materials, they are so excited that they take footage of the covers to air on their program! We are confident that God touched many lives through the books and testimony on Taiwanese television.
Nicole is another who has lost her home. As I offer her counsel and try to arrange for food, clothes and financial aid, she tells me her story with tears flowing down her face. She works at Albertson’s grocery store and has a 15-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son. She lost everything when her apartment burned to the ground along with all the contents. There was no insurance; she was staying with friends. Her 17-year-old son was so distraught he ran away four days after the fire and she has not heard from him since. Her biggest fear is the uncertainty – not knowing what to do or where to go.
A firefighter comes up and thanks me for giving my time to help the people in his city. “No, ”I respond, “you are the one to be thanked for risking your life to put out these fires.”
I Know You
I approach a woman and offer her water and snacks while she waits in the hot sun to get financial aid. She looks intently at me and says, “Aren’t you Tabitha’s father? I heard you speak at my church.” Then she offers her own story – how she and her husband had lost everything in the fire. She is overjoyed to have, so unexpectedly, run into me, knowing I have come so far.
Shortly after, a young woman looking my way says, “I know you! I heard you speak and I have all of your books and love them!” Her name is Susie and her husband, Dave. Susie relates that hearing me speak was the best thing that ever happened in their Christian walk. She tells me that all my books were lost in the fire, but is ecstatic when I say I have replacement books in my car – for her.
Wayne looks like a skinny, old-hippy, mountain man and Susan looks like a flower child from the 60s. They invite me to go to the bar where all the bikers hang out – at least where it used to be. They still meet at the remains of the bar to drink beer and whiskey. She tells me to be sure to bring some beer and whiskey.
I spot a man who looks rough and approach him to offer water and food. As he tells his story, I find he was an Army staff sergeant stationed in South Korea before retirement. He is most interested to learn that I had ministered to our military in South Korea several years ago. I asked if he is going to church. He says he is not, but that all of his family members are encouraging him to get back with the Lord and start attending church again. I say, “Tell your family that God sent a person all the way from Pennsylvania to meet you and tell you that it’s time for you to give your life back to the Lord and get back in church!” He smiles and assures me that he will do so.
Donna and Larry are staying with his brother Keith. Larry and Keith have not talked with each other in almost 10 years – primarily because they are both busy with their own lives. Now that Donna and Larry have lost their home, they are staying with Keith and his wife. Larry and Keith are having a wonderful time staying up until midnight, every night, talking and reminiscing about the past. Donna says to me, “Out of the bad, comes the good.”
Richard lives with his daughter and her husband and their four daughters. Joe, Richard’s daughter’s father-in-law, also lives with them. They have lost everything. They give an amazing account of how they escaped with no evacuation warning whatsoever. Hearing the horns of fleeing vehicles, they saw a wall of fire 200 feet high nearly on top of them! Richard says that since the fire, he hasn’t told anyone the things he is telling me. With tears in his eyes, but with deep thankfulness that he and his family are alive, he relives some of the horrible events.
Joe adds that they had only a few minutes to get out of the house and into their vehicles. He was trying to hose off the house when Richard screamed at him, “Joe, you are going to die!” Joe says those words stuck in his head; the heat so intense that his shirt nearly caught on fire and was steaming hot when he got into the vehicle. While speeding down the mountain from Wildcat Canyon through smoke, he passed three vehicles which had people inside who were incinerated.
Joe continued on, traveling 60 mph in their motor home. He swung around a corner to see, in the smoke, flashing lights and two fire trucks. When he slammed on the brakes, they locked up. He began sliding, certain he would hit the fire trucks and go up in flames. Instead, one fire truck happened to be pulling forward while the other was backing up! He slid right between them. Richard has no insurance and all he has are the clothes on his back. No clothes at the center fit him so I give him two of my shirts from my car. He is deeply appreciative.
At the End of the Day
… I went back to the Red Cross headquarters to report in. The Mental Health desk was right next to the Spiritual Care desk. In spite of the noisy room, one of the national directors of Mental Health overheard my report. He told me several accounts of first-hand (incredible) experiences over the years in dealing with people in other national disasters. He said, “There is no other explanation than that a Divine Being intervened.” I replied, “Maybe we need to switch you over from Mental Health to Spiritual Care.” He listened intently for several more minutes as I spoke of my faith in God.
Back at Lakeside on Friday (November 14) I dropped by to see how that center was doing. On Wednesday, with hundreds of people there, I had been the only Red Cross worker and the only chaplain. This day, there were five Red Cross workers and only about seven people needing help. I spent Saturday (November 15) at the Crest Emergency Relief Center. A woman said that out of the nine family homes in Crest, five were tot ally destroyed with only two left undamaged. Her own home and those of her two daughters were destroyed.
Eric (see photo at right) was a 47-year-old man whose house had burned many years before, when he was in junior high school. His wife had divorced him in 1995 and now he had lost everything again in the fire that destroyed the house he was renting. He also lost his vehicle restoration business and four of his rare model cars were completely destroyed. Like so many others, he had no insurance. I told him that if I was in his place, I would begin the quest to discover if there was a God, if He was trying to get my attention and what He wanted me to learn through all of this. I gave him my audio message Knowing God.
My next encounter was with two women who seemed devastated. After talking to and praying with them, I asked what insight or lesson had they gained. One of the women said, “I am getting my life right with God and spending more time with my family.” I replied, “You have gained far more from your loss than you ever would have gained if the fire never occurred.” They both agreed.
I talked to dozens of others, including a well-known pastor of a very large church who was working at the same Red Cross Station. And Ed, a friend of the ministry, drove down from Oceanside to assist me in any way needed.
On Sunday (November 16) I attended church services in a tent in Harbison Canyon conducted by Mark, the pastor who lost his church and home in the fire.
John was a 72-year-old man from Portugal, living alone since his wife died five years previously. He thanked me 10 times for the help I provided. Because I had a badge that said, “Chaplain”, he thought I was Mr. Chaplain.
Scott, a retired Marine, suffered partial loss of his house but had a great attitude. His parents had been killed in a car accident when he was 11. He was put in an orphanage, but his younger brother and sister were adopted. His youthful anger led a judge to give him the option of going to prison or enlisting in the Marines. He said the Marines provided the discipline he needed and he is doing great. It was hard for him to say goodbye to me – and even harder when I told him I would be returning to Pennsylvania in a few days.
I also had the opportunity to share and minister to several Red Cross workers who were exhausted and emotionally burned out.
On Tuesday (November 18), before leaving for Pennsylvania, I went to Harbison Canyon to the burned down bar where people still met to drink. No one was there so I left some Courage to Stand Alone and God In The Storm audio messages.
It was a privilege to have served with the Red Cross and have such awesome opportunities to help, encourage and minister as a chaplain for two weeks to hundreds of people at several evacuation centers and also at the sites of their burned homes. So many more stories to tell.
There were also Christian organizations and churches such as Samaritan’s Purse, Billy Graham Association and Horizon Christian Fellowship who provided hundreds of local volunteers and equipment as well as others from out of state who assisted the fire victims in every way possible. As Christians we were able to offer both humanitarian aid and hope through Jesus Christ.
I was greatly encouraged by the victims’ courage, determination and attitude in the midst of such tragic loss. In spite of the heart-wrenching stories of devastation, there were many amazing accounts of divine protection and personal victories. Many testified of renewed faith, restored relationships, changed lifestyles, lessons learned, and new and rearranged priorities. For many, their gains were far greater than their losses. Out of the ashes came many people refined through the fire.
In the Aftermath
Following 9/11, a window opened temporarily in New York where you could talk to anybody about Jesus. So too, in California, this same door opened and virtually everyone I met was receptive to hearing about faith in Jesus Christ.
Everyday for weeks I had flashbacks in the daytime and dreams at night of the sights I saw, faces of the people I met and the stories they told me.
Also for weeks, because of the smoke and debris I inhaled, I spit up black phlegm; my lungs did not stop hurting and I was unable to get a full breath of air in my left lung until nearly four years later. Less than six months after our experience in the California wildfires (March 2004) Karen was diagnosed with cancer. I wonder if the trauma and stress of the fires and smoke did not contribute to it? (Fourteen years ago the oncologist gave her five years to live.)
Over the years, we have heard from many people who were victimized by the fires; of how the Lord has, and is, working in their lives. One woman now pastors a church; a couple who lost their baby served as missionaries to Africa; Todd, miraculously recovered, has two sons. He and his wife faithfully support BRM; Sherry the nurse, wrote every Christmas as she was able for many years. Here is one such letter:
Hi Bill, Just want to thank you so very much for the book and newsletters from your ministry – loved seeing the pictures of you and the memories it brought. Actually came at a perfect time as I am usually pretty “up” but had been feeling “down” – lifted my spirit greatly! I “re-listened” to the CD you had given me at the California wildfires. I felt a real bond with you from the minute we first spoke – guess God was trying to tell me something. I have been going to church pretty regularly for about two years. May God keep you safe in your travels in His work. Sherry L., San Diego
Greatest Discovery MRI Inventor Ever Made
by Darlinda McDonald
Dr. Damadian and his wife Donna became friends and faithful supporters of Bill Rudge Ministries after they met Bill and Karen while both their daughters were roommates in college. Bill was honored to perform Keira Damadian’s wedding in 2001. Dr. Damadian, renowned physician and scientist, is among the greatest inventors in history and one of the most intelligent scientists alive today.
Dr. Raymond V. Damadian is known around the world as the man who invented the first Magnetic Resonance Scanning machine (MRI). Born into a French-Armenian family in New York in 1936 that encouraged higher education, Dr. Damadian graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in mathematics followed by an M.D. degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. In younger days, he studied violin at the famous Julliard School for eight years. While there, Damadian competed with nearly 100,000 applicants and won a Ford Foundation Scholarship when he was only 15.
Dr. Damadian’s desire for excellence has culminated in numerous awards including the National Medal of Technology, the Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award and The Economist’s Innovation Award in Bioscience. He has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and was named the Knights of Vartan Man of the Year in 2003. In addition, Dr. Damadian was nominated for the Nobel Prize for developing the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanning technology that has revolutionized modern diagnostic medicine and saved countless lives.
The book, A Machine Called Indomitable, tells the remarkable story of this visionary scientist who, against incalculable odds, fulfilled his dream and created an accessible, safe, nonradiological means of determining the chemical makeup of every cell in the body.
Dr. Damadian’s most important achievement, however, was the personal commitment he made to Jesus Christ at a Billy Graham Crusade at Madison Square Garden in 1957. According to an article written by Bob Chuvala inChristianity Today, 1997, Dr. Damadian nearly lost his faith while in pursuit of building the world’s first human scan. Work became his god and both he and his family suffered for it. “Once I was driven to my knees in prayer, things started to happen,” declared Dr. Damadian. “I don’t know what it’s like for people in other professions, but for the scientific mind, the Bible is wonderful if you read it from start to finish. It fits together with an astonishing consistency, which was the opposite of my secular perception. My early impressions were that it was rife with contradictions.”
Dr. Damadian is a firm believer in the biblical account of creation during a six-day stretch about 6,000 years ago. He says, “The non-biblical account would have us believe that all life originated from a single common ancestor – a slime mold – and give or take a billion years, we’re expected to believe that the descendants of this slime mold climbed out of the ocean and stood up and started giving lectures. Do the math on that. The sheer statistics of that violate any sense of reality.” Dr. Damadian believes the subject of evolution is not science but science fiction. For example, it violates the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
In his article, “Discovering the MRI Scanner,” Guideposts, January 1999, Dr. Damadian wrote that he now understands what the Apostle Paul called the renewed mind. He is convinced that Paul’s declaration, “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3), is the only way to account for the spontaneous onset of the incongruous idea to scan the entire human body by the test-tube technology named NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance). Out of a mind renewed by Jesus came the obvious. How could a scientist achieve his goal of discovering the absolute truths that govern the natural world without the blessing of the Author of those truths? For me now the true thrill of science is the search to understand a small corner of God’s grand design, and to lay the glory for such discoveries at the Grand Designer’s feet.
With all his successes, here is Dr. Damadian’s greatest scientific discovery as quoted in Creation magazine, 1994: “The highest purpose a man can find for his life is to serve the will of God.”
You can learn more about the incredible life and faith of Dr. Damadian, in his new book, Gifted Mind, The Dr. Raymond Damadian Story, Inventor of the MRI. For more information, contact Master Books, P.O. Box 726, Green Forest, AR 72638.
His Faith Crucial to Rudges’ Salvation – Rev. Guy BonGiovanni
Guy and Esther BonGiovanni played crucial roles in bringing Karen and Bill to Jesus Christ and then helping them grow in their faith and knowledge of Scripture.
Guy BonGiovanni (who is now home with the LORD) was pastor at a church Karen was invited to attend as a teen. After Karen accepted the Lord, he baptized her. Bill Rudge, Karen’s boyfriend, was not too happy about all these changes and had determined he was going to check it out. He would sit through the services, glaring at Pastor Guy the whole time, as though he couldn’t quite figure it all out. However, Guy’s strong faith and biblical insight caught Bill’s attention and respect.
Bill came to a point where he knew he had to make a decision. So he decided to hitchhike out west to “find himself” where he had a number of unusual experiences that Guy felt were quite providential. After hitchhiking back to Pennsylvania, Bill committed his life to Christ and was baptized by Pastor Guy.
As director of missions for an international Christian movement, Guy sent Bill and Karen on their first mission trip to Mexico for three weeks. Bill and Karen sensed a call of God to study for the ministry. Guy encouraged Bill to attend Bible college, and he and his wife Esther were happy to attend Bill’s graduation from Mt. Vernon Bible College.
When Bill returned to the western Pennsylvania area to start his ministry, Guy served on the Board of Directors and was the fund-raiser for their first banquet, initiating the “faith promise” concept which the Lord has used to fund this ministry for 40 years.
As missions director and then general overseer of the Christian Church of North America, Guy invited Bill to speak at various churches and rallies and also coordinated Bill’s ordination. As owner of Globe Printing Company he printed several of Bill Rudge’s books and pamphlets.
Guy and Esther were faithful friends and supporters throughout the years. The ministry was blessed to have Dr. Guy BonGiovanni serve on its Board of Reference. He was a man of conviction, commitment and integrity. Bill was honored to be one of the speakers at Guy’s memorial service.
In Rev. Dr. Guy BonGiovanni’s Words –
“Bill is a trophy of God’s grace. I would characterize his and Karen’s ministry with the word stability. They are not only devoted followers of Christ, but Bill is a very careful scholar in his research and he is aggressively in pursuit of winning people to Christ. I have always respected Bill’s discipline concerning exercise and nutrition. Esther and I are very proud of Bill and Karen.”
I Couldn’t Outrun God’s Love – Bill Rudge
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.
My Journey Back To God – Douglas Ell, M.S., J.D.
Doug Ell is a Principal at Groom Law Group in Washington, D.C. He earned an S.B. in mathematics and physics at M.I.T., an M.S. in theoretical math at the University of Maryland, and a J.S. (Doctor of Law) from the University of Connecticut School of Law. He was raised in the Christian faith but walked away when he thought science contradicted the Bible. An unexpected encounter led him to discover that science actually confirms the biblical record. Using mathematics, he realized only a Creator could have designed life, and it reignited his faith in God. Doug now sees a young earth everywhere and is at peace about science and the Bible’s compatibility.
My parents took me to church and Sunday school, but we rarely talked about God. I loved to read, but the science books contradicted the Bible. I read of a universe that was billions of years old and of dinosaurs that supposedly lived many millions of years ago. I read of human descent from apes. The geology books denied Noah’s Flood. Without evidence, I concluded the Bible could not be true, and I drifted from God.
I double-majored in math and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), studied theoretical math for three years, and got a law degree. During those years I considered myself an atheist.
When my son was baptized at church, though, something happened in me – I felt the Holy Spirit. But the atheist indoctrination would not let go easily. I told myself I would not believe in God without evidence.
That started my journey back to Him. I read books on physics, molecular biology, cosmology, quantum mechanics, and more. I began to see design in the world around me. The turning point came on an airplane. I did a crude calculation of the odds of getting a single functional protein by chance. The math was overwhelming; it can’t happen without God. I knew then God was real.
In 2014, around a decade after my eureka moment, I published Counting To God: A Personal Journey Through Science to Belief. I “counted” through seven areas of science that point to God. Through a friend, I was able to launch the book with a lecture at MIT. But my journey was not over. Since the publication, my perspective on creation has changed even more. Just as I once was both ignorant and scornful of the evidence for God, I remained ignorant and scornful of the evidence for a young earth.
I like to lecture on science and God. After one talk, a respected doctor invited me to examine the evidence for creation. He challenged me by saying, “At what point do you start believing the Bible?” In other words, if you take the position that the Genesis accounts of creation and Noah’s Flood are wrong but the gospel accounts of Jesus and His resurrection are true, where do you draw the line? Do you accept Abraham, Moses, and David? On what basis? I couldn’t answer these questions, and it troubled me.
I was later invited to a private meeting with a creation scientist. I was impressed and promptly began devouring creation literature, including The Genesis Flood, Creation Basics & Beyond, Understanding Genesis, and A Flood of Evidence.
I found creation everywhere. ICR’s Acts & Facts became my favorite magazine. I learned that blue stars, spiral galaxies, double stars, nuclear physics, and other evidence discredit the Big Bang model. I saw how DNA evidence shows all human beings descended from a woman who lived less than 10,000 years ago, and how one chart shows three branches of mitochondrial DNA corresponding to the three wives of Noah’s sons. Worldwide discoveries of dinosaur soft tissue opened my eyes to weaknesses in the old-earth perspective, as did detailed human drawings and carvings of dinosaurs. And I found the geological evidence of the Flood undeniable. It is a great joy to trust the Bible, to know it is true from beginning to end. I feel peace. I am grateful to ICR and all who work to spread the truth of creation and the Bible. With their help, my journey has led me back to God.
Published in November 2018 Acts & Facts.
My Journey from Atheist to Christian – Dr. Michael Abdul-Malak
by Dr. Michael Abdul-Malak
Dr. Michael Abdul-Malak, a highly respected gynecologist, is not only a friend of Bill and Karen Rudge, having delivered two of their grandchildren, he also is a supporter of the Bill Rudge Ministries. The following testimony describes his journey from avid atheist to devout Christian.
I was born and raised in a nominal Christian home in Homs, the third largest city in Syria. I attempted to read the Bible regularly and to live according to its teachings to the best of my ability. However, no matter how hard I strove to be religious, I nearly always failed to adhere to the teachings of the Bible.
In my early teenage years, having failed to live according to the teaching of the Bible on the one hand, and influenced by the strong atheistic environment surrounding me on the other hand, I became skeptical of the Bible’s teachings. I concluded that Christianity was impractical, and in fact impossible to truly adhere to. Later on, through the study of evolution in public school, reading Darwin’s book “The Origin of Species,” and being exposed to the writings of Karl Marx, I became an avid atheist.
By the age of 17, I had co-founded and led an atheist group that strove to convert fellow students to atheism. At the age of 18, I graduated from high school with the highest score in the entire central district of Syria, and was one of the top ten students in the entire country. Had I not been so skeptical of Christianity, I would have been the top student. In every subject except for religion and sociology, I had received a perfect score.
I went to Damascus for my first year of Medical School in the fall of 1972, and just like Saul of Tarsus ― who made the same journey ― I was full of enthusiasm to fight those who believed in God.
Midway through my first year in Medical School, my closest friend and co-founder of the atheist group converted to Islam. He immediately started to pressure me to become a Muslim.
After a few months of studying the Qur’an and interacting with that group, I was quite impressed, mostly by their dedication to what they believed and how much they supported each other. I became convinced that Islam was the most realistic and the most practical religion to follow. I was ready to announce my conversion to Islam. The only obstacle in taking that step was my concern about the reaction it would provoke within my family members and friends.
In the summer after finishing my first year in Medical School as one of the top three students, I went to my hometown in contemplation of announcing my conversion to Islam.
One day before the end of my visit, I asked my cousin if we could go see the cedars of Lebanon. He took me to a friend of his who owned a car, with the hope that he would be willing to give us a ride there. We were greeted at the door of his friend’s house by a middle-aged man who appeared to be very friendly. He immediately initiated a conversation with us. When he found out that I was attending Medical School in Damascus, he informed me that he was from Damascus as well. He then invited us inside and gave us the most amazing testimony I had ever heard in my life up until that point. He proceeded to testify to us how God had changed his life from an adulterer, gambler, smoker, and an alcoholic to a new man who was able to establish himself and start a wonderful family. He then told us how a man had once visited his shop and had spoken to him about the changing power of the Lord Jesus Christ. He then described to us how he had immediately changed as soon as he surrendered his life to Christ. It was a very powerful testimony about the ability of God to change lives.
I thought to myself, “If that is what Christianity is all about, then I want to be a Christian.” I was, however, curious about the difference between Christianity and Islam. I inquired of him, “What is the difference between Islam and Christianity?” He stated in very simple terms, “Islam is like any other religion. It will teach you what to do, but it will not give you the power to do it. Christianity is Christ Himself living inside of you and giving you the power to do what he wants you to do.” I knew at that moment that Islam was not the solution that I was looking for. I knew also that it was Christianity, and more specifically, Christ that I truly needed. I definitely changed my mind about becoming a Muslim, however, I was not yet ready to accept Jesus as my personal Savior.
Soon the summer ended, and I returned to Damascus to start my second year in Medical School. Even though I became busy immediately in trying to focus on my goal of staying at the top of my class, God continued to work in my life through my studies and in many other ways. One peculiar way he worked on me was through a calendar someone had placed in my rental room. It had a daily Bible verse of encouragement, as well as a commentary on the backside. Every night before I went to bed, I had a strong urge like a still, small voice inside my head that was calling me to read the verse of the day. One night, I was so exhausted from studying I went to bed before I read the verse. I could not go to sleep. I felt strongly compelled to get up and read the slip. “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:26, NKJV). That verse was exactly what I needed to hear. It penetrated so deep within my heart that I could no longer resist God. I was ready right then and there to surrender my life to God, but I did not know how to do it. I felt at that moment the urge to go and see that man whom I had met in Lebanon in the summer. The moment I greeted him, he recognized me and invited me inside. He asked me about my relationship with the Lord as if he had known all along what had been going on in my life. He invited me to go to his church the next day.
When the preacher got up to the pulpit, read from the Bible, and began preaching. I felt as if he was speaking directly to me. I could not wait for the sermon to end, just so that I could talk to him and ask him to explain to me how I could become a Christian.
The pastor explained to me that we are all sinners and that the only way to have our sins forgiven is through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. He read Revelation 3:20,
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
He cautioned me however that following Christ could be very costly. I told him that there was no question in my mind that I wanted to open the door for Jesus to enter my life and save me from my sinful nature, regardless of the cost. He told me to repeat after him as he prayed, asking Jesus to forgive my sins, enter my life, and make me a new person in him. I prayed with all of my heart, and I felt an enormous burden fall from my shoulders. I felt like I was indeed a new person, and that the past twenty years of my life were a total waste. I wished that I had known Jesus much earlier.
To Him be the glory now and forever. Amen.
Professor, Cults Researcher – Dr. Joseph Hopkins
5/10/1919 – 10/24/2019
Dr. Joseph Hopkins was a professor at Westminster College, New Wilmington, PA when he met Bill Rudge through a local “Jesus People” ministry known as the Mercer Barn. When Bill Rudge Ministries (BRM) began, Dr. Hopkins’ was asked to be on the Board of Reference due to his interest in researching the cults. He was doing a lot of lecturing and writing on the cults and was an excellent resource person for the ministry in that area. Dr. Hopkins was the inspiration for starting BRM’s Research Division. In the photo at right, Dr. Hopkins was speaking at a staff training session at BRM.
Dr. Hopkins enjoyed attending meetings at the ministry center and viewing multi-media presentations of ministry activities. Because of Bill Rudge’s dramatic testimony, Dr. Hopkins contacted the Pacific Garden Mission who dramatized Bill’s story for their popular radio show “Unshackled.” As the ministry grew from a local outreach into a worldwide outreach, Dr. Hopkins continued to support it.
Bill Rudge Ministries was blessed to have Dr. Hopkins serve on our Board of Reference. The greatest joy of his life was his relationship with God. Loved and respected by all who knew him, he was a man of true integrity and an asset to this ministry.
In Rev. Dr. Hopkins’ Words –
“The newsletter, Bill’s travels, and radio broadcastst have had a remarkable impact for Christ around the world as the Lord opened up opportunities for him to share his message with the military, churches in foreign lands and so on. We started supporting at the very beginning of the ministry and are glad to continue our support.”
Sickness Leads to Insight and Blessing
We received the following e-mail from Dilip, one of the ministers coordinating Bill’s second Himalayan outreach several years ago. Shortly before Bill left for India, Dilip was struck with an unexplainable and intensely painful affliction. The following e-mail vividly tells what the Lord taught him through his afflictions and how it all ended in great victory as he was restored to health. It will also give you a glimpse of the potential dangers as well as the great blessing others have received through Bill’s ministry, books, and tapes.
Dear Bill & Karen,
I am back home from the hospital and am well on my way to recovery. The doctor is not sure how to pinpoint my acute condition from which I suffered immense pain for a little less than a month. Therefore, whatever the acute infection of the bone I may have suffered has been dealt with by the all-powerful blood of Jesus and the validity of your prayers. I do not have words to express my appreciation for your concern and precious prayers.
While alone in the hospital, I had the highest privilege of spending intimate time with my Lord. I have been close to the Word. Through tears and brokenness, He has taught me truths in the midst of my acute pain. I thank God for the sufferings He has let me go through so as to make me sensitive to His suffering for me on the Cross and the pains of others.
While in the hospital, I was surrounded by non-believers who did not think much of Jesus. The reason was obvious: Christians like myself have not been making much of Him before the unbelieving world. The Lord has been putting these things right in my life through the time of aloof silence and yearning for His eternal presence. I was able to witness to the nurses and other severely injured patients who took time off to listen and respectfully adhere to the conviction the Lord would bring from His Word. Sometimes I was taken aback by the immense sense of respect and dignity with which they would listen to my testimony and the Gospel.
While I lay in immense pain for three weeks, I had been given a Walkman and a whole lot of your tapes with testimonies and messages to listen. Those words the Lord had you speak in those tapes had me burning with the zeal of the Lord to witness and be a willing instrument. I also read some of your newsletters and the small booklet, Strength through Weakness, about the harassment you experienced in the Middle East. All these challenged me more than ever. I understood the smallness of my sufferings in the light of the Cross. I was shocked to see how far I was from my original calling.
One part of your tour has to be put off because it will be too risky to travel in those areas where much of the time the roads are being guarded by killer gangs who are infiltrating into India from Pakistan. They are being caught by the police and the army but they are too suicidal in nature and are creating a state of emergency in those areas. This change of schedule will still enable you to not only speak at the large convention but also minister in remote interior mountain corners of Sikkim and Darjeeling district.
When Bill and his son-in-law and nephew arrived at the airport in the foothills of the Himalayas, Dilip was there to escort them up the Himalayas in a jeep to speak at the convention. Dilip then drove them over 2,500 kilometers to minister in many dangerous and previously forbidden regions of the Himalayas. Truly our God is amazing as His healing power and protection was visibly evident.
Straight Street Youth Center Thriving
by Rev. Bob Anderson
In 1987, Bill Rudge and I got to know each other through my mother, Irene Anderson. I was saved in Las Vegas, NV, and returned home to Hermitage, PA to attend Mt. Vernon Bible College in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. My mother learned that Bill was a graduate from the same college and introduced me to him and his family. I spent time with Bill and helped his ministry one summer while interning at a local church.
Mount Vernon Bible College moved to Christiansburg, VA, and changed its name to LIFE Bible College East. Then in 1990, after graduating from LIFE Bible College East, I started Straight Street New River Valley Youth Center in Christiansburg, VA, in 1990. We were honored and blessed to have Bill come to speak at our fundraising banquet in October, 1992. We also asked him to share a Straight Talk message with the teens that same weekend. Bill powerfully connected with the young people and challenged them to reach their maximum potential in Christ. (Bill also gave a dynamic message to the entire student body of LIFE Bible College East.)
In 1998, I moved on to do other things. My visit with Bill in Hermitage in the spring of 2017 was very refreshing and brought back some great memories. It helped confirm that the Lord wanted me to restart Straight Street. There is a new stirring the Lord is doing among His people – especially the young people. We’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of teens impacted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many today are serving God as pastors or in some type of leadership role in their churches.
God is so good and so faithful! If the Lord is speaking to you about doing something, look for signs and ask Him for confirmation. He will deliver!
Please visit our website: www.StraightStreetNRV.org. God Bless You! Rev. Bob & Janelle Anderson
(Photos at right: (TOP) Bill and Bob Anderson at BRM. (CENTER) Ivar Ore (center) ready to fly Bill Rudge (left) from Youngstown Airport to speaking engagements at Straight Street Teen Center and Life Bible College East in Virginia. (BOTTOM) Bill speaking at the Straight Street Teen Center banquet in Virginia.)
Suddenly Home – Terry Brest
Photos at right: Terry Brest leaving the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem (top); Margie and Terry Brest at Mount Carmel during BRM’S 9th Holy Land Adventure (bottom).
4/10/52 – 8/20/18
Terry Brest first became involved at Bill Rudge Ministries in 1979. He served as a volunteer for several years with our Teen Life and Kids Life outreaches. His busy schedule as supervisor at Mercer County Children & Youth Services required a temporary leave of absence. In 2003 Terry returned to the ministry and continued helping until the day of his unexpected death.
Terry served God at Bill Rudge Ministries in so many ways! He regularly picked up the mail at the Post Office, made bank deposits, ran frequent errands, helped with yard work, did proofreading and Biblical research, was a prayer intercessor, did hospital visitation, took trunk loads of clothes and supplies to local missions and ministries, packed boxes of books for our World Literature Outreach, took Bill to and from the airport for speaking engagements or mission trips, assisted with school assemblies and helped set up for obstacle course events – and did it all with a servant’s heart. Needless to say, Terry will be greatly missed and hard to replace.
Terry, along with his wife Margie who is carrying on, were faithful prayer intercessors for the Bill Rudge Ministries. Terry was often found praying alone in the prayer room or with the prayer team on Tuesdays. Terry and Margie’s servant hearts for the Lord have been a great help and support to the ministry in countless ways. They were both a joy to have on our 9th Holy Land Adventure.
Excerpting three of the many responses we received when they learned of Terry’s passing:
“Terry was a true follower of Yeshua. His kindness will be greatly missed. Shalom Shalom” Sheree Zippay
“Terry left some good memories for all of us who knew him and worked alongside him. He was the epitome of the faithful servant – always willing to do the least job, quiet and humble. He loved Margie and the Lord and the BRM. He now walks beside his Lord.” Gert Wooten
“Terry loved God and he loved the ministry. He loved reaching out and touching lives with the Word of God. Terry’s most memorable journey in life was the trip to Israel with your ministry. He always yearned to return to that land! Forever missing my sweet brother.” Diana Brest
We rejoice that Terry is now with the Lord he loved so strongly but miss his gentle spirit and willingness to serve in any way possible. After Terry died, Bill asked Margie why he loved the ministry so much. She replied, “Terry loved God and he loved to be around people who loved God and he knew you loved God.”
In Terry’s Words –
“I have found Bill and Karen to be a ministry of integrity and obedience. Bill and Karen not only speak and teach the Word, but first live and demonstrate the Word in their daily lives. They have an unwavering passion, determination and commitment to be wise and faithful stewards before God and man and for God to be glorified and His will done in their lives and ministry. This is a multi-faceted international ministry that impacts thousands of lives to bring individuals into the image and life of Christ Jesus. I believe the Bill Rudge Ministries is one of the most complete ministries I have witnessed in that they minister to the multi-faceted issues and needs of children, adolescents, adults, families and churches. They also reinforced our understanding of the importance of obedience and commitment, stewardship, nutrition and fasting and reaching our maximal potential in Christ to glorify God.”
The Life and Martyrdom of Kayla Mueller
by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.
Writing to Christians who were facing persecution, the Apostle Peter reminded them that trials prove the genuineness of their faith:
These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (1 Peter 1:7).
The truth of this verse was evident throughout Kayla Mueller’s life. Kayla was an American humanitarian aid worker who, in August of 2013, was taken captive by ISIS while in Syria. Until her reported death in February 2015, Kayla endured torture, verbal abuse, forced slave labor, and repeated raping by ISIS’ top leader. Despite these unimaginable trials, Kayla never wavered in her faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, reports by other hostages who escaped or were released by ISIS, document how she remained strong in her faith. As reported by ABC News:
… her fellow hostages say she never surrendered hope, she selflessly put the welfare of fellow captives above her own and she even stood up to executioner ‘Jihadi John’ to defend her Christian faith.
Kayla’s steadfast commitment to Jesus Christ should be a challenge to determine the strength of our own faith. We may not have to suffer as she did, but when the trials of life do come our way, we can have that same strength she had to stand up and proclaim the name of Jesus Christ.
The book of Hebrews reminds us that a great cloud of witnesses surround us (Hebrews 12:1). Now, one of those witnesses is Kayla Mueller. Her race is over and she is now in the presence of her Lord and Savior. But our race is still going on. The question before us is, “What witness will we leave when our race ends?” I pray that, like Kayla, we will encourage other believers to stand strong in their faith.
Kayla’s Mother Responds to BJ’s Blog
Dear Dr. BJ Rudge,
We thank you for keeping Kayla’s memory alive and I will keep your letter with Kayla’s things. Kayla’s letters showed us her continued love for God and her determination to never give up, no matter what happened to her. They helped keep us strong during her 18 months of captivity and now keep us just as strong to continue on.
Your beautiful words in your blog brought tears to my eyes but also filled my heart with joy. Please keep writing, I do not want the world to forget my Kayla and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your help! We miss her, our hearts ache without her and yet we feel deep within our hearts and minds her presence, her joy for life, her God given gift to make this world better through a just peace for all and she did what she could with her own hands and a heart to just help. She lives on thanks to our Lord. He has given us the strength and courage to go on, to honor who she was by continuing to tell her story and to do our best to live as she did with love, joy, peace and hope, wanting true justice for all.
With respect, Marsha Mueller, Kayla’s mom
The Photo That Started It All
by Darlinda McDonald
Who would have thought that a yearbook photo would open the door to a lifetime relationship? Karen Blair went to Hickory High School, Bill Rudge to Sharon. One night, however, Karen was with some friends at a party in Hermitage when Bill and some friends from Ohio walked in uninvited. Apparently, Karen caught Bill’s eye because he invited her for a short walk outside where he said he would “take her on a date sometime,” though he never followed through with his promise.
Then it happened. Several weeks later, Karen learned that a photo of her selling tickets at the Columbia Theatre to Sharon High School’s senior class vice president and his date was printed in Sharon’s High School yearbook. Wanting to see the photo, her mother took her to the Rudges because both Karen’s and Bill’s sisters were in Debulets (a baton twirling group) together. When Bill saw Karen he said, “Hey, I asked you out at that party. Do you still want to go?” “Sure,” she replied, and that was the beginning.
In January, after dating regularly for about six months, Karen became a Christian. Bill, however, didn’t want anything to do with God and decided to hitchhike across the country. God, in His faithfulness, pursued him and on May 23, after returning home, Bill gave his life to Christ. A few weeks after his conversion, on June 5, 1971, Bill and Karen ran away and were married. That was 50 years ago, and so the story continues!
Bill’s picture appeared in the football section of that yearbook underneath the team photo. The caption beside his picture exemplified other experiences that shaped Bill’s life: “In late August, the football team began its two-a-day workouts, which lasted for two torturous weeks. The air was filled with the most terrifying grunts and groans as the players were pushed to the brink of exhaustion ….”
The Taming of Godzilla (Bill’s Testimony)
The Taming of Godzilla (Bill’s Testimony)
My unbelieving eyes stared down at the lifeless form in the casket. In a flash, my little brother was gone. He dashed into the path of a car and breathed no more. It was as if someone cut open my chest and squeezed my heart. Oh, how I wanted to talk with him again. Surely there had to be a God; we didn’t just die and turn to dust. There had to be life after death. As a 10-year-old, I didn’t know God personally, but that day I believed He existed.
I had been raised in church, but to me God was a vague, mystic somebody who watched us from afar. My respect for the church faded and I changed from a youth who revered it, to a rebellious teen who actually broke into a church and stole from it.
I had great parents and a good home life, but within me was a desperate desire to be “part of the crowd.” Perhaps I had an inner rebellion against God for never giving my brother back.
I had always been skinny and began lifting weights to be like my older brother. During my junior-high days, I was proud to be a part of the Buhl Club’s “Whiz Kids.” I was a member of this gymnastic team as we performed before audiences and finally on the Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour.
Eventually I drifted from the Buhl Club and a good, moral life because of peer pressure. In spite of warnings from my sister and others, I began hanging around with the hoods and the rough kids from the West Hill. We had a shack known as “Rudge’s Shack.” It was the highlight of the junior-high years. We held smoking and drinking parties, stealing contests, orgies, and gambling.
Near the shack was a huge abandoned mansion. One day, while down by the mansion, someone threw a rock through a window. This was the start of a long and destructive caper. We smashed most of the windows, tore down the banister, ruined a piano, demolished three huge stained glass windows, and did thousands of dollars in damage.
This went on for weeks and I wondered why the police never caught us. One Sunday afternoon I knew things were getting hot. A friend of mine from the East Hill, whose father was a doctor, wanted to go to the mansion. I stayed back and watched as he yelled, “Hey, Rudge, watch this!” Just as he was preparing to throw a brick through a large front window, a police cruiser came flying up the drive. Not knowing what to do with the brick, he threw it through the window. They arrested him along with a few others who gave the names of everyone involved. They rounded up more than 50 youth, but only 13 of us were prosecuted. I was 12 years old at the time. We received a year’s probation and had to pay a fine. The officer who questioned me was a lieutenant. He took a quick disliking to me, and I did to him as well.
When I started high school, I was still hanging around with the hoods and so-called “bad” kids. Still being skinny, I decided I would become the strongest kid in the high school in order to change my self-image and to stop being pushed around. I would often lift weights three hours a day and was gradually getting over my weak image. I had many guys on my list on whom I was going to get revenge from past incidents.
I became involved with a gang in nearby Ohio. We were always looking for some trouble or some place to break into. I had a desire to do every crazy and dangerous thing imaginable. It was nothing for me to get high and race down the highway at speeds of more than a hundred miles an hour. At times, I felt that I was invincible and that nothing could kill me.
I did not really acknowledge God, but through all the crazy things I attempted He must have had His hand on my life. It is interesting that while in that gang I had a girl use cigarette ashes and a needle to put a tattoo of a cross and the word “God” on my arm.
My older brother, who was the muscular one, was now in Korea with the Army. He and his friends had always considered me a punk. But now one of the strongest guys in their group was just out of the Marines and a little crazy. When he realized my interest in weights and the strength and reputation I had acquired, he asked me to start lifting with him. He would pick me up and we would go work out at the Buhl Club for about three hours and then go out drinking or with some girls.
My dream of being accepted and a part of this really rough group of older guys was now a reality. Nobody could call me a punk or push me around. Although I was too young to drink in Pennsylvania, they took me with them and would always stick up for me if any trouble would arise about my age. We did things that could have hurt or killed others, things that could have put us in prison, but thank God that He was protecting me.
Many of my friends were killed in car wrecks after getting high on drugs or alcohol. One was shot and killed while robbing a place. Many others were busted for drugs or put in prison for violent and destructive acts.
While still hanging around with the older guys’ gang, I got into karate so that I would have even more ability for getting revenge.
I was only 18 and just out of high school when a new health spa opened in our area. Many applied for the job, but the owner from California quickly hired me. I loved being paid for something I enjoyed so much and did anyway. My physique was very impressive and caused me to be very well known. We would go to the beach and do pull-ups and push-ups to pump up our muscles and then strut around. We would even do back flips in the sand to get attention. I was able to get almost any girl and was involved with quite a few. One girl really impressed me. And not to lose her, after dropping her off, I would sneak out with others until all hours of the night.
One day the girl I really liked told me she was going to a concert. I said, “Fine.” When she got back at midnight she called and said, “Guess what Bill? I have become a Christian!” I said, “That’s fine, I am a Christian too; I go to church.” But she said, “No, I found Jesus in a real and personal way.”
I thought it would pass and we would still be able to party and have fun together. But it didn’t. In the weeks following, there was a tremendous change in Karen. She would not drink or party. I began to hate this Jesus and would literally sit at the health spa and plan ways to destroy her faith in Him.
Karen and her friends would tell me about Christ. I resented it and thought Christians were weirdos, yet I was not about to give Karen up for any religious nonsense. All her friends knew my reputation and knew that if I could become a Christian, anybody could.
I really had everything going for me. I was young and popular. I had a good job and although I weighed only 165 pounds I was bench-pressing over 330 pounds. Although I was an 18-year-old punk, many rich businessmen would see me on the street, and proudly say to their wives, “Hey, there is my fitness instructor.” I was planning to enter some physique contests. I was also excelling at karate and entering many tournaments. Everything should have been going well, and it was. Yet the change in Karen’s life and the things she said were affecting me. I knew deep down I was really a fake and did not have it all together. I thought I would find what was missing in my life in some other part of the country.
A friend and I decided to hitchhike across the country and pick up a “hot” motorcycle in Albuquerque and ride it to California. So, I went on a search, and later learned I had really gone on a search for God ― until He found me.
You can imagine all the things two teenagers could experience on such a trip, and I think we experienced them all. As we left Sharon, Pennsylvania, I remember my parents trying to talk me out of the trip and Karen crying, but I was determined to go.
We received rides from all types of people. One was a businessman and before I knew it, he was talking to me about that Jesus I did not want to hear about. Another guy picked us up and hauled out a Bible. I thought, “Here we go again. I can’t get away from it.” But when he opened his Bible, there was a hole cut out of the center of the pages. A stash of marijuana was hidden there. Who would ever think of looking inside a Bible if picked up by the cops? We thought that was really cool so we all shared a joint together.
After several exciting days and nights on the road, we finally reached the hippie commune in Albuquerque, New Mexico where my oldest brother was staying. When I inquired as to his whereabouts, they told me he was not there, but had left the day before to go swimming at some springs a hundred miles away, somewhere in the mountains. They had no idea when he would be back.
We decided to head to Santa Fe which was about 50 miles north of Albuquerque. After walking about three miles, we hitched a ride that took us right into Santa Fe. As we listened to the radio, we heard that the temperature was going to reach an all time low for this time of year of about 25 degrees. We had anticipated warm weather out West. It was the month of May so all we had were short-sleeved shirts and light jackets.
Our ride dropped us off and we walked the cobblestone streets of Santa Fe to find a place to spend the night. It was getting dark and the whole town seemed to be closed down. Finally, we found an open bar, but were turned away because we were not of age. 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 the bar. Fear gripped our hearts as we faced the reality of a very cold evening with no apparent hope.
As it was getting colder and later, the bar seemed to be closing and no one wanted to help. Not knowing where to turn, our hopes once again came alive. Down that narrow street came four guys with long hair in a yellow car. A German Shepherd dog was sticking its head out the window. We 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!”
Somehow, some way, when he did not even know I was in New Mexico and was supposed to be a hundred miles away, my brother saved our lives. Say what you like; even though I did not acknowledge Him then, a loving God had responded to our need. In His infinite wisdom, He knew that someday I would know Him and His love and forgiveness.
We all scrunched into that car and went to where they were staying. I completely forgot about God then, as we all smoked some marijuana and talked. My brother said that after getting back from the mountains they decided to return a car they had borrowed from someone in Santa Fe. He explained that he could not get us a motorcycle, so the next day we headed back to Pennsylvania.
We encountered many more incidents along the way, but were really happy to be back home. The first thing I did was call Karen and then went over to see her. Her response after our reunion was, “Bill, why don’t you come with me tonight? There is going to be a fantastic evangelist speaking in Youngstown, Ohio.”
The last thing I wanted to do was spend my first night back in church hearing about Jesus. “Karen,” I told her in no uncertain terms, “you can take your religion and shove it!” “But Bill,” she pleaded, “this guy is really good!” I wanted nothing to do with her Jesus, but she looked so beautiful that I finally agreed to go.
Bill and Karen preparing to go to a Sadie Hawkins dance, before knowing Jesus
I expected to hear the usual pitch about Jesus Christ. I would sit there and watch the stupid Christians walk down the aisle and pray. Who would ever want or enjoy that kind of lifestyle? Surely not I; that was only for the weak and the foolish ― not for me.
That night was different. He spoke on Bible prophecy and how we could know God in a real and personal way. The Holy Spirit was dealing with me in a way I had never known before. I had been searching for meaning and purpose in life for 18 years. How well I knew the futility of looking to alcohol, drugs, sex, or anything else for lasting happiness and peace. I had tried to change my self-image through lifting weights and karate. I knew that no self-development, or patterning my life after anyone else, could change or fulfill me.
Suddenly I realized the ultimate truth and reality of Jesus Christ. The words seemed to pierce my very heart and reveal to me that this was what I had in reality always been searching for ― to be restored to the God who created me through His only Son, Jesus Christ. Instead of being begged or dragged as many tried in the past, I willingly stood and made the long walk down to the altar. On the way I said, “God, if You prove Yourself real to me today, I will live my life for You.” I got down on my knees and was totally sincere for the first time in my life and said, “Lord, I am sorry for all my sins. I believe that Jesus Christ is Your Son and that He died on the cross for me. I want to give my life to You. Please forgive me.”
I am not an emotional person, but for 15 minutes I lay there and cried. I was really sorry for the horrible wrongs I had done and the people I had hurt. Many of the things then forgiven are known to no one but the Lord and myself, and according to His Word, He has not only forgiven but also forgotten. Those tears were the greatest cleansing I ever had . . . That was May 23, 1971.
During the service the following night 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 changed. Karen and I found a new kind of love ― a bond in Jesus that cemented our lives together in a way that I cannot explain. Now that I 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.
A few days later, when Karen was 17 and I was 18, we ran away and got married. Although we might have acted wrongly in this situation, God used it to prepare our future life and ministry together for Him. Karen took me to meet her family and I was shocked to discover that one of her uncles was the police lieutenant who so despised me when he questioned me for the ‘mansion incident’. Although it had been six years ago, he still remembered me. I do not know who was more shocked, him or me, but he did not have to worry. I was not the same person that he remembered. Jesus had changed my life.
No one could believe the change. Many who had before been concerned about me did not want me to go so far as Jesus. Many friends thought I was crazy and had finally flipped out. But they all had to admit and respect what had happened, especially the change God made in giving me the courage to live this new life in Christ, which I had previously mocked and ridiculed. Many of them came to me alone and asked more about Christ. Some responded, but they all admitted they wished they had the guts to accept Him.
The next week I went back to my old karate class and to an instructor I respected very much. He always liked me for my determination and animalistic sparring. They used to call me “Godzilla” because of my strength and size from weightlifting and my purposeful lack of control when sparring an opponent. The instructor remembered the times I hit or kicked a little too hard and the time I caved in the rib cage of a higher ranked student. He knew of my innate desire to hurt others and my strong desire to be the best. Whenever they needed someone to beat on or demonstrate with, I was often chosen because of my ability to withstand it.
One night he looked around the class and said to each of us, “I know you, I have been with you for two years now, and I know what you think and what you will do.” But when he came to me, he said, “Bill, you are different. I do not know you anymore; you have changed.” He was right.
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things are passed away; behold, all things become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Bill & Karen start their ministry
Jesus Christ had changed my life; I was a new person in Him. He had done instantly, when I sincerely asked Him, what no one or anything else ever did or could have done. Although I was not perfect, I began to grow. Through Him, I found meaning and purpose. Only through Christ could I begin to conquer all the problems I had throughout my life and my teen years. Through Him, I have found that all things are possible. 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.
This Burger Comes with Matzah Ball Soup
Contributed by Judy Burger
Bill and Karen Rudge met Judy Burger and her husband, Jeff, in Columbus, Ohio, in June of 2017 at the Christian and Missionary Alliance military and prison chaplain training. Judy is a very vivacious believer in Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah. Here is the testimony that Judy sent to Bill Rudge Ministries excerpted from the article, “Messianic Jewish Artists” by Matt Sieger in ISSUES:
Judy (Joseph) Burger has seen a lot of the United States—much of it by accident. At age eighteen, she got lost hitchhiking to a communal farm in Illinois and ended up in California! She has also lived on Washboard Way off of Dead Dog Drive in Atmore, Alabama. Along the way, she attended art school, painted a portrait now on display in the Helen Keller Museum, earned a degree in graphic design, raised a family and visited hundreds of prison inmates. Oh, and she also befriends people by bringing them matzah ball soup.
Yes, she’s Jewish.
Raised in a Reform Jewish home in the Chicago suburbs, Judy is the second oldest of five children: four girls and a boy (in that order). Her family did not regularly attend synagogue, but Judy’s brother Mike was bar mitzvah and Judy remembers doing a Purim play with the youth group. The Josephs regularly observed Passover and Hanukkah with the extended family.
Although Judy recalls saying a prayer before bedtime as a child, God did not seem real to her. To Judy, it was just a matter of which religion you were born into. “In my mind,” she says, “you were either Jewish, Catholic or Christian.”
Of more interest to her was drawing and doodling—almost always of people’s faces.
“The beauty of the face is what I’m drawn to,” says Judy, who as an adult has sketched (from photographs) Martin Luther King, Jr., Julianna Margulies, Robert De Niro, Gloria Swanson, Carly Simon and others.
Her art was her anchor through the high school disappointments of not making the cheerleading squad or finding the perfect boyfriend. She was excited about leaving home for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but by the second semester her pursuit of an art degree had lost its luster.
She searched for satisfaction through boyfriends, philosophy and dabbling in drugs. “I became a mess,” Judy says. “I wasn’t really mature enough to go away to school.” So she dropped out and moved back home.
When Judy’s Jewish friend Joann told her that her brother was at a communal farm where “they lived like Pilgrims,” something clicked in Judy’s soul. She decided to check it out.
Although Judy knew the farm was in Freeport, just a couple of hours west of Chicago, she never got directions from Joann. Judy and her sister Robin tried to hitchhike to the farm, couldn’t find it, kept on going and wound up in Berkeley, California! There Judy and Robin took a trip of a different kind—with LSD. Although it had no effect on Robin, Judy nearly died. The emotional and spiritual impact was almost as bad.
“I felt a strong, evil presence pushing me into a dark hole,” Judy says of her drug-induced trip. “Even though I didn’t believe in the devil or hell, I somehow knew that the devil was that evil presence and the dark hole was hell.”
The girls called their dad, who wired them money to fly back home. Judy was still in a mental fog and experiencing delusional thoughts. But she remembered the farm. This time (with directions) she went without her sister and lived there for a year. The head of the kibbutz-like community was a pastor who led the group in Bible studies. Judy learned about Yeshua (Jesus) and came to believe in him as the Jewish Messiah. When the pastor and his wife prayed for her, the mental fog lifted and the delusional thoughts ended.
As she continued to study the Scriptures, she called her parents and told them what she believed.
“They thought I was meshugge,” recalls Judy. When she returned home, they took her to the rabbi to deprogram her. “But I was set free from that darkness [her LSD effects],” she says, and the rabbi could not convince her that Jesus wasn’t the reason.
Judy attended the Art Institute of Chicago for a year, then moved in with some girlfriends in DeKalb, Illinois. There she met Jeff Burger, who she married in 1978. Judy gave birth to their first child, Aaron, a year later, and their daughter, Amy, in 1981. The Burgers moved to Atmore, Alabama, where Jeff worked as a state prison chaplain. Because Jeff is legally blind, Judy drove him to the prison and accompanied him on hundreds of his visits with the male inmates. While in Alabama, she completed a degree in graphic design from Faulkner State Community College.
After six years, the Burgers moved back to Ohio where Jeff continued to serve as a state prison chaplain. Judy still visits prisoners with him. There aren’t many Jewish people in the small Ohio town where they live. But Judy loves to make matzah ball soup and bring it to the Jewish people she meets, including her podiatrist and a friend in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Her hitchhiking days are over, but she has a dream that will take her further than Berkeley. “Before I die,” she says, “I’d like to become an Israeli citizen.” If she does, she’ll have plenty of neighbors with whom to share her matzah ball soup!
Witnesses for the Lord
Until the Lord called them home, Bill and Violette Fleming were vivacious and positive witnesses for the Lord. Bill and Violette knew Bill Rudge from his youthful West Hill days. When Bill and Karen Rudge started the Bill Rudge Ministries in 1977, Bill Fleming was one of the first Board members and he and Violette were faithful prayer and financial supporters of the ministry and good friends of Bill and Karen throughout the years. One of Bill’s favorite verses which he quoted every time he entered the ministry center or whenever you met him anywhere else is, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
In Bill Fleming’s Words –
“Violette and I were sitting around living out our golden years when we started to reminisce about the impact that Bill and Karen and Bill Rudge Ministries have made in this world. As Violette puts it, ‘I am so impressed on how Bill Rudge Ministries has reached out to teach those of this world who had little or no knowledge of our Savior and the importance of His presence in our lives.’ Knowing Bill from the West Hill days, the Lord has done a great work spreading the gospel of Jesus. When he and Karen met and married, the Lord created a great team. It was a pleasure and honor to have had the opportunity to be on the Board of Directors and watch Bill Rudge Ministries grow. The Shenango Valley should be proud of their faithful ministry. With much love and admiration.”
A Changed Life Challenges Jew to Faith in Christ
A Drug Dealer’s Life Transformed – Mike Sarkissian
Alvin C. York – World War I Hero
Bairs Displayed the Love of Christ
Cam is in Heaven
Conversion of a Voodoo Witch Doctor
Faith Through The Fire – BJ Rudge
From Biker and Bartender to Christian
From Chinatown Gangster to Pastor
From Planned Suicide to Salvation – The Bob Davis Story
From Rebel to Chaplain – Bill Robinson
God In The Storm – A Fascinating Account of Divine Intervention at Desert Storm
God in the Wildfires, part 1 – The “Great” Escape
God in the Wildfires, part 2 – Deliverance in Devastation
Greatest Discovery MRI Inventor Ever Made
His Faith Crucial to Rudges’ Salvation – Rev. Guy BonGiovanni
I Couldn’t Outrun God’s Love – Bill Rudge
My Journey Back To God – Douglas Ell, M.S., J.D.
My Journey from Atheist to Christian – Dr. Michael Abdul-Malak
Professor, Cults Researcher – Dr. Joseph Hopkins
Sickness Leads to Insight and Blessing
Straight Street Youth Center Thriving
Suddenly Home – Terry Brest
The Life and Martyrdom of Kayla Mueller
The Photo That Started It All
The Taming of Godzilla (Bill’s Testimony)
This Burger Comes with Matzah Ball Soup
Witnesses for the Lord