What a delightful discovery this turned out to be. Donald Rowley and his family were English Assembly of God (hey... that denomination sounded familiar!) missionaries and what I noticed first about them was what was distinctly absent in my life--joy. Their open home became an oasis and soon I felt comfortable enough to share the distresses of my heart. When the time was optimal, Don shared Jesus Christ with me from the Bible. I understand he did that with a lot of airmen, to the point that I wonder if he made more American converts over there than Muslim Pakistani. He rightly perceived that my problem was spiritual. I thought I was a Christian when in fact I was merely a member of Christendom. Big difference! I had learned a lot about Jesus in my upbringing, but I had never had a personal relationship with Him. He was just another topic in the World Book encyclopedia, not a personal Being with whom I could relate. On Dec. 6, 1967, I invited Christ into my life as personal Savior and Lord, to transform me, asking Him to forgive my past, and to give me a future. The decision was easy for me. It was one of those “to whom shall we go, for You alone have the words of eternal life” moments. Results: No visions, no flashes of lightning, no voice from heaven ... just a solid assurance that this was the right thing to do and what I had been waiting for.
OK. I’m sure the Freudians could have a field day on all this. Fine, do that. But, for those of you who are a bit more open-minded, read on.
Things began to happen right away. Good things. My desire for booze disappeared, much to the dismay and disappointment of many of my pals who enjoyed my drunken antics. I remember one guy, “Chad,” barging into our dorm room and cussin’ my roomie out for “changing” me. “He’s not the same guy! Whadja do to him, Bill?” Another friend warned me about some kind of “Pentecostal backlash” (which I’m still waiting for after almost 40 years).
My first need was for a Bible of my own. I wanted one right away. None at the commissary. Didn’t know I could probably get one at the chapel, but not being a churchy person I never even thought of it. So I went shopping for one in downtown Peshawar. Bad idea! Muslim-owned bookstore owners are not too enthusiastic about back-ordering such. I did manage to secure a copy of Watchman Nee’s “The Normal Christian Life” which helped me immensely to learn the Christian faith and on my break times at work, I switched from Chinese jet fighter traffic in favor of Christian short-wave radio, out of Quito Ecuador.
But back to my Bible search. I quickly wrote a letter to my girlfriend back home telling of my decision and requesting a Bible. Five days later I received a letter from Betty (which were becoming fewer and fewer by this time by the way), but what’s this? Her church was having special evangelistic services. And they spent the evening of her letter praying for me. They could NOT have known of my decision because it took 5 days just for mail to go one way to the USA. Wait, get me that globe at the base library! What’s the time differential? Dear reader, it turns out that Betty’s church was praying for me at precisely the same hour I was making my faith decision for Jesus Christ. PM in Scranton was AM in Pakistan. A perfect match. I double checked just to make sure. Dear God, thank you for this confirmation of faith. I would like to think that I would still serve You without it. But thank you for the gift that it was to me.
The next day a package arrived for me at the base post office from Betty. Some cookies from home maybe? No. A bible, with a note inside... “Dear Joe, thought you might need this.”
When my original letter reached home, the believers could appreciate what I had already experienced . . . . a miracle.
The remainder of my time in Pakistan was spent learning the Christian faith, fellowshipping in the on-base homes of American believers, worshipping in the tiny mud huts of Pakistani Christians, and anticipating a time when I would be reunited with the girl who (so I thought) God had selected for my lifelong mate. It all looked so wonderfully hopeful. You know, soldier boy comes home, they marry, “and they lived happily ever after.”
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