Hit Man Gets Life

We took in soldiers and sailors at the center, as well as merchant marines. Sometimes we hosted weird characters off the street. But the Lord loves the worst of us, so we tried to share His love with them all.

One man said he was a merchant marine, and spent about a week with us. He looked like he had led a hard life. I noticed while I was leading a Bible study that he didn’t join in, but sat close enough to hear. Night after night, he listened from a distance. I tried to start a conversation with him on a number of occasions, but never with any success.

Around one o’clock one morning, I headed up to our apartment. But I had forgotten something and had to go back downstairs. In the dim light, I caught a glimpse of this big, tough man heading for the stairway. I pretended not to notice him as he walked about six feet behind me. I stopped for a moment, and he stopped. I went a few steps, and he went a few steps.

Understandably, I was frightened. I started and stopped several times as I made my way down the stairs, thinking he would catch up to me, but he maintained the same distance behind me. My imagination ran wild. Chills were running up and down my spine. When we finally reached the reception room, I slowly walked toward the ice box in the kitchen. I was shaking, and my trepidation increased with every step.

I leaned over the counter facing him, and with as much courage as I could muster, asked, “What can I do for you?”

He looked me in the eye, and in his rough voice said, “Say, did you ever kill a man?” Surprised and shaken, I answered, “No, have you?” His chilling reply was, “Yeah—plenty of ’em!” A cold sweat broke out over me. Would I be his next victim?

Suddenly, he broke down in tears, and told me that he was a hired killer. He had murdered forty-two men and it had never bothered him before. He could coldly walk up behind a man he had never met, draw out his gun, and pull the trigger. He had never cared about his evil deeds until he overheard our Bible conversations, and he saw the interest the men had in the Bible. What a sight that night! Here was an extremely hardened man, broken by the Lord, his heart convicted by the Holy Spirit, crying out for the mercy of God.

As shocking as his confession was to me, and as wicked as his life sounded, I felt great compassion. Although I had not murdered, I had been in his same condition years ago when I was convicted of my own sin. He was crying out for help— asking if there was any hope of forgiveness for such a sinner?

We spent the rest of the night going over God’s Word. All the while I prayed that the Lord would give his troubled soul peace. He had no difficulty in identifying himself with the passages in Romans that speak of the sinner coming short of the glory of God. It was the grace of God that he had a problem with. Could God’s grace possibly be great enough to save a sinner of such magnitude? When we got to the cross, and the sacrifice that the Savior accomplished on his behalf, peace finally flooded his heart. He realized that all of his sins had indeed been paid for in the precious blood of Christ.

Though I have witnessed this transition from darkness into light hundreds of times in my life, it always thrills my heart.

The hit man left the next day, rejoicing as a new man in Christ Jesus. Old things had passed away; all things had become new. He told me that we probably would never hear from him again, because he would have to change his identity completely or he would be killed.

On another occasion, two men pretending to be merchant marines came in, concealing a gun for the purpose of robbing us. We didn’t suspect a thing until we were making the beds the next morning and discovered the loaded pistol under a pillow. Both men were upstairs taking showers, so I quietly put the gun away in my apartment and said nothing. Staying out of sight, I watched them as they searched the bed for the gun. I quietly slipped back down to the reception room and greeted them as they came to the snack bar. We talked to them about the Lord, and then they left, never mentioning the gun. Maybe the preaching of the Word the night before had disarmed them, spoiling their plans.

That night, I related the incident to several men sitting around the snack table. “I know them,” one spoke up. “Three of us were traveling from Los Angeles to Florida. We were robbing filling stations and small stores to pay expenses. Just before we left the west coast, my sister gave me this book.” He took a New Testament from his pocket, and told us he had been reading it between holdups and while the others were driving. “At each big city, we took turns at being in charge of the gang. When we got to Houston, it was my turn, so I declared that we would not swear on our trip to New Orleans. I was reading about the Lord and it didn’t seem right to use the name of the Lord that way. That’s when the other two guys told me that if I was going to travel with them, I would have to throw away that little book as it was ruining me. I said that I would not do that because I was interested in what I was reading, so they gave me some of the loot and we separated. I continued reading and hitched a ride on to here.”

We explained to him God’s plan of salvation and, having been prepared by the Spirit’s convicting work, he trusted Christ that very evening.

On another occasion, we were cleaning the dormitory. One serviceman was still sleeping, so we passed on to the next room. Suddenly we heard a piercing scream and the marines rushed in to see what was going on. They soon came back dragging a man behind them. The man had gotten in from the street, and when he heard us coming, had hidden under the bed of the sleeping sailor. When we left the room, he reached his hand up under the pillow to grab the sailor’s wallet. Unfortunately for him, that sailor was a light sleeper. He caught his wrist, and the marines, running in, took over from there.

They dragged him to us and asked what they should do with him. Not wanting to involve the police, I just said, “Throw him out.” The two marines took me literally, and each of them took hold of a leg and dragged him down two long sets of stairs. I was afraid they were going to kill him. He pleaded for them to stop, but his cries fell on deaf ears. They just yelled that he deserved to die. Unceremoniously, they deposited him on the sidewalk outside.

Several nights later, I was checking the dorms, careful to look under the beds. I couldn’t see very clearly with the dim night light, but just as I was about to leave, I spotted a man’s leg sticking out from under a bed. I quietly went downstairs and announced that we had an intruder hiding under a bed in the dorm upstairs. The fellows each grabbed a club, and we sneaked up the stairs. I pointed out the location, and the men quietly surrounded the bed. When they were all in position, the signal was given, and they grabbed the leg and yelled. The sleeping man woke up with a start. When he saw what was happening, he shouted, “Where are you going with my leg?” He had just taken off his wooden leg for the night!

Of the many men who found Christ as their Saviour at the center, I remember in particular one young man, Grady, a merchant marine who came with two friends for the night. We talked to them about the Lord, and learned they had never heard the gospel before. When they realized their lost condition, the three of them put their faith in the Lord.

The Christians that were present that night were impressed with these three young men. They were so genuine. They expressed such a sincere desire to learn more about their Saviour and they testified happily and freely to others. They stayed with us for three weeks, spending almost all day and night in the Word. This seemed all the more remarkable to us, since they had very little education and were hardly able to read. When they left to go back to their ship, they took a generous supply of tracts and New Testaments with them, since they wanted to witness to the men they were sailing with.

Months later, one of the three men made his way back to the center and told us an incredible story. As soon as they returned to their ship, they headed out to sea. The three men continued to meet for Bible study and prayer. They were content to meet among themselves for a while, but then they thought that it would be a shame not to tell the other men on board ship about the Saviour, so they invited everyone to their Bible studies. Grady could not preach or expound the Word, so he just read from the Bible as best as he could, and they gave out tracts and New Testaments.

A number of the men began attending their meetings, and soon began to be touched by the Saviour’s love. Eventually, every sailor on that ship, except for three very hard men, attended the meeting. Even the captain was persuaded to come. Many trusted Christ as their Saviour, and all because of the testimony of these three men!

Tragically, a torpedo hit their ship, sinking it. Only a handful survived, but an untold number went on to be “with the Lord,” along with dear brother Grady and his friend.

Although we didn’t allow alcohol in our center, about a dozen sailors who had been out drinking one night were in the third floor dormitory, shouting and yelling. When I went up to see what the commotion was all about, I almost had heart failure. Six men had hold of one sailor, and they were carrying him to an open window. They were ready to toss him onto the sidewalk two stories below! About thirty others were crowding around the window, shouting at the top of their lungs, “Throw him out!” They were pushing and shoving their way toward the open window as they screamed.

I was frightened out of my wits as I knew that they were all crazed with liquor, and if this were not handled right, they would probably throw me out the window, too. I had prayed on the way up the stairs, and now as I perspired in fear, I really asked the Lord for help.

I had learned long ago that no matter how scared you might be, always act as if you’re in control of the situation. I approached the crowd, and yelled in as a commanding a voice as I could, “Hey, what do you fellows think you’re doing? Don’t you know where you are! This is a Christian place; put that man down! Now!” They put him down right away, and I gave them a lecture, threatening to put them all out on the street if there was another sound from anyone. I didn’t hear a peep out of them for the rest of the night, and the next morning they all came very sheepishly to me and apologized. I recognized that this was a perfect opportunity for me to present the gospel to them, so I did.

We held regular services in the little chapel at the center, although usually the numbers were few. Perhaps from ten to thirty would come to the Lord’s Supper, but the deep love for the Lord was manifested there. With His Person evidenced in the emblems on the table, those people attending knew why they were there—to meet with the Lord. Often, it was at great sacrifice that they were present.

During one meeting, as all thoughts were focused on the Lord, I thought I heard someone crying in the guest room next to the chapel. With partitions only eight feet high, and with fourteen foot ceiling, there was an open space that made it possible to hear sounds from the other room, even with the doors closed.

A young Christian serviceman was in the room, because he had a high fever. He could easily hear the proceedings from there. He had hitchhiked three hundred miles just to remember the Lord in the breaking of bread. I was concerned that he might not be alright, so I slipped into the adjoining room, and quietly asked him why he was crying. He told me that he had made such an effort to be at the Lord’s Supper; now he had to miss it because he was sick. I told him that when it was time to share in the loaf and the cup, I would bring them in to him so he could take part.

Contrast the great effort of this young man to get to the meeting, with some folks that live nearby and find it too inconvenient to attend the Lord’s Supper. They seem to place little importance in keeping His request, “This do in remembrance of Me.” I have observed through the years that some Christians display very little commitment when it comes to expressing their love to the Saviour. We show our love to the Lord by keeping His commandments. John 14:21 was committed to memory early in my Christian life, and has been a guiding line for our family. “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me.”

Besides being a matter of simple obedience, I can also add that expressing the love we share with the Lord is the secret of a happy life. I would consider our family’s attendance at the meetings one of the main things we have done that have kept us stable, and on course.

Because we were operating the Servicemen’s Center without an income, we once found ourselves completely out of money. Gladys, Vernon Jr., and I were walking downtown discussing our plight. We needed ten dollars. I told Gladys not to worry—the Lord was not limited. He could even throw ten dollars down on the sidewalk. I stamped my foot to emphasize my point. At that very moment, our son Vernon stooped and picked up a gold watch that a man just ahead of us had dropped. The man, happy to get his watch back, insisted on putting a ten dollar bill in my pocket. Gladys remarked that the Lord surely was able, and it was as if He had thrown the bill to us right out of heaven. We thanked Him right there for using an event like this to supply our need.

One Saturday at about four o’clock in the morning, I got up to pray. This was unusual for me, because I’m a night person, and I often stayed up late into the night with the men. This morning, however, I needed urgent prayer. We were out of money, and I needed one thousand dollars to meet our obligations that day. This was of great concern to me, because the Lord had always supplied funds for us so that invoices could be paid on time. The Lord says that we should owe no man anything but love—it’s a matter of a good testimony.

We had no credit cards, and we hadn’t established any credit rating in the city so there was no bank we could go to to borrow the money. As I prayed earnestly that morning, I listed each obligation, telling the Lord that I must have the money that day so that no reproach would be on His Name.

At noon, I returned empty-handed from the post office. I began to wonder if the Lord had let us down, but when I came through the door I found Gladys all smiles. A Christian lady had come in to the center, and wanted to help with the work we were doing. She sat down, wrote out a check for five hundred dollars. We got down on our knees right there and cried for joy.

However, we reminded the Lord that we had asked for a thousand dollars, and this was only half of the amount we needed. We prayed earnestly—we really we must have the rest by the end of the day.

About an hour later, the woman came back and asked for her check back. We watched as she tore it up. Our countenance dropped. That all quickly changed, though, when she told us that as she walked downtown, the Lord seemed to be telling her that she had made a mistake, and had written the wrong amount down on the check. She sat down and wrote another check—this one for one thousand dollars. Once again the Lord had proven that He answers prayer.

We needed a certain amount of money by the next day, and no source was evident. Our small staff urgently prayed that night but no one else knew about the need. The next morning, the exact amount in small bills were found in the mailbox, stuffed in an envelope and marked, “For the Christian Servicemen’s Center.” No address or signature was on the envelope. The Scripture, “Before they call, I will answer” came to mind as we thanked God for His provision for us again.

We had Bible classes nightly at the center for the servicemen. These were wonderful studies. The men, some of them just saved, were hungry for the Word. Their keen interest in learning more was evident by the long hours they spent together in open discussion. Rarely did they quit before midnight, and sometimes we were there still going strong at five o’clock the next morning. The Christian men would bring unsaved men to these classes, and quite often they would see one of their buddies profess salvation.

Some of these men were very tough, and would put up quite a fight before bowing to Scripture. For example, one night an unsaved sailor attending our Bible class proceeded to get very angry with me as I read from the Bible. The passages attested that he was a lost sinner. Finally, he just went berserk, threatening to kill me and the other Christian sailor who was dealing with him. He put up his fist to strike me, and just then he suddenly broke down in tears. Over and over, he repeated, “No! You’re right! I’m wrong!”

A great change came over him when he saw himself as a sinner that deserved eternal punishment from a righteous God. He was truly broken. We all prayed for him, and he cried to the Lord to have mercy on him and save him that night. He trusted Christ as his Saviour then, and the reality of that profession became confirmed in his life and testimony. Experiences like this one were precious rewards to us for the long hours we spent with the men. There was no way we could measure the full impact that the teaching of the Word had in the lives of these Christian men, so when we were privileged to see the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit at work, we were greatly encouraged.

I am a believer in one-on-one discipling, and I have sought throughout the years to employ this method. When a soul is won to the Lord, I try to get an older Christian to take him or her under their wing, and look after them. Many men whom I have tutored in salvation, and New Testament truths, are functioning in various parts of the world. Many have gone out into other assemblies as teachers, workers, deacons, and elders. Some fourteen to date have gone out from our assembly in New Orleans as missionaries.

On our way home from a conference which Gladys and I had attended in Houston, we stopped in Lafayette, about 150 miles west of New Orleans. We had heard that an independent church was attempting to follow the New Testament church pattern there. We drove to the only address that we had, a home of Mrs. Ducote, one of the Christians from the church. Unfortunately, we found out that the church had broken up, and the flock had scattered. The chapel building had been sold, and the preacher had left town.

Now Mrs. Ducote was a very godly woman, and committed to obedience to the Word of God. She, with several others, seemed to be disheartened. I suggested that they start meeting as an assembly in a home. I offered to come weekly to teach the Word, to help them get started.

Soon a small group began meeting in one of their homes. I went to Lafayette weekly for several weeks at first, and then after that I alternated with some young men who were being discipled at the center. I thought this would be good experience for them, and help them develop their spiritual gifts. One weekend Bill Walker would go, and then another weekend it might be Irwin Headley, Stan Hanna, Bill Obenour, Herb McKay, or Art Reum. This not only helped the men exercise their gifts, but the folks at Lafayette loved them.

William Walker had been saved while he was in the service, just before he was transferred to New Orleans and came to the center. Bill studied the Word with us earnestly, was a good disciple, and reveled in the scriptural truths he learned from the Word concerning the local church. Upon his discharge from the service, he turned down a good career to work full-time at the Servicemen’s Center.

One Monday, after returning from a weekend with the DuCotes in Lafayette, Bill suggested that he felt exercised to go to Lafayette as often as possible. He was willing to go there every week that I didn’t go. However, it became apparent to me that there was another reason Bill wanted to travel to Lafayette so often. I figured that it had something to do with Carolyn, the DuCote’s daughter.

Soon, Gladys and I were on our way back to Lafayette, this time so that I could officiate at the marriage of Bill and Carolyn. They decided to move into a small apartment at the center to help the work. After some time, the meeting in Lafayette grew to about thirty-five people. It seemed that it might be best for Bill and Carolyn to move there so more time could be devoted to the work. For a while, they continued to meet in a storefront. However, it wasn’t long before the South Side Bible Chapel was built. It is alive and well almost fifty years later.