A Home Away from Home

After the war was over, our building at 429 Carondelet was sold, and we were forced to relocate. Praying for guidance, we soon rented four large, multi-room, two-story buildings at 1360 Magazine Street. We remodeled the buildings to provide dormitories, a four-room apartment for our family, three other small apartments for the other couples on staff, a small kitchen, a dining room, a chapel, and a large reception room. We named it “The Good News Center—a home away from home.”

With the war over, we modified our purpose to primarily provide a much-needed haven for ex-servicemen who would need help to adjust. A sailor or soldier might come home to find his wife with another man, and begin drinking. Many families broke apart, and there were snares that could cause a man to end up on the streets of New Orleans broke, desperate, and even suicidal. By providing a refuge, we hoped to reach many troubled souls for the Lord. We opened our doors to any man that needed help, as long as they weren’t intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Our facilities were very adequate, and because of our work during the war, we had a good reputation in the community.

Our dorms had attractive and spacious bunks, each bunk equipped with its own fan. Our newly renovated shower and clean-up rooms had ironing boards and irons. For those able to pay, we charged fifty cents per day for the room, and another dollar for their meals, but we provided it all for free for those that could not afford to pay. In the reception room, there were games, and plenty of reading materials. We stayed open twenty-four hours a day. We had meetings in the chapel every night, and they were usually well attended. A public address system carried the gospel out to the street. A number of prostitutes and other neighbors came inside to hear the gospel proclaimed. Many souls were introduced to our Saviour in this place.

Our new apartment was much more comfortable than the one on Carondelet Street. Gladys was overjoyed. Even though the rooms were small, at least they were rooms! Vernon Jr. was thrilled to have his own room with a door! We had a dining room, a fairly well-equipped kitchen, and our own bathroom. There was even a tub with hot and cold running water! This was living again.

The family never complained about our living conditions even though some upsetting things came from living downtown. One day Gladys put Peetsie on the porch to play, and returned to find her sliding through the railing and dangling sixteen feet above a cement court. Gladys did not dare to yell, because Peetsie might have let go and fallen to her death. She moved cautiously and quietly toward her until she was able to grab her arm, and pulled her to safety.

The downtown buildings were built close together, their roofs separated by only two or three feet, at least thirty-five feet above the ground. One day I looked up and saw a little foot dangling between the roofs! A boy was jumping from roof to roof. I watched as another boy leapt across and almost missed, barely being able to pull himself back up to safety. Sure enough, Vernon Jr. and his friends were running around the block, jumping from roof to roof. I soon stopped that!

Another day I found Peetsie, barely able to walk, on the secondary roof about fifteen feet off the ground, tied to the chimney. Vernon Jr. was up there playing and thought she would like to join him. How they got her up there is still a mystery—I could hardly get her down with a ladder.

We lived in a section of town that had a reputation of being the roughest in the entire city. We tried to minister to the needs of the people around us. People who were robbed came for shelter. People who were hungry came for food, and others came for clothing. One night, Gladys and another women were in the reception room when a man came in without a stitch of clothes on. He had been robbed, and the thief had stripped him of his clothes. They were all at a loss for words for a moment, but then quickly herded him into the ironing room until we could find some clothes for him. This was not the only such episode, but at least on other occasions there were men in the reception room.

Looking back, we marvel at the dangers we faced daily in that neighborhood. One night a man was shot in our own back yard. Another night, I was called to go to a house around the corner where another Christian lived. There, on the second floor, was a man with his throat cut from ear to ear, his blood covering the floor. Hardly a day would pass without a homicide, shooting, or robbery in our immediate neighborhood.

Even in the midst of all the violence, we tried to express the hope of the gospel to all who would listen. One woman half a block down the street from the center had an excellent testimony, passing out tracts and testifying to her neighbors. As she witnessed in the boarding house next door, they ridiculed our chapel, and mocked her. She went home with a heavy heart. Kneeling and crying out before the Lord, she asked Him to cause something to happen that might awaken the residents of that house to the reality of eternity. He did.

That night they were sitting on the porch when, without warning, the entire porch above them gave way and crashed down, seriously injuring a number of people. The porch had been built out of solid concrete, making the possibility of it falling very unlikely. We concluded that this was an act of God. Of course, the tragic accident caused quite a commotion in the neighborhood, and we were able to point out the mercies of God in sparing their lives.

Another day, a man came into the center shouting profanity and insults at us and the Lord simply because he hated Christianity. There was no reasoning with him, and at last we had to ask some of the men to take him out. As he indignantly went his way down the street, he shouted back at us that he would return the next day with a gun to kill us all.

That next day his body was found dead just a little way from our center, apparently of a heart attack. Evidently, he had been on his way to our place to make good on his threat when the Lord stopped him. Things like this kept us constantly on our knees, either asking the Lord for protection or thanking Him for it.

Some time afterward, another vile man came into our chapel, disturbing the meeting to such an extent that he had to be evicted. He vowed all kinds of harm to us all, and to me personally. The very next day, his body was fished out of the river (and it wasn’t me that threw him in, either.) To us these were judgments of God against those who openly opposed the gospel.

Psalm 34:7 says, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them who fear Him.” Gladys and I are convinced that the Lord’s guardian angels watched over us. We have experienced His hand many times in protecting us from disaster.

On one of our few visits back to St. Paul, we were downtown shopping. As we were about to cross the street, I thought the street was clear, so I took a firm hold on Gladys’ arm, and we stepped out. We had taken about six or eight steps into the street when suddenly we felt ourselves being literally lifted back onto the curb in a split second. A speeding car, which neither of us had seen, whizzed past where we were walking a moment before. We would have been killed, had that car hit us and there is no question in either of our minds that our lives were supernaturally saved that day. We had a little prayer meeting right there on the curb, thanking the Lord for His intervention on our behalf.

One Saturday, we were driving along the highway to Lafayette for a speaking engagement that Sunday. We were going about fifty miles an hour, when a dark freight train appeared right in front of us. It was not lit up, and there had been no warning signs. It was impossible to stop, so I yanked the wheel sharply to the left and we screeched along parallel to the train, almost hitting it. When we finally stopped, we were on a steep, sloping bank, which had kept us from tumbling into the train. It took us quite a while before we could back up to the highway, and proceed to the meeting hall.

The next day, we saw that there was only a very narrow ledge along side of the railroad track, just wide enough for our car. This is what we had driven onto in the dark. A few feet either way would have meant certain disaster. We thanked the Lord again for looking after us.

Again, when going to St. Paul from New Orleans by train, we missed our train, and were upset that we were delayed a day. Then we heard that the train we missed had been in a serious accident and many were badly injured. Now thankful that we had missed it, we acknowledged that surely the Angel of the Lord had protected us again. I learned long ago not to fret if we are delayed. Instead, I believe the Lord intervenes to protect us again and again.

The police frequently sent us men that needed help. One had cut his wrists in an attempted suicide, and they thought we would be able to help him. We gave him what we had— the gospel! None need go without hope. God’s proved that His grace is sufficient when we saw so many “hopeless” lives changed.

The kitchen and dining areas where we fed the men had only enough room for the bare necessities. It had a very narrow two-foot-wide door. Once we had a such a big cook that he couldn’t fit through the little door. This didn’t deter him in the least. He assured us that he could handle the cooking through a window which opened from the kitchen onto the porch. It was so funny to see this enormous man called Tiny standing on the porch, leaning through the open window to handle the various pans on the stove. Everybody seemed to love his meals and I think he was the best cook we ever had.

Many of the servicemen returned to help out in any way they could. Some were out of the military, and brought their wives to join us; many decided to work with us full-time. These included Bill and Carolyn Walker, Bill Obenour, Art Reum, Stan and Esma Hanna, and Ervin and Betty Headley. Ed and Betty Meschkat also joined us after their marriage. These men did the cleaning, entertaining, personal counseling, and preaching. In addition, various Christians would come by and offer their help to from time to time.

As another outreach ministry while we operated the “home away from home” was our own radio station. It was called “Good News Wired Radio.” Instead of using an expensive radio transmitter, we were able to use the power company’s own electrical lines to broadcast. Since such a station was sanctioned by the government, the utility had to allow us the use of their lines. A missionary who was staying with us while waiting for a ship to take him to South America explained how such a station might be built, because he had studied a similar operation in Oregon. Bill Walker had taken electronics in the service, and he thought he could build it very inexpensively, using scraps and second-hand materials.

We eventually were able make it work according to the FCC’s specifications for only $400. The technology was simple. We wired our antennae output into an electrical outlet in our studio room, and let the city utility’s own electrical wires act as our transmitting antenna. This allowed us to broadcast our programs out over the airwaves to any receiving radio set that was tuned into our wavelength. One of the few stipulations the FCC had was that we had to use a wavelength that was not being used, and at the time, there were several vacancies on the dial. Our sound came in loud and clear, equal to that of a 50,000 watt station. We were allowed to transmit up to 150 feet from the electric line. This was sufficient to reach into just about every house along any street. Many times it would just jump to another line and continue on broadcasting our program. We had a huge potential audience, since we reached large portions of the city. We broadcast the gospel this way two hours a day—at prime times for over three years. Our radio tag was, “The Good News Hour.”

At seven o’clock sharp, either Bill Walker, Stan Hanna, or I would flip on the main switch. Then we would turn the record player on to play a hymn softly in the background, announce our station’s call letters, and state that we were broadcasting on wired radio according to the regulations of the FCC. We had to repeat this every 15 minutes. Then we would give the time, and a little weather forecast. We didn’t need any high-tech stuff—we’d just get our information from the morning newspaper. Likewise, we would take several news items from the paper, condense them for our morning listeners, and add our comments. Then we would play another hymn, read a Bible passage from a chapter we would be studying, and offer teaching as the portion would demand.

On Saturday mornings we had a program especially for children. For this we would play a recorded dramatization of a Bible story, such as the story of David and Goliath, complete with all the sound effects. Some children from the neighborhood would come in and take part, singing, answering questions we would ask about the stories, and adding their comments and insights. Vernon, Jr. was a good help in this. However, I remember one Saturday morning that no other children showed up—just Vernon. I asked him to sing a chorus which he knew well. Over the air, live, he said, “I ain’t singing!” So, there was no children’s song that day, and I had to improvise. Actually, I got pretty good at improvising. All our programs were ad-lib, so some flops were bound to occur. It really takes a lot to fill up two hours a day—and make it interesting, so that people would want to listen.

I thought our music was the best. We played records from the Grand Old Gospel Hour Quartet, and other good gospel music. We wore out those vinyl records. To test our listener ratings, we would send some of the men out on the streets while we were on the air. They were to give a gift to anyone that they found listening to our program. We soon had to stop this, because we ran out of gifts. Stores liked to have us on, because of the music.

Our broadcasts came an abrupt end when Bill and Carolyn Walker left to go to Lafayette to help in that assembly. Bill was our radio engineer, and when he left, there was no one to monitor our radio wave output. Everything seemed to go okay for about nine months without Bill. I just turned the station on and off, and as long as people could hear us, I figured there were no problems.

That changed the day I had a visit from a representative of the telephone company. He informed me that they had received complaints of our gospel program being broadcast over the phone lines. I guess people would pick up their phone, and either our gospel music or our gospel message would ring in their ears.

They had traced the problem through the lines back to our place. We were told to shut down immediately, since we had broken the broadcast rules. We never did find out how the broadcast had fed into the phone lines, instead of the electrical lines. We were glad that it had been so profitable while it lasted. We broadcast the gospel for several years, and only eternity will reveal the impact of this little station on the city of New Orleans.

Charlie was a six-foot tall, good looking man, with a mustache that he kept meticulously groomed. He had come from a very rough background, having belonged to a tough gang, robbing and living at the expense of others. Charlie trusted Christ as His Saviour at the center, and suddenly his whole life was changed. He wanted to live with us, and work for the Lord. Within a year, he had gained our confidence to such a point that we made him the night superintendent at the center. He was a fantastic help. Dedicating himself to study to the Word of God, he became an able teacher, and also led men to Christ. He was absolutely trustworthy, and never tired of helping, no matter what the job.

I was certain Charlie would emerge a man of God. One night, we found a note on the reception desk where Charlie sat. It said, “Tell Charlie that we will teach him to leave his old gang for religion.” Charlie showed me the note, and I told him to take it very seriously. We prayed together for his safety. Two nights later, he went to a place about a block away where we often went for coffee. On the way back, Charlie heard his name called from across the street. Not thinking, he crossed the street. All at once, a gang of men rushed up and grabbed him, pulling him into a bar. Making good on their threat, they began stabbing him in the stomach a number of times, and clubbing him on the head. Finally they threw his body back out onto the street. A man ran into the center, trying to catch his breath as he told us that Charlie had been stabbed, and now he was laying across the street in front of the bar. I called an ambulance, and ran down the street. I found him there on the sidewalk, unconscious, lying in a pool of his own blood.

It wasn’t until the next day that Charlie regained consciousness. I was by his side in the hospital when he came to, and a newspaper reporter and a cameraman were there in his room as well. I heard Charlie give a great testimony to the newsman, how he had once been a member of this gang, how he had been saved, and how his life had been dramatically changed by the Saviour. Now he wanted to serve the Lord.

I was so disappointed when the newspaper came out the next morning, a large picture of Charlie plastered on the front page. Glaring headlines across the top of the page read, “Good News Center Superintendent Stabbed in Bar.” The article completely perverted his story, making it appear as if our entire staff frequented bars. Since I had heard the account Charlie gave the reporter, I was furious. I was going to call the newspaper, but decided against it since that would only make it worse. Charlie remained in the hospital a long time, and never fully recovered from the attack. Eventually he went back home where his mother could care for him.

Sometimes the men we tried to help suffered from severe emotional trauma from their experiences during the war. We tried to help one man who had been trained to kill with his bare hands. He was sleeping in one of the dormitory rooms that I was cleaning, when suddenly he awoke with an earth-shattering scream. He started coming toward me, screaming at the top of his lungs that he was going to kill me. The dormitory room had one door, and I happened to be at the opposite end of the room, so I couldn’t run out. I’m not a very brave person, and in an emergency, I always seek the easy way out, but there was no way out of this. The man had me backed into a corner. He was big, and even without his special forces training I was no match for him. I was trapped and frightened. I just stood there, helpless, and I prayed. I remember very hurriedly saying to the Lord, “Lord, I’m your property, please protect your property.” He did.

When the mad man’s hands, bent on murder, were only inches from my throat, he dropped at my feet. He was out cold, giving me an opportunity to get help, and call the police. He was taken immediately to an institution.

Some humorous things happened also. One night a drunk staggered in and asked Stan Hanna for a room. Stan informed him of our policy, not to take in anyone who was under the influence of liquor. The man got rather haughty, and declared loudly, “I’m not drunk!” Stan stuck to his original appraisal of the man’s condition. Finally, to prove that he was not drunk, the man offered to walk a straight line. There was a porch that ran the entire length of the building, and Stan agreed that if he could walk the length of the porch and back without staggering, he would take him in. The man walked—no, staggered—down the porch, taking a considerable amount of time, and falling into the railing as he went. If it weren’t for the wall and the rail, he would have fallen down completely. When he got back to where Stan was standing, he sort of straightened himself up and said with a strong voice, “See I told you I could do it!” Stan and I have often used this incident to illustrate the plight of a sinner trying to walk the narrow path. Many people are confident in their own ability to work their way into heaven. Oh, the deception of the human heart. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 12:15).

Stan Hanna was one of the young sailors who came to the Servicemen’s Center early in our operation. There he embraced the truth regarding local church gatherings of believers and other precious biblical truths. I had the privilege of joining him and Esma in marriage, and they would work with us for ten years. They have been laboring as missionaries in Honduras for forty years at time of writing.

We are thankful to the Lord for the many souls won to Him at the center. Among those we reached with the gospel message, but we don’t know for sure if he is in heaven, was Johnnie. He was a merchant seaman who stayed with us from time to time when he was in port. He attended the gospel meetings and listened intently. One day as he was leaving, he came into the reception room to bid me goodbye. I felt an uneasy urge to talk to him about his soul’s destination, so I did.

After we had talked for a while, I pressed him a little for a decision to trust Christ. I asked him if he knew that he ought to be saved now. He said that he wanted to be saved, and he knew that now was the time. Although he felt he wasn’t ready just yet, he thought that he would definitely be saved after his next trip. I put my arm around him, and with all the feeling I could put into it, I asked, “Johnnie, what if there is no next trip? What if something should happen to you at sea? Why not settle it all right now?” He squirmed, and he cried, but in the end, he maintained his position that he would do it on his next trip. Well, sure enough, there was no next trip! We learned later that several days after setting sail, the ship had an accident, and Johnnie was killed. I often use this as an object lesson to warn those who think they can put off their salvation until later.

A seaman by the name of Cliff stayed with us at the center from time to time, whenever he was in port. For over a year we preached the gospel to him, and I had talked to him about his soul several times. One morning at about six o’clock he called me on the phone, sounding very excited. “Mr. Schlief, I need to see you right away. Can you meet me downtown?” He named a location. I explained to him that I never went anywhere to meet with anyone—it is not wise, nor is it safe. However, I would be glad to meet with him in my office whenever he wanted. He said it was urgent, and he wanted to meet with me alone.

My office was on the second floor. It was isolated from the sounds of the sometimes noisy center by a long hallway, so as to ensure quiet and privacy.

It was about twenty minutes later that I heard his footsteps climbing the stairs, and coming down the long hall to my office. When he came in the door, he set off the warning bells in my head by locking the office door behind him. He had on a dirty suitcoat, and had his right hand in his coat pocket.

That was when I first realized that perhaps I had made a mistake meeting this rough, hardened man alone. I began to wonder if anyone would be able to hear me scream. As I looked at him standing there with his hand in his pocket, I began to imagine that he probably held a gun, and that he had come to rob me. I was praying and asking the Lord to overrule my foolish lack of judgment and keep me safe.

He just stood silently about ten feet from my desk, and seemed as if he might be a little unsure of what to do next. He did not speak or move for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he began to draw his hand out of his coat pocket, giving me another one of those chills down my spine. However, when I could see what he held in his hand, I was shocked again in a different way, and I began to give thanks to God, asking for wisdom to deal with this situation.

Instead of a gun, Cliff had a handful of paper money. He threw the wad of money on the floor, then he put his other hand in another pocket, and pulled out another handful of bills. He emptied pocket after pocket, chucking all the money on the floor. When he had emptied every pocket, he exclaimed, “There it is.”

I was bewildered by this at the time, so I listened carefully to his story. He told me that he had robbed many people, and in fact, it had been a way of life for him. He never felt any guilt or remorse for his criminal escapades and he always destroyed the evidence. Last night was different. Right after he robbed this wealthy woman, he said that he remembered some of my exhortations about the reality of God, hell, and the judgment of the wicked. He kept the identity and address of his victim from her purse. He said he had walked the streets of New Orleans all night, convicted of his sins.

Now, as I gazed at that pile of money on the floor, I heard Cliff break down in tears. He asked me to pray for him, that God would have mercy on him, and save him. I was silently thanking the Lord for touching this man, and asked the Lord to give him the free gift of salvation. I gave him a chair and a Bible, and we read the Scriptures. Later, on our knees, I heard him confess Christ as his Saviour.

Immediately after Cliff had received the assurance of his salvation, he wanted to straighten out his mixed-up and wicked life, and live for the Lord. Among many other things gone wrong in his life, he confessed that he was a bigamist— he had four wives, all living in various parts of the country. He made up his mind that with the help and guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit, he would get his marital life within the law, and live for God. He asked me to see that the stolen money was returned to the woman, without involving him. He left my office a very happy man in Christ. He never returned to this city, but he did write to me later to tell me that he now had one wife. She was a believer too, and they were both active in a local church. For years afterward, we would get cards from them at Christmas, letting us know that they were continuing on for the Lord.

Throughout our ministry in New Orleans, we were delighted to have God use us in helping new assemblies become established, cultivate their understanding of the Word, and assist them in preaching the gospel to their own communities. Besides Linden and Needham in Alabama, and the Winnsboro assembly in Louisiana, Bill and I also ministered in other cities as God would lead. In Mississippi, we would go to Jackson, McComb, and Brookhaven, to name a few. It was exciting to bring ministry into cities with very little spiritual light.

As an outreach to encourage the works in these many small assemblies throughout the South, our assembly hosted a Deep South Bible Conference at Good News Chapel. Through an invitation we had sent to a serviceman, a Christian couple, Mr. and Mrs. John Todd, came from Mobile. They had never known of any assemblies like ours, and were impressed with the noticeable absence of man-made organization. They heard a number of brethren participate in the Lord’s Supper, and they perceived that the Holy Spirit was leading it. They were amazed that no presiding pastor or elder had orchestrated the men to pray, lead in song, and share from their Bibles during the Breaking of Bread. A few other people in Mobile were just beginning to meet with them in their home, studying the Word to see for themselves what God had to say about church order. They had all left their denomination together, challenged by their pastor’s Sunday message to go home, read their Bible, see what God had said, and then act on it. That’s just what these folks did. They found to their dismay a number of things regarding church order that their church was practicing contrary to Scripture.

They invited us to come to Mobile to teach their group from the Bible how believers were instructed to gather. Gladys and I took up the invitation, and were delighted to see some genuine believers searching for the truth. After some intensive study, we broke bread together. Both Bill and I went often to Mobile to teach and visit. Brother Todd was well known in the city, and already had a tremendous Christian testimony. He loved the Word, and became an excellent elder. The meeting grew to about thirty-five adults, and continued as an encouragement to us for a number of years.