By Joyce Holscher (Joyce is the sister of John David Hicks)
Adrenaline churned and my racing heart pumped as I assessed the neighborhood and nervously waited for the light to change. Graffiti graphically displayed the presence of gang activity in this area I once called home. This was where I planned to spend the evening – in the church I grew up in. Relieved to find the church parking lot, I quickly made my way toward the sanctuary.
The usher directed me into the church auditorium, then settling into a pew I began to reflect on the uneasiness I experienced earlier in the car. My thoughts returned to the glorious history this church once enjoyed; boasting one of the largest congregations in the community. It now remained only a skeleton of its former days. The restlessness that was “artistically” displayed on the walls and fences surrounding the church somehow had made its way within as well – in a spiritual sense. Unfortunately this has been a vestige in so many metropolitan communities today.
This “mecca” to my place of roots was a reunion, of sorts, to here my evangelist brother speak in the fellowship we enjoyed as young people. Overwhelming emotion blended the past with the present and the images of another time quickly flashed in my mind. It was a time when our lives whirled toward a downward spiral of gang activity that was energized by the restlessness of youth.
As I listened to my brother speak, the message of grace was rekindled in my spirit. Years earlier we were introduced to Christ through a stay-at-home mom who was willing to share herself with us, a “gang” of neighborhood kids. Spiritual reproduction uses ordinary people like you and me. One woman’s influence on our “gang” has no price tag, and because of her willingness and open-door policy, the harvest she reaped continues to reproduce today. Her “yield” includes a pastor, full-time Christian worker, an evangelist and a dozen others who lives were changed by the Gospel of her Christ.
I can almost smell the aroma of pies coming from her kitchen as I recall that time of youthful innocence. While I sat on the old sofa in her living room, the heavenly smell tantalized my taste buds filling the small duplex apartment and readily sounding an alarm in my head that affirmed this was the place to be! My thoughts were interrupted moments later with a shrill from Eleanor. “Double crusts. I can’t believe I covered my pumpkin pies with crusts!” Any seasoned baker knows that pumpkin pies are single shelled pies and don’t have double crusts. Eleanor laughed at her mistake and jokingly muttered, “It’s no wonder with all you kids here.”
The kids she fondly referred to were the neighborhood teens who overwhelmingly decided Eleanor’s place was their home away from home. This woman naturally favored having young people around and here “open-door policy” included any and all who needed here ear, hand or shoulder to lean on. Laughter was contagious at Eleanor’s, and she had the remarkable ability to work at all here chores with an apartment full of kids at her heels. We all sensed something curious about this lady who obviously had a genuine interest in us. It made her different from the other neighbors on our block, and through her “open hearth” we would soon discover the secret of her patient love and caring interest in us.
Eleanor lived with her husband, nine-year-old twins and a sixteen-year-old son, Tom. The females in our gang readily recognized that her open hearth and pumpkin pies weren’t the only assets she brought from Indiana that summer they invaded our “domain”. Every girl on our block had dreamy eyes set on Tom. None of us could have known it at the time, but Eleanor and Tom would become the hands, feet, voice and heart of God to a gang of seemingly “no account” kids needed something, or Someone, to challenge their restless budding energies.
A sense of camaraderie began to emerge between us and these new neighbors of ours, and Tom’s popularity began to spread with the guys as well as the girls. My older brother, Johnny, became Tom’s closest friend; their friendship evolving at a tumultuous time in Johnny’s life when his activities included involvement in a gang of thieving rowdies. Everyone has a fork in his road and misguided direction can alter an entire life. At this time of adolescent curiosity, God sent “servants” willing to open their hearts and home to a group of ordinary “garden variety” kids.
The events of one Sunday evening would introduce a new dimension to our family; a spiritual dimension not known before. While our family was viewing television that particular Sunday night, Johnny burst into the living room and announced, “Tonight at church I became a Christian!” Not totally grasping all that means, dad broke our silence with, “We’re happy for you, son,” and just a abrupt as my brother’s entrance, we retired to bed. Several weeks passed and the transformation in Johnny was a little curious to us all. His carousing and restless energies were changed to church attendance, Bible studies, rallies and youth meetings; and he tirelessly sought to learn whatever he could about his new found faith. Mom and dad didn’t object because of the positive effect it had on their relationship with him. They encouraged “whatever” was happening.
Tom and Johnny’s influence had a major impact upon our “gang”, and one Saturday evening, at their invitation, we all decided to attend a “revival meeting” at the church. The message by the evangelist was a simple invitation to receive God’s grace. One by one we surrendered our will to Christ and made our way to the front to receive Christ and made our way to the front to receive pardon for sin and a purpose to replace the restless emptiness our young lives had experienced in our short years. It was the beginning of change – in us, and our neighborhood. The conversion of our “gang” had a remarkable effect on the entire community as well as the little church we were invited to attend. Restitution was made to merchants for stolen property and the testimony that Jesus brought about the change was shared with each one who had been wronged. Places we formerly frequented and old “handouts” were not abandoned.
Gatherings at Eleanor’s became times of Bible study and intercession for family, friends, and neighbors. This burden for the lost traveled to school with us and we carried our Bibles to testify that we were Christians. Our enthusiasm to share what we discovered was ablaze with the fire and Spirit of God, and we wanted everyone we met to know Him. We joined those who conducted street meetings on a downtown street corner and we passed out tracts. The little group of “no account” kids miraculously affected the community for Christ all because one little lady took time to open her heart and door to neighbors.
Eleanor demonstrated God’s love to whet the spirit’s palate in each of us to thirst for her Jesus. Expressing my gratitude is to pass along the legacy she left through an ongoing work of spiritual reproduction. Newspapers are filled with stories of gang violence affecting our nation, and gun control is offered as a solution. But the only answer to the restlessness on our streets and in our communities is Jesus. As Spirit-controlled Christians offer themselves to people in their neighborhoods presenting the message of grace, lives will be transformed.
The present “new age” generation stands at the fork in today’s road crying out for someone to point the way. Will there be anyone there to answer the call? Every neighborhood needs an Eleanor.