Crossroads at the Cross
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
John 8:36 NIV
Ronnie McWilliams and I were born just three days a part. He was born December 9th, 1952, and I was born the 12th. We often joked that we were practically "womb mates". Our mothers shared the same hospital room after we were born. We attended the same schools, went to the same church and played on the same basketball team. In May of 1971, we graduated from the same high school. It was an exciting year because our team, the White Hall Bulldogs, made it to the State Basketball Tournament. After graduation, Ronnie attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I enrolled at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. We visited back and forth whenever we could. During one of our road trips, Ronnie seemed depressed, and I was going through an identity crisis of my own.
"You don't really believe there's a God that cares about us, do you?" Ronnie blurted out as we were traveling back from a night of partying.
"I believe in God. I believe He is the Creator and somehow directs our lives." I responded.
"I don't believe in a personal God. I think we were just born and we're on our own and we do the best we can with the cards we've been dealt." Ronnie insisted.
In the spring of 1973, I was a sophomore at Arkansas State. After class I returned to my dorm room and plopped down on my bed. After a few minutes, as if I was dreaming, I saw myself standing in a park holding a Bible. There were around 20 to 30 young people sitting on the ground cross-legged listening to me share about Jesus. A Presence enveloped me. The atmosphere had changed in the room. I looked to see if anyone was there, but I was alone. This powerful Presence became stronger. I realized I wasn't dreaming because I was wide awake, but couldn't figure out what I was experiencing. The Presence permeated every part of my being and I was overcome with emotion, and began to weep. I jumped up and ran to the sink, splashed cold water on my face, attempting to shock myself back to reality. The vision had left, but the Presence still lingered. I peered in the mirror and sensed that I was to move back to parents' home immediately. In the depths of my soul, I felt that if I was going to change I had to abandon the crowd I was in and make some drastic changes in my life. Without hesitation, I packed my bags and returned home.
My party lifestyle continued to follow me after I arrived back home. I surrounded myself with the wrong kind of friends. One Sunday morning I was sound asleep and my father stuck his head in my bedroom and asked, "Paul, are you going to church this morning?"
Without opening my eyes I let out a groan and shook my head no.
"It's a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God." My father warned.
My parents' rules cramped my walk on the wild side so I rented an apartment with a couple of my buddies. I was only there a few months when I was arrested for marijuana possession. Facing my parents after my arrest was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. There was so heated verbal exchange, but my mother expressed how disappointed she and my father were in my choices.
I started working at my father's business and enrolled at the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff. One of our customers, Mr. Reed, an older gentleman invited me to Green Meadows Baptist Church for some revival meetings.
Stinging from the poor choices I had been making, I agreed to attend. When I told my father about the special services, he said he'd like to go with me. The first night of meetings, I felt such a drawing in my soul to come to Jesus. It was as if I was "homesick" for Him. As the congregation sang the old hymns of the church, a sweet Presence filled the sanctuary. I recognized that Presence. It was the same Presence that I had felt in my dorm room.
My father and I went back the next night. This time when the altar call was given, I felt such a pull in my soul to respond and go forward and give my heart to Jesus. The Holy Spirit made it clear to me that I was at a crossroads. I knew if I continued down the path I was going I would live a life full of regret, but Jesus was allowing me to choose another path, and if I followed His ways, there may be difficult days, but He would be with me. I went forward that night and repented of my sins and gave my heart to Jesus.
Soon after my life-changing experience, I surrendered to preach. I went to see Ronnie to tell him of my decision. In my heart I hoped that he would have a spiritual encounter of his own.
"Ronnie!" I exclaimed, "I have found what we have been searching for."
"That's great, Paul! I've heard where people in the ministry can make a lot of money; especially if you play on people's emotions, like start an orphanage or feed hungry children."
After I came to Christ I began to devour the Word of God and surrounded myself with godly people. I attended every church service that I could. One night at a home Bible study, a missionary from Mexico came to share with our little group. After he spoke, we had a time of prayer. The missionary came over and began to pray for me. Then, he spoke over me, "The vision you had will come to pass in the next few days."
I was stunned. I remembered the "dream-like" experience in my dorm room. Could that be the vision the missionary was talking about? How did he know about the vision? I had never told him about it. I wasn't even sure what you called the experience I had in my dorm room. This missionary certainly didn't know me. We had never met before. As I drove home from the meeting, so many questions filled my head. As I pondered all the events of the day, I was excited and looking forward to what God had planned
The following morning my phone rang. It was my pastor.
"Paul, I would like for you to give the devotions at the youth retreat this weekend up in the Ozark Mountains."
My mind raced to the previous night. Could this be the fulfillment of the vision God had given me?
As I stood before those young people, I could barely believe my eyes. It was exactly as I had seen in the vision in my dorm room. I knew that God had ordained this moment. I knew that what I had experienced came from God.
From time to time Ronnie and I would see each other, but it was apparent that our lives were going in two totally different directions. I continued to love Ronnie through our differences. I knew that if Ronnie could just experience God's love for him, it would change his life forever, but no matter how hard I tried, Ronnie let me know that he was not interested.
The years marched on, and I graduated from East Texas Bible College in Tyler, Texas. I became pastor of a small, rural church in northern Iowa. Early one morning the phone rang and it was my mother calling me from Arkansas.
"Paul, Ronnie is dead."
A flood of memories swept over me as Mama continued, "He committed suicide."
I sat dazed. In my mind's eye scenes flashed before me. Memories of past conversations with Ronnie danced in my thoughts. Waves of grief swept over me. I was headed on the same path Ronnie was until Jesus passed by. I marveled at the way He came to me in my dorm room. Then, I remembered the night at that little country church when I experienced my "crossroads at the Cross". As I bowed my head to pray, I wept for Ronnie's family, and I thanked God for revealing Himself to me. I've never regretted a mile.