“You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers but with the precious blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18-19).
My religious background could be summed up by saying there was almost none. My Baptist grandmother took me to the Methodist church when I was five years old and gave me a Bible that I still possess. When I was about twelve years old, because there was no Baptist church nearby, she begged the Methodist preacher to baptize me by immersion. Though he insisted it was unnecessary, he baptized me in an Assembly of God building, so I would later call myself a Methodist Baptist.
From that point, my life unraveled. My mother left my father for a young man, and my father remarried. I graduated from high school, joined the military, and left God far behind. I smoked, drank, and used other drugs, and was surrounded by pornography. During three years in the military, after which my grandmother died, I became sick of sin. My conscience always bothered me, which amazed me. While I was drinking or doing drugs, my friends would get frustrated because I would bring up God and want somebody to help me understand him. But I was so confused and uninformed that I continually remained frustrated.
After leaving the military, I returned to work at International Harvester in Louisville, Kentucky. I began to associate with fellows affected by Vietnam and other things. I became friends with those like me: a longhaired, bead-wearing, motorcycle-riding, drug-using hippie.
Then one day a man boldly approached me on the assembly line. He asked me three questions: “Do you believe in God?” l did not want to answer that question, so I continued working as if I did not hear, but he just waited. When he persisted, I decided to tell him the truth. I turned to him and said, “Yes, sir, I do.” I hoped that would end the conversation, but then he asked, “If you die right now, do you believe you would go to heaven or hell?” I didn’t answer that question for a moment or two, and he just waited. Finally, I said, “I believe I would go straight to hell.” I went back to work, but he raised the final question: “Does that bother you?” I pondered what to say and finally just looked into his eyes and said, “Yes, it does, and I’m going to do something about it.”
I did. I went home, shaved off my beard, cut my hair, threw my pornography in the garbage, flushed some drugs down the commode, and poured out all the whiskey I had in the house. And I sat down on the couch and tried to read my Bible, but I had a big obstacle: I had graduated from high school without learning how to read.
I sat and cried and thought about what to do. Soon l went searching for the Bible on tape and began to sit up until about three or four each morning and listen to it. I wanted to saturate my mind with just what the Bible said.
My next step was to attend different churches on Sundays and ask everybody that I could questions about the Bible, but the more I investigated, the more confused and discouraged I became until I began to see that some religious groups were closer to the Bible than others were.
Eventually, learning from the Bible that I needed to believe, repent, confess, and be baptized, I found my way to the Christian Church. I decided that I would be baptized and join their work; until I went to tell my grandpa, whom I thought would be so proud. But when I told him what I was planning, he kept pounding his Bible on my leg, saying, “Don’t do it, don’t do it!” I was shocked and puzzled because my grandpa had become a Christian at age 69 after being a Roman Catholic. I asked him why not and he said the Bible said I should be baptized. He then questioned me about mechanical instrumental music in worship, which I believed was nitpicking, but then asked why I wanted to be baptized: “Why will you nitpick about the plan of salvation and not nitpick about worship?” For the first time, I was learning about biblical authority (Matthew 7:13-27).
It was a new concept to me, and I needed to learn more. I wasn’t baptized that next Sunday, but I kept searching. Finally, I approached Bill Bryant at International Harvester. I asked him where he went to church. He said he was a Christian, a member of the Lord’s church.
Bill opened a door I never knew existed. He brought me tracts on instrumental music, but I was too ashamed to tell him I couldn’t read. Finally, he directed me to a church of Christ near where I lived, where Ken Green preached. I was determined to be baptized, so I went to services on Wednesday night, and Ken introduced himself. I said, “I’m Gerry Sandusky, and I’m here to be baptized and stuff like that.”
Well, naturally, Ken thought I was a nut. He did not baptize me, fearing I did not have any idea what it meant. I went back on Sunday and during the invitation song, I went forward, determined that if I had to, I would embarrass him into baptizing me. When he asked me what I wanted, I responded loudly, “I’m here to be baptized and stuff like that.” He said, “OK,” and so my journey as a man who had found a clean conscience began (I Peter 3:21).
You may wonder about all the sinful habits I had. I thought the battle with tobacco was a mountain I would never climb, but I knew the only way I would climb it was to take one step at a time. Instead of putting cigarettes in my shirt pocket, I put the little Bible from my grandmother. Each time I reached for a cigarette, I would pull my Bible out of my pocket, search for the shortest passage, ask somebody to read it and begin to memorize it. I didn’t know that was a biblical principle, but the more I began to replace the sin in my life with the sincere milk of the word (I Peter 2:2), the more I grew.
I knew particles of the Bible but hardly any applications, but here are some things I learned that may help you convert some longhaired hippies someday. First, most people believe themselves to be right. What we want to do with such a person is to try to get him or her thinking. Jesus was the master at this kind of work, at being “wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove” (Matthew 10:16).
Jesus used the same tool many times: asking simple questions. And as with the woman at the well in John 4, he made people want to know what he had to say. The man who made me think did not quote a passage; he just made the gears in my own mind begin to turn, made me realize there was a hole in my thinking. People who know they’re wrong and facing a terrible disaster will be bothered and want to change.
Second, in trying to reach people, we often fail to recognize their living consciences. Though to look at me you would have thought my conscience was dead. All the while I was living in the world, I was burdened because I knew I was a long way from God (Matthew 11:28; Acts 17:27). This inner police force that each person has can be stirred by kindness, patience, and the right questions. We don’t want to present obstacles, as my uncle (a member of the church) did when he said to my wife and me before we married, “You both better have fun while you’re living because you’re going straight to hell when you die.” At that point, we both said we would never be members of the church of Christ because, instead of pricking our consciences, he had placed a stumbling block on the road (Colossians 4:5-6).
The third thing that will help us is understanding discipleship (Matthew 28:18-20). I had decided I was going to be a disciple of Jesus. I knew that baptism was a part of it and that a lot of other “stuff” went with that, but I did not care what the “stuff” was or what the cost might be (Luke 9:23). I was afraid my wife and I would divorce because she saw me then as a religious nut. I lost all my friends because I kept talking to them about what I had learned. My family, at first, turned away from me.
I’m glad to tell you today that I had the pleasure to baptize my father, my step-mother, and my brothers and sisters, and even to see my wife obey the gospel. But all of that occurred because they could sense that I was a disciple of Jesus. That factor played a great role in my ability to teach others, even though I was still memorizing scriptures because I could not read.
I hope these points about my decision to leave the world help you as you better reach out to others to save them (Jude 22-23). Don’t waste your time with dishonest people. We must have good hearts and honesty – but those qualities can be hiding under a beard or long hair, sitting on a motorcycle beside you.
A lady in Kentucky told me that my conversion helps her every time she sees a hoodlum on a motorcycle. “I always roll my window down now and invite him to the gospel meeting” because, she says, “I just keep thinking, ‘That fellow might make a gospel preacher someday’.”