Perseverance bore fruit as our congregation rose phoenix like from the ashes of indifference. Among those who became loyal parishioners were three I brought to Christ, a trio who had been vegetating at the bottom rung of the sociological ladder: a convicted killer, once on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, who became my assistant pastor, a former street lady who taught one of our Sunday school grades, and an ex-alcoholic who became Sunday school superintendent in charge of all our classes.
Our church expanded to the point where land
was purchased for a building, which was constructed after my departure.
The Second Coming
Now a peppery eighty-two, Eunice Slaughter had traveled with her husband from Missouri to a Montana homestead via wagon train. Construction of a government dam had forced them out, and they had moved to Elko.
Mrs. Slaughter was one of the first to join our church, and though she had never before in her long life witnessed for the Lord, she became imbued with the spirit and staked out as her special targets the girls who lived and worked at the Lucky Strike house, located next door to her home.
One afternoon Mrs. Slaughter was sitting in the parlor of the Lucky Strike, surrounded by the madam and all her girls.
"I'm telling everyone of you to get right with the Lord. If you don't repent, you're all going to hell as soon as Jesus comes again."
"How will we know when Jesus comes again?" one of the girls asked.
Mrs. Slaughter's wrinkled face was stern. "When Jesus returns," she said with a certitude that left no room for doubt, "the heavens are going to open up, the trumpets will sound, and you'll hear that good old gospel music!"
I didn't know about Mrs. Slaughter's witnessing session when I went down to witness myself the evening of the same day to the old, discarded ladies who lived in a cluster of squalid cabins directly behind the Lucky Strike.
As I approached, I heard a burst of raucous noise slash through the cold winter night from one of the cabins. The scene when I entered through the open door was straight out of the inferno. The small room was filled with perhaps twenty elderly men and women, all roaring drunk. One woman and two men were lying on the bed passed out.
A big fellow walked up to me. "I know you, you're the preacher."
"If you're a preacher, let me hear you preach." He called for quiet and in a moment all was stillness. "Now you preach."
I opened my Bible and read from John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'"
Then I went on for about ten minutes, emphasizing the importance of embracing Christ.
"I want to be saved," one of the wizened women pleaded.
I got on my knees and prayed, leading her to the Lord.
"That was a fine sermon and prayer," the big fellow said. "Now let's sing."
We formed a circle and joined hands. Soon the loud sound of "The Old Rugged Cross" filled the cabin and wafted out through the open door.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross...
Above the music I suddenly heard piercing screams. I ran outside in time to see the powerful backyard floodlights of the Lucky Strike send shards of glare through the darkness. Less than twenty feet away, fifteen windows zipped up. The singing was still going on in the cabin, louder than ever ...
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross ...
At each open window was a lady. They were baying at the top of their lungs. I was thoroughly perplexed as I heard them shout:
"Jesus is here!"
"Just like Mrs. Slaughter said."
"Forgive me, Lord!"
The singing and shouting went on for a full fifteen minutes as I stood between the cabin and the Lucky Strike dumbstruck at the thought that everybody in sight had somehow come dramatically under conviction.
The next day as she was telling me about her witnessing session with the ladies, Mrs. Slaughter, who was partially deaf, said, "Preacher, I could swear I heard gospel singing last evening."
"You did," and I gave her the details of the impromptu revival in the cabin and the screams from the girls.
She looked at me out of wise old eyes. "Then that explains it," Mrs. Slaughter said.
"I stopped at the Lucky Strike on my way over here. That madam is as upset as a rooster without hens."
Mrs. Slaughter said, "She told me that for some reason last night her three best girls packed and hightailed it out of town."
Louisiana-born Louis McDonald had brown hair, quick dark eyes, a firm handshake, an overwhelming personality, and perhaps the most amazing story of a restructured Christian life that I've ever heard.
I met him at Elko General Hospital. After, I'd go from floor to floor and door to door, looking in on patients.
Mac was in traction when I stepped into his room and introduced myself.
Truculent and bitter, he gave it to me straight from the gut.
"I don't want a thing to do with you. I've had it with every Baptist preacher in the world. You're all nothing but a gang of frauds and opportunists. I'm not interested in anything you have to say. Go somewhere else. I've got trouble enough. I'm paralyzed from the waist down and the doctor says I'll never walk again."
"Let me leave a tract with you."
"Keep it. I know it by heart. I know it backwards and forwards. I was a Baptist preacher myself!"
Here was a man desperate for help. Once a messenger of the Lord, he was living now outside God's will. I wasn't about to be discouraged, no matter how resoundingly he rejected me.
I visited him again the next day. He was still in high dudgeon. When I tried to talk about God he cut me off with a curse. After a week he softened and, maybe because he was bored lying helplessly in bed, he told me his incredible background.
At sixteen, using a shotgun, he had killed a man who was pistol-whipping his father. Sent to reform school, he escaped a number of times, but was always caught. At nineteen he enlisted in the Marine Corps and fought in Korea.
After his discharge, he killed another man in a barroom brawl in Texas. He claimed self defense at his trial, but was convicted and sent to prison. He escaped soon afterward, taking with him two guards as hostages.
He then made the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.
Cornered in a Sacramento, California, hotel, he was slapped into the local jail, and escaped again. He was caught once more. Then followed four more escapes from various prisons. He was hunted down after each breakout and taken back into custody.
After his fifth escape he was caught by the FBI. He went into deeplock at Kansas' Leavenworth prison. His sentence was ten to life.
By now Mac had tired of running and fighting the world. He determined to change. Through prison correspondence courses he earned his high school diploma and credits from the University of Kansas.
Then he was converted and brought to the Lord by a Mennonite minister. Completely rehabilitated, a model prisoner, he was paroled in seven years. Mac was licensed to preach and became an associate pastor at a Baptist church in Kansas.